The first few chapters of Genesis have been dragged through all sorts of modern arguments and philosophies. How one interprets them has become, for some, a litmus test of faith.
For me, personally, I cannot seem to get past the first verse without wondering if God started with nothing or began by shaping what was already there. Most English translations assume the first without even giving the second a chance.
I am saying this because there are many ways to understand those early chapters. Whether one believes they are “literal” (you decide what that means), or historical, or something else matters. It does however matter less than many think when seeking the truth of what is found there. Having said that, here are some thoughts on doubt from the temptation scene in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-7). There are still “serpents” among us.
Doubt. It doesn’t take much. It only needs a little hint. The question needs only to be verbalized and our minds quickly jump to refute it. And when we begin that process, we have already given away the game. The serpent knew this.
The simple asking the question with just enough of a twist of phrase and lifting of the voice near the end is enough to move us from the sure and steady ground of faith to the shifting sands of seeking knowledge and wisdom, which leads to fear. It need not even be a doubting of God. More like, “Did I hear that correctly?” “Is that what he really said?” “He couldn’t have meant that?”
Even repeating the known consequences cannot move us back to where we started. In the repeating the original has already been altered, and the history revised to justify our actions. From the beginning the questioner, the accuser, the liar, the deceiver has been at war with our relationship with God. For he cannot defeat the creator of the universe, nor can he truly harm us — he must attack where he can — our trusting relationships.
Every kid has had the serpent experience. That moment when a friend or sibling asks us to go somewhere or do something we have been explicitly instructed not to do. There is a mixture of fear and excitement. What lies on the other side of that is clearly some sort of knowledge. “You will be more like an adult.” “You will be like the cool kids.” “You will know something they don’t.” We don’t know why that place or that action is forbidden we just know that it is. We learn early to trust our own immature decision-making process rather than the wisdom of our parents. And so, we go, or we do — and we gain knowledge and wisdom . . . that we wish we never had. It becomes part of us, but we are forever changed. Our relationships with those who convinced us and those whom we failed to heed is fractured.
This is the challenge of dealing with doubt. We only carry on the conversation with the one who raises the question. Sometimes that accuser is ourselves. Carrying doubt, from whatever source, on one’s own causes us to seek all sorts of answers — all of which have something to do with making ourselves god. Was this not the response of the serpent, “You will not die, you will be like god”? The problem of making ourselves god is that we are no better than the “gods’ of the Canaanites, Amorites, Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, or Romans. From that one little question of doubt there grows an entire worldview that is based not on faith, but rather on whatever structures we build — be they secular, religious, political, or personal.
What do we do with doubt? Eve took hers to heart and saw the merit in it. The Serpent had a point — it was good for food, it was beautiful to look at, and it did have the potential to make one wise. What could possibly be the harm in that? That is the nature of temptation with doubt. It removes us from the realm of faith and puts us into the realm of seeking — acquisitiveness, wanting more than is offered, and seeking an advantage over another human being. These things are not of faith, they are of doubt. Doubting ourselves, doubting God, doubting that we will have enough.
And we live everyday now with this world. The good world created by God that is now full of that which is good for food, beautiful to the eyes, and can make us wise. We seek these things — we worship these things — we sell our soul for these things.
We do it without limitation and excluding the giver of all good things from the conversation. Interesting, then, how we eat so much that is not “good for food”, create that which is difficult to see, and act in ways that are anything but wise. Maybe bringing God back into the conversation would help.