Dear Sister Sunday,
My fifteen year old daughter came home from Mass after the first Sunday of Lent complaining that it was cruel of God to plant one tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden and forbid Adam and Eve to eat from it. She says everything else was available and that making one tree off-limits was just mean, like putting candy in front of a two-year old, leaving the room and then getting mad when he eats it.
Actually, when she puts it that way, the whole forbidden fruit doesn’t make sense to me, either. Can you help us?
Doubting in Dallas
First, be glad your daughter is paying attention. And, be grateful she’s asking such a difficult, and excellent, question. She’s in fine company.
That’s the issue here. Whose voice do we follow?
Back in the 4th century, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (rhymes with “snazzy tan bus”) asked the same question. He wonders why we assume the tree was ever meant to be permanently off-limits. He writes that the tree was not evil (evil had not yet entered the world), “nor was it forbidden because God grudged it to us.”
So, why was it forbidden? I think your daughter is on to something with the toddler analogy. Gregory writes, “It would have been good if partaken of at the proper time.” (He thinks the fruit was contemplation, “which is safe only for those who have reached maturity of habit to enter upon.” If you think of yourself trying to be still and pray silently and consider how often your mind goes to that thing your husband does that is driving you crazy, you’ll know what the good saint meant.)
“Good if partaken of at the proper time;” just like a car or a chain saw is a useful tool for a mature teen or an adult, but not a toddler.
God is clearly Adam and Eve’s parent here, doing a parent’s job. He’s not saying you can never move out and have your own house, just that you can’t do it now. And I think that’s what we need to focus on in the story: Adam and Eve are not mature in their relationship with God, because they choose to listen to a “cunning serpent” rather than God. The word “cunning” is important, because “cunning” is the counterfeit of “wisdom.” Someone who is cunning could get a child to hand over his grandmother’s thin, gold wedding band for an armful of fool’s gold, convincing her to trade what is real for what is false, what is true for a lie.
Sit down with your daughter and read the gospel (Matthew 4:1-11) for the 1st Sunday of Lent together. Then think about these questions. “Whose voice do Adam and Eve hear and follow? Whose voice does Jesus hear and follow?”
That’s the issue here. Whose voice do we follow? Jesus says he has come that we might have life and have it abundantly, but we’ve got to grow up enough to know true abundance when we see it.
Your daughter sounds like a love.
Give her a hug from me,