By Rev Bridget Spain
Rev Spain is minister at the Unitarian Church on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green This article originally appeared in the Irish Times.
Ever since science disproved the factual accuracy of the Jewish scriptures, the stories contained in them have been largely ignored. This is true of the story of Adam and Eve. It is a pity, because although the events never actually happened; when the stories are read as myth or poetry they are true.
The stories are narratives of the human condition. They are perennially true. The names Adam and Eve hint at the meaning of the story; Adam means earth and Eve means life.
The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is not the story of the “fall of humanity into sinfulness”; the story is the story of earth and life.
In The Mythic Journey, Liz Greene and Juliet Sharman-Burke portray the story of Adam and Eve as an account of the journey to self -awareness. I believe that the story is a text book account of the teenage years.
God loves the humans he has created, he places them in the perfect environment – every last detail is arranged to ensure their happiness. God gives them guidance for good and bad behaviour. And for a while Adam and Eve are happy; they come to greet God on his evening visits to the garden.
Human beings love their children. Every parent creates their best version of Eden. We give our children good advice. Children love to please their parents. Family life moves along in happy contentment.
However, in order to become adults, children must grow away from the parents. The process of detachment from parents is a painful process for the parent and a time of vulnerability for young adults.
God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of one tree; he explained why they should not eat the fruit. They listened to the serpent and we know the consequences.
Adults warn children about drink, drugs, fast cars, of immature sexual experiences. Overnight almost it seems teenagers are seduced from family values; the modern-day serpent comes in the guise of friends, social media and peers.
When Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit, they knew that something has changed. They hid from God, they covered themselves with fig leaves; they made excuses. It wasn’t my fault, he/she told me to do it.
Adam and Eve sound exactly like every teenager; when they are found to be lying. Young children regard parents as gods. Puberty kicks in and the child now sees their parents as the most embarrassing parents in the world.
This is painful for parents.
God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. In the world they toil to earn their living and they become parents. Finding a job, establishing a home, becoming parents – these are the badges of adulthood.
Adam and Eve were children in paradise. It is only in breaking the bond with parents that the child can become an adult.
Earth and life
The story of Adam and Eve is the story of humanity. It is what we did to our parents and – we have forgotten it – it is what our children have to do to us. The story is the story of earth and life.
The story helps us understand that the cycle has been repeating itself from the dawn of time.
When Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit, they were not committing a sin; they were beginning their journey to becoming adults.
In verse 21 of Genesis there is a beautiful touching detail that is generally overlooked. Having dismissed Adam and Eve from the Garden, we are told that “The Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.” The perennial love of the parent shines through in this protective gesture.
It is the work of parents to give the children roots and wings. Giving them roots is the easy part. Allowing them to find their wings is a more painful process. The Book of Genesis tells us that this has been the task of parents since Adam and Eve. It is earth and life – all part of the story of the great wheel of life.