For centuries now, the Church has been taking a dim view of the Fall, the moment in human history when Adam and Eve, the first man and his helpmate, created from one of his ribs, were expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It’s never quite clear what was so bad about eating of this fruit, only that God had forbidden it (although presumably he knew perfectly well what was going to happen, how the two partners would be tempted by the serpent – nothing bad will happen to you, it certainly looks tasty – and would eat anyway).
I say the moment in human history, although it could be said to be the moment that began human history, when the clock started ticking, because up until then the two partners enjoyed eternal life, whereas now, once expelled from Paradise, they would be subject to death and corruption. I always think we still enjoy eternal life, we are eternal still, it’s just that eternity is hidden behind time and we must pass through a gate to get there. But it doesn’t take away the fact our soul (and our body at the general resurrection) are already eternal. We die in order that I be.
Why does the Church take such a dim view of this moment? Yes, as human beings, we are subject to the passions. We get angry, we do unkind things, we are arrogant, lustful, greedy. We treat others as objects. We want things for ourselves, to acquire worldly wealth (I say worldly, because there is clearly no way we can take it with us when we die), property. We aspire to a comfortable life, everything just so, everything in its place, no demands on our attention, except to enjoy ourselves.
And yet it never quite works out like that. Things go wrong. There are provocations, lines that need to be crossed. The car or the dishwasher breaks down and has to be repaired. We get ill. Things are not perfect. They are not perfect in order to teach us a little humility.
But it could be said that the very quality that got us expelled from Paradise – our rebelliousness – is often what keeps us going, the refusal to give up, the insistence on our hopes and dreams, our resistance in the face of life’s disappointments. Rebelliousness isn’t entirely a bad quality.
I am a little tired of the Church’s interpretation of the Fall, to be honest. I would like to give another interpretation, which I go into in greater detail here. The Fall represents sexual knowledge, the serpent is the man’s penis and the apple is the woman’s breast. Adam and Eve acquired carnal knowledge (at the man’s instigation, note), and for this reason they had to be expelled from the Garden of Eden (whose letters rearranged spell danger of need). Because once you become sexually mature, the process of dying begins. In ‘The Consequences of Man’s Fall’, Metropolitan John Zizioulas puts it like this: ‘In beings with organs – especially mammals – the ageing cycle begins from the moment that the organism reaches the point of reproductive maturity.’
I don’t think God was being cruel. He wanted us to be co-creators, but we are not like him, we cannot create ex nihilo (out of nothing), we are translators, we use what already exists and make something out of it. We are not authors. Only God is this. So when we create another being, we cannot just mould a body out of clay and insert the breath of life into it. We are not the originators of life, as God is.
What we can do, however, is give of ourselves (as Adam did in the creation of Eve, when a rib was taken from him). And in this way we can have children. The difference is it is not a clone army, like in Star Wars, they are our very own children, with their own personalities and identities. And we can only have children with another person, we cannot produce children on our own.
The alternative would be a heaven containing only two people, Adam and Eve, or as many as God created from our ribs, without our conscious, active participation.
God gave us the opportunity to knowingly come together and fill the Church ourselves, one generation after another. That is exactly what we are doing. Filling the Church, giving life in the only way we can, through translation. The Fall – so long as it is followed by repentance, an acceptance of our need – may not turn out to be such a bad thing.
Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com