PART TWO: ON THE GARDEN OF EDEN
I don’t find the Adam and Eve story helpful because I don’t really believe it. If it were true, why would God put the fruit in the garden or let the serpent in the garden? Where would Eve’s desire to disobey God come from?
The Church believes some parts of the Bible are literal. For example, that Jesus was born of a virgin and rose from the dead are historical facts. Other parts of Scripture mix historical facts and allegory or metaphor. Early in the Church, people believed parts of Genesis in particular could be interpreted as part historical, part allegory. People in the history of the Church have also disagreed over what is historical or not, and often it is hard to tell. Was the universe created in 7 24-hour days? Probably not. Were there two human beings that are the ancestors of all others? Probably. Were their names Adam and Eve? Maybe not. Did they commit the first sin which has been passed down to the rest of mankind? Yes. Was that sin committed by eating a fruit because a serpent tempted them to? Maybe not.
It is hard for us to know exactly which parts are historical facts. But even though those particular facts might not be exactly historically true, they still communicate the truth of what happened in an allegorical way. So what was the first sin, as described in the book of Genesis? “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. . . . All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (CCC 397). God gave us the freedom to choose good and be like Him. Our first parents abused that freedom and chose something contrary to God’s will.
Why did God give us freedom if we were just going to use it to sin? Because you cannot choose to love God if there is not also the possibility of rejecting God. If God forced us to love him, that would not really be love. “God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel, so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him” (CCC 1731).
So why was the fruit even in the Garden? Our greatest happiness comes from obeying God because He knows what will make us happy and fulfilled. Perhaps He put the fruit into the Garden to give us the opportunity to obey Him in love. If there was no opportunity to disobey God, neither would there be the opportunity to obey Him. Which would mean that Adam and Eve would not really be able to choose to love God. The Lord does not force us to obey; He allows us to choose Him over sin, to listen to His voice rather than the serpent’s. Sometimes we fail, of course. But that’s why He sent us His only Son, that our sins may be forgiven through His Crucifixion and His triumphant Resurrection.