People that I call "fact fundamentalists" dismiss many of the stories in the Bible because they did not happen in history — or because they are impossible, such as the sun standing still in the book of Joshua.
The story of Adam and Eve is a good example of a myth that is not historical but contains profound truth about humanity. Scholars and scientists have proven that humanity is older than 6,000 years, thus debunking a literal reading of Genesis. But only a fool would neglect what the story of Adam and Eve teaches us about ourselves.
In fact, the story of Adam and Eve, on its own terms, is not history, but saga, a story about us. "Adam" in Hebrew means man, or actually humanity in general. The creator, or creators, of the myth intended to answer such age-old questions as: What is wrong with us? Why do we kill each other? Why do we lie, cheat and steal? Why do we commit adultery and start wars? Why are we so easily tempted to commit evil?
Let's review the sequence of the events that led to the Fall.
In Genesis 2:6-7, "man" was created: "A mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of face of the ground — then the Lord God formed man (the Hebrew is "adham") of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."
Then God created a garden (2:8): "The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed."
Next God gave the man this warning: "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (2:16-17).
Finally, God created woman: "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (2:18).
You know the rest of the story — the serpent tempted the woman to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and she offered the fruit to the man, who also made the choice to partake.
How did the serpent tempt the woman? With this promise, which is the point of the story: "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (3:5). The temptation here is to be like God, with the divine power to know good and evil, which means knowledge of everything. The will to power is our fatal flaw, according to Genesis, our desire to be God, controlling everything, knowing everything.
Now let's apply this truth to ourselves.
We just saw a recent example when Mitt Romney was tempted by falling polls to make a premature judgment about the attack and murders at our embassy in Libya. Some said Romney was spot-on in his analysis, but few agreed with his timing. But how often have we done similar things — jumping on a stock before we have done our research, married for lust instead of love, cheated on our taxes. The list goes on!
History is full of much darker examples — Hitler's temptation to invade the Soviet Union, not learning from Napoleon's earlier hubris when he invaded Russia in 1812. Both men lost their power in the long run because of their thirst for more power, which floundered in the snowstorms of Russia.
The writers of Genesis see sin snowballing down through history — after Cain kills Abel — to the point when God regrets his experiment, culminating in the story of the flood. But even that catastrophe did not wipe out sin; and thus sin remains, our will to power.
So, we continue to pollute the earth in the name of profit, and we continue to exploit people sexually and materially to satisfy our own needs, regardless of how our actions affect others. Both of our political parties rather attain power than offer specific solutions to such horrific problems as our national debt and our ongoing military engagements.
The Bible does not offer solutions to such current problems, but it does offer in Genesis a profound analysis of our basic character flaw, which bedevils all of our attempts to solve our problems.
So, how do we overcome our will to power, our vulnerability to such temptations? All of the world's religions are attempts to answer that basic question, which was put forth by the creative genius of the writers of Genesis thousands of years ago. We continue to search for answers, and we continue to listen to what religion teaches us, and we continue to struggle with ourselves.
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist