A MAN and a woman, equally stark naked, in a garden abounding in fruit trees and awash in the fragrance of many bowers, apparently doing nothing all day, and then chancing upon a serpent that beguiles them into foreswearing all that they were sworn to live by—and then getting evicted for all eternity from the garden of delights, forever to suffer the dire consequences of their contumely: That indeed reads like a childish if not silly story. But it is never wise to ridicule the sacred narratives and scriptural myths of any religion, for in them are reposed the wisdom of saints and sages, and the enlightenment of the enlightened.
I do not want my beliefs ridiculed, as I do not want others insulted because of what they believe. Every religion is a struggle with the ultimate questions that will never be answered by sycophants and bootlickers, not by computers nor by calculators. They are sometimes called "the ultimate questions" and philosophers, throughout the ages, have raised them, each in his own way, each proffering a thoughtful answer. Religion offers hope that enables persons in the direst of straits to plod on. It allows the grieving family members of those unjustly deprived of life to carry on with life and to live with the promise of eventual vindication. It is the most powerful motive for charity, for just as evil can be so banal, humanism and nothing more can be all too fragile! Tria haec…these three then, that make it possible to be truly human—faith, hope and charity—find their wellspring in what can never be concocted or whimsically conjured. Religion is always a response of sorts to what Marion has powerfully characterized as "saturated phenomenon"—that which presents itself but overflows its presentation, that which is phenomenal but awaits no judgment of validation on my part. Assensum mentis et cordis rapiens…that which wrests the assent of mind and heart!
Every myth is an expression in narrative form of a powerful but unarticulated human experience. The story of Oedipus Rex, for example, is stupid, if it is read as a report of what supposedly happened. But when so read, the fault is not with the story, but with the reader. The problem is not with the text, but with the hermeneutic. When psychologists tell us today about the Oedipus complex, then we start to understand how wise they were who spun the myth of Oedipus Rex—and what a compelling, universal experience it is that has made the story appeal to all civilizations and that makes for instructive reading down to our troubled days. It is no less true with the Adamic myth. Genesis has been the subject of numerous exegetical studies that involve familiarity with original languages (the Hebrew of the Old Testament), literary forms and genre, historical sitz-im-leben. It has never been an easy book to read and it certainly was never meant for unbelievers.
Paul Ricoeur has a very interesting reading, applying his hermeneutic method. The whole story conveys two senses, not easily reconcilable, of evil. There is the ethical sense that is found in the malice with which Eve defies the Divine injunction and induces Adam to do the same. But there is also the tragic sense that is conveyed by the unwelcome presence of the serpent. Why was it there? What was it doing there? Why was it lying in wait for a gullible Eve? Are these not the very same questions we ask about the evil that is greater than ourselves, greater than the evil that we do? For apart from the fact that we are agents of stupid, thoughtless and hurtful acts, we also experience that we are victims of evil that seems to be beyond us and greater than ourselves. Read this way, does the Adamic myth in fact not turn out to be a very powerful and brilliant commentary on fundamental human experience and one of the intractable problems of all time—the problem of evil?
As for the "sins of the fathers," the failings of the clergy, there is no secret about that. We, ordained ministers, are fully cognizant of our failings when we preside at the rites by which God's people are sanctified, and we are full of shame, guilt and trepidation when we must preach a Gospel that many a time we ourselves have failed to live! But that is exactly the point: It is not ourselves we preach, for then there would be nothing but guilt and shame. It is a Gospel of liberation, forgiveness and compassion that we are summoned and consecrated to announce: A Gospel that is at the same time a judgment on our lives as it is on those who listen to us. But it surely is one thing to be a sinner and to be ashamed and remorseful, and quite another to be a sinner and to boast about one's sinfulness in arrant defiance.
What we preach, it has been said, is folly to the Gentiles, but salvation for those who believe. God chooses earthen vessels because the treasures within that come from him do not depend for their worth on the poor vessels that carry them. He chooses men and women with feet of clay, to remind them that they make their way through the pathways and byways of this often treacherous world not by their own power, never on their own steam, but because they are borne on eagle's wings!
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