The Garden of Eden story

What is it meant to tell us? Photo: The Garden

ARLINGTON, Va., March 12, 2012—The Book of Genesis in the Bible says that after God created human beings, they were innocent and good. What brought about evil in the world? What created that perverse inclination within human beings that so often pulls us in the wrong direction, away from the guidance of our consciences and into destructive behavior?

The story in Genesis teaches that the first human ancestors, Adam and Eve, brought sin into the world by eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Many people believe that this description of the fall of man is literally true. Others dismiss it as a fairy tale. Isn’t it possible that the account is symbolic, and that while not literally true, it nevertheless gives a crucial insight into the human fall?

First of all, why wouldn’t the literal eating of a fruit have caused the fall? Perhaps the chief reason is that God is a being of supreme love. Why would He have created His son and daughter Adam and Eve, whom He loved far more than words can express, and at the same time have placed within their easy reach a poisoned fruit that would cause them suffering and grief if they ate it?

If He intended to test them with the fruit as some contend, why would He have made the consequences of failing the test to be something so cruel as to cause their spiritual death? Why not just set them a test, use it to determine if they could follow directions or not, and if they failed, then lovingly correct them? It makes far more sense that God’s commandment not to eat of the fruit was a warning aimed at protecting them from a much more important error than that of eating an apple, orange or banana.

Secondly, consider Jesus’ words, “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matt. 15:11). Clearly, the eating of a food is not likely to cause a sin which is inherited for thousands of years from generation to generation.

Suppose that eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is symbolic for the misuse of love?

Genesis says that following their transgression, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves to cover their lower parts. It is the nature of fallen man to try to hide anything he has done wrong. A child caught raiding a cookie jar for example, might hide his face to cover his cheeks stuffed with cookies, or if the cookies are in his hands, he might try to hide his hands behind his back. After “eating the apple,” Adam and Eve did not hide their hands or their mouths, but hid their lower parts.

For centuries, what mistake has done more to destroy marriages, split families, harm children or even bring the downfall of societies and nations than the misuse of love? How many political leaders have damaged or ruined their careers by betraying their marriage vows? If the original sin involved the misuse of love, it could explain why this particular sin has been so persistent and so damaging, and why it has been so terribly hard for the human family to overcome throughout the years.

An additional comment is important at this point. To say that the fall of man had something to do with the misuse of love could also be understood to suggest that absolute fidelity between husband and wife is crucial in building good families and good societies. This is true, but it is not meant to express criticism of any person.

It is meant to be the expression of an ideal, one that can be understood, appreciated and striven for. To put it another way, no matter what mistakes, heartaches, or heart breaks one has committed or endured in one’s life, the ideal of making faithful relationships is something that one can embrace at any time of one’s life or in any circumstances. May God give us all the grace to lead increasingly happy and meaningful lives!

A more detailed discussion of the human fall can be found at the website:

Read more of Clark Eberly’s Stories of Faith in the Communities at the Washington Times.



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Clark Eberly

Born in Lafayette, Indiana and I grew up mostly in the northern part of Texas. From 1982 to 2009, I worked as a research librarian at the Washington Times. Most important, I'm married to Silvia, my best friend. We have a son, Brian, and a daughter, Sonja, both of whom are a great blessing.


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