We're all familiar with the story. In fact, if you grew up in the church, you're probably so familiar with the story that there's no surprise, no suspense left in it. But Genesis 3 is an epic drama. The fate of the entire human race hanging in the balance as good and evil are paraded across this cosmic stage. It was Shakespearean before Shakespearean was cool.
And at the center of it all: fruit. Yep, skin and pulp and juice. A plum, a pear, maybe a pomegranate. We don't know. There are some (quite serious) people out there who are certain it was a grape because wine comes from grapes and wine is the devil's drink. I'll leave that discussion for another time (perhaps after we share in the Communion table?).
But almost every person who has read that fateful chapter has at one time or another expressed the same frustration and confusion at the account of the fall:
"What's the big deal with the fruit?!!"
I mean, it seems so arbitrary. So piddling. So banal. My pastor once described the pre-fall state of Adam and Eve as "a million yeses and one no". But that one "no" seems so maddeningly trivial that some people are inclined to allegorize the entire story. "Surely the fruit represents sex" they say. (Right. 'Cause that makes sense after God puts two nekked people in Eden and tells them to "be fruitful and multiply". Sorry, try again. Better luck next time. Don't quit your day job.)
But if this world of typhoid and typhoons, racism and rape, gender wars and genocide, tyranny and tragedy, is all due to a literal little nibble on the no-no nectarine (say that five times fast)...well, then we've got a bigger problem on our hands: namely, a God who looks a whole lot like Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts tearing through the universe crying "off with their heads!" when someone sneezes on his backswing.
Is there any way to understand the fruit, the forbidden, the fall, that doesn't turn the entire story into a metaphor or turn God into a whimsical deity guilty of a cosmos-swallowing overreaction?
A long time ago in a Galilee (not so) far, far away...
I am reminded of another story in Scripture where there was a discussion about another singular rule, another solitary commandment.
And one of the scribes came up and ... asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’From Jesus himself we are given the big E on the eye chart, the bullseye on the moral dartboard of life. Every other command, rule, prohibition, and exhortation uttered by God flows out of this one, including the one Jesus mentions immediately after ("You shall love your neighbor as yourself").
(Mark 12:28-30 ESV)
Or to say it another way, if you keep this one rule (love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength) then by default you will have kept all the other rules as well...including that one way back in the garden. Yes, the one about the fruit. Yup, the weird one. We'll get there, but first, Jesus' one commandment:
Love the Lord with all your heart: Do you desire God more than anything else? Or are there other things that capture your heart and steal your affections?
Love the Lord with all your soul: Do you find your deepest identity in who God says you are? Or are you tempted to find your identity in who others say you are and the identity you can create for yourself?
Love the Lord with all your mind: Do you trust an infinitely wise and good God? Or do you trust your own reasoning first and only turn your thoughts in God's direction when it makes sense to you?
Love the Lord with all your strength: Will the labor of your hands be used to show God as great, God as glorious, God as worthy of worship, praise, and honor? Or will you work and strive for that which will bring yourself glory and applause?
And now we are ready to return to the garden. Perhaps, by now, you see where I am going. Because the fruit didn't just represent some arbitrary no-no. No, no, not at all. It represented a God-alternative that asked for their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Heart - At Satan's flowery promises of an eye-opening meal, Adam and Eve desired what the fruit offered more than what God offered.
Soul - At Satan's charge that God was holding out on them and that they could be so much more (i.e. "like God"), Adam and Eve reached for self-created identities rather than the identities given them by God.
Mind - At Satan's alternative story (which included painting God as a liar), Adam and Eve trusted their own reasoning and wisdom more than they trusted God's.
Strength - At Satan's prompting, Adam and Eve lifted their hands to work for their own glory instead of God's.
So yeah. The fruit was a big deal. If I may be so bold as to say it again, it represented a God-alternative that asked for their heart, soul, mind, and strength. But fortunately for us, God didn't let the story end there. In the very same chapter of Genesis 3, God promises to send another, a singular offspring of woman, a snake-crusher.
And Jesus came. At every point where Adam and Eve failed (and we all continually fail), he did not. At every temptation for his heart, soul, mind, and strength, Jesus resisted and the full testimony of his life cried out:
"My heart is the Lord's, and he is my greatest desire. My soul is the Lord's, and he gives me my deepest identity. My mind is the Lord's, and he is the most trustworthy source of wisdom and knowledge. My strength is the Lord's, and my work is for his glory."
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:15-17 ESV)