Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
July 15, 2018
Genesis 1-4, selected (CEB)
God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.
31 God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.
On the day the Lord God made earth and sky… 15The LORD God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it. 16The LORD God commanded the human, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; 17but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!” 18Then the LORD God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.” 19So the LORD God formed from the fertile land all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky and brought them to the human to see what he would name them. The human gave each living being its name. 2022
21So the LORD God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. 22With the rib taken from the human, the LORD God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being. 23The human said, “This one finally is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. She will be called a woman because from a man she was taken.
3 The snake was the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?”
2The woman said to the snake, “We may eat the fruit of the garden’s trees 3but not the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, ‘Don’t eat from it, and don’t touch it, or you will die.’”
4The snake said to the woman, “You won’t die! 5God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6The woman saw that the tree was beautiful with delicious food and that the tree would provide wisdom, so she took some of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7Then they both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made garments for themselves.
20The man named his wife Eve because she is the mother of everyone who lives. 21The LORD God made the man and his wife leather clothes and dressed them. 22The LORD God said, “The human being has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. Now so he doesn’t stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever,” 23the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to farm the fertile land from which he was taken.
4 The man Adam knew his wife Eve intimately. She became pregnant and gave birth to Cain, and said, “I have given life to a man with the LORD’s help.” 2She gave birth a second time to Cain’s brother Abel. Abel cared for the flocks, and Cain farmed the fertile land.
25Adam knew his wife intimately again, and she gave birth to a son. She named him Seth “because God has given me another child in place of Abel, whom Cain killed.” 26Seth also fathered a son and named him Enosh. At that time, people began to worship in the LORD’s name.
For the first chapter and a half of the Bible. We see God busy at work; creating the place we call Earth and all that is a part of it. And at every step of the way, God declares his creation “good.” Then it all changes. Halfway through chapter 2, God is busy helping the human, Ha’adam he is called in Hebrew, get acclimated to this new environment. You can eat your fill here in the garden, God tells Adam, just “don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” But as God is interacting with the human, God discerns that there may be something about creation that is not good. The man has no companion, no counterpart. “It’s not good that the human is alone, I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.” This expression, “helper that is perfect,” in Hebrew does not imply subordination or inferior rank. So it is that none of the animals seems to satisfy the companion that God has envisioned. Because what God seeks for the man is a helper like himself (ezer-kenegdo); something very special, a perfect fit. So God puts Ha’adam into a deep sleep, pulls a rib from his body and fashions a woman. The Bible tells us that both the man and the woman are created in God’s image and with a specific purpose to fulfill; they are to be helpers to one another as they serve God in the world. And so, like most good stories, this one begins with both a hero and a heroine.
And their lives are perfect; at least for a while. It’s not exactly clear how long the man and the woman reveled in divine goodness together in Eden. But as the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.” And that’s exactly what happened. A villain appeared, promising a better life simply by eating the fruit of that mysterious and forbidden tree. The fruit is described as “pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom,” and it proved too much of a temptation for the woman. She takes a bite and then gives some to her husband, who also eats. Immediately, their eyes were opened, and for the first time, humans experienced shame.
The man blamed the woman, the woman blamed the serpent, but God holds all three accountable for the act of defiance. One writer has observed, “it would be odd, indeed, if Adam were to be found blameless in the situation since Eve was made equally from him.” This is an important and often over-looked fact of this story of “the Fall,” as we call it. Indeed, the woman was the first to eat the fruit, but when presented with the same choice, the man responded in the same way. When God appeared after the transgression, the person he addressed was the man, “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” Adam doesn’t answer God’s question, though; instead, he points to the woman and says, “She gave it to me!” He even put some of the blame back on God when he refers to Eve as “the woman you gave to be with me.” Certainly, Eve is not without blame, but Adam shared equally in this sin and then furthered the transgression by trying to blame it on someone else. And so the punishment is shared equally, too; the serpent must slink through life on its belly in the dirt, man must toil against stubborn, inhospitable land until his death, and to the woman belongs pain in childbirth and the grief of being dominated by men.
Somewhat surprisingly, though, it is right after God doles out the punishment, as the humans are mired in guilt, that the man finally gives the woman a name. It will be “Eve,” which means “the mother of all living.” This woman defied God and did the one thing God warned them would bring death. And still, Adam calls her the “mother of all life.” It’s really beautiful, I think. Right here in the middle of what we call “the Fall,” there is yet a message of God’s redemption; life will go on, and it will happen in part through this same defiant woman. We are led to believe that, indeed, this is the “mother of all life,” when after their expulsion from the garden, Eve gives birth to their first son, Cain. “I have given life to a man with the Lord’s help,” she says. Then, soon after Cain comes Abel.
But once again, death enters the story. Many of us are familiar with this story of Adam and Eve’s first offspring. Cain becomes wildly jealous of his brother, who wins the Lord’s favor, and so Cain lures his brother out into the fields, attacks him, and kills him. It would seem that the destiny of all humans now is nothing but suffering and death, but then something else happens. Again, the focus returns to Eve as she gives birth to a third son. This one she names Seth because, Eve says, “God has given [me] another child.” Then, Genesis says, “Seth also fathered a son and named him Enosh. At that time, people began to worship in the Lord’s name.” Perhaps with her grandson, we see the best of Eve coming through.
First woman, wife, mother of three boys–Eve could be remembered for many things. And yet, over the course of history, Eve has been remembered most for that bite she took from the forbidden fruit. In fact, that one act has made her more infamous than famous. Throughout history—art, literature, and philosophy have portrayed Eve as seductress, noble savage, and deceiver, among other horrible images. Upon her are projected the most primitive fears and desires concerning women. The result of such imagery and teaching is this now commonly held view that woman alone was the source of Original Sin. We, collectively, have become Adam, projecting blame beyond ourselves, and placing it squarely on that one woman’s shoulders. And the primary result is that this passage has been used for centuries to justify the perpetual, and sometimes forced, subordination of women. The early church father, Tertullian, told Christian women, “You are the devil’s gateway! Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on your sex lives on in this age; the guilt, necessarily, lives on too.” Even theologians like the Apostle Paul and the Great Reformer, Martin Luther, note somewhat begrudgingly that women, though obviously inferior, are nonetheless necessary for procreation. The vilification of Eve has been disastrous for women throughout history.
But how easily we forget the details of this First Lady’s life. How easily we forget the swift agreement of the man as he joined his wife in sin. Each of us has within us the capacity of free will, the freedom to be, to choose, and to do as we please. How we act upon that freedom can be blamed upon no one but ourselves–not even Adam and Eve. Eve made a bad choice. Adam made a bad choice. You and I have made bad choices–probably more than once. And yet, God’s story is so much bigger than the bad choices we make. Life does not end with one error of judgment, no matter how bad. God’s grace extends to us always, no matter what, and Eve’s story is the first story of God’s grace for humanity.
I think Seth is that early proof of God’s grace; we might even say this is the embodiment of grace. When the Genesis story shows us humans moving from disobedience in Eden to murder in the family; we could quickly conclude that our story will end in hopeless disgrace, too. Instead, God gives another chance, through the birth of Seth. But when God extends grace, there must be a recipient, a carrier. Grace doesn’t just hang in the air like a cloud; it works in and through human beings. Eve serves as the receptacle and carrier. She bears the child of grace, and knows the name the child deserves. She knows that through this child the human story will go on. It won’t end with the death of goodness in Abel or in the spirit of jealousy and murder in Cain. Eve recognizes the new life in this child. Seth is an act of God’s grace, and Eve is a knowing partner in this grace business.
That’s why Eve’s name is so fitting; “the mother of all life.” History tells us that Eve’s name should be “the mother of death.” Because of a bad choice, she loses her original home. Then her husband blames her exclusively for their troubles. And it seems like it can’t get any worse when her first child murders her second child. But, with God’s help, she rose above it all. She kept the faith in God’s goodness. And because of God’s grace for this woman, another child is born, and then grandchildren; and they are taught about the God who gave them life, and they learn to “worship in the Lord’s name.” And so God’s history continues on, even to today.
Some would say we need God because of the Fall and “Original Sin;” because Eve did precisely the one thing God told her not to do, and we all are suffering the consequences. But I believe it’s more accurate to say that we are here today because, through all her problems, Eve persevered with courage and resilience. But most of all, Eve received God’s grace in faith. And we would do well to do the same. Eve made a mistake. But then again, so did Adam. You and I defy God every single day. But the end of the story is not death; it wasn’t for Eve, and it isn’t for us, either. That is the amazing gift of God’s grace, new life for those who receive it. And so, today we celebrate the “mother of all life”!