Did humanity fall from perfection, or rise up out of innocence?
This is my big question at the moment, which emerges from the second creation myth (Gen. 2:5-4:24). It is difficult to get a sense of perfection in this account. It is all sort of messy. God forms the first human (Adam) out of the soil (Adamah), in order to tend to the garden of Eden. Again, no claim of perfection is made for this garden which God plants. Though, perhaps we can infer that God made it according to a plan, and it grew according to God’s intent. But the intent of God is not fully revealed here. We are not told whether Eden is to be Adam’s eternal home or merely a safe place for development before fulfilling a greater purpose.
Yet, we are told that God sets up boundaries. Adam may eat from any tree, except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The concept of innocence is not explicitly addressed here. This is also an inference. As long as Adam does not transgress the boundaries set up by God, guilt is not incurred, which would entail a loss of innocence. However, these concepts are not specifically addressed here. Innocence may not be the best term for the original state of Adam.
The process of finding a suitable companion for Adam creates some problems for the speculation of original perfection. God does not appear to get it right on the first try. None of the animals, which God forms out of the soil, is just right for Adam. God’s intent here is eventually fulfilled by the Woman that God forms from Adam’s rib. Together they are naked and unashamed. Again, we are not told if there is a greater intent for this couple, or if it is God’s desire for them to remain obedient garden dwellers for all of eternity.
Enter the serpent, one of God’s creatures. The serpent reveals a choice that these human beings did not even know they had. They can remain as they are in the garden, or they can eat and achieve a higher state of being, to become like God, knowing good and evil. What is neglected by these three (serpent, woman, and man) are the consequences of crossing boundaries. God proclaims curses on all three for their respective transgressions, but death is not immediate. There is mercy in the judgment and opportunity to face new challenges, which will also result in pain and hardship.
Perhaps the choice to eat represents the first flexing of the human will. The exercise of will comes with consequences. The fall is not so much a loss of perfection, as it is gravity catching up with willful action. Humanity rises and falls at the same time. This is the great paradox of human will, there are both good and evil results in its exercise. It is good that humanity rises from basic existence in the garden, but it is evil that pain, hardship, and even death are the consequences. (I can’t seem to avoid a major loose end in theodicy here. God appears to have a part, at least passively, in the creation of evil.)
Eventually, outright sin creeps into the picture as Cain murders his brother Abel. Murder is the ultimate transgression of the human will, effectively extinguishing the will of another. Yet, we again see God’s mercy in judgment. Cain is allowed to live and becomes the father of several nations. God’s guiding hand is always present no matter how far humanity falls.
My opening question remains unanswered, but perhaps the question of the original state of humanity is not the point. My brief tangent into human will and theodicy may also miss the mark of this ancient origin story. God’s mercy is readily apparent, even in the earliest events of salvation history. This is something that should not be overlooked. God’s saving action within history is as old as history itself and is a theme that is constantly reiterated in the Scriptures. We do well to draw this out of this text, whatever we may read into it.