What would have happened if the story of Adam and the serpent had a different ending? What if Adam had said a solid “no” to evil?
Kids ask the darndest questions. Previously, I tackled the question from a five-year-old granddaughter, “How do we know God is real? How do we know he’s not someone that because we are little you tell us he’s real, but then when we’re older we find out he’s fake.”
Then, we looked at a question from a seven-year-old grandson, “How do we know that the Bible is true because all that you’re telling this is from the Bible?”
Today, and this is a question that the dad of those two kids asked when he was young, “Mom, what would have happened if Adam had picked up a tree limb and beaten the **** out of the serpent?”
Yep, he was just a kid, maybe eight years old, when that one came popping out of his mouth. He has no memory of asking it; I’ll never forget. I was trying to make a left-hand turn onto a busy street when this sweet voice from the backseat tosses that one at me.
In retrospect, I acknowledge it as one of the most profound theological questions ever.
Look at the story of Eve, Adam and the serpent
The biblical setting: the story of the first man and the woman (they were not actually named “Adam and Eve” at this point, but that is how they are generally referred), totally vulnerable and open to one another (“naked and not ashamed”) and to God, engaged in the work of tending the garden. Such is the longing of every human heart: to be both known and fully loved and to have work deeply satisfying to human hands.
Into that perfection comes the walking, talking serpent. This crafty one works diligently to shake the humans from their knowledge that God is good.
Immediately, the serpent suggests that God is not good by asking. “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’”
Translation: “God is a big meanie who surrounds you with tempting things and then says, ‘Don’t touch!’”
The woman denies that lie. She insists that death occurs only after eating from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She does add a bit to it, saying they couldn’t even touch it. This tendency to add to the commands God has given us infects all of us: we do so like to embellish the truth to make us look better.
- The walking, talking serpent tries again to shake their confidence in God by insisting, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Translation: “God is a liar and selfishly wants to hoard the knowledge of the really important things. No sense in letting God have all the fun–grab some for yourself!”
The man and the woman were together, not separated, during this conversationNow, many of you may have heard the story told in a way that suggests that the woman was vulnerable to the lies because she was off by herself doing her own thing. That way of telling it suggests that if she had properly stayed behind with the man, doing his bidding, none of this would have happened. However, that interpretation is also a lie.
The text straightforwardly says that when she did take the fruit, she gave it to her husband who was with her. She was never alone.
The walking, talking serpent addressed both of them. Only the woman answered.
And that’s what brought up my son’s question. Why was the man, whom we know of as Adam, so silent? Why didn’t he speak up to stop this progression? Or why, to use my son’s question, didn’t he “pick up a tree branch and beat the **** out of the serpent?”
Why? Because the man, too, wanted to be just like God. This way, by his silence, by his refusal to stand up to evil, the woman gets the blame and he gets the power to be God. It’s quite clever.
The result? All innocence and vulnerability lost. Shame enters. Relationships break. The man and the woman hide from each other and God.
Which pattern will we choose?
We still hide. We hide from each other with our fig leaf clothing and blemish concealing make-up and big and little lies and mental closets unopened and stuffed with anguishes, regrets, and secrets and our refusal to meet again with God.
So what could have happened? Well, Jesus shows us in Luke 4 in the temptation scene after his baptism. Here, Jesus successfully resists the same temptation to call God “not good” and a “liar” by taking a tiny little shortcut and bowing the knee to the Satan, the anti-god.
With that resistance, Jesus opens the door to the kingdom of heaven.
We are free to repeat either pattern.
We, too, can stay silent in the face of evil and make sure someone else gets the blame.
Or, we can stand up to evil and say a hearty “No, I will affirm the goodness and truthfulness of God. I will NOT buy into your lies. I will do what is necessary to stop this evil in my tracks. I will do what is right to preserve the loving, vulnerable relationship with God and with each other.”
Which will you choose? Most prefer to stay silent and deflect blame. A few will say, “NO.” The world depends on those few to bring light to the darkness.
Note: A version of this column is slated to run in the Denton Record-Chronicle. The Thoughtful Pastor, AKA Christy Thomas, welcomes all questions for the column and would especially like questions your children/grandchildren/students ask. Although the questioner will not be identified, I do need a name and verifiable contact information in case the newspaper editor has need of it. You may use this link to email questions.