The two in the beginning were unashamed of being naked, ‘ha arumim’. Now the serpent became more ‘ha arum’, more wise. These words, ha arumim and ha arum, are not necessarily derived from one another, but for them to appear next to each other in verses certainly seems to be at least a pun on part of the writers and editors of this story. And perhaps, the insinuation of a link between the vulnerability of nakedness and wisdom. As we talk about this story today, I hope to get us to a place of embracing the vulnerability of our humanity, as this can be the source of wisdom that allows for reuniting with god, for walking with god, for being in the garden with god unafraid. For in the end, it is our separation from God that wreaks the fall on humanity.
After the two have eaten of the fruit, with their newly opened eyes they see they are naked; they recognize their vulnerability. Note though, that they hide from God for fear of our own nakedness, not out of shame. The man says, “I heard you and fearing my nakedness I hid.” Fearing all that which is inside of him that is vulnerable, that can experience pain, grief, and even death, for fear of these things he hid from God. Why hide, though? What was it about the sound of God walking in the garden that made the humans fear for their vulnerability, afraid of their nakedness?
Here I draw our attention to the sound of God walking in the garden in the ruah, the wind/breeze/spirit of the evening. You may recall from last week that “ruah” was the same word to describe God’s spirit, hovering over the waters of creation when all was darkness and void. Now, here is another furtive anticipatory moment. Big change comes with the sound of God walking in the wind. Having an intuition for this, I think, the two human beings were afraid for the change that would occur when they met God, and agent of new creation, and the way in which they may then be recreated with their new awareness, how God coming in ruah would separate, not light from dark, but the truth of that which we can help, and that which we cannot help. And in fear of facing this creative act of God, they separated first from God, rejecting God before they could be rejected.
Again, nothing in the text points to their nakedness being bad - it’s how God made them. Often you may hear that we were immortal before the fall of humanity, that we were originally created to live forever, but if that were the case, it would not be such a big deal later for us NOT to eat of the fruit of everlasting life. No, I think we were always, meant vulnerable to pain and death, just as we were always naked. In the very first paragraph of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, we hear that “All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.”
Like a child, in their ignorance their responsibility was quite limited - their only commission was to multiply and be stewards, but now with their eyes opened, they have to learn to deal with this new wisdom, new nakedness, new vulnerability. And likewise, their responsibilities become more complex. No longer can or should they just do as told. Think of yourself growing up, how coming into your own mind and wisdom, a process that I’m sure continues for us, generally involves discomfort, upset, literal growing pains. Not that growing is bad, that independence is bad, but the refusal of responsibility, the refusal to meet with God in the garden out of fear for the coming growth - well, that’s not good. It’s not good primarily because it separates us from God, the one who is not only the bearer of bad news, so to speak, but also remains from us through it.
We always talk of these curses in terms of God’s punishment, but what if it is just God finally sharing the truth we are old enough to understand. What if it’s just the beginning of the end? Surely you remember undergoing changes growing up. When mother explains to her daughter about getting her period for the first time, that can feel like the deliverance of a curse. My parents were very sweet and took me out to celebrate being a woman. But maybe we can cut God a little slack, being a first time parent and all.
We want to frame the rebellion against God as disobedience of what others tell us God demands from us - what is God’s will as filtered through the mind of man and how do we do it wrong? I think our real rebellion comes in the form of hiding from God out of fear, rather than meeting God with your knowledge, and hearing the truth of that knowledge. This being vulnerable and knowing it isn’t the fallen-ness of humanity, whatever the doctrine of the more recent centuries would say. Our nakedness, our vulnerability, and our knowledge of it, isn’t our original sin. (And in fact, no where will you find the word sin in this passage from which the concept of original sin is extrapolated.)
If I had to extrapolate an original sin, it is the breaking of relationship, of moving away from God out of fear for something we are and shall be, for judging ourselves as others would judge us, rather than loving ourselves as God loves us. The original sin is this broken connection between each other that is taught inadvertently in a way we simply cannot help through the millennia, so ingrained it is as much a fact of life as is toil in work and childbirth.
And if there is an original sin, perhaps we could also extrapolate the greatest sin of reaching for immortality before we can barely get mortality to have meaning, of using our knowledge to be all powerful as God, rather than empowering others, walking alongside God. Could you imagine being granted everlasting life with no sense of responsibility? Too much power too fast? That is it’s own kind of destructive. We can be thankful that we see we are not meant for that.
For we do not find immortality in a moment; we find it in relationship with Christ, with God, over time. We find eternal life as we grow and explore our mortality and make meaning in the face of it. And as much as we hide from God, God came to walk with us as Christ. God walked alongside us as Christ and disseminated among us as the Holy Spirit that we learn a different response to truth than hiding away in fear. How often do we pass blame to another for sharing knowledge with us? As though being a recipient rather than initiator of knowledge makes one any less responsible for it? When you know the truth, yes, you are obliged to speak it, to know it, to live into it. Christ came to once again show us the truth of loving others, how this is the way and gives meaning to life. Christ came to show how vulnerability, how pain and persecution and even death on a cross as a criminal, still leads to an empty tomb and resurrection, and still be a source of strength. How there is in fact success through obvious failure, and we are called to meet with the sound of God walking in the garden, in the ruah, ready to make that through movement.
So I’m going to invite everyone to close your eyes for a moment, and go back to a time you felt naked, exposed, fully afraid and knowing your vulnerability - something you have been fearful of being seen for, that may be as much you as your nakedness. Meet with God now in this moment. Come and answer God’s call. Let the sound of God, the creative sound of God’s stirring presence, be a welcoming sound. Stare into that moment and know it as your strength,you can become closer to God, more like God, and that God is with you. Hear God say, “Out of this new pain you have discovered, we will find growth together.”
Now open your eyes, remembering that resurrection is the power out of the truth. Brothers and sisters, do not hide, but walk alongside your God with this new level of closeness. God is not just the sculptor of the mountains, the sky, the sea, the very universe. God is also the one who will walk with us, who gets ever closer. Welcome the sound of the LORD God walking, the sound of one who is calling out to meet us.