Let’s do a quick horticultural lesson here today on the difference between fruits and vegetables. Fruits, technically, are the fleshy, edible part of a plant which contain seeds. They are produced by plants that flower as a means of reproduction. Vegetables, on the other hand, are plants which are themselves used in part or whole as food. So, for example broccoli is a vegetable because we eat the stems and immature flower buds of the plant. Tomatoes are fruit because they contain the seeds of the plant they grown off of. Lettuce is a vegetable because we eat the leaves of the plant. Apples are fruit because they are the seed bearing part of the plant which grow after the pollination of the tree’s flowers. Get the idea?
The reason I bring this up is because there’s a little detail which is often missed in the story of the fall which is actually, very, very important should we wish to understand what happened. You see, God forbid eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The fruit is what a plant produces – not the plant itself. Fruit is the end result of a process of blooming, pollination and growth. What God was forbidding wasn’t the knowledge of good and evil, but the end result of it – the fruit of that knowledge.
(Before going any further, if you haven’t already, you will need to read the previous posts on the fall or nothing I say below will make ANY sense. They are:
Don’t worry. They’re short, We can wait.)
You will perhaps recall that when speaking to the serpent, Eve said that God had also forbidden touching the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We don’t know if she was mistaken and actually thought she wasn’t allowed to touch the tree or if she was exaggerating to make her point to the serpent. But either way, I think it’s fair to surmise that Adam and Eve were unfamiliar with the tree. Which means that when they ate of the fruit of the tree, they got the results of the knowledge of good and evil without having even started the process which normally leads up to the having fruit to eat.
The text says that Eve saw that the fruit was useful for gaining wisdom. Wisdom is when you use knowledge and understanding to guide your actions, thoughts and choices. Eating the fruit was useful for gaining wisdom – it gave the person who ate it the chance to live as one who knows good and evil – ie is able to put their knowledge into action. Only Adam and Eve had no knowledge. And without knowledge, the only way to learn wisdom is by screwing up and learning from it. The difference between how the fruit was meant to be used to gain wisdom and what happened to Adam and Eve is like the difference between dropping a newly minted navy seal off in the middle of the jungle with only a what he could fit into his pack to survive on and dropping a kidnapped child off in the jungle with a notebook, two pencils and a fruit roll-up in their Barbie backpack.
Not only did Adam and Eve have no knowledge, they were immature – not yet grown. And it’s shown all through human history. I love my kids and they love me, but I am quite certain that if they had been able to manage it, a couple of them would have shanked me for having the gall to thwart their will back when they were small toddlers. Fortunately, by the time they were big enough to handle a knife, they had matured and no longer responded to discipline with blind fury. But imagine if the world was run by people with the emotional maturity of a toddler. It would look an awful lot like a world history book, non?
The story of the fall is usually taught as being a morality tale about obedience to God. All of the details of what happened get swept together into one overarching fact: Adam and Eve had been disobedient. However, if you look at the story itself, you will see that this wasn’t how Adam and Eve saw it. They weren’t worried that God would discover that they had disobeyed him. They were consumed with the shame and fear of being seen naked. To them, their disobedience was barely an after thought. What really mattered to them was that all of a sudden they were completely convinced that there was something wrong, unacceptable and shameful about themselves. Why?
The text says that when they ate of the fruit, “their eyes were opened”. Often this is explained as them gaining self-awareness. However, all of us gain self-awareness at some point in our lives. But we don’t always freak all the way out about it. Often it happens with us hardly noticing the change. We just become more self-aware. We are less apt to forget that someone else might be watching us. It does tend to make us less free, but usually it’s only really a problem when someone’s disapproval or ridicule triggers that self-awareness. But in the case of Adam and Eve, it appears that the only ones disapproving of them are Adam and Eve themselves.
I think that what we see here is the damage which occurs when children are inappropriately brought into the adult world. They experience things which normally are reserved for the adults, but do not have the knowledge, maturity or perspective to process what is happening to them. Seeing themselves as one who knows good and evil was an adult activity. And just like when children are introduced to the adult activity of sex by a perpetrator, Adam and Eve reacted with shame. The felt sure that there was something wrong with their nakedness and sought to hide it and themselves.
I think that what happened would be akin to what it might be like if a very young child were to gain an adult perspective and apply it to themselves. For example, my youngest daughter was known around the house for a long time as Lady Godiva. She was forever stripping down to her birthday suit and wasn’t the least bit impressed at our insistence that she not walk out the front door naked or strip down to her sandals at the park. I also have a 13 year old son who would just as soon allow himself to be stabbed to death as strip down naked in public. What Adam and Eve experienced was probably a bit like what it would be like for my little Lady Godiva to suddenly have my 13 year old’s view of nudity just after doffing her clothing at the playground.
What Adam and Eve experienced might be explained by considering another example; my husband has repeatedly told us that should he ever lose control of his bowel functions, he wants to be left out back with a gun. Which is ridiculous, of course, but a common enough sentiment. Imagine what it would be like for an infant to understand that we consider pooping on ourselves so repulsive that some people would prefer to die than to live with it. Knowing that wouldn’t suddenly give an infant the ability to control their bowel movements and use a toilet, but it could cause intense shame at a normal bodily function.
Of course, we don’t view a streaking toddler as some sort of sexual deviant or an infant in a diaper as revolting. There’s nothing wrong with either the toddler or the infant, although as they get older our expectations of them will change. Similarly, there wasn’t anything wrong with Adam and Eve being naked before the fall. And there wasn’t anything wrong with them just after the fall. But lacking all perspective and understanding, they judged themselves harshly for what was both normal and appropriate for them as young children.
The reality is that Adam and Eve hadn’t changed after the fall – only their view of themselves changed. They faced the daunting task of walking a path meant to be walked with knowledge without that knowledge. They were going to have to learn on the fly, from their mistakes. A task made much harder than it needed to be by the fact that they saw normal immaturity and lack of knowledge as evidence that something was wrong rather than as places where growth was called for. Add in the ongoing work of the accuser – the one who revels in condemning us, in misleading us, in offering deathly imitations of the things our hearts most yearn for an need and you have a recipe for all manner of evil and confusion. The result is the skewed, harsh perspective of themselves and how to deal with life which fallen man and woman passed on to their children, and which their children passed onto their children and which has been passed down through the generations to us.
Of course, all was not lost. We’ve stumbled and erred and done great harm to ourselves and this creation we were giving dominion over. Yet, God willing, as time has passed we have learned more about ourselves and the ways the world works. We have gained some of the knowledge which we should have had at the beginning of our journey of living as people who know good and evil. And we are hopefully maturing a bit past the wrathful toddler stage of dealing with life.
When Jesus showed up 2000 years ago, he lived in a world which was utterly shaped by the results of the fall. By humanity’s wrath, its trauma, its fear, its lack of understanding and immaturity. But there was this one people – the ones who God had found so long ago “like grapes in the desert”. And he made a covenant with them to be their God. And gradually, painfully, over many centuries, dealt with them much like a parent might deal with a traumatized, drug addicted child, working to draw them back to himself – to the safety of the ones who love them. He met them where he found them, making offers of safety and rescue when possible and setting boundaries and consequences when needed. And when the time was right, he went in himself. He absorbed all of the sin, fury and cruelty that we could throw at him. And he overcame. He told us to stop worrying about his wrath and accept his forgiveness. From that point on, he declared, our job wasn’t to try to set ourselves right with him – our job was to learn how to love as Jesus had taught us. To gain the knowledge we had been deprived of so long ago. And begin the process of our redemption from the long nightmare we’ve been living. Until the day we have learned to live and love with enough wisdom for him to dwell among us in the new heaven and earth which is the promised end we are heading towards.