I encountered a person who, after discovering my religious training and work in the church, found an opportunity to ask some long-standing questions of his. The main question dealt with Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden: What was the nature of Eve’s temptation? Was it intellectual or was it sexual with the serpent or Satan himself? Surely there was more reason to Eve’s “hanging out” at the tree for other than mere conversation. Eve was “giving something away.”
If you’re reeling right now from the flagrant implications, then just imagine me staring blankly into the face of my interlocutor trying not to spill over with amazement. This gentleman went on to explain some of his background. He was an avid reader of the scriptures as a young man and, at twenty-one, he formulated his idea that Eve’s temptation could only have been sexual, considering human relations and the “nature of a woman.”
Thirty-four years later while watching what he supposed to be the History Channel, this topic was featured and lent credence to his supposition, thus stamping it as truth in his mind. I was not previously familiar with this particular theory, but I did a small research on it to know what he was talking about. Evidently he didn’t listen long enough because the legend is that Satan actually impregnated Eve, but it is all irrelevant to the case at hand.
I don’t care to go into the drawn out conversations, arguments, and rebuttals we went through over our time together because it got so silly. At best I found it incredibly foolish to base one’s conviction on something trivial as an unfounded supposition and a TV episode confirmation. Then, as was part of my point to him, I couldn’t imagine being so staunchly sure about the remotest ancient history without some deference to the overwhelming mystery that clouds the very time and text. I’ve always admitted that the best theology begins with some measure of mystery. After all the theory and analysis and reasoning, sometimes we just don’t know.
My friend also didn’t seem to understand that there are interpretational rules to the scriptures. To be funny and supposing his foregone conclusion about Eve was true, I asked him why couldn’t it be any less true that Jesus hung around street people because he was attracted to their way of life and not the opposite. “Well they wanted to be like Jesus,” he replied sincerely. Can we be so sure if we are allowed to self-approve our interpretations of the Bible?
There was a second gentleman present who himself had questions about the opposite end of the Bible, namely, Revelation and the apocalyptic writings. He was more logical than the first and actually sided with me against him. Laughably, I was lucky enough to get one questioner who knew everything that happened at the dawn of human history and another who eagerly wanted to know what was at the end of it!
I explained to the first man over breakfast that, although I may have a degree and have done some teaching in the church, I am ever only a student of the scriptures, learning and relearning and working within the rules of interpretation, offering my faith where mystery obscures what more there is to learn. In fact, any good preaching will steer any true seeker to study and put down the imbalance and sensationalism that attends the Aha! I gotcha! type of reasoning.
I see the condition of these men’s hearts even better now when I look back on it. Both were conservative men with very strong Christian upbringings and sentiments. The first man told me that his mother expected him to be a preacher; the second man confessed that he was a backslider and didn’t go to church because of hypocrites but needed to make a change. Between the questions of the two men, I took away a significant point. Christian spirituality is not about the technicalities of the Bible and not about how this all started or will end. Instead, it’s about the living to be done in the middle, for it is possible that when the questions are all answered as best they can be, we will have still not lived for God. We will have still not loved and enjoyed him and fulfilled our call in creation to simply be his joy and he our pleasure. Devout spirituality is nothing short of wholeheartedly pursuing the disciplines that bring us to union with our Creator and make us the best persons we were made to be.
I will still address the issue of these questions. One day we will all have the chance to speak to God face-to-face, but it will not be a fact-finding opportunity then. Yet we now have the privilege to learn of him through the scriptures and within the context of a glorious journey and life of faith. (Yes, God is the point of our lives.) I refer to Augustine’s words often—“Faith is to believe in what you do not yet see; the reward for faith is to see what you have believed.” Perhaps one day we will have all the answers and know as God does and acquaint those that actually lived the stories we read. We often use the expression “seeing is believing,” but with God it is the opposite: believing is seeing.