I love the story of Adam and Eve. As a kid, I loved it because they lived in what I imagined was a climate-controlled garden full of only the good animals. Lions, tigers, giraffes, otters, baby elephants; the good animals. To a seven-year-old, that sounded like an ideal life. Who am I kidding? I’m in my thirties and that still sounds pretty ideal. No school or job to monopolize your time, just you and your animal friends hanging out like Mowgli and the gang in The Jungle Book. That seems pretty perfect.
Adam and Eve’s story is the tail end of the creation narrative and every time I’ve heard it told, it’s been in tandem with how the world came to be. This never bothered me because I was and am fascinated by the concept of there being nothing and then, with a word, there was something. As a writer, this resonates with me on a fundamental level. Before God said it, there was nothing—just an empty space devoid of substance—but then God spoke and upon doing so, there was something. That something then changed and evolved over time, eventually becoming the world we live in today. My process as a writer follows the same trajectory. Starting from nothing, an idea is spoken/written onto a page, then through the edits and rewrites, it evolves into something possibly worthy of being read by others.
But even before my writer-brain could recognize this correlation, I simply got lost in the story of the Creator and the creation; my childhood imagination lifting me off the earth and into space. I imagined what it would be like to see the first light exploding out of nothing, to see stars shooting across the sky, and to watch the shapeless earth become rounded as if it were made of volcanic Play-Doh. I’d sit high in my backyard tree on cool summer evenings and imagine what it was like to witness redwoods and giant sunflowers sprouting up all over the empty earth for the first time; daydreams that made God feel really big.
The Bible states God created the heavens and the earth. [Genesis 1:1] One might say God went “bang,” the outcome of which was the creation of the earth and everything in space around it.
The earth was formless and empty, darkness everywhere. To remedy this, God turned on the light. This was a night and day difference (creationism pun!) and God thought that was clever and good. God then moved on to create the sky and the weather, to separate the dry land from the oceans, and to implore vegetation to spring up from the land. That’s how we got honeydew melons and pineapples, the latter being something I’m extremely thankful for because it made Dole Whips at Disneyland possible. The cosmos’ came next—stars and moons and comets and life on Mars—followed by the creatures in the water and birds in the sky. This is also something I’m extremely thankful for because without this, we wouldn’t have the singing birds in the Enchanted Tiki Room, again, at Disneyland.
Next were the lions, tigers and bears. Actually, next were the dinosaurs. Let’s call a spade a spade. Dinosaurs were among the “living creatures” next on the agenda. They were never included in the narrative when I was young but that was mostly because of the way the Tyrannosaurus Rex, Velociraptor and Stegosaurus didn’t fit on the neat little timeline of taking the Bible’s 24-hour day-by-day description of creation literally.
Late in elementary school, one of my Sunday School teachers told us all the dinosaurs were killed in Noah’s flood and the weight of the water is what pushed them down into the rocks where we find their bones today. By that point, Jurassic Park was my favorite movie, I had every book about dinosaurs I could get my hands on, and I even corrected my fifth grade teacher when she mispronounced their names. (This is something I did with startling frequency and let me tell you, Ms. Craiger was not a fan.) I could get on board with the flood wiping them out but that led me to another question.
“But, if that’s true, shouldn’t there have been two of each of them on the Ark?”
I was told they didn’t make the cut.
“But the Bible says God told Noah two of every animal had to be there, right?”
I was then told perhaps they were too big to fit on the Ark. As obnoxious as I could be when it came to anything dinosaur related, (again, I really did repeatedly interrupt poor Ms. Craiger to correct her pronunciation) I nodded and sat back in my seat. My teacher’s argument dissolved and for the first time, I saw cracks in the “biblical history as literal world history” veneer. Once I was old enough to think critically for myself, I saw why a divide between creationism and evolution existed, but in my brain, the Bible and science were never strange bedfellows. Still it seemed people from both sides of that argument were intent on telling me they couldn’t, shouldn’t, and wouldn’t go together.
As a kid in the Bible Belt in the 90s, people used bumper stickers as a mode of traveling evangelism as well as a “Hi, my name is…”-adjacent sticker to let strangers know where they stood on a variety of issues. Political affiliation was most common of course, but in Texas, many church folks had a little metallic fish somewhere on the back of their car; an automotive Christianese tramp stamp that let people know they were Christians and proud of it. The fish as a symbol is believed to have originated during the time when the Roman Empire was actively persecuting Christians post-Jesus. Fearing for their lives, they used the fish to denote safe meeting places as well as a sign for who was friend and who was foe, a delineation that still existed on the bumpers of cars in North Texas 1900 years later. There’s nothing wrong with sharing what you believe be it by bumper sticker, t-shirt, or Twitter bio—be you proudly (Unless you’re a misogynist or a racist. In that case, you have nothing to be proud of and a lot of work to do on yourself.)—but there was a different metallic accessory other people put on the rear ends of their cars. Theirs was the same Christian fish symbol but their fish had legs. This was a pro-evolution statement that got Super-Christians in my circle very riled up and was perceived as uber-sacrilegious; a non-verbal but loudly-spoken statement about people’s views on the debate.
It’s a debate I still don’t understand since the chain of events outlined in Genesis isn’t that far removed from the chain of events outlined by those in science. There was nothing, then there was something. That’s true whether you call it a “bang” or not. Then that something led to a series of somethings which eventually led to us today. And where mankind is concerned, the biblical text says, “Then God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” [Genesis 2:7] So, from that sentence, you can either infer God formed Adam like Ultron formed Vision in The Avengers (that may not be exactly how they articulate it, but that’s what many Christians believe happened) or you can infer the microscopic organisms God created in the ground gradually evolved into larger organisms until we got to mankind. Either way, we have the same end result. We’re here. The Bible and science are not foes.
Sure, there are miracles which can’t be explained by science—that’s why they’re called miracles—but God gave us intelligence so we could discover the scientific understanding of this miracle world on which we live. It’s a miracle any of us are here and science points to a thousand reasons why that’s true.
Back to the plot. Animals made their biblical debut and not too long after, it was man’s turn. Enter Adam. Then it’s woman’s turn, thank God. Enter Eve. Alright, now that the gang’s all here, let’s make some history. Eve and her couldn’t-cut-it-by-himself partner, Adam, loved their garden life full of Dole Whips and singing birds and while they had free reign of their surroundings, God gave them one rule: Don’t eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Just don’t. That’s it. The rest is perfect and yours to enjoy, just don’t do that one thing.
How many of us have been told something similar? You can do whatever you want, just don’t open that drawer. You know the only thing you want to do then is open that drawer! This is Human Nature 101. Anyway, a snake showed up and started talking to them about said tree. As a kid, I imagined Kaa from The Jungle Book or Sir Hiss from Robin Hood—a sneaky, mean little thing—talking to Eve as if that was an everyday occurrence. Raised on Disney movies in which animals talked, not to mention my aforementioned affinity for the singing birds of the Tiki Room, this made perfect sense to me. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized a snake vocalizing wasn’t normal or plausible.
Still, as the story goes, the snake told Eve God was lying to them and eating the forbidden fruit wouldn’t actually kill them. On the contrary, it would open their eyes to all the world had to offer. [Genesis 3:5] It’s ironic that within the snake’s lie, there was a bedrock of truth. Her eyes would, in fact, be opened, but they would be opened to the hurt and suffering that exists in the world.
Eve eats some fruit, convinces Adam to do the same, they both look at the voyeuristic animals staring at their naked bodies and upon feeling shame for the first time, they immediately sewed some leaves together to cover themselves. The next part is interesting. The Bible says they heard the sound of God walking through the garden which prompted them to hide. [Genesis 3:8] This is one of the few stories in the Bible in which God is not an amorphous voice from above or within. God is a tactile character with whom Adam and Eve shared their day-to-day lives.
God allowed Adam to come clean about doing the one thing he was asked not to do but Adam blame-shifted onto Eve who blame-shifted onto the talking snake. God then inflicted war and the pain of childbirth on the couple—an overreaction by any measure—before making each of them a new set of clothes. Again, this is a tangible God doing something tactile.
The duo left their real-life Jungle River Cruise behind and once they were firmly living outside of the Adventureland that had been their Edenic existence, the real human adventure began. Adam and Eve kicked into family mode with the births of their sons Cain and Abel and after they’d grown older, Abel spent his time with Shaun the Sheep and tended the flocks while Cain hung out with The Great Pumpkin and tended the fields and gardens. Both brought offerings to God—Cain bringing fruits and Abel bringing dead firstborn sheep (hopefully not Shaun)—and God happened to like Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. Ouch.
Cain was upset, which I totally get, so God talked to him about it. Again, God is a character who has tangible conversations with the first family. It wasn’t that God didn’t like the veggie platter, it was the spirit with which it was given that wasn’t acceptable. Cain apparently didn’t care for that answer so he took Abel out into the field and killed him. Another overreaction.
Though knowing the answer already, God asked Cain where Abel was, much like how God asked Adam why he was hiding in the garden. Trying to skirt the truth, Cain copped an attitude. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:9] The first recorded biblical sass. But God already knew and as such, cursed Cain for murdering his brother, a curse that would continue for generations, and the domino effect of action and reaction was set snowballing down the mountainsides of human history.
There are many who don’t believe the story of Adam and Eve is to be taken literally; that it doesn’t make sense for every person who ever lived to spring from one couple; that this story of creation is mirrored in other ancient descriptions of the birth of mankind and is meant to be more of a parable against what happens when we invite pain and greed into our lives. As a kid, I didn’t know about any of those opinions, I only knew that Adam and Eve were our starting point and they got to name tigers and otters and honeydew melons.
I remember being very young and asking earnestly in Sunday School, “If Adam had to name all the plants and animals, how did he remember what each would be called?” My teacher told me that’s why God sent Eve. It was a solid response but still, all the animals in the world, named by two nudists in a garden? I pressed my teacher on the issue, asking, “What about the fish in the ocean that were far away from the garden?” I don’t remember there being an answer for that. I wasn’t trying to be ornery, I just had questions. Animals and fish are a big deal when you’re a kid. I vacillated between wanting to be a lion tamer and a marine biologist for the bulk of my young life so I was far more concerned with how Adam named all of those creatures than I was with the plausibility of a talking snake.
As I grew, I learned Christians hadn’t cornered the market on the story of creation. Contrary to what my insular Bible Belt upbringing said, there were more versions of the tale beyond our creationism and their evolution. Whereas in the Bible, God speaks, “Let there be light,” [Genesis 1:3] Greek mythology stated that from Chaos, a nothingness, emerged Gaia, the earth, who then gave birth to Uranus, the sky. The ancient Japanese believed a shapeless chaos was separated into light and darkness when the light particles floated to the top of the universe, while the Incas believed the great creator deity rose from a lake in the time of darkness to bring forth the light by creating the sun, moon and stars. Over the course of time, there have been many different ways to illustrate the concept of “let there be light.”
My family and I have Cherokee blood in us. My great grandfather’s mother was a Cherokee woman and as such, Cherokee culture has been a part of our lives for as long as I can remember. From art purchased at reservations to stories about my great grandfather singing Cherokee chants in the car, we’ve been proud to be counted among the ancestors of the Cherokee nation despite being however many generations removed at this point.
In the creation story told by the Cherokee people, the earth began as a large floating island in a sea of water, the flapping of a Great Buzzard’s wings caused the soft earth to rise into mountains or dip into valleys, and the sun was set on a track to roll across the island every day from east to west. They didn’t know who made the animals and plants, but they believed both were instructed by their creator to stay awake for seven nights post-creation. The only animals who didn’t fall asleep were the owl and the panther so to them was given the power to see in the dark so they could make prey of the birds and animals who couldn’t stay awake. The trees that remained awake—the cedar, pine, spruce and holly— were gifted the ability to remain green regardless of the season. The trees whose leaves withered and fell did so as punishment for their inability to stay awake.*
I mention this because 1) it’s fascinating and I like the idea of a giant buzzard flying above the North American continent and causing the formation of the mountains and valleys, and 2) to illustrate how every culture has their own version of how we got here. I think that’s okay. Heresy! Not really. Looking at this Cherokee story, it’s rife with consequence.
For their inability to remain awake the requested seven days, most animals would become prey and most trees would lose their plumage each year. For Adam and Eve, their inability to steer clear of the single forbidden tree resulted in their having to leave the garden and enter a world of pain. Cain’s inability to honor his brother resulted in a curse that lasted for generations. The words are different but the themes are the same.
The story of our world and our becoming mankind is as much about consequence as it is about creation. There’s a way things work and when we act outside of that, we have to pay for it. Whether God physically walked with a man named Adam and a woman named Eve is inconsequential to the truth of their story.
When talking to my friend James about this, his explanation was that Adam and Eve’s directive was simple: Love God and love each other. They failed to do the first part by not staying away from the tree and when called on the carpet, they sold each other out, failing at the “love each other” part as well. As such, the plan crumbled.
That plan, the love God and love each other plan, has been interpreted and represented in different ways over time. For Moses it came in the form of the Ten Commandments. For Jesus, it was the sermon on the mount. For Luther, it was the 95 Thesis. For Martin Luther King, it was a speech about a dream. They were all trying to point people back to the plan.
The story of creation tells us the mix of earthly properties that keep us and everything else on the planet alive is the miracle. Our existence is the miracle. It’s not really about the play-by-play of how we got here, it’s about the miracle of our being here at all. As one of my favorite singers, Emeli Sande, sings, “I believe in miracles because it’s a miracle I’m here.”
Our miracle existence also means we inherited the calling to be caretakers of the flora and fauna we encounter along our adventure just as Adam and Eve did. Those singing birds and pineapples, the oil fields and oceans, the mountains and the molehills, they’re entrusted to our care because they too are miracles. [Genesis 2:15] This is true whether you believe in the biblical creation story, Darwin’s evolution or any number of other cultures’ versions of how we got here. It’s also true no matter your politics.
Adam and Eve messed up and they paid for it. I’ve messed up plenty and paid for it too so I get it, it sucks, but the tail end of Adam’s story was that he had more kids and lived a super long time. It may not have been perfect like Eden, but he had a lot to thank God for. I thank God for the miracle of my being here too. I like being here. And for Dole Whips. I also thank God for Dole Whips.
Adam, Eve and the talking snake can be found in the book of Genesis. Just start at the beginning, a very good place to start.
So what’s this all about? Read my introduction to the Sunday School for Sinners and Saints project here.
*98, Part 1 (Washington: Govt. Printing Office, 1900), 236–7, 239–40, 430–1, 435–6; L. G. Moses, “The Eastern Cherokees,” in The Indian Man: A Biography of James Mooney (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1984), 18–51; David Leeming and Jake Page, The Mythology of Native North America (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1998), 77 ff.
Illustrations by freepik.com