Alternative Thinking about Adam and Eve

 

Here is some alternative thinking about how to approach teaching the story of Adam and Eve to children.

 

Traditionally, Sunday School lessons tends to focus on these things in the story of Adam and Eve:

  • Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
  • Forbidden Fruit
  • The Serpent
  • Defining "sin" and "Original Sin" (the origin of sin). 
  • Portraying Eve as the temptress.
  • Portraying God as "the punisher" (throwing them out of paradise).
  • Re-enacting the story with a focus on the first parts (garden, tree, fruit, blame, serpent) because they have a lot of dialog and visuals (as opposed to the second part of the story: God in the evening breeze, bushes, clothes, cast out).
  • Craft projects that recreate the "props" in the story (apples, trees, serpents)

Why?

(1) Probably because many of the above present us with great visuals, dialog, and drama. 

And perhaps... (2) Because most adults don't remember the second half of the story as well as the first.

 

But what a missed opportunity this traditional approach is.  By focusing on "the apple" part of the story, we tend to turn the story of Adam and Eve into a cartoonish morality play, instead of a story about our sin, how God responds, and our relationship with God.

 

Look again at this story...

Read the story as if it were a parable.....
The first part with serpent/forbidden fruit is merely a "setup" for the CENTRAL episode: when God comes to FIND us and talk to us about our sin.  (Think of it, for example, as what the Father might have done if the Prodigal had not come home!)

 

When we focus on GOD in the story (like you would do in a Jesus parable), we come to understand that of course, God already knew they (we) had sinned when he came looking for them in the evening breeze. He waited, then he comes calling their (our) names, giving us the opportunity to step forward. God knows where we are and what we've done.

 

This realization SHIFTS the CENTER of the story aware from the (predictable) disobedience, and towards God's response to our sin, and what WE are supposed to do after we sin.


focus

 

Synopsis: God comes looking for Adam and Eve in the garden during the evening breeze (cool of the day), and not with punishment in mind, but calling their names (knowing where they are all the time, and already knowing what they've done!). Their response?  Hiding.  And when God calls them out they try to avoid responsibility. THAT is when God gets mad.  But the story doesn't end there!  God makes them clothes, and goes with them into banishment. 

 

Most kids and teachers will only focus on "getting punished" and completely overlook the fact that before God banishes them, he makes them clothing to cover their shame, and then God goes WITH them into the world. (Recall that Jesus promises to take our burdens from us and give us rest?)

 

In fact, you could say this is primarily a story about "God Sticking With Us"(Emmanuel).  God sticks with us even when we try to hide, and goes with us even as we lead difficult lives brought on by our sin. It's a gospel: sin and salvation, ...just like the parable of the Prodigal Son is the Gospel in miniature.  

 

 

 

Questions to ask students:

  • Why do we try to hide our sins from God?
  • What are the consequences of sin?  (even forgiven sins have consequences)
  • When we mess up, how should we respond to God?
  • How does God help us deal with our sin?

 

Applying these insights to come up with new ideas for teaching:

 

Resist quickie art projects that merely create obvious and traditional "props" from the story (apple, serpent, tree). They miss the main point of the story.  Instead, think of how you can express hiding and stepping forward when God calls you out.  For example....a stepping stone. Or how about a soap project that reminds us to "come clean" before God.

 

Avoid drama activities that focus primarily on the fruit and serpent episode. They do have some fun dialog, but they are only the INTRO to the real story: thinking you can hide your sins from God, and coming clean before God.  How do people hide from God today?  Who do people blame for their problems?

 

Avoid games that turn the story into a trivia contest. Instead, consider focusing on getting this rather involved story in the correct order, so that they remember more than just "the apple." 

 

What do people hide behind?  (practice avoidance)
Too busy, pride, "it's not my fault," sports/entertainment that keeps me from having to deal with problems.   It's certainly the basis for a skit or two. Perhaps this is a wall that could be built and bricks labeled.

 

PRAYER is a major help in "stepping out" before God, confessing, asking for help, and accepting God's covering grace over our shame.  Perhaps this could progression of ideas could be physically and visually expressed in a GUIDED-PRAYER-WALK-TRAIL, or prayer labyrinth-making-walking activity.

 

Teach the verbal and non-verbal language of confession and reconciliation so that kids know what to say and how to ACT when pride tries to tie their tongue.  Defiance has a posture. Lying has a face.  Blame has a tone. Admitting your mistakes has certain words that make it more heart-felt. Peace has a way of standing. Humility and Healing has a voice. etc   Practicing these would not only be fun, but instructive!

 

Writing~Acting Out a New Ending to Their (our) Story

  • What should Adam and Eve done when tempted? How would that dialog go?
  • What if they had stood up and confessed when God called their name? How would the story have been different?
  • What does God say to the children of Adam and Eve (us) as we labor in this life? 

 


 

What is Original Sin?  -a kid friendly explanation

 

Jews and Christians believe that all humans have a flaw in our character that causes us to make wrong choices. They call this "original sin." We WILL do what we know is wrong and then we WILL try and avoid blame. Jesus and the Apostles taught that we cannot get rid of this flaw, we can only be forgiven for it, get help resisting it, and work with God to heal the brokenness that sin creates in the world. 

 

But let me reiterate: if you make your lessons about "original sin" you have missed the point of the story. 

 

It's a story about Original Grace.

God sticking with us as we go out into the world.

Emmanuel.

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Good thoughts! Thanks for helping refocus on the grace.

 

One additional point which I sort of remember from somewhere:

When God makes clothes to cover their nakedness, (Genesis 3:21) an animal was sacrificed (clothing was made from animal skins). A substitutionary (is that a word?) death -- Adam and Eve did not die after their sin.

A sacrifice foreshadowing Christ's sacrifice to cover our sins.

A few ideas on teaching the story............perhaps a few more will come to me in the wee hours of the night!

 

Art:

This would relate to the idea of a perfect world altered by sin, but would then point to the hope we have in the cross.  Start with a pretty (and intact) china plate.  The class will then have a chance to destroy it--perhaps by each one hitting it with a hammer or dropping it on the ground (perhaps putting in a sturdy freezer Ziploc bag to keep the pieces from flying everywhere!) You would then try to reassemble it--which isn't going to happen. 

 

The kids then make a mosaic of a cross using broken china pieces.  I think it would work best if the teacher already had some bags of broken china to hand out so that tiny or particularly jagged pieces don't make it in.  You could lay the pieces in cement or some quick-drying substance (I remember using something from Crayola years ago that set pretty quick).

 

I like this idea--probably needs some thinking on how to make it "safe" so that you don't have kids slicing their fingers on the china pieces!

 

Cooking:

Making lemonade.  Lemons = sour = sin.  Each student gets a few lemons that they get the juice out of by squeezing and using a spoon as a "juicer".  Have them work pretty hard at getting that juice out.  Give each child a drop or two of lemon juice to taste. Still pretty sour.  So hard work at juicing does not equal lemonade, just as our works don't get us our salvation.  Then talk about what Jesus did for us = adding the sugar.  NOW you have tasty lemonade.

 

 

Drama:

Instead of acting out the Fall into Sin, have the students act out the reactions of various groups TO the fall into sin.  For instance:

  • Animals--now they too will die; be killed for food and clothing
  • Angels
  • Devil and fallen angels
  • God

 

 

Adam and Eve in the Garden

 

We did a Christmas play that started with the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, and them leaving with Eve holding the apple (to represent the sin). We had a short scene with Cain and Abel fighting and Eve crying, still holding the apple. A narrator explained that people continued to sin, and we also included a prophecy about the Messiah coming, as God's way to deal with it.  Then we acted out the Christmas story, and at the end, Adam and Eve came in and Eve placed the apple in the manger to signify that Jesus had come to finally take away the curse.

I like Neil's idea of focussing on the latter portion of the story, particularly the constancy of God and the idea that the lying and blaming are the greater faults.  However, there are some other complexities to the story that I see as good talking points that I have never seen mentioned in a Sunday school lesson:

Was it "fair" of God to lie about the repercussions of eating the fruit (or was it a lie --death of innocence, etc.)  ?  Would the same choices have been made if God had been more straightforward?

Was the choice to eat the fruit really a sin?  Like Pandora's box, you can argue that God set Adam and Eve up for failure.  Adam and Eve did get knowledge out of the deal (and being cast out of the garden also gave them independence).  Is choosing a hard life with knowledge worse than an easy life and ignorance or innocence?  Even children have to make choices that are in grey areas (like when to "tell" on someone) that might have both positive and negative results. 

The nature of myth, what questions this story answered for its original hearers and the truth about the human condition and nature of God that we can still learn from today, regardless of whether or not you see this story as a myth or literal truth.

Was greater knowledge and independent thought/action in humans God's purpose all along?  Was the purpose of the prohibition simply to ensure that Adam and Eve were "ready" for that next step?

We do work with students up to grade 12, so some of these would be concepts I would raise with our teens and not the younger students, but others would be part of the lessons for our elementary students as well.

Terrific response Margie in Forest Hills.   That's what makes these stories so fascinating --they BEG questions, and reveal new facets.  

God walking in the evening breeze reminds me of the Father looking for the Prodigal to come home.  In that parable, Jesus tells us what Adam and Eve SHOULD have done, and how God would have come running to embrace them -had they chosen to ask for forgiveness rather than cast blame.

Was it "fair" of God to lie about the repercussions of eating the fruit (or was it a lie --death of innocence, etc.)  ?  Would the same choices have been made if God had been more straightforward?

"death of innocence" is a great way to put it. Would the prodigal son have listened to a more straightforward warning? Prodigally not.

Was the choice to eat the fruit really a sin? 

The choice wasn't a sin. Choosing to go against God's rule was the sin. Was it wrong for the prodigal to ask for his father's inheritance? No. What was wrong was how he wasted it.

you can argue that God set Adam and Eve up for failure. 

You sure can, and it been a theological paradox for ages, ...the necessity of sin to demonstrate Grace. The requirement of failure and struggle in order to learn and grow.   Did the Father set the Prodigal up for failure by giving him the inheritance, knowing it would be the "death" of him?   Perhaps "innocence" needs to die, so that the Prodigal can learn what they have gained.

these would be concepts I would raise with our teens and not the younger students

Absolutely. We know others will raise these questions in an effort to discredit narrow answers. We need to teach our prodigal kids that God loves questions, and that our salvation is not dependent on the prodigal getting the answers right.

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