Have you ever thought about why the church values Jesus so much?
Moral teachings aside, you’re probably familiar with the concept of salvation. This idea that we “sinners” need saved, and that Jesus’ death upon the cross washes those sins away. We Christians know this quite well. Our big holiday — Easter — is what this is all about.
But have you stopped to ask why salvation is so important?
There’s an inherent understanding that we as human beings are bad. The Calvinist branch of Christians will go as far to say that we are “totally depraved.” Yup, that’s some intentionally harsh language there. But you have to understand that history has been re-interpreted so many times that we often take for granted pretty much everything about the Christian tradition.
So let’s rewind to the roots of this whole conundrum: Genesis 3. I’m sure you’re familiar with the story even if you didn’t grow up in the church. The abridged version is that Adam and Eve are living in union with God in the Garden of Eden, and they botch things up after eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil after God explicitly tells them not to. God boots them out, and from then on humanity is forced to toil with the land.
Now, let’s talk a little about biblical exposition. A topic of which I’m sure you are just brimming with excitement about! Don’t worry, I’ll try to keep things super simple here.
First, let’s rewind even further back to Genesis 1 with the accounting of Creation. Again, you know the story: God creates different things across six days and finally rests on the seventh day. It records that mankind is not created until the sixth day, so even if we’re being ultra generous about how literal this creation story is, we have to admit that nobody was around to witness the first five days of creation.
Naturally, this brings up a lot of questions for me. How did the author of Genesis learn about the first five days of Creation? Was it dictated to Adam by God while in the Garden? Is Adam a reliable spectator to this revelation? Was this revelation properly handed down through the generations and appropriately recorded by the author of Genesis? Or perhaps was the author of Genesis divinely inspired directly? And what does it mean to be divinely inspired?
These are all fair questions, but none of them give really plausible answers. It’s way too convenient to rely on the witness of a single individual passing information down across multiple generations. So we have to reframe the situation: Could it be that Genesis 1 is not literal?
And if Genesis 1 isn’t literal, what about Genesis 2 and, of course, Genesis 3?
It’s not a wild question. Even conservative biblical scholars admit that there are many places in the Bible where multiple genres of literature exist. It’s not too different than our own modern literature. We don’t treat poetry the same way we treat a history book or a fiction book. We recognize all these genres all different yet valid in their own respects.
I’m not going to go too in deep about what I’m about to share, but there’s a lot of solid evidence pointing to some overlapping stories of the early Bible and other epic tales from the Babylonian era. It’s curious enough to at least say the first few chapters of Genesis aren’t to necessarily be trusted as being super literal.
This turns the whole game on its head.
Again, it’s not an uncommon practice even today to write in narrative form to drive a point across even if it’s not literally true. Think about the book “Animal Farm” by George Orwell. That may have been a fictitious tale with talking pigs and the like, but it was an extremely real critique of the Soviet Union.
Even if it’s not literally true, it is totally true on a different level.
That requires us to re-analyze what we think about The Fall. In full transparency, I don’t have a definitive answer, but I’ll posit one anyway.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus often refers to the “cool as a cucumber”-ness of nature. Flowers dressed in “fine clothes,” birds not worrying about food, all that fine stuff. It’s interesting to note that he always contrasts this with how human beings spend a lot of time being anxious or worrying. And it’s very true: why is it that plants and animals seem to more or less be totally okay with whatever comes their way while I constantly worry about things like my receding hair line? (It’s true folks, I’m getting old.)
Now, let’s consider an allegorical interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, specifically Genesis 3. Note that up until the fall, Adam and Eve are in a constant union with God. It’s at the point when the two partake of the fruit of the Tree when God boots them out.
Recall now, what is the name of that Tree?
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
And at this point, they toil with the land. Additionally, Eve specifically has to face labor pains. But the birds of the air maintain no anxiety about the same.
Another question: did the nature of the Earth change at this point? Or was the nature of the Garden of Eden different than that of the outside world?
We don’t know, and anthropological studies have not found conclusive evidence that the Garden of Eden ever existed. We generally know humans originated in Africa, but scouting of that region hasn’t proved that there was this patch of land that was intrinsically different in nature than the rest of the globe. (Conservatives would explain this away with the Flood story, which is again way too convenient.)
Allegorically speaking, it makes all the sense in the world: if human consciousness develops to a point of perception beyond other plants and animals, we recognize that the world can be a harsh place to live in.
Let’s recap our puzzle pieces:
- Different literary genres exist and prove truth, even if not literal
- Animal / plant nature lives in peace due to “ignorance,” for lack of better word
- Humans have an evolved consciousness, symbolized in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
In a sense, I think you can almost read Genesis 3 as a lamentation of human consciousness. At some point in history, we developed this egoic awareness that has potentially done us a lot more harm than good. I mean, even Jesus is quite frank about how good it is to be a flower or a bird. Being a human being is rough.
More importantly (and more controversially)… this discards the traditional understand of the fall and in turn…
a need for salvation.
And I’m going to end the post there now. Partly because I enjoy the thrill of leaving y’all on a cliffhanger. Partly because this post is getting way too long. But mostly because I don’t know what to tell you about Jesus now. To quote the Weird Al wannabe band Apologetix, I don’t see Jesus as the “real sin savior” anymore.
I will say this: I do NOT value Jesus any less than I did before. In fact, I probably value him now more than ever. It’s just difficult to articulate what that looks like right now. So if you walk away from this post with one thing, at least know that I’m not looking out to wreck the J-Man for you. He’s still at the top in my book, so I hope you’ll stick around as I explore this faith in future posts.