I think this is one of the parts of studying the Old Testament in Sunday school that I enjoy the most. The Sunday we go over Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden is usually one of the most lively classes that we have all year. It seems that each member of the church holds deep feelings and opinions over what happened and why. I have my own. I also have a blog, so I can express my personal ideas here!
The Three Pillars
Church materials have asked that we not talk about the Fall in the Garden of Eden without also talking about the Creation and the Atonement. I love that idea – without understanding the Creation and Atonement, the Fall seems to be a pretty dismal event! Without knowing the whole story, it looks like Eve and Adam really messed up.
I think there are some things that most Latter-day Saints agree on.
- Heavenly Father always had a plan. Mortality wasn’t just something He dreamed up at some point and thought He’d try it out.
- We lived with Father before we came to mortality.
- In order to properly learn to use agency, faith, and other gifts that God has for us, the memory of living with Him had to be temporarily erased from our memories.
- The earth was made to give us a place to learn and grow away from Father’s presence and influence. It was always intended that there would be good and evil forces acting upon us here.
- Adam and Eve lived in paradise. There was no sickness, no pain, and no death. They walked and talked with Father. They were totally innocent.
- Eve listened to Satan and ate the forbidden fruit. Adam also ate.
- Because of that choice, mortality became reality and Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden.
- Adam and Eve were no longer able to walk with God.
- The Savior is the only person who has lived on the earth and lived a perfect, sinless life.
- He chose and volunteered to be our Savior.
- Somehow, in the garden at Gethsemane, he took upon him all of our sins and pains – He bore ALL of the consequences.
- He offered Himself as the ultimate, perfect sacrifice that would allow the rest of us to access the plan of mercy and salvation.
Why the Debate?
Somehow, I think that we have equated inferiority and superiority with who did what first. We have seen this played out throughout history, and I have heard snide jokes be passed around in Sunday school classes. I think we have misconceptions about what happened when they were questioned by Heavenly Father. I think we often view that they were punished. (A view that I personally disagree with!)
I am more interested in what principles can be learned from the event:
- Eve was “beguiled.”
- Adam also chose to break the law given. They transgressed together.
- Only Satan was rebellious in his intents, and only Satan and the ground were cursed.
- Natural consequences often feel like punishments.
Eve was “Beguiled”
She was tricked. She was duped. Satan used her lack of divine memory against her and sought to use her to mess up Father’s plan. Somehow, Eve became convinced that she needed to take and eat the fruit. Because we are told that she transgressed rather than sinned, I feel safe in the conclusion that she somehow believed that she would be furthering Father’s plans using Satan’s means.
I don’t see how this makes all of the women in the world inferior to men. Men and women have different traits which can be strengths or weaknesses, depending on the situation. To me, it seems that the Adversary appealed to Eve’s tendency to see shades of things, where men tend to think more in black and white. I’ve had this happen to me many times, where I wanted desperately to do Father’s will, but found myself using Satan’s tactics to get the job done. If I know good from evil and have more light and knowledge than Eve did in the garden of Eden, how do I judge her and all females inferior because she was tricked?
Adam and Eve Transgressed Together
Adam found himself stuck between two laws: stay with Eve and have children, or eat the fruit. He made the decision to eat the fruit, just as Eve did. In the scriptures, it says “my” and “ours” when Adam and Eve later talk about their experience.
Only Satan and the Ground Were Cursed
The earth was cursed “for Adam’s sake.” It sounds to me like there was no punishment on the earth, but a willingness to enter the mortal condition so that Adam and Eve could experience good and evil for themselves, express their agency, and grow to the level of their capacity. Neither Adam nor the earth had acted in rebellion.
Satan, on the other hand, had entered the garden with the intent of blowing the plan that had been put in place before we ever got here. He wanted God’s power, and if he couldn’t have it, he was going to mess things up as badly as possible and grab all the power he could get. The fact that Father knows Satan well enough to be able to use his attempts to push the plan forward doesn’t absolve Satan of his intents. Satan is cursed. That is a punishment.
Natural Consequences Feel Like Punishments
To me, the rest of the things pronounced to Adam and Eve were just natural consequences of their choice, and a restatement of what had been agreed upon before the earth was created. Even though consequences aren’t punishments (one person inflicting repercussions for undesirable behavior, presumably as a teaching tool), they often feel like it. Adam and Eve lost a lot:
- They could no longer stand in the presence of Father and talk with Him face-to-face. This is spiritual death.
- The earth stopped bearing good fruits spontaneously, and Adam and Eve would have to work for their sustenance.
- Eve would have pain in childbirth.
- Not all of their children would choose to follow Heavenly Father, bringing them heartache.
- They became mortal, so they were subject to pain and illness, and would eventually die physically.
I have no doubt that all of this felt like a terrible punishment! It might have even felt unfair. But, these consequences turn out to be some of our greatest blessings: we long for the divine because there is an emptiness inside, we build our character through hard work, we love our children more because of the sacrifices we have to make for them, and we eventually get to leave the ills of mortality behind us. We grow, we become more christ-like, and we learn divine truths that we could have never understood without experiencing mortality. Since punishment usually doesn’t have any positives to it besides teaching one specific lesson, these look like consequences turned to blessings.
There is so much that we do not know about the garden of Eden. We can’t remember anything about Adam and Eve. We only have what Father has chosen to reveal. I think we need to learn to take things on faith:
- Adam and Eve were both righteous and noble.
- Heavenly Father places us in situations where we are most likely to grow to a point where we can return to Him.
- Heavenly Father loves both his daughters and his sons.
- It is more important to worry about personal flaws and worthiness than to try to make sweeping generalizations from the events in the garden.