Everytime I read the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden I want to shout, “Don’t do it!” as the Serpent offers her the forbidden fruit. Of course, she does it and so does Adam, biting into the only food on the planet that was forbidden them. Some may think the story of forbidden fruit is simplistic and trivial. Some may think it is mythical. We obsess over a talking snake or whether or not the Garden and the two named trees were literal. And while debating this, we reach for our version of the forbidden fruit once more.
Literal fruit or not, there is no greater story that captures the plight of the human race. Adam and Eve’s sin is only unique in that it was the first sin, but we repeat the trespass habitually. I’m not just talking about sin in general, which is a given, but we are continually snared by the same essence of that original sin.
Eve was at first resistant to the wiles of the Serpent. She restated God’s prohibition, perhaps even exaggerating it (c.f. Gen. 3:3 “…neither shall you touch it”). Eve even recalls the consequence of death, if they eat of this forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But the Serpent’s first attempt is just a set-up for his main strike. He knows that if all he has is the temptation to eat from a particular tree he’s got nothing. But his next words have devastated the human race ever since and prove his identity as Satan, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (Gen. 3:5, scripture quotes from ESV).
The text does say Eve found the fruit attractive as food, but it is as if that desire was awakened by the Serpent’s suggestion that she could be like God. Her last thought before she ate it was “that the tree was desired to make one wise.” She then eats it and gives some to her husband. By the way, every indication is that Adam is present all along. I’m talking about Eve, because the dialogue takes place between her and the Serpent, but Adam is, at least, just as responsible as Eve.
At the heart of Satan’s temptation–if we may assume the Serpent is Satan–is the suggestion that God is holding back on you. If you really want to live, you have to decide what is right and wrong for yourself. You don’t need God to tell you. You need to grow up and become like God himself. Then you can decide your own fate. You can fully exercise your free will and become autonomous and then God becomes superfluous.
Nothing has really changed. When Adam and Eve were kicked out the Garden, they lost their access to the tree of life, but there always seems to be some of that forbidden fruit lying about, like a fast-spreading delicious but poisonous berry.
I am under no illusion that our own nation was once a virtuous Christian nation. That statement will make some people mad, but I cannot reconcile the genocide of the Native Americans, slavery, and racism with the Gospel of Jesus. There have been and will always be devout Christian people in this nation, but to claim that America was once a pious nation is simply to ignore the truth. We, along with every other nation, in this world have always reached for the forbidden fruit. Slavery was right in 19th century for so many (even in the North), because we simply used our autonomy to determine it was right. Abortion was right in the 20th century, because we ascended to our own personal thrones of deity and said it was so.
In the 21st century, we’ve decided that we can change the definition of marriage to suit our desires. “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan is subtle and cunning. We don’t really know good and evil by replacing God as the source of knowing, we just substitute whatever we want as good and evil and then call it such.
I’ll be honest; I’m not all that interested in Obama’s State of the Union address this evening. I know he will spin it for his political agenda, just as every president does. But whatever solutions Obama offers for the problems he frames, they will not fix what ails us. What ails us is the forbidden fruit. It kills us slowly, while convincing us that we can be our own gods.
God sent his antidote into the world some 2,000 years ago. The gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to repentance and to recognition that Jesus is Lord and we are not. We were lost and dead in our sins and only the gospel can save us. In baptism, we let go of our autonomy and surrender ourselves to death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 6). Satan’s offer of autonomy was an illusion anyway; it was just a trick to get us to serve him instead of God. Satan isn’t interested in you becoming god; he wants it for himself. Making you think that you are just doing what you want to do is his greatest deception.
It is time for Christians to stop expecting this nation to align itself with the will of God and instead start living as a recognizable alternative to the materialistically compromised American Dream. It is time to announce to a world still fascinated with forbidden fruit that the tree of life is open to all once again through the name of Jesus!