>In one episode of the television comedy ‘Samantha Who’, the title character says: ‘You know that thing about touching the plate after the waiter tells you its hot, the most exciting time is that moment right before you touch it; after that, you're just an idiot sitting in a restaurant with a burnt finger.’ I am that idiot! If the waiter or waitress tells me the plate is hot, then I feel like I have to touch it, just to check. When the plate is sizzling I can usually resist, but at all other times, without thinking, I extend my finger just to confirm exactly how hot the plate really is.
God is a little bit like the waiter when God places Adam in the Garden of Eden and offers him an extensive menu of food, which he is able to enjoy ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat’ (Genesis 2:16). There is one exception; in the midst of the garden was the forbidden tree: ‘of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’ (Genesis 2:17). It is not clear if death is a direct, inescapable consequence of eating from the tree, or a punishment which will be delivered by God. However, one can imagine that this ‘special’ tree in the midst of the garden was a subject of fascination and temptation.
It is into this context that the serpent began to cause trouble. We should remember that God spoke to Adam, and not to Eve, so rather deviously it is Eve that the serpent approaches to tempt with the tree in the midst of the garden. Eve does at least know of a commandment relating to the tree: ‘It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said: “You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die”’ (Genesis 3:3). In Eve’s mind the fruit of the tree cannot be eaten, but it also must not be touched – an addition to God’s original prohibition. The fascination with the tree had grown from what was originally intended.
The serpent seizes the opening and challenges Eve: ‘You are not going to die, but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad’ (Genesis 3:4). We all know the rest of the story as Eve ate from the tree, and then offered it to Adam. Together they both realised that they were naked – as the serpent had said the tree opened their eyes, giving them newfound insights and awareness.
However, the relationship between God and Adam and Eve was irreparably changed. There is a sense of outrage in the words which God spoke; God appears shocked that the humans would disregard the commandment he had given them. And among the consequences Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, but not before ‘God made garments of skins for Adam and his wife’ (Genesis 3:20). The relationship was changed, but it was not broken.
In many ways this foundational story in our text is a story of maturation and growth. Adam and Eve begin as children in the Garden of Eden with everything provided for them; this is not the life which was intended for them. By eating the fruit they make a choice; they choose to disregard an instruction from God and act independently. The action is their own and the consequences are their responsibility, but so too is the independence. In eating the fruit Adam and Eve assert their independence in the same way that a teenager does in relationship to his or her parents.
For me the ‘hot’ plate set before me is an irresistible temptation. I wonder if when God was placing the tree in the midst of the garden God knew that it would be an almost irresistible temptation. Perhaps God knew that at some point Adam and Eve would challenge God’s authority and eat from that tree. Maybe that was all God’s plan, for at that moment God would know that Adam and Eve were ready to be freed from Eden, and given the independence to look after themselves, and be sent out into the big wide world. God was still saddened that his creations had ‘grown up’ and were ready for a new, different relationship; but God also knew that the time had come for them to stand on their own two feet and leave the nest.