The impact of shame in Eve’s story

Mar 18, 2014 by

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A reflection on Gen. 3:1-7

It’s not hard to imagine how the seeds of shame were planted in Eve’s heart. There’s much in her early story that would leave the best of us feeling flawed:

  • that lingering feeling of always being second;
  • unemployment;
  • knowing Adam was given all the animals of the world but you, given nothing, are yourself a gift;
  • your knowledge of the rules was second hand;
  • while God explicitly breathed his breath into Adam you’re left to wonder;
  • you’re put in an imbalanced position of needing to deeply trust another.

Nothing is unique about this story, even today, in a world where women are second place in the workforce, often paid less, unwelcome at the rules-making table, objectified and forced into unrealistic standards of beauty, and questions remain (often times most vociferously by the church!) regarding women’s equality.

No, I don’t know when the seeds of her shame were planted. But it’s clear when it began to flourish.

Needing only a tiny hint, a whispered suggestion like the passing face of youthful beauty on a billboard, Eve’s shame erupts with the onset of desire.

Eve, you’re not good enough. You need something, just a little something more. Then you’ll be complete. Then you’ll finally meet expectations and feel fulfilled. Without this you’re nothing. But with it? With it, you’ll become like God!

 

Her shame flourished the moment the desire for more entered into her thoughts: cover up, salve your wounds, defend your wounded psyche, prove you’re not flawed. Reaching out to grasp that fruit must have taken everything she had!

But her desire for more proves contagious, spilling over into Adam. Blinded by a lifetime of privilege and entitlement that set him apart and above, his own shame was hidden until he began to want for himself the object of Eve’s own desire.

Refusing to be outdone, Adam not only covers his shame by desiring something more, he hides that desire, degrading Eve with blame. This defense — the need to scapegoat his spouse — seems the far worse sin when compared with Eve’s willingness to share with Adam that which “delighted” her.

And by the time we get only one generation further to Cain and Abel, humanity can only find self worth when “I am better than you” or “you are worth less than me.”

The great 20th-century philosopher Ozzie Osborne captured this cycle of shame well when singing in 1980 about his “mental wounds not healing… . going off the rails on a crazy train.” This family has gone downhill fast.

You’re not good enough. You need something, just a little something more. Then you’ll be complete. Then you’ll finally meet expectations and feel fulfilled. Without this you’re nothing. But with it? With it you’ll become like God!

Forget arguments about the factual historicity of Eve and Adam. What about the Truth that I’m just a modern-day Eve? We’re each, to a tee, chips off our mothers’ block.

And if that’s true, we’ve little hope to be radically obedient. For “when people revile you and persecute you (Matt 5:11)” we’ll be ruled by our addictions to approval and be stuck in a pattern of capitulation and privatized religion incapable of being God’s partners in shalom making. When confronted with injustice, we’ll sympathize with status quo knowing our own hidden desire to be seen as better than someone.

The giving and loving, breaking and pouring life of Christ can only become our way of life when we find our truest identity in God.

This, at its core, is what is meant when we say “salvation through grace.” We need not recklessly seek to justify ourselves in any way we can: wealth, good works, reputation, religiosity, wisdom.

No, our self worth and identity comes directly from God and not from another, and thus the peacemakers — outnumbered and lavished with scorn — can indeed experience being blessed.

This free gift of grace redefines us, allowing our identity to come from God. God, who accepts and refuses to condemn us, is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love has called you a child of God.

You are enough! My friends, Eve, Adam, Abel and Cain, I see your shame. But Christ has come to set us free. And you, in all your glory, are good enough.

Marty Troyer is pastor of Houston Mennonite Church and writes at blog.chron.com, where this post originally appeared. He tweets @thepeacepastor.


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