Our evaluation of the creation seems incomplete without giving some consideration to the fall of Adam and Eve as presented together with the creation story in the opening chapters of Genesis. The fall presents several ideas and themes which elaborate on the themes of creation and bring the transcendent qualities of those myths to a head through the universality and unity of the themes tied together through these narrative accounts. In the story of the fall, we find aspects of the atonement’s transcendence as will be shown in the following section. Similarly, the themes of the first deception, the beginnings of evil, and the results of individualism and comparison come to mind when considering the transcendent nature of the fall.
The narrative of the fall portrays both Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and shows their being beguiled by a serpent. The pun in the Hebrew language emphasizes the similarities between serpent and human who were subtil (ערום or arum Gen. 3:1) and naked (ערומים or arumim Gen. 2:25). This similarity seems to betray a difference in nature between the humans and their Creator. The pair of Adam and Eve resembles the serpent or the animal creations in some ways more than they resemble their Creator in whose image they had been formed. This irony indicates that the separations established during the creation perhaps divide more than appearances might indicate. Although the man and woman appear similar to Yahweh, their actions resemble those of the serpent. The separation evident transforms to become a seemingly insurmountable chasm when they partake of the forbidden fruit. Only when these events have their complement, the atonement, do they reveal that these degrees of separation find their subsequent reversal. Nevertheless, the events of separation seem to establish a tension, leading one to question when the separated elements will be reunited.
The Garden location directs attention to the availability of fruit, but more importantly to the lush location where all seemed paradisiacal. The presence of fruit and the general lushness bring to the surface the green coloring and its theme of fertility that became apparent in our evaluation of the creation. An additional theme appears in that the phrase “garden of Eden” in Hebrew meant both this Garden location and heaven, where God dwells. By equating the two localities, the language allows modern readers to glimpse the culture begun through the myths of creation and fall. The society that came out of these was one in which the trek to the Garden was most desirable, even when such a trek required traversing a desolate intermediate ground. This theme recurred in the history of the Hebrew people with the Exodus, then the captivities under the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and other nations. Because the people drew meaning from the foundational narratives of creation and fall, informed by this trek through barrenness into a promised land, the Hebrew nation was able to continue without despair taking over their existence.
A later trek to another Garden (of Gethsemane) ultimately made possible the return to the Garden. But fallen mankind would never return to its pre-fall status. This realization begs the question of whether the fall hindered humankind’s progress forever. Because God carried out the creative process by His word, the conclusion that God could likewise bring about a different result than what occurred in Eden seems logical. But such a conclusion seems to ignore the inherent ability of each individual to choose his or her own path. In evaluating Eden, then, we benefit from the theme of separation introduced in the creation and the tension that this theme leaves intact until some reunification comes about. Through separation, we find that humankind learns much that was unavailable prior to the separation itself. By initiating humankind’s existence separated from God, the fall brings about a state in which men and women have a choice between belief and disbelief. Either option exercises faith (the difference is in what object the faith is being exercised). Thus, the fall brings about a condition of faith unavailable prior to the separation of man and God. Such a realization leads our inquiry into the nature of the fall through the theme of separation to the foundation of faith. Since we observed God’s actions in the creation, we can see the necessity of faith in constructive existence. God spoke and through the power of faith, the words He uttered were obeyed and fulfilled. Likewise, in humankind’s condition following the fall, all of humanity was given a new possibility, unrealized and unnoticed prior to the taking of the fruit: humankind is now capable of developing a faith akin to that of its Creator.
The temptation to partake of the fruit presents an interesting dialogue between the serpent and Eve. When presented with a new way of living opposed to that prescribed by God, her temptation begins. The end result is that she partakes and brings for Adam to do likewise so that they can remain together and fulfill the command to “multiply and replenish the earth” (Gen. 1:28). The ensuing “courtroom” scene brings sentencing or judgment upon all involved, man, woman, and serpent. Interestingly, Adam and Eve’s banishment from the garden is accompanied by their being clothed in “coats of skins” (Gen. 3:21). This act of covering with coats of skins implies that an animal gave its life for their benefit. The Hebrew language directly connects covering with atoning as will be mentioned below. This union between fall and atonement indicates a pattern that seems to mirror our individual experiences in many ways. The act of disobedience exemplified in Adam and Eve can be widely misunderstood; however, it seems to indicate the beginning of discernment between opposites. They asserted their own wills and this assertion against that of Yahweh became the source of difficulty and trouble in their lives. Clearly the possibility to partake of the forbidden fruit existed before the serpent used it to present an alternative to the pair’s way of living; yet they never seemed to consider the alternatives as available until another whose cunning appealed to them presented the choices in a new light. The consciousness of other points of view became the defining characteristic of humanity as well as the cause of its fall. The ensuing mortal life became paved with roads leading in different directions to see which path the pair (and their counterpart, humanity) would choose. Their experiences with the sacred presented them with one alternative, yet their experiences with another creature and with themselves as “other” from God opened up a multiplicity of means to infinite ends. The use of their power to deliberate and choose differentiated “good” from “evil.” Thus the fall distinguished good and evil, continuing the pattern of separation in the same vein as the creation had established.
Individualism became a possibility when the man and woman recognized the independence of their existence from that of others around them. Interestingly, the first response to this possibility was to act collectively, the couple choosing to remain together and thus to preserve their unity. Since that time, some civilizations have preferred individualism whereas others still prefer collective thinking. Adam’s statement that husband and wife should “be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) suggests that the possibility remains open to acting both individually and collectively at the same time when individuals have been successfully united.
The actions of Adam and Eve transcend their circumstances when we consider what the story of the fall relates. We find therein the beginning of choice and consciousness. Since these form such an integral part of each life, we can see that Adam and Eve’s unique experiences transcend specific situations to apply to all of humankind. When experience reveals to us sacred elements of life, we can respond using our choice and consciousness. The different ways of responding that are available to us lead to differing consequences and, hence, to distinct destinations. The problems of ethics might disappear when “the good” is defined according to the ultimate consequences that present positive possibilities in our daily decisions. In this light the events of the fall become crucial commencements rather than a disappointing disaster. One’s outlook on life depends on which interpretation prevails. From Adam and Eve’s choice to act collectively, we can derive the importance of family and of marriage. Likewise, the collective mentality suggests that overall success flows more from an uplifting influence on all than from a competitive impulse to drag others below one’s own status. When such an outlook prevails, the synergistic result elevates humanity as well as all individuals that are a part of that humanity.