And the LORD God said, “Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?”
And Adam said, “IT’S NOT MY FAULT! That WOMAN – the one that YOU gave me – SHE gave me the fruit…and then…uh…I sort of…ate it.”
And the LORD God said unto the woman, “What is this that thou hast done?”
And the woman said, “IT’S NOT MY FAULT! That SERPENT tricked me…and then…er…I ate…I guess.” (Genesis 3:11-13, 21st century Gen X paraphrase edition)
Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote an interesting little book about 15 years ago called, How Good Do We Have to Be?: A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness. In it, he uses the Garden of Eden story, not as an historical fact to explain why everything and everyone are essentially crap, but as a metaphor of the normal human life cycle. Childhood, in this metaphor, is the Garden of Eden, which is kind of like a big house that kids have the run of. There’s everything you could ever want to do or see or eat in there – just don’t touch what’s in the liquor cabinet.
It’s human nature, not original sin, that makes us obsess over what’s in the liquor cabinet. And, inevitably, when the ‘rents aren’t watching, human nature is what drives us to sample the wares. Then we spend the next two days barfing our guts up and trying to convince our parents that it’s just a touch of flu. The moment they clue in to what’s happened, we stand emotionally naked before them…and then the excuses fly.
“My brother told me it was medicine!”
“Lindsey Lohan does it!”
“Well, if you had just LOCKED the liquor cabinet…!”
I’m reminded of a recent encounter I had with a young drug addict who had come to my church, supposedly for help. Though neither of the ministers was available at that time to talk with him, three parishioners gave him several referrals to drug rehab and free mental health care providers in the vicinity. We even introduced him to one of the counselors at a nearby shelter.
Nope, the guy wasn’t having any of it. If only the pastors would talk to me, everything would be okay. If only my mom wasn’t a drug addict, I wouldn’t be in this mess. If only my friends were good people, I wouldn’t get tempted to do wrong. If only I hadn’t gone to prison for four years, I could get an honest job.
Why, he asked me, do you suppose God put me in this kind of life?
This is a guy who, like all adults, left the Garden of Eden a long time ago. But, he has yet to change his thinking to cope with the sometimes grim realities of being a grown-up.
It’s normal for kids to eschew responsibility for their actions. For one thing, they’re totally egocentric little buggers. Egocentrism is their only defense in a world they can’t navigate on their own. Second, they’re afraid of consequences, even measured, logical ones (and plenty of kids are subject to random, disproportionate ones.) Consequences – usually experienced as punishment – are no fun. And a third characteristic of kids is that they are wholly devoted to having fun. Interruptions in fun are a serious threat, not only to their egocentric little worldview, but to everlasting bliss in the Garden of Eden.
Paul, in one of his more reasonable reflections, says, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”* Leaving the Garden of Eden is about putting away immature ways of thinking about our lives and making peace with realities like having to work for a living and raise kids – neither of which is much of a picnic.
Adam and Eve turned out alright. Yeah, they produced one bad egg in Cain, but every family has its problems. The next 1500 pages of their family’s history spotlights a lot of rotten bastards…but it also talks about a lot of good people, people who did the right thing, even when the going got tough. Esau, who forgave his sneaky, conniving brother for stealing his birthright**; Ruth, who left her homeland to take care of her mother-in-law***; Esther, who risked her life before the king in order to save her people****; Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish high council and secret disciple of Jesus’ who “came out of the closet” when he asked Pilate to give him Jesus’ body for burial. *****
This is the kind of grownup behavior we can get behind in the 21st century – forgiving, nurturing, courageous, and authentic. The moral choices that drive that kind of behavior aren’t necessary in the Garden of Eden; in the garden, there’s no conflict, no dilemma. Ultimately, being a grown-up means getting your ass kicked out of the garden. And surviving outside the garden means making the best use we can of the forbidden fruit – our knowledge of good and evil.
© Marian the Seminarian, 2011