The teacher, Sister Brownlee, had handed out Bibles and asked us to take turns reading the story of Adam and Eve. You’re familiar, no doubt, with the account. It tells of how God gave His first human creations a fertile garden and only two conditions regarding its use. First, He told them to multiply and replenish the earth. Second, He forbade them to eat a certain fruit, even warned them not to touch the tree bearing it or they would die. Though God’s mandate was clear, Satan—disguised as a serpent—slithered into Eden’s tranquility and tempted Adam and Eve to break that important second commandment.
He told them, “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” In the end, the temptation was more than Adam and Eve could ignore.
Of that day the Bible says:
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
Sister Brownlee asked us to consider the charity of our Creator. Adam and Eve had everything they needed, but do you see what they did? They stole from the source of their good fortune. She seemed ready to complete the thought and offer a comparison to our own lives, to say that God has given us much, yet we turn on Him in disobedience. Before she could do so, I raised my hand.
“God told Adam and Eve that they would die if they ate the fruit,” I said, “but they didn’t. Why is that? Was God just bluffing to make His children obey?”
Today, the question still seems like a good one to me, but by Sister Brownlee’s reaction, it was clear that I’d treaded into sensitive theological territory. Perhaps she thought I was accusing God of lying. “God speaks only the truth,” she said, frowning. “In a way, Adam and Eve did die because their offense robbed them of life with God. They became sinful and unworthy of His spirit. They were so guilt-ridden that they hid themselves from their Creator. The real liar was the serpent, Lucifer, who convinced Adam and Eve to transgress.”
It occurred to me as I pondered Sister Brownlee’s answer that it hadn’t really addressed my question. In fact, if anything, it had only suggested other questions that I couldn’t wait to ask. Without raising a hand, I said, “The serpent told Adam and Eve that they would learn the difference between good and evil, and that happened. Their eyes were opened. The Bible says so. The serpent led them to knowledge—a knowledge God seemed happy to keep from them. Why is that?”
There was a nervous twitter in the class, but Sister Brownlee forced herself to smile and explained. “Your confusion is understandable,” she said, “but this is an example of how the devil uses half-truths to confuse people. That’s why we need faith to keep from being deceived.”
Suddenly a thought entered my head, like traffic noise through a thin wall. At first I tried to ignore it, but it got my attention. Sister Brownlee had been dealt a question for which there was no answer, but she wouldn’t admit to the deficiency. Instead, she used the same wedge that has separated humankind from a great deal of worthwhile inquiry: the admonition to accept without questions. I knew even then that logic leads to intellectual canyons into which we must take a leap of faith. Yet our teacher had couched that leap in terms of truth and that wasn’t right, even if she could create an ignorant bliss by doing so.
But I digress. For those of you who believe the Bible to be the unadulterated word of God, let me reiterate the two questions:
- Why did God warn Adam and Eve of a consequence that ultimately did not occur?
- Why did God seem to want Adam and Eve to remain ignorant? (Not until they ate the forbidden fruit were their eyes opened, which was exactly what the serpent promised would happen).