God did not make us to be eaten up by anxiety, but to walk erect, free, unafraid in a world where there is work to do, truth to seek, love to give and win.
—Joseph Fort Newton
I received an e-mail one day that contained humorous stories about children in a Catholic elementary school. One child said, “The first commandment was when Eve told Adam to eat the apple.” This child’s understanding of the story is indeed humorous. But upon rereading the creation story recorded in Genesis chapters 1 and 2, I’ve started thinking about Eve and what she must have been thinking when she ate the fruit. First, though, let’s look at the fact that there are two creation stories.
The first one is found in Genesis 1:26–27: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” It is the sixth day, and God has been working all week long creating the world—speaking light into existence, separating the waters from the waters, and making firmament (whatever that is). Now God makes humanity in God’s own image—male and female. They both are given dominion over all things. There are no instructions about not eating from a particular tree. There is no language of husband and wife—it’s all good in God’s eyes, just be fruitful and multiply.
Then, in Genesis 2:2, God has finished working and rested on the seventh day. But things shift by verse 7—God is making man again out of the ground. “And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” God then creates Eve from Adam’s side. God commands them not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
What happened? Was God dreaming when God made them equals yesterday? Something must have happened that we are not privy to, because here on the eighth day there is a different creation story. This time there’s talk about husband and wife, and leaving mother and father, cleaving and becoming one. Where did mothers and fathers come from? God is the only parent Adam and Eve have known—there are no other people on earth. Maybe Moses had too much palm wine when he wrote this section, I don’t know. But I do remember that as a young seminarian, I learned that according to the Hebrew tradition Adam’s first wife was Lilith, who was his equal. She was a very liberated woman and did not like the way Adam was doing things, so she left the Garden. Let’s just say, she wasn’t interested in being a “helpmeet” for Adam. So this second wife, Eve, is created not equal to Adam, yet a part of him. Trust me, every theologian, minister, prophet, and priest will have their own interpretation and explanation of the creation story. Remember, some folks believe we evolved from primates. Still, whether you see this as two stories, or one story with a follow-up detailed summary, the impact throughout the ages has been the same—Eve has borne the blame for “original sin.”
She was tempted to eat from the forbidden tree by the serpent, and she did eat. She also gave fruit to Adam, and he did eat. Their eyes were opened; they became fully aware of their nakedness and covered themselves with fig leaves. Later, when God came looking for them, God called out, “Adam, where are you?” They both were hiding from God among the trees. Adam answered, “I heard thy voice and I was afraid because I was naked.” Then the inquiry began, when God asked Adam what had happened. Adam answered, “This woman you gave me offered me the fruit, and I did eat.” Eve explained that the serpent fooled her. Then God cursed the snake to be under the foot of humanity, man to toil the earth for his food and live by the sweat of his brow, and woman to suffer under the rule of her husband and to endure sorrow in childbirth. They were banished from the Garden, and an angel with a flaming sword was set at the gate as a barrier.
There are a lot of messages here. For me, it’s important to note that Eve should not bear the weight of this original sin thing alone. God gave Adam dominion over all animals; he even named them. So when the serpent started speaking to Eve, questioning God’s instructions to her about the tree, Adam should have interrupted the slithering thing and said, “Shut your lying tongue!” Adam was standing there when this was going on. He wasn’t off in the western section of Eden—he was standing right there. He could have nipped this whole thing in the bud. Look at the text. Genesis 3:6 says, “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”
Adam was out of place. I’m speaking not of his geographic location, but his spiritual authority. God gave him instructions concerning how things should be in the Garden, as well as dominion over all animals. Adam was the “point man,” but he was out of place. He stood there and said nothing. Nor did he do anything to silence the snake, or try to reason with Eve about her dialogue and subsequent actions. Most women, even though we have chosen a certain train of thought or action, will engage in reflection and dialogue if someone initiates the conversation. The snake continued to talk, while Adam was silent. So original sin is not solely an Eve event, but we can learn some things from this story.
Don’t Talk to Snakes
In Genesis 3:1, we are already told by the narrator that the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field that God had created. The snake was, in the words of a 1970s song, “sly, slick and wicked.” His main agenda that day was to upset the equilibrium in Adam and Eve’s Garden. I don’t know why he approached Eve instead of Adam, but I have my assumptions. First, I think the snake came to Eve because she would notice him. He was a very beautiful creature; he would catch her eye and hold her attention. There was no fear in the Garden, no reason to avoid any animal. Second, the snake must have known that woman is a very engaging, thinking, and conversational human—he could entertain Eve with his notions about the tree for discussion, consideration, and deduction.
But what we learn from this conversation is that when Eve began to talk to the snake, her life began a downward spiral. Up to that moment, things were good for her. She was God’s original woman, living in the peace and plenty of a beautiful garden, no fear, no doubts, no shame, and no bra and girdle! Then she talked with the snake. The first jewel of wisdom we learn is: Don’t talk to snakes. There are always people whose very nature is to deceive you, make you doubt your best mind, and make choices that are not in your best interest. Mark Twain once said, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
Our lives in some form or fashion offer us the beauty, serenity, and comfort of a garden—and then we allow snake-like folk to influence our minds. We allow toxic thoughts to enter into our peaceful world through conversations, suggestions, and so-called advice. We can’t afford to talk to snakes. Snakes are people who are dangerous, deadly, and deliberately deceptive. They want only to direct our downfall, annihilate our achievements, and obliterate our accomplishments. We cannot afford to commune with these conspirators, ponder their thoughts, consider their suggestions, or listen to their lies. A snake-like person is a bitter person. These are usually small-minded people who only get joy out of blocking someone else’s progressive life. If they cannot be stars of the show, then there can be no show. If they cannot get what they want, they hate to see anyone else fulfilled and unfortunately will seek to make your life miserable. You know the old adage: “Misery loves company.” The result of such encounters is always a breakdown in our spirits, our growth, and our self-worth. But you have help closer than you think—your Inner Eve.
It is possible to have strong and healthy self-esteem when we are aware of our Inner Eve. Taking an honest look at ourselves is often the best way to evaluate who we are, where we are, and where we want to go. Ask yourself, What do I want? We need a way of handling the little day-to-day setbacks to our sense of security and significance. It all starts with our thinking. We have to retrain ourselves to think of what is true about me. Our spirits are very fragile, easy to break, but not impossible to repair. Low self-esteem makes us our own worst enemy.
The most basic need all of us have is for a sense of personal worth. Our sense of personal worth is based on the security of knowing we are loved and accepted for who we are, regardless of what we do. In addition, our personal worth is hinged on our significance in this world: having meaning or purpose in our lives, and knowing that we are good at what we do in life. The formation of this sense of fundamental value begins in our childhood. Unfortunately, it can be affected by many things—constant ridicule, harsh words, unloving actions. All tear away at a child’s sense of value, resulting in an adult’s insecurity about herself.
To this very day, my mother cannot ask me, “What did you eat for dinner?” without me cringing. I have been fighting a battle with my weight since I was five years old. I remember Momma taking me to the doctor’s office, where the two of them talked about my weight and what to do. Each morning I woke up to half a grapefruit, a boiled egg, and a dry piece of toast, or sometimes cereal and skim milk. But thank God for Sunday! Momma worked on Sundays, and our babysitter, Mrs. Phillips, cooked grits, scrambled eggs, and bacon for breakfast. Momma made special desserts on Monday, her day off from work. So we could always look forward to a chocolate cake, bread pudding, or rice pudding on Monday after school. Food became an issue early in my life.
Excerpted from Your Inner Eve by The Reverend Dr. Susan Newman. Copyright © 2005 by Reverend Dr. Susan Newman. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.