"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rethinking Adam and Eve: Did God want them to eat the fruit?

Notes and Reflections on Noah's Other Son, by Brian Arthur Brown -- see introductory post for more information on this book

In chapter one, the author fittingly begins with Adam and Eve or Aadam and Hawaa. He chooses a more metaphorical version declaring many "adams" (men) and "eves" (mothers) were "created" on the first day ... rather they developed out of the "primordial soup" which mysteriously came forth from the big bang.   The author reminds us that the Quran presumes the earlier stories of Adam are already known "because it launches into deep theological questions without any of the detailed background we might require."  He shares

how the Quran says Adam was created from clay,

how God decided Adam would be his "vice-regal representative upon the earth,"

how the "angels protested that such a person could created havoc, even resulting in bloodshed, as compared to themselves, who were programmed simply to praise and honor God,"

how God told the angels they could not grasp His purpose and explained no more to them. 

Instead God discusses animal names with Adam and appoints man as the animals' "teacher."  God wanted the angels to bow down to Adam. Of course Iblis (the devil) refused and this disobedience to God and believing he was superior to man was his great sin.

A difference between the Quranic and Biblical versions is that in the Islamic understanding, humans - with their abilities to choose freely unlike the angels who were programmed to produce "music and poetry that reflect God's glory" - were "a whole new order of creation, above even angels."  Yet the author makes note of the Jewish and Christian understanding based on Psalm 8 where David speaking of man declared him made "a little lower than the angels."

Any thoughts on this topic?  What do you think of the Quranic version of man being higher than angels because of his ability to choose? Do you think the freedom of choice is not taught in the Bible?  When I read the Quran I was often overwhelmed by a sense of predestination - that is God chose who would be His slaves and who would follow his own path which resulted in hellfire.  Yet the author's understanding of the Quran seems to show a strong sense of freedom of choice. Do you agree with his version of things? Does this seem to be how Islam is practiced when most people born into Muslim households are automatically Muslim with little choice in the matter?  Or do, in fact, "born Muslims" have a choice to become Hindu, agnostic or Catholic if they so choose?

And what do you think of the Psalmist declaring man "a little lower than the angels"?  Is this offensive to be considered lower?  Does it makes you feel inferior somehow or are you OK with that? Would you argue we are higher or lower than the angels? Why?

Furthermore, if the Quran is a mere continuation of the message of the previous books, is this conflict proof that the Jewish Scriptures had been corrupted and needed correcting? How else would one reconcile the view of David (men are lower than angels) to Muhammad's version (men are higher than angels)? Or do you simply realize David was speaking with poetic license or he was speaking of something else entirely and not freedom of choice?

The author mentions How Good Do We Have to Be? by Rabbi Harold Kushner who believes eating of the forbidden tree "was not entirely a bad thing.  We advance by pushing the limits, though we must discover the proper limits. Kushner suggests biting the apple was one of the bravest and most liberating events in the history of the human race, and in the personal development of each person, and that God planned it that way.  Its consequences are painful in the same way that growing up and leaving one's home can be painful. In the same way, marriage and parenthood can be painful and cause us to wonder, 'Why did I give up my less complicated life for all these problems?'  For the mature person who has experienced the complex, hard-earned satisfaction of seeing these things through, there is no doubt it is worth the pain.  The woman is not necessarily the villain of the story, enslaved by her appetites and bringing sin and death into the world. She can be seen as the heroine of the story, leading her husband into the brave new world of moral demands and moral decisions -- the only kind of world in which love can be found."  (pg. 36)

Do you tend to agree with Rabbi Kushner that eating the fruit was no big deal...in fact, it was exactly what God wanted Eve to do?   Maybe a little reverse psychology at work perhaps.  How does this theory work together with or tear apart the traditional thought that this act of disobedience brought death and heartache into the world? Do you agree that having these painful life experiences is really a good thing although we don't always like going through them at the time?  Does Rabbi Kushner's theory suggest God wants (or, at the very least, wanted in the beginning) people to disobey and challenge Him?

The author then ends with an alternative story from Rabbi Kushner's book where Adam and Eve did not eat the fruit though tempted by the serpent.   God rewarded their obedience like this:

"To the man he said, 'You will never work a day in your life. Spend your days in idle contentment with food growing all around you.' To the woman he said, 'You will bear children without pain and raise them without any trouble.  They will not need anything from you and never depend on you.' God told them, 'Children will not cry, nor even grieve if their parents die.  Parents will not cry if their children die; they can have as many more as they wish.  No one will ever laugh or cry, and nobody will ever receive something they have always longed for, because they will have everything.' And the man and the woman grew very old in the garden, and very fat, eating daily from the tree of life and having more and more children.  And the grass grew high around the Tree of Conscience until it disappeared from view, for there was no one to tend it." 

What's wrong with Rabbi Kushner's version of the Reward of Obedience?  What is right? Do you tend to agree with his scenario or would you write your version of Reward for Obedience differently?  Personally I find this man lacks greatly in his view of God's ability to create a perfect place.  His view is that reward is simply being able to eat and reproduce to your heart's content and there is little room for relationship and enjoyable work in a perfect world. What do you think?  After reading this view of Reward, can you see why eating the fruit would be a better alternative for humanity in Kushner's eyes?

I'd love to hear your point of view on any of these topics!


Lat said...

Wow! What a book! :)

Adam and Eve were created not for immortality.In the Quranic story,Satan tempted Adam with words of immortality if he eats the fruit from the forbidden tree.In other words Adam knew he will die someday but living forever tempted him and so he ate the fruit.Now bibilical story is different right?

Furthermore Adam is always mentioned as the one being tempted by Satan.Mostly he's singled out.It could be more possible for both him and Eve.

In a way the freedom of choice given to Man does make him superior to angels.Whereas for David's psalms 8,he's more concerned for poems and songs so of course he dedicated the superior position to angels.I think one's perception of surroundings matter like in the Adam creation story in Quran,the learning and memorizing element of the earth is mentioned.

Maybe Quranic view takes the viewpoint of looking down from the future,more like prophecies.

I'll be back! :)

observant observer said...

I dont think that the angels don't have free choice, otherwise there wouldnt be Lucifer the fallen angel, the devil. Understandably in islam, devils were created for one purpose: to challenge human (as i understand it), and i dont understand theologycally that devil was casted out from heaven from refusing to bow to human. And that leads to questioning the concept that angels and demons were created with no free choice. We cannot blame the devil then,in a sense we could all blame God for everything. To me its obvious that the one that is mortal is a less in degree than the one that is immortal, after all Jesus said that we would all be like angels once we return to the Father. If return to become like angels mean to be less than what we are now, i would see how dissapointing then to hope for heaven or the kingdom of God. In my understanding, flesh as we have here had limited us to see what beyond the senses that is possible in the orther realms, while angels dont have that limitation. With this limit, we could only perceive limitedly and think the way we are now of what happiness, struggle, success whatever we think is important in this world. And the liberation of this flesh will bring other possibilities....perhaps. It keep reminds me that Jesus have said his Kingdom is not from the earth.

The bible is very interesting in its take that human had had always tried to struggle with God's authority, remember we're made in His image. Thus the theme is actually repeated many times, Adam and Eve, Jacob struggle/find himself wrestling with God, the israelis want to have the version of God within their own thought, etc ect. Perhaps the legacy of Jewish is the notion that we are all made from the image of God, that's why the bible version says that men are given the ability to think and differentiate, so that's why men are the ones who gave names to all the other creatures God had formerly created. Isn't it wonderful and isn't it what we're actually doing in science? In the bible, men are formerly created for immortality, its just because they want to have all the power of knowing the difference of what's right and wrong made them understand that they were capable to ask or questions the authority and compete with God, and that's the beginning of sin. That's also the point of no return for God to make them mortal. When the creature wants to compete with the creator, God let people see who they really are, just a creature. Look around, the unseen seems to be less important and less believable than what can be perceived in senses. I know i'm rambling of no clear direction....;).

There are many misterious detail in the bible that could open up to many doors of interpretations I guess. Anyway thanks so much for sharing. I do enjoy it.

Suroor said...

Very interesting!

I treat Adam, Eve, and Satan like metaphors so I agree with Rabbi Kushner that all of them were meant to do what they did :)

Lat said...

I'm back! :) You asked,

"Yet the author's understanding of the Quran seems to show a strong sense of freedom of choice. Do you agree with his version of things? Does this seem to be how Islam is practiced when most people born into Muslim households are automatically Muslim with little choice in the matter?"

I don't know about if I'll use the word,strong sense of freedom of choice but there's definitely some sense of it.Previous ullemas or clerics of past centuries have put a stop to that sense and in a way made it haram and played God.So there's a difference between the text and practice in reality.

What I understand from the 'discussion' between angels,Adam and Satan is that if God chose someone for a purpose then that choice need to be respected and obeyed,even if his standing is below that of others(in this case angels or jinns).So God shows His favour to whomever He wants.Status doesn't matter.

"..and in the personal development of each person, and that God planned it that way"

Yes I too believe that it's God's plan that Adam eat the fruit as the 'discussion' with angels and jinns suggest.Adam was not meant to live in Heaven but on earth.

As for reward for obedience,I don't know why there's any need for Eve to give birth :) Surely God as Creator can choose the more creative techniques possible as a reward for her obedience!

Sorry for the long reply!

Wafa' said...

i don't think we-humans- have free will or suposed to have one. After all if i chose not to believe in a God -free will- then i will be punished. Free will means having the will to choose, yes you will suffer the consquences too and that's what we do in life, we choose between two things we know and we know the consequences. So..sorry i don't believe we have a free will so we are not above Angels in anyway. Both us and them are created to worship God, right? so where are the differences? maybe they are more obedient cuz they know for sure that there are hell and punishment but humans can not tell. So..

(Or do, in fact, "born Muslims" have a choice to become Hindu, agnostic or Catholic if they so choose?)
yes , they do and can change their religion but in some Islamic countries they are going to be kiiled or sent to jail.

(And what do you think of the Psalmist declaring man "a little lower than the angels"? Is this offensive to be considered lower? Does it makes you feel inferior somehow or are you OK with that? Would you argue we are higher or lower than the angels? Why?)
i don't care or even believe in classes in anywhere -heaven or earth- or between people or even people and angels. They may have somethings we don't but that doesn't entitled you to be better or higher than me :)

( it was exactly what God wanted Eve to do? ) are not we told that it's all written in the book ? So yea it was not a big thing. Whether they eat it or not they are going to be sent down to Earth.And women and men are suposed to build this earth so it will happen one way or another. the story has been highlighted by -mostly- men to blame it all on women.

Susanne said...

Lat, I loved your replies. There is certainly no need to apologize. You are always welcome to express as much as you want. Good stuff! :)

Yeah, the biblical story is different first and foremost that the Garden of Eden wasn't in heaven so man wasn't cast out of heaven, but rather paradise on earth, basically. Some people think it was near modern-day Iraq...my how times have changed, huh? :D

I was always taught that God created us for eternity and death (both physical and spiritual - separation from God) was a result of Adam's sin. The tree basically was one of knowledge of good and evil and why after the first couple ate, they realized they were naked and it made them ashamed. Nakedness could be symbolic and not that they were without clothes. But that's another discussion. :)

I agree that God can choose different people to exalt and use for various purposes. Thanks for chiming in on the "little lower" stuff.

Really liked ALL that you shared! Thank you SO much for taking time to do that!

Susanne said...

Observant, thank you for what you added! I tend to think along the same lines as you concerning angels having free choice and why there are now fallen angels. I also agree about the "lesser than angels" thoughts that you had. They are "greater" than us in one way in that they can be in God's physical presence in a way that is different than us. Maybe it's complicated to explain, but I "get" David's take on it...though as Lat said it could also be some poetic license on David's part somewhat.

I really enjoyed all that you shared. Thank you for taking time to leave a comment! :)

Suroor, thanks for the comment!

Susanne said...

Wafa,', I do so enjoy your "take" on things! :) I didn't realize you did not believe in free will...how interesting. So you think we are programmed to obey or disobey God from the beginning?

Yeah, I've heard some Islamic countries are very severe on apostates. A couple years ago there was a story about a young lady in your country who converted to Christianity so her brother locked her in her room and later murdered her. Before that though she wrote a poem or note to her family or the ummah ...I can't remember all the details now, but it was sad to think of someone being murdered by a family member for something such as this! Especially when Islam says people are not *made* to be Muslims... :(

I love your thoughts as always! Really happy to read what you have to say! Thanks much! :)

Wafa' said...

Susanne, i don believe in free will in almost everything but there is no free will in religion. Any religion.

9Especially when Islam says people are not *made* to be Muslims..) i don't know about that since Islam says that we are born on " Fitra", i can not find a specific word for that Arabic word. it's believed that we are all born to be Muslims but then our parents do make us Christian or Jews So i guess Islam wants us all or believed that we all should be born "Muslims" So..

Susanne said...

Oh yeah, I forgot we were all born Muslim and thus why some "revert" instead of "convert."

Of course that's the Muslim point of view and not my own. :)

Thanks for the reminder and your additional comments!