March 2011 - Vol. 48.

Exile of Adam and Eve,  by Michael O'Brien

Paradise Lost
By Jeanne Kun
“I will put enmity between
   you and the woman,
 and between your seed
   and her seed;
he shall bruise your head,
 and you shall bruise his heel.”

- Genesis 3:15

By turning from God, Adam and Eve lost authority over their own lives, they broke their intimacy with each other, and they lost union with God. . . . Who can deliver us from this incessant twisting of human relationships?

- Francis Martin, The Fire in the Cloud 
God created the human race to enjoy fellowship with him. His loving design for humankind was that men and women would live in communion with their creator – an unbroken relationship characterized by the innocence and intimacy of life in the garden of Eden, where God walked “in the cool of the day” amid his creation (Genesis 3:8). Tragically friendship with God was shattered and innocence was lost when Adam and Eve betrayed this communion. In doing so, they distorted their nature, which had been made in the very image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

Separation from God, sickness, suffering, and death were brought about by Adam and Eve’s sin, which also resulted in their banishment from Eden (Genesis 3:23-24). The evil that we see in the world around us – and in our own hearts – is not a part of God’s plan for his creation. It stems from the fact that our first parents turned away from God. The consequences were fatal: Every human being is now born into a fallen and fragmented world, a world that has been infected by sin and alienated from God. Our human nature was wounded and weakened by Adam and Eve’s sin, so we too incline toward sin and evil.

What was the sin of our first parents? “You may eat freely of every tree of the garden,” God told Adam when he placed him as caretaker over Eden, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Genesis 2:16-17). Adam was to trust God and obey his command not out of servile fear, but out of gratitude to the One who had created him in love. “It is the headiest exercise of our liberty to be free to obey,” noted Poor Clare abbess Mother Mary Francis. “Adam was lord of the world when he was free to obey. When he surrendered that glorious freedom in order to disobey, . . . well, which human heart does not keep the record of his sorry loss?”

Misusing their freedom, Adam and Eve disobeyed the sole prohibition God had placed on them and ate the mysterious fruit. (Notice that Genesis does not tell of an apple, though that is what we popularly visualize Eve reaching for!) By this act, they were asserting themselves against the moral limits God had established for them as his creatures and were, in a sense, usurping the place of God. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted on. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.
In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. (CCC, 397–398)
In the libretto of composer Franz Joseph Haydn’s famous oratorio, The Creation, we are offered another insight into the nature of Adam and Eve’s sin. Meant to be forever happy, they were “misled by false conceit” and exercised their free will against God instead of toward him. Not content with what had been given them, they desired what was forbidden: “Ye strive at more [than] granted is, and more desire to know, [than] know ye should.”

What about the serpent? “Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy [Wisdom 2:24]” (CCC, 391). Scripture and the church’s tradition recognize in the deceitful snake a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil.” According to the teaching of the church, Satan and the other demons were created by God to be good, but of their own free will chose evil. In Eden, the serpent led Eve into sin by  insinuating that God was jealously withholding from her and Adam something that would give them independence and power: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Recalling the deadly role played in Genesis by the cunning serpent, we commonly depict Satan as a snake. And in Revelation 20:2, we read of the binding of “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan.”

By their sin, Adam and Eve lost their union with God as well as intimacy with one another. Ashamed of their disobedience and nakedness, they feared God and hid themselves from him. Yet God sought them out (Genesis 3:8-9). Because he loved this man and woman whom he had created in his image to enjoy communion with him, he was not about to let his plan for them – and for the entire human race – be foiled. Even as Adam and Eve tried to disclaim their fault and shift blame from themselves (3:12-13), God promised to reverse the consequences of sin and to triumph over evil. Addressing the serpent, he said,

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
This verse gives a mysterious hint of redemption for humankind, foretelling a conflict in which evil would be trampled underfoot by the offspring of the woman. The Fathers of the Church later recognized in it a reference to Jesus and a veiled prophecy of the victory of Christ over Satan. Genesis 3:15 is called the “Proto-Gospel,” because it is the first announcement to Adam and Eve – and in them, to the entire human race in need of redemption – of the Messiah-Redeemer.

In the New Testament, Luke’s genealogy calls Jesus “the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38), and St. Paul saw in Jesus a new Adam (see Romans 5:14, 17; 1 Corinthians 15: 21-22, 45). One of the first ways the church characterized the Virgin Mary, the mother of the promised Savior, is as the new Eve. As St. Irenaeus noted,

As Eve was seduced by the word of an angel and so fled from God after disobeying his word, Mary in her turn was given the good news by the word of an angel, and bore God in obedience to his word. As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve. (Against Heresies)
The ease with which Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptation in the garden stands in sharp contrast to the determination with which Jesus would later reject Satan’s allurements in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). And Christ’s obedience to his Father would redeem humankind from the effects of Adam’s disobedience: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
With Adam and Eve’s fall, the stage was set for divine intervention into human history. We are reminded of this irony in the Exsultet sung during the Easter vigil liturgy: “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!” This first sin, devastating and abhorrent as it was, was the prelude to the coming of the Savior to redeem humankind and renew our fellowship with God.

This promise of Genesis 3:15 would be fulfilled through Jesus Christ, born of Mary. Yet humankind was to wait outside Eden’s closed gates for many generations before Jesus would restore our relationship with the Father and open the kingdom of heaven to us. The Old Testament is a record of the unfolding of God’s promises as his people yearned for that salvation to be made manifest in the coming of the Messiah.

Jeanne Kun is President of Bethany Association and a senior woman leader in the Word of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. 

Excerpt from God's Promises Fulfilled, The Word Among Us Press, Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Exiled from Eden

Exiled from Eden
for her transgression,
how Eve must have longed
to make bold and storm its gates
to gain entry once again
(futile though she knew such assault would be)
but dared not.

you satisfied death’s claim
(just punishment for sin)
on Eve and her descendants.
Trespassing in that dark domain,
you strode as conqueror there
to release all death’s hostages,
having paid the ransom
(mine, too, along with Eve’s)
with your own blood.

And now the cherub
has forever sheathed the flaming sword
that so long barred Eve’s way back to Paradise.

The Scene
Genesis 3:1-15, 22-24

1Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” 2And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. 5For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6So 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 to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

8And 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. 9But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12The man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.” 14The LORD God said to the serpent,

 “Because you have done this,
  cursed are you above all cattle,
  and above all wild animals;
 upon your belly you shall go,
  and dust you shall eat
  all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between
   you and the woman,
  and between your seed
   and her seed;
 he shall bruise your head,
  and you shall bruise his heel.”

22Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever”—23therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Pondering the Word

1. What do you think “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9) symbolized? How would you interpret the expression “knowing good and evil” (3:5)? 

2. Why might have God prohibited Adam and Eve from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17)?

3. Describe the serpent’s tactics for leading Eve into disobedience (Genesis 3:1-5). Note the progressive stages of the serpents’ conversation with her. What does this indicate to you about Satan and the nature of evil?

4. What were the immediate consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience? The long- term consequences?

5. What was the purpose of God’s conversation with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:9-13) since he already knew that they had disobeyed him? What does this conversation suggest to you about Adam and Eve’s relationship with God? With one another as husband and wife?

6. Why do you think God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden? God’s words to the serpent seem to give them a promise of hope (Genesis 3:14-15). What does this reveal about God’s heart toward his creation after Adam and Eve had disobeyed him?

Living the Word

1. Why do you think God desired to create humankind in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27)? In what ways do you think human beings share God’s image? How do you see the image and likeness of God reflected in others? In yourself?

2. What consequences of sin – your own and that of others – do you recognize in your life? In society at large?

3. Have you ever attempted to justify your sins? What excuses do you make? How can you take personal responsibility for your failings and avoid placing blame for your own sins elsewhere?

4. Adam and Eve hid from God after they sinned. Are there any ways in which you are hiding from God? If so, why?

5. In what ways have you personally encountered evil and the deceptions of Satan? How do you resist and combat temptations to sin? What can you do to protect yourself against attacks of Satan and the influence of evil?

6. Imagine Adam and Eve’s existence in Eden before they were estranged from God. What aspects of this state appeal to you the most? How does this reflect your image of spending eternity with God?


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