what kind of backward flute is this?
what kind of ancient tune do i hear?
rather than charm the snake,
the snake has charmed me.

Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the creatures the LORD God had made.
“Really?” he asked the woman. “Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in
the garden?”
—the devil tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1)

Some people say the old story about Adam and Eve and the snake in the Garden is just a fable. And I have to admit, it does kind of sound like one.

You remember the story, don’t you? God warns Adam and Eve about the tree, and despite his warning (or maybe because of it), Eve finds herself beneath its branches, admiring the forbidden fruit. Enter the snake tempting Eve. Throw in a few subtle lies: “You won’t die if you eat it! Your eyes will be opened, you’ll be like God!” Add a touch of doubt and desire and allurement and then . . . she plucks . . . she eats . . . she shares with Adam, indeed their eyes are opened to evil just as the snake promised, their hearts are stung with the venom of shame and things are never the same again.

You probably heard the story in Sunday school as a kid or maybe saw it being made fun of on late night TV.

So is it supposed to be true or metaphorical? Was there really a garden? A literal talking snake? Or is this just a cautionary tale with a mythic message explaining who we are and how we came to be the way we are?

Theologians of all stripes have their explanations. Skeptics have a field day with the talking snake bit. But I’ll be honest here: I’ve seen this story of enticement and shame played out so many times in so many ways with so many people—on college campuses and in nightclubs, in hotel lobbies and coffee shops, in boardrooms and bedrooms—that I don’t really question it anymore. I can see how true it is. Whether this story is history or myth, it’s true. There’s no denying that. It happens all the time. It’s not just their story; it’s ours as well.

Once after I swallowed a delicious slice of venomous fruit, I wrote this:

i could leap over the sky
and float through the stars

if only i weren’t weighed down
with this thing called regret.

But I am weighed down. We all are. Because we continue to pluck and bite and eat. There’s nothing as tempting as a “Keep Out” sign and nothing as seductive as the lure of the forbidden. But then afterward, once we’ve tasted the fruit, shame and guilt ride into town again and the whole nasty business starts all over. We’re pathetically predictable that way. We convince ourselves it’ll be okay, we’ll never get caught, it’s no big deal; but then when we do get caught, guilt shatters the harmony just as surely today as it did back then. Adam and Eve fled and God came looking for them, and we’ve been fleeing and he’s been looking ever since.

If I’ve learned anything at all from the times I’ve wandered into the realm of the forbidden, it’s this: there’s always a price to be paid when you listen to the snake. There’s always a consequence from biting the fruit. It’s cost me friendships, caused me humiliation, gotten me speeding tickets, given me hangovers, and at one point in my life almost cost me my marriage. I know I’m splintered. I’m not the person I should be. None of us are.

In the tragic aftermath of their choice, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened, and they saw for the first time that the harmony was gone. They had to leave the Garden because they were no longer living in tune with their Creator. They’d gone their own way, and each of us has followed.

Here’s what God told Adam:

Because you listened to your wife
and ate from the tree
That I commanded you not to eat from,
“Don’t eat from this tree,”
The very ground is cursed because of you;
getting food from the ground
Will be as painful as having babies is for your wife;
you’ll be working in pain all your life long.
The ground will sprout thorns and weeds,
you’ll get your food the hard way,
Planting and tilling and harvesting,
sweating in the fields from dawn to dusk,
Until you return to that ground yourself, dead and buried;
you started out as dirt, you’ll end up dirt.
Genesis 3:17-19 Message

Pain. Death. Sweat. Toil. Thorns. That was one sweeping curse. This tale of choices and rebellion and excuses and shame is replayed over and over in our lives. This journey from lost to found is still being told today. This is our story. Yours and mine.

Here’s how the apostle Paul summarized it: “Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God’s curse. All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:20-22). Our world is groaning to be set free from death. Our souls are groaning to be set free from the curse.

a bead of sweat on a glistening forehead.
knuckles scraped,
muscles hard and weary,
skin cut and bruised, caught with splinters,
feet aching, stumbling, tripping,
battling back the thorns, the weeds of another day.
who is this farmer, reaping in his fields?
this shepherd, gathering his sheep?
this carpenter, preparing a place?
who is this man?
sitting in traffic surrounded by fumes and angry faces,
yelling into a phone,
wiping the sweat from his brow,
deadlines, reports, meetings,
“just some time with the kids,”
who is this man in the mirror?
i hardly recognize him anymore.

And so a curse settled down around all of Eve’s children. The harmony stopped as abruptly as a CD when you drive over a speed bump. The winds of change blew and brought with them the smell of death. Work became toil. Laughter turned to tears. Joy faded away. The harmony was gone and thorns began to grow, for part of the curse was the prick of the thorn.

But God didn’t take away the rose.

In the same breath as the curse, God gave his children a promise of someone to come who would restore harmony again. God told the snake, “From now on, you and the woman will be enemies, and your offspring and her offspring will be enemies. He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

This enigmatic prophecy was the only bright spot on that otherwise dark day. God promised that evil would one day be crushed. The curse would one day be lifted.

And since then, beauty and pain have grown in our world side by side.Suffering and joy exist on the same vine, and tears can taste either bitter or sweet. The thorns weren’t a bully-God’s way of getting back at those who wouldn’t listen to him, they were simply a reminder of who we are. Their prick reminds us who we became on that day when our first parents charted a course away from God and shipwrecked us here on this imperfect island of The Way Things Are.

All their descendants since have scanned the horizon for glimpses of another shore. Some have seen it. Most of us haven’t. All of us, though—all of us—perish in this place of pain and death and suffering. The thorns pierce deeply here—thorns of cancer and old age, of drought and shattered dreams and torn Achilles tendons and tsunamis. We ignore them until they prick us and the drop of blood reminds us, “You are mortal. You can bleed, and one day soon, you will die.”

But God didn’t take away the rose.

Generations came and went, and pain followed them everywhere. Death tracked them down one at a time; tracks us down one at a time. Pain in birth, pain in life, pain in death. And though some people point to pain as evidence that God doesn’t exist or simply doesn’t care about us anymore, I think pain is really the evidence of our evil, not his.

Then Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. The soldiers made a crown of
long, sharp thorns and put it on his head, and they put a royal purple robe on him. “Hail!
King of the Jews!” they mocked, and they hit him with their fists.
John 19:1-3

The fists that beat Jesus were formed by human hands, that lead-tipped whip was wielded by a human will—hands just as human as ours, a will just as hardened as Adam’s. The crown of thorns was woven by human fingers, not God’s.

Our first parents chose the path of rebellion. They chose the knowledge of good and evil. And the only way to know evil is to experience it firsthand. The harsh and hateful truth is that we’ve known it all too well ever since.

But God didn’t take away the rose.

touching the unseen

the stars are slow in singing to me tonight.
“who has broken your lyre?” i ask.
“who has scattered your voices?”

and then i hear the answer deep within me;
echoing along the shores of my heart. . . .
and it’s my own name that i hear.
so finally, i understand:
i am the one the stars are ashamed of.

all because of what i’ve become
going my own way,
charting my own course
so far away from you.
so very far away.

forgive me for the whole fruit-incident.
i know its juice is still fresh on my lips.