Monday, January 28, 2013

How Do You Interpret the Adam and Eve story?

There is more than one way to interpret the importance of the Adam and Eve story in understanding our human condition and our need for God's grace.

After years of pastoral experience among sisters and brothers in the faith searching the heart of God, I am learning that part of our holy struggle is to overcome cultural conditioning. We are wired to be people of success, achievement, accumulation, security, and people-pleasing, and this has disconnected us from ourselves and from our roots. We are also the most mobile generation in the history of the planet, exacerbating our sense of being far away from home. Our world of consumerism and functionalism and has imposed itself on us, when the essence of our identity is that we are beloved children of God. I've been taking a new look at our most ancient story in light of this human dilemma.

The creation saga is of course primordial and foundational for our faith. It may be an oversimplification, but my understanding of the Western interpretation is that this story is about the sin of disobedience. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, and yet they disobeyed God's command. Their decision to eat of the forbidden fruit set forth our human condition as fundamentally one of being sinners in need of grace. This is resolved by repentance and forgiveness, and Christ came to pay the price for our sin and offer the forgiveness we need.

In contrast, the Eastern interpretation, as I understand it, is that we are created in the image of God, yet this image became stained and tarnished. The emphasis is not so much on hereditary guilt but on our fallenness, for we lost the luster of our original glory but are not in a state of total depravity. So the essence of the Christian journey is one of "deification", or glorification, finding that original glory restored from one degree to another through a lifelong pilgrimage. So Christianity is less about making a decision and more about God's ongoing beckon to draw closer to our original relationship. It is more about original blessing than original sin.

There is of course nothing wrong with either of these classic interpretations. But I offer my own twist in light of my life's spirituality and the struggles of Christians I have served for years. I believe humanity was designed to be rooted in the garden of God's love. Yet we have a tendency to take matters into our own hands, to depend less on the garden God gives us to live, work, and play in and depend more on aspiring to know more, have more, or control more of our life. So we find ourselves uprooted and cast from the garden. The essence of the human condition is that we have become rootless. The Christian journey, then, is one of finding our roots again, coming home to the garden like the Prodigal's son, welcomed by the embracing love of the Father. When our spirits are awakened, and we immerse ourselves in the centuries of spiritual flow that came before us in the body of Christ, it is like becoming firmly rooted again in the fertile soil. We come back to our original presence.

It is no accident that the first psalm in scripture is one that longs to be like a tree, planted by streams of water, which yields fruit in its season.

How do you interpret the Adam and Eve story?