Friday, February 25, 2011

Genesis 3 (2004)

In this post, I will comment on my 2004 weekly quiet time notes on Genesis 3:

1. "The serpent tempts Eve by engaging her in conversation (he does not ask a question that receives a 'yes' or 'no' answer), presenting God as harsh and forbidding, persuading Eve to doubt the truth of God's word, representing God's word as less than a command, and inciting within Eve a proud desire to be like God (as if God were holding back from Adam and Eve something good). Eve may have been alone (the text is unclear---see v 6), in which case we learn that Satan can tempt us in solitude, whereas the communion of the saints can give us strength. Eve adds to God's word, which may have opened the door for the serpent to refute her additions and thereby claim to refute God's word itself. Eve allows herself to be tempted by her eyes, which often leads to disaster (Genesis 12:14-15; Numbers 15:39; II Samuel 11:2; in fact, people are enticed by their own desire---James 1:12-16). As a result of transgression, Adam and Eve felt guilty and became alienated from God (Adam blamed God for his sin by noting that God gave him Eve), from each other (Adam blamed Eve), and from creation---how far they were from the bold and enlightened gods they expected to become. Christ is full of wisdom and knowledge (I Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:3) and encourages humans to seek wisdom in Proverbs, yet at this stage, perhaps, for Adam and Eve to know good and evil would be like a baby drinking a martini (to draw from Madeleine L'Engle). Does that show the folly of seeking knowledge apart from God?"

I probably got a lot of this from Matthew Henry, whom I valued at the time, since he had an interpretation of every single passage of Scripture. Before I read him, I often wondered exactly what I should be getting out of various Bible passages! He certainly made my quiet times more interesting.

When I first looked at my statement, I cringed. Now, I see some wisdom in the things that I wrote, but, for myself, I wouldn't make an absolute religion out of it. I'll show you what I mean as I discuss some bullet points.

Satan doesn't ask a "yes" or "no" question: My comment here rubbed me the wrong way because it appeared to promote closed-mindedness---that we shouldn't discuss things, but rather we should blindly obey and quote Scripture to end discussion. After all, did Jesus in Matthew 4 have a discussion with Satan? No. He just quoted Scripture as the last word. That rubs me the wrong way because, nowadays, I prefer to treat Scripture as something that encourages open-ended discussion, rather than ending it.

But there are times when I should affirm my right not to discuss something. When a person tries to shove religion down my throat and prey on my vulnerabilities, I have a right to say "I'm not interested." For people who want to sell you something, if you give them an inch by allowing them to engage in a discussion with you, they'll take a mile! I don't want to end up in a cult, or a religious group that I can't get out of. I don't have to debate with those people. I don't have to ask them questions. I can simply tell them to leave me alone.

And I guess that Christians have a right to do the same thing with what they consider a sin---to say that they don't want to do that, and that's all there is to it. But I wish they'd realize that there are others who see issues differently from them. Sure, quoting Scripture to end a discussion is fine when a Christian does not want to sin and desires to close the door to temptation rather than thinking about the positives and negatives of that sin. But to try to force others to have that same approach is pointless.

Eve was alone: I'm sure that I didn't totally agree with my statement here, even when I was writing it, for I have often been a loner because I prefer solitude and have difficulty making friends, plus I've met my share of jerks in the "communion of the saints." But there is a degree of wisdom to what I was saying (or drawing from Matthew Henry). For one, it's good to get outsiders' perspectives because one can come up with some pretty crazy thoughts in solitude---and I don't mean thoughts that contradict canned Christian group-think, but rather thoughts that could easily create difficulties for a person. Second, if a person chooses to walk on a path, it's helpful to draw strength from others who are also on that path. This is certainly the case for many in recovery groups: listening to the experience, strength, and hope of others can be more encouraging than trying to recover all alone. I don't impose on myself a legalistic command of "Thou shalt not be alone." At times, being alone can be an asset---it can give me strength and perspective. But it can also have drawbacks, just as being in a group can.

I guess my theme so far is choice: if you don't want to engage in something, you have a right to close the door to temptation by simply saying "No thank you." If you want to walk on a path, you can find strength in a group of people who are also trying to walk that path. Being alone and being in a group have their strengths and their weaknesses---but you get to decide what you want to do. And I say this realizing that choice is not an absolute: I definitely have no right to infringe on the rights of others. But there is a place for choice in our lives. I guess that my problem with Genesis 3 and my interpretation of it is that they say, "Obey God, in exactly this way. Don't question it. Don't add to it. Don't take away from it. Just do it." If God commands you to be an extrovert or to obey the church, for example, just do it. This is where Scripture is used to close the door on discussion and to control others, and I'm not cool with that. I think there should be some place for meeting people where they are, while helping them to go higher.

Eve adding to God's word: This is an interesting point, because one can reject God or a beneficial path simply through misunderstanding, or through over-interpreting. For example, does Christianity really require me to be a social butterfly who is friends with everyone on the face of the earth? Or is that a command that people have added, and there are low-key ways to love others that are perfectly acceptable? Some may say that such a question echoes what the serpent said: "Has God truly said...?" But I think that it's good to clarify what it is that is tripping me up: is it from God, or from human beings?

The mindset that the serpent was encouraging in Eve: Even in 2004, I liked some of what I wrote here because I wanted a God of love and grace, and, in the midst of all of the discouraging "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots" that I was getting from Genesis 3 and my interpretation of it, there was a notion that I should view God as loving---as someone who desires the best for me. That may be the case, but I wonder if I can say the same thing about the authors of the Bible, or Christians.

Enticed by the eyes: There's wisdom to this. Personally, I'm not going to stop watching all shows that have an attractive woman, or avert my gaze from all attractive women in real life. But lust can become a path to disaster. Pornography addiction is a problem for a lot of people, even Christians. I am against acting as if I'm not a sexual being, and I think that a lot of conservative Christians want me to do just that. But I also realize that lust can lead people to bad places. These are things to keep in mind.

Alienation: I like this part because it shows that there was something about the original sin that ended up debasing human beings, when they expected to become like God. Was it an absence of humility? That may be part of it. But Adam and Eve also were not ready to know good and evil at that point. God could know good and evil, but Adam and Eve were not ready for it, and such knowledge produced shame and alienation within them. I drew from the testimony of other parts of Scripture the idea that God actually is not against us having wisdom. I realize that one can read Genesis 3 to mean that God thought that wisdom was his prerogative, and he did not want human beings to have it. As a professor of mine said, the tree of knowledge was like God's chocolate ice-cream: it was his, and his alone. There are times when I will respect the text in its uniqueness, but there are other times when I choose to draw from the testimony of other parts of Scripture.

2. "God in punishing Adam and Eve set limits on their sin and kept it and its effects under control, as well as humbled them. Man worked while women had children, and, while there appears to be a subordination of the female to the male, the woman is honored in what the whole human race is saved by her childbearing---the birth of Christ to a woman (I Timothy 2:12-14?)."

I still like this because there's a sense of practicality to it. God set limits on sin. What would happen if God did not do so? We could become like the Goa'uld on Stargate SG-1: godlike, yet proud---walking disasters! It's good to have tasks in life and things that humble us, since that makes us better people.

On the subordination of women, I'm against sexism. I'm against men telling women what they can and cannot do. Men should not suppress women's fulfillment or contribution. At the same time, somebody in the family needs to make decisions for the family. I don't think that the decisions should be made unilaterally, without discussion. I also don't believe that the authority of the head of the family is absolute. But somebody should have a degree of authority---of saying that the family will do such-and-such, after discussion about what is best.

On I Timothy 2:12-14, I don't think that's talking about the birth of Christ. Rather, it's saying that women are saved through childbearing, if she or her children (I'm unclear on this) continue in the path of righteousness. What's this do to salvation by grace through faith alone? It contradicts it, in my opinion, but why should I assume that all of the Bible says the exact same thing?

What about women who don't bear children? I'm not for excluding them from salvation, as if I even can! I guess that I don't take I Timothy 2:12-14 as an absolute, but I draw from it the lesson that I should honor women who raise children and teach them to do what's right, through their word and example. Many have portrayed the pastoral epistles as sexist, and, in a sense, they are. But it's one-sided to focus only on their sexism, for II Timothy I:5 praises Timothy's mother and grandmother for their faith, which they passed on to Timothy.

3. "The serpent (later seen as Satan in Revelation 12) is speechless before God and crawls about in dejection licking dust (see Psalm 44:25)."

I'm not sure if Revelation 12 is referring to the serpent of Genesis 3, but, even in 2004, I was recognizing something that was important: the view that the serpent was Satan was a later development. Genesis 3 itself is not saying that. Who was the serpent? He could have been a heavenly being, since Isaiah 6 and ancient Near Eastern artifacts present serpents as part of a deity's entourage. A professor once said that the serpent of Genesis 3 was such a being, and he was sharing with Adam and Eve knowledge that he had: that the forbidden fruit would actually make them wise and like God. Or the serpent could have simply been a snake, which was Josephus' interpretation.

As far as Psalm 44:25 goes, that's not talking about the serpent, but it does show that licking dust is an act of dejection.

I think that my point was valid in the sense that it teaches that I don't have to be overly afraid of the devil (here, I'm using a canonical approach of reading a later interpretation into Genesis 3), for he's under God's control. Max Lucado once made a similar point: that he long viewed Satan as Darth Vader of the Sith, but, actually, when thinking of Satan, he should view him as a punk kid, asking God for permission to hit us.

4. "Job 31:33---I did not cover my sin as Adam."

When I wrote this, I may have been unaware of the scholarly view that the Adam and Eve story was late, on account of the absence of references to them throughout the Hebrew Bible. But I appear to have realized even in 2004 that they don't show up that often, and so, when Adam did show up, I made a note of that.

What's interesting, though, is that there are other translations. The NRSV says it means that Job has not concealed his sin, as other men have. The Septuagint's version of the verse talks about sinning unintentionally.

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