Genesis, the Fall, and a Patriarchal God

Genesis, the Fall, and a Patriarchal God August 25, 2011

Have you ever really stopped to ponder “the fall” as narrated in Genesis? I have. And it seems to me that the story is highly problematic, and actually shares a good bit in common with the beliefs and practices of Christian Patriarchy. Let me explain.

It goes like this:

Genesis 2:8-9 – The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So God plants a garden, with beautiful fruit bearing trees. In addition, he causes two other trees to grow, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There is no hint as to why, but since he’s all powerful it has to be completely intentional.

Genesis 2:15-17 – Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

So God tells Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because it will kill him the very day he eats it. Question: Why did God cause an apparently poisoned tree to grow in the garden he planted? He’s all powerful, so couldn’t he just cut it down, or simply obliviate it? I mean, I put plugs in the electrical outlets so that Sally doesn’t stick things in them and electrocute herself, and doing this kind of thing really isn’t that hard.

Genesis 3: 1-5 – Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So the serpent comes along, and Eve tells it that God has told them not to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, or they will die. Which is exactly what he said. The serpent, however, says that God lied to them, and that actually eating from that tree will give them the knowledge of good and evil. Which, huh, kind of makes sense given the tree’s name.

Genesis 3:6-7 – When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

Eve thinks this through. God said not to eat of the tree, but what the serpent says actually makes a lot of sense to her. Eve therefore questions what God said about the tree and eats from it, and Adam as well. And you know what? They don’t die. Instead, it appears that they gain a new sense of self awareness. Strange, since God told them they would die that very day if they ate the fruit.

Genesis 3:8-13 – They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Adam and Eve hide because they know God will be angry with them. They sound like little kids who just took cookies off the tray on the counter that their mom had told them was for dessert. They’re scared. They shift blame just like the cookie-stealing children would. God’s response?

Genesis 3:16-19 – To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I have to ask, whatever happened to “in the day you eat of it, you will die?” That was apparently an idle threat. Instead, because Adam and Eve dared to disobey his command, God essentially curses them, and not just them but also their descendants. Every woman will give birth in pain and risk death to do so, every woman will be under her husband and essentially his property, every man will have to battle thorns to grow enough to eat. I’m sorry, is it just me or does this seem like the most unjust punishment ever meted out? You ate the fruit from that tree that I put right in front of you, so now I’m going to make your lives hell, and those of your descendants too. I mean, seriously, wtf? And then there is this:

Genesis 3:22-24 – Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” Therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

So apparently the Serpent was telling the truth when he told Adam and Eve that eating from the tree they would become like God, and God was lying when he told Adam and Eve that if they ate from it they would die that very day. Seriously, what the heck? And now God is afraid that Adam and Eve might eat from the tree of life and live forever (the horrors!), so he drives them from the garden he planted for them. Again, what the heck?

If God is Adam and Eve’s parent, having created them, it strikes me that he is a very very bad parent.

  1. God offers false threats of future consequences in an attempt to get Adam and Eve to obey him. If they disobey him, he says, they will die. It turns out that this is not true. Why would God do this? To scare them into obeying him?
  2. God teaches his children absolute obedience by intentionally tempting them. He places a tree in the middle of the garden, with delicious looking fruit, and then tells Adam and Eve not to eat from it. This sounds just like Michael Pearl’s suggestion that parents place a tempting item within a baby’s reach, tell him not to touch it, and then wait around to punish him when he does. Seriously, what is the point God is trying to make here? To prove that he’s the boss and Adam and Eve must obey his slightest commands just because he says so?
  3. God reacts with vengeance when Adam and Eve disobey him. He punishes simple disobedience with pain in childbirth, sexism, weeds, and starvation. I must say, God sounds very petty.
  4. God doesn’t seem to want Adam and Eve to grow up. He would prefer immediate obedience to questions or critical thinking. He doesn’t want Adam and Eve to “know good from evil,” whatever that is. Is he trying to keep them permanently childlike? What is it he wants to hide from them?

The God of Genesis 2 and 3 appears to be narcissistic, legalistic, manipulative, and even sadistic. There is nothing here about love, nothing here about compassion, nothing about understanding or mutual respect. To tempt his children intentionally by placing something within their reach and commanding them not to touch it, to utter false threats regarding the consequences of disobedience, to try to hide information from his children, to react with such vengeance when they dare to think for themselves and disobey him – is this love? Actually…come to think of it, this sounds really familiar.

I have to say, I think that Genesis 2 and 3 is actually my least favorite part of the whole Bible.

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