Consider the following two statements:
“Two plus two equals four.”
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
Now, which one is more true?
Both statements are true, but they are true in different ways. When I say, “Two plus two equals four,” I state a mathematical fact, pure and simple. When Shakespeare says, “All the world’s a stage,” he describes reality in a figurative way. He does not think the world is flat with a big curtain across the front – nor should we.
If we can understand the differences in truth between those two statements, then perhaps we can begin to understand a level of truth that the Bible tries to convey.
Consider the first three chapters of Genesis. The writer who brought together the stories of Genesis never intended it as a scientific treatise about the origins of the world. The writer did not intend for us to think that the world was 6,000 years old and created in six days – especially when you consider he contradicts himself in Genesis 2:4 by saying that it was only one day!
If you do not see the inherent, logical inconsistencies and problems with the creation account, then you are intentionally blinding yourself. How can you have light and darkness (day one) before these is sun and moon (day four)? How can you have all vegetation (day three) before there is a sun? And what about the flat earth with a roof that is described in day two? And what do you do with the fact that Genesis 1 has a completely different order of creation (vegetation, animals, then human beings) than is found in Genesis 2 (humans first, then vegetation and animals)?
Genesis 1-2 does not square with scientific facts, because it was never intended to be science! Rather, the writers were trying to communicate foundational truths about God and the human condition.
The same holds true with the story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent in Genesis 2-3. Nowhere does the writer say that the serpent is Satan or the devil. In fact, he explicitly says that “the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made.” (3:1) Yet, many read this story as the devil tempting the first human beings, leading to an unhealthy conclusion that we carry “original sin” – a phrase NEVER used in Scripture – within us.
What if we instead read this story as the writer intended: as illustrating the human condition? What if we took the serpent for what it represents: the subtle and crafty power of temptation? Listen to how the story may then speak.
We are tempted by pride and power to become more than what we are, even to become like God. When we give in to such temptation, relationships are broken: with the earth itself, with one another, and with God. When we give in to such temptation, we experience separation. We experience death.
Isn’t that what we see in the world around us? We hold up our race or our gender or our orientation or our religion or our country – or our self – as more than what we are, pushing down and neglecting anyone perceived as “different” or not like us. As a consequence, we experience injustice and hatred and violence and war. We experience separation. We experience death.
But God does not desire us to be this way. He clothes us so that we may live in a new way. He encourages us to fight against the temptation that may come our way. We are called to “strike the head” of temptation, so that it does not take root within us. We are reminded that temptation often “will strike our heel,” trip us up.
We tell this story as a cautionary tale about the temptation to power and acknowledge that we have given in to that temptation since the beginning of time. But we also remember that God wants to restore us and make us whole, to heal our brokenness and set us free to live in love once again.
So let us reclaim this story not as story and not as history. Let us reclaim this story so that we may know how far we have fallen and how far God longs to restore us.