Almost everyone knows the basic outlines of the story of Genesis, but it is probably worth recapping them here. God creates the world in six days. On the seventh he rests. He creates Adam especially in his own image, to rule over creation, and breathes a living soul into him. However God knows that Adam on his own is not up to the task, so he creates Eve from out of Adam. The world is now perfect- there is no pain, or death; God’s presence is in the world, and so the world is filled more abundantly than we can imagine with everything good that we now see in it. However there is the potential for everything to be ruined.
As a part, perhaps, of being in God’s image, Adam and Eve have free will – they can choose to either obey or disobey God. God has given Adam and Eve all of creation to rule over and fill with their offspring. There is only one thing they cannot do. They cannot eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent, later identified with the devil, tempts Eve to eat fruit from the tree, and she in turn convinces Adam to do the same.
By going against God’s command, Adam and Eve have rejected God and become corrupted. This meant they could no longer remain in God’s presence. They have already sinned by disobeying God; now by having knowledge of good and evil they have the potential to willingly choose to act in evil, and further widen the gap between them and God. They are cast out of paradise and into the wider world. But the whole world too is somehow spoilt by the actions of Adam and Eve. Life is no longer easy, but difficult and painful. Sickness, pain and Death, signs of the absence of God, become part of the world. Adam and Eve have children, who have children, and so the human race begins.
From that moment on, things were very different. The world was spoilt. Humankind was tainted by Evil. Adam’s son slew his own brother. And no human being could come into the presence of God, not for a very long time. The world was spoilt, and as I have said before, the story of the Bible is the story of how that damage is being repaired; and perhaps not just repaired but made better, even, than they ever could have been before.
Of course, the precise interpretation of the creation story is contentious. I feel here I should offer my own opinion. So far in these articles I have attempted to present the Bible’s teachings with as little of my own extrapolation and spin on them as possible. I am certain that I have not succeeded entirely in this, but at least I have not completely descended into guesswork and conjuncture as to the proper meaning of a passage, which is what I am about to do now.
I believe that the story of Genesis is an allegory of something that we cannot understand in full. The ideas I talked about of physical things standing in as images of spiritual things I think come in useful here. The creation in six days is an allegorical story; what really happened we still do not know, but are coming ever closer to understanding. If you had attempted to tell an Israelite in 1000 BC even our very imperfect understanding of the big bang, let alone whatever the correct scientific answer is, I do not thing you would have got very far.
In the same way, the story of Adam and Eve, the tree and the snake and the Garden of Eden, is an allegory that describes something we cannot understand- something dramatic and terrible taking place in the spiritual world – in terms of things we can relate to.
I was surprised to find recently that this isn’t a new idea. Saint Augustine, writing in the fourth century, warned against bringing Christianity into disrepute by taking a too literal meaning of Genesis. He felt that even if there was a literal interpretation of Genesis, it was very difficult to decide what it should be.
So much for allegory. What do we actually know? Humankind is made in the image of God, in some way or another, to rule the creation God had made. Originally, the world was made perfect. There was no sin, and no death. But everything bad in the world was put there by Adam and Eve’s rejection of God. As the apostle Paul said, Adam was the head and father of the human race – by his decision sin and death entered the world and all his descendants were placed under a doom by his choice. For a long time, no human ever entered the presence of God. But not forever. Many, many long years later, God came to one particular race, in one part of the world, and the wheels of salvation began to turn…