Author: Thomas Chavez
Sunday School Bible stories have confused us. Most of us are sure that the first appearance of Satan in the Bible took place in Genesis, in the story of the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden. We all know that Satan dressed up as a serpent, tricked Eve into picking an apple and taking a bite. Almost nobody ever argues with this description. Only a careful reading of that text says otherwise.
First off, there is no apple. There never was. We know this for two reasons: that kind of fruit does not grow in the regions described in that story, and the fruit spoken about is obviously a metaphor – being named “The knowledge of Good and Evil.” In other words, the mental capacity for, and the habit of relying upon not just discernment, but preferential judgment.
Preferential judgment translates easily enough to separation, which in our last post we identified as the common thread running through all behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes identified in the Bible as “Sin.”
When you or I notice that a Rhododendron flower is not the same as a Rose, we have made a discernment. When I declare that the Rose flower is beautiful and the Rhododendron is ugly, fit only to be stomped on, and you declare the opposite, we have each made a yes/no, want/don’t want, good/bad judgment.
My preference is for what I judge a beautiful-yes-want-good flower. While you prefer the ugly-no-don’t want-bad flower. Meaning that our choices are not just differences in taste, but in existential allegiance. You will see your own allegiance as being given to what is right-good, and mine, to what is wrong-evil. While I will know that you are allied to what is wrong-evil, and I to what is right-good. This split in allegiance automatically forces us to see each other as enemies.
Interestingly enough we have a particular part of our brain structure where this kind of right/wrong, good/evil, black/white thinking takes place: in the parietal lobe. Also interesting is the experimentally demonstrated fact that this neurological facility is so strengthened by exercise that it can, and for many humans does, take over the way that the human brain sees and assesses the whole world. For people who have built up this facility to the exclusion of all else, everything is a contest between black and white, good and evil. Thus, this twist toward “Spiritual warfare” is not a spiritual gift, it is merely self-initiated brain development of a particular inclination.
For people who have strongly exercised other facilities – the capacity to love for instance – this appearance of a good/evil contest is not there at all. These latter folk don’t see it, because their brains don’t manufacture it.
In this biologically-based light, doesn’t it seem even more significant that what Christ-as-Jesus kept harping on was to increase and elaborate our human capacity for love?
Counterwise, it seems one of the most painful ironies of our theological history that the more ardently our ancestral Christian predecessors railed against Eve, the apple, and getting kicked out of the Garden, the more virulently did they commit the very sin against which they fulminated. Blaming as they did so, not their own tendencies, but a non-physical person called Satan who was not there at all.
Some will ask, what can I mean? What about the serpent? Isn’t it obvious that this character in the tale is just Satan in disguise? Who else but the fallen Prince among Angels would have the temerity to sabotage God’s most cherished relationships?
Given where these sincere questions are coming from, they bear a serious looking-into. So let’s do that in our next post.