God had a wonderful plan for our sexuality and our marriages. Satan had a very different one.
The biblical text doesn’t answer many of the questions we inevitably ask about the remarkable nature of this talking Serpent and his embodiment of the Evil One. Mystery covers his origin. There can be no doubt, though, that it is Satan’s hiss in the words of the Serpent as he seduces Eve. And it is helpful to briefly consider Satan’s methods, especially since we encounter these same temptations in our own battle for sexual purity.
His first step is to undercut God’s Word. God had said, “You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (genesis 2:16–17). In Satan’s mouth, that generous and emphatic provision of a gracious God is twisted into the arbitrary and malicious prohibition of a mean-spirited miser: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” His sarcasm manages simultaneously to attack God’s goodness and wisdom, as well as to turn God’s Word into a subject for debate. The question deserved an emphatic denial from Eve. Instead, she chose to deal carelessly with God’s words, exaggerating His restriction (“don’t touch the fruit”) and minimizing His warning (“lest you die”).
Satan’s second step is to undermine God’s character. “You will not surely die,” he said. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan’s challenge is direct: God is untruthful and God is envious. His threats are empty—you will not die! God isn’t good; He is jealous and restrictive. He is not interested in your best interests, only in His own. He is a jealous tyrant, exercising raw power over you to preserve His own prerogatives. His rules are oppressive and repressive, serving only to keep you in chains. These sentiments still echo through our modern world when moral principles are discussed.
Satan’s final step is to challenge God’s authority. The idea of “knowing good and evil” goes beyond intellectual knowledge of moral and ethical standards.The real issue here is Satan’s suggestion (temptation) that Eve will relate to good and evil as God does, defining and deciding “the good.” She will become godlike, the determiner of what is right or wrong, good or evil. The irony is that Eve will indeed know good and evil, but in a way very different from the way God does. She will know evil because she experiences it and good because she lacks it. But she will not be able to redefine it, any more than Satan can, because good and evil reflect the unchanging character of God himself.
The man and woman join together in rebellion against God and, in the process, damage and deface the image of God in them. Eve acts on the basis that her personal pleasure is the supreme good: She “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” For her, the basis of choice becomes purely personal, so that God’s Word is reduced to an option, not an authority.
God had never denied that the tree was good for food; what He said was that it was not to be used for food, for reasons He chose not to disclose. The issue was whether Eve would believe God and His restrictions, even when they might not make sense to her. This is a central issue in our fallen sexuality—the conviction that we determine and define what is good for us to do. After all, “It’s my body!”
Convinced that she was acting in her best interests, Eve ate the fruit. Such a simple act, but what catastrophic consequences! The biblical writer recounts it all with remarkable brevity, just as he does the compliance of Adam: “[She] ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Had Adam been standing there all along, silent and passive as the temptation unraveled? The account doesn’t say. But we do know that he had heard God’s command about the tree directly and would be held accountable. Both Adam and Eve were guilty of disobedience and defiance.
The course of sin is remarkably consistent in the first couple’s experience and in ours. We push God and His Word into the background, all the while pulling our own understanding of what will bring us pleasure into the foreground. Sin always convinces us that we are acting in our own best interests, even if it means going against the clear Word of God.For both Adam and Eve, their own desires had become so compelling and the fruit so enticing that it simply didn’t matter what God had said.
There are those in our modern culture who see this kind of boldness as heroic. Read the evaluation of Eve’s act by Rabbi Harold Kushner:
I see Eve as terribly brave as she eats the fruit . . . She is boldly crossing the frontier into the unknown . . . [She is] giving us humanity, with all of its pain and all of its richness . . . [This] was one of the bravest and most liberating events in the history of the human race . . . She can be seen as the heroine of the story, leading her husband into the brave new world of moral demands and moral decisions.1
God’s evaluation of Eve’s act and Adam’s complicity is, as we shall see, very different. It is not heroic or noble but catastrophic, both for her and all her descendants. As Adam and Eve soon realize, their action has ruptured creation. Nothing will ever again be quite the same. Not a single aspect of our world, our humanity, or our sexuality is left untainted or unaffected by their choice of rebellion over obedience.
1 Harold Kushner, How Good Do We Have to Be? (New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1997), 24, 31.