Bless her heart.
That’s the first thing that comes to mind about Eve’s scene in the Fall.
Just bless her heart.
Our leading lady stands in a lush garden that easily produces food for her, even food that grants eternal life. Her design promises to make her the stage to the miracle of new life. She’s surrounded by the splendor of a creation gifted into her authority, where the I AM walks in the cool of the day, having never known life without her perfect match. She’s never overlooked; she’s the piece humanity was missing and makes its mission possible. And she lives comfortably, fully exposed– there is no risk in intimacy when God is so near.
And yet, when the tempter slithers up with his divisive questions, she doesn’t dismiss him. He betrays in his phrasing that he does not ask for information but rather to challenge the information he already has — and she engages. She entertains his contrary message long enough that when this guardian of the garden is met with her first intruder, he slips right by.
It is here at the breakdown between God and humanity and therefore between the humans that complementarian/egalitarian interpretation diverges. Where some would summarize the failure of Genesis 3 as a failure to submit to God’s authority and leave it at that, others also find woman’s failure to invite her husband’s leadership and the husband’s failure to exercise loving authority.
Undoubtedly, what the woman needs at this critical moment is intervention from her partner. All can agree that if he was witness to this exchange, at the very least his level headedness as the undeceived participant should’ve moved him to speak against the lies he heard. Question of hierarchy aside, he failed to be a friend. But can we go further to say he failed his unique duty to uphold the moral laws of the garden as head of the marriage? That depends on how we define humanity’s problem and its solution.
The popular, complementarian prescription here is very telling of our favorite approaches to temptation and our own weakness. We often diagnose Eve’s problem as distractability— perfectly solvable with enough focus and accountability. We see Adam’s role as pep talking her through her weakness— hyping her up to wage war on her own desires with white-knuckled willpower. Maybe we even hope he’ll shout over the both of them and rush her away. The loving leadership needed in the hierarchical interpretation is re-impressing law she’d clearly forgotten, its consequences, and how to avoid breaking it. Isn’t that how we lead ourselves?
Except… Eve didn’t forget God’s rule. Not one syllable. The woman has a clear (even stricter) understanding of what the law says and who issued it, and no longer needs her husband to relay that information, if he even did so at all.
So what’s the disconnect? To be fair to the woman, the serpent presents very sly half-truths, playing her humanity like. a. fiddle. His lies aren’t half-baked out of laziness. They are calculated plays into human pride. He convinced the woman that equality to God was achievable while she stood amidst the gorgeous, overwhelming evidence of God’s unparalleled power. Even if the means made sense– that this extra special, off-limits tree can make a person like God– the goal itself of becoming equal to God should have been glaringly ridiculous. And sure, from a human perspective one could conceive of a jealous god who fretfully shoos his minions away from supernatural power sources, or of a spiteful god who keeps good things from his people just for malicious fun. But again, standing amidst the lavish evidence of God’s love and goodwill toward humanity, Eve had no inspiration for such a caricature of God other than her own free-wheeling mind spurred on by wicked forces. Instead of remembering the power of God’s likeness in her, and instead of asserting her God-given authority over this lowly animal and lowly plant, the woman doubted His character and intentions in limiting their behavior, and she broke the one rule of Eden in a power-grab. At the root of sin, the root of disobedience we find self-centeredness and ultimately, mistrust.
We suffer many symptoms as various sinful behaviors, but the underlying spiritual illness is that of unbelief, and it’s worsened by the remedies we concoct for it. We become certain that we aren’t enough– that somehow our value as living idols of the One True God is at risk– and we devolve into scrambling egomaniacs. We sin seeking pleasure, convinced that adhering to God’s standards won’t bring us as much joy, or seeking human approval, convinced that His approval won’t be as satisfying, or seeking control, convinced that ours is the only way to security and peace. We even sin to spite God, convinced that His perceived misdeeds against us make Him deserving of our rebellion. All this, despite His continual offering of rest and fulfillment and displays of His power and love. We still take the blessings of free will and creative imagination and whip up a false, imperfect profile of our Maker to fuel our selfish, fear-based pursuits.
Even Adam, who was not deceived but rather caught up in his wife’s grand plan, went down in similar fashion. Adam chooses unity with her over unity with His Maker (though ironically the former is made possible by the latter.) By choosing her, knowing full well what she suggested, he discounts God’s ability to perfectly fulfill him. The woman succumbed to the suggestion; the man succumbed to the one who made the suggestion. She abandoned what good wisdom she had (from God) in pursuit of better (though it couldn’t have been), deceived into thinking there’d be no penalty. He abandoned what good relationship he had (with God) in pursuit of a better one with woman (though it couldn’t have been), apparently thinking that the benefits would outweigh the penalty. And don’t we see that played on repeat today? I could put all my deliberate screw-ups in a two-column chart with “Decided It Wasn’t a Sin” or “Didn’t Care That It Was a Sin Because It Made Me Feel Good” categories. (Shoutout to my favorite Nazarene!)
When we grasp that what’s most wonky about us is our imperfect picture of God’s nature and heart, we see what Eve needs is not help remembering God’s warning— it’s help trusting the warning. Before letting Eve outrank the Lord on his priority list, the undeceived husband had an opportunity to inspire her belief by stating his own, by reiterating the abundant evidence of God’s fondness toward them, by reminding her of who she is as the image of Him, by cutting to the heart the trust issues that make our own power seem safest and most satisfying. If Adam has a duty to lead during the serpent’s sales pitch (let’s all agree he does), it’s because of the steadier faith he has in the truth of God and goodness of His will for us. Which is, of course, a situational, non-universal qualification unrelated to his masculinity.
The lesson for us today is that when those questions of “Who am I?” and “What am I here for?” ring in us, we will only hurt ourselves further by turning to created things for answers. This has always been the case. We will only be disappointed when we make God smaller and meaner to make ourselves bigger and better, for our power was designed to function as an avenue for His. It can’t satisfy apart from our Abba, Jehovah Jireh, and Redeemer. Instead, we must first treat uncertainty with a liberal dose of truth and empowerment– that we are expressions of the One True God who called us very good and stays close as we do life in this unnecessarily good world He designed for us to participate in — and then cling to these foundational truths in faith that security and direction spring from them.
Should we ever see the evidence of such core questions dominating our fellow Christians, regardless of how they “rank” relative to us, may we never hesitate to proclaim over them the certainty of their identity and purpose as God’s delegates, and bolster their belief in this deity that craves our hearts. May we take them outside to see the stars and smell the rain and touch the grass and scratch the generosity of the Lord into their doorposts. May we lift their chins and call them powerhouses– dwelling places of the Most High’s Spirit. May we call out and call down the slithering, subversive forces that suggest they are not enough. May we flex our God muscle before any other. And may we never present God’s gifts of wisdom or relationship or work or possessions or willpower or self-discipline or rule-mastery as alternate sources of the confidence that can only come through the wholehearted, transformative belief that we are His and—hallelujah— He has happily made Himself ours.
This is spiritual leadership. A mutual servanthood open to and required of every Christian.
May we foster an openness in our communities that welcomes onlooking “Adams” to speak authoritatively into the lives of wavering “Eves,” regardless of sex.