As most of you know I took the theme for today’s service as “eating an apple with attitude”. Now whilst the story we read from Genesis does not refer to an apple being the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil certainly historically the apple has often been associated with that fruit.
So what does it mean to “eat the apple with attitude” and what kind of attitude might we have as we eat theapple – the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Well to let you know from the outset where this is going I believe one of the truths within this story is that like Adam and Eve we all reach out and taste the fruit, we eat the apple.
But, and this is the big but, we eat the apple with an understanding that despite this error God continues to reach out to us in love. So we eat the apple with an attitude both of rebellion and of humility.
So let’s explore this story and this theme a little more deeply.
Whenever I teach this story at school to grade 7 kids the question is asked of me “but is it true sir” by which the questioner is usually asking whether I believe Adam and Eve were real people.
In response I usually ask the students to put up their hand if they have a brother or sister. (You can do this now too). Now what I want you to do is to leave your hand in the air if you have ever blamed your brother or sister for something you did wrong.
Whether or not Adam and Eve actually existed or not, which is indeed a moot point, the story is true in each of us. We are very good at conveniently blaming someone else and deflecting blame if something has gone wrong.
Just as they story is true at this point I believe the story is true in the ambiguous question it poses about the knowledge of good and evil, of morality.
So let’s focus on the tree and its fruit for a moment.
The very presence of the true and God’s instruction concerning are paradoxical.
Here is the riddle as I see it. Adam and Eve are told not to eat the fruit. But to understand that disobedience to God is wrong or evil Adam and Eve need to be able know the difference between right and wrong.
How can they know disobeying God is wrong if they do not know the disobedience is wrong or evil?
But if they already understand eating the fruit would be wrong then isn’t logical to say they don’t need to eat the fruit?
What is often presented as quite a straightforward story, a story we will to teach in Sunday School, I believe has some quite difficult and confronting themes.
What kind of answer might we find to this riddle in the story? If we paused and looked back into Genesis 1 I think we can find an indicator in the first of the two stories about the creation of man and woman.
In Genesis 1: 26 & 27
‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
The little passage helps unlock the riddle in chapter 3. Man and woman are made in God’s image:
So here is another truth the scriptures teach us which traditionally be describe as the doctrine of the imago dei. Unfortunately, like most things in the truth Christians are no always in agreement about being created in the image of God means but let me suggest a few things. Being made in God’s image means:
We are creative beings
We are made to be in relationships
We are loved and have the capacity to love others
We are given knowledge
And, here is the biggy, we know something about good and evil
It would be my contention that Adam and Eve having being made in god’s image already know the difference between good and evil.
So when serpent turns up with his crafty words and exaggerations he is not speaking to people who have no idea about good and evil but to people who have the capacity for doubt.
Whatever the serpent is the doubt he sews into the mind of Eve and through her Adam also is a doubt in their created nature, they doubt they are in God’s image and try to be like God: another paradox.
Going back to the idea of how truth is operating in this story one of primary the questions the story raises for us is this: do we doubt ourselves and do we doubt God? The answer in the story is clear – we do.
And it is because we doubt we go seeking for knowledge, knowledge of good and evil, knowledge about God, knowledge about ourselves and knowledge about our world.
Now on a day we are celebrating the beginning of the university year I do not want to be suggesting that seek knowledge is necessarily wrong; whether it is of good and evil or of engineering, pharmacy, teaching business, law or whatever else you may be studying. However, when the motivation for our seeking is grounded in the denial of our created nature in preference for the existence we would carve out for ourselves then there are some serious questions to be raised and that is what I believe this story does.
Flipping forward into the New Testament for a moment the story of the temptation of Jesus is closely linked to the story of the garden. In tit the temptation to define our own existence rather than accept our existence as gift is played out again in a different way.
In each scene that Jesus is tempted we hear a temptation that each one of us is susceptible to. Jesus is tempted to turn the stones to bread: to use his gifts simply for his own needs and wants. Jesus is tempted to put God to the test: to place his trust in things other than God. Jesus is tempted to gain power: to use his abilities for the sake of his own prestige.
Once again these temptations ring true of the story in the garden we too can easily deny the purpose our gifts are given for. Instead stones to bread it might be using our gifts for building our own wealth: big houses, cars, expensive gadgets and holidays. There can be no doubt in our search for knowledge humanity has put God to the test, the rise of new atheism and its prophets echo Friedrich Nietzsche proclamation “God is dead” whilst many of us will use our knowledge and gifts to gain power and prestige for ourselves.
The scriptures tell us who we are and challenge us on that. We eat the apple with attitude, we seek knowledge and our motivations are intentionally or otherwise about denying our created existence in preference for the identity we can make for ourselves.
But the stories do not finish with our failures or with God’s rejection of us for them.
Hear the good news of the Genesis story. Despite the prohibition God makes, despite the indication anyone who eats the fruit will die Adam and Eve live. Yes they die but not immediately, another debate point for theologians through history and God’s response involves consequences yes but also grace. God makes Adam and Eve clothes and God sends them into the world.
This story of grace is then backed up by Jesus response to the temptations. Where we fail Jesus resists and through the gift of the Spirit our lives are joined to his faithfulness. The promise of his resistance of the temptations culminates in the resurrection of Jesus and the promise that death indeed is not the final word, just as death was not immediate for Adam and Eve God’s choice is always in favour of the creation.
The scriptures show us ourselves: we eat the apple with attitude; we pursue knowledge to set ourselves over against God and for our own selfish motivations but despite the confusion of our ways God continues to reach out in love for us. God transform and resurrects our mistakes and leads us into new life. God clothes us again in Jesus resurrection and promises us new life.