Why Did Adam Fall?
(This excerpt is taken from Dr. Tiel's book, "Why Did Adam Fall?" and other Unasked-for Sermons. To read more, you can get the book from our bookstore here.)
Texts: “ And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Genesis 3:6); “And Adam was not deceived . . .” (I Timothy 2:14).
Why did Adam fall? It’s an intriguing question, because we are told by the old texts that Eve fell through the seduction of a deceiver, the serpent, who tricked her into misunderstanding the aim of the divine prohibition. God had indeed told them not to eat of the tree, and it was true that God knew that eating of the tree would produce the knowledge of good and evil as the gods knew it. But God did not tell them why they could not acquire that knowledge immediately. So, the serpent offered a false reason: divine jealousy. God, said the serpent, did not wish the mortal human beings to come into the possession of knowledge that would make them equivalent to the gods. So, Eve first saw that the fruit looked inviting, then desired a truly noble good (knowledge), and finally, accepted the serpent’s deceptive explanation of God’s rationale for giving the command. And she ate. Apparently, trusting God’s motives without knowing the reason for the commandment was the test for Eve. Thus, the serpent deceived Eve.
But Adam knew no such deception. Not only does the serpent not approach him in the story, we are told explicitly in other texts that Adam was not deceived. No one else offered him a false motive as to God’s commandment. Yet Adam ate the fruit when Eve gave it to him. Why?
One possibility, that Adam was just stupid, must be rejected out of hand. The Lord God took Adam out into the field to name the animals, an effort that demonstrated the man’s reasoning capacity, for it wasn’t long until Adam correctly inferred that he lacked a suitable mate. Moreover, upon seeing his wife for the first time, he composed verse about her glory: “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” He was no dunce.
So, in spite of knowing what he was doing, he did it anyway. That returns us to the question of why? Let us consider further what Adam’s not being deceived means. It means that he did not incorrectly perceive the situation, as Eve did. He knew that she had eaten the fruit, and he knew what it meant: “in the day you eat of the fruit you shall surely die.” He now realized that Eve had fallen away from God and, therefore, away from him. But he loved her.
The ancient texts do not provide us with Adam’s motive, but we can speculate on what mortal love can do by way of skewing our conduct. It’s been said that all mortal loves must die and be reborn into immortality, that charity must infuse all mortal affections, lest they corrupt us. We see this in a multitude of forms: friendships where loyalty takes precedence over common sense; “open” love where extreme eroticism (such as “swinging”) corrupts the couple’s trust; maternal concern mutated into domination that tyrannizes teenagers; fraternal care that becomes oppressive or backbiting. All loves are forms of power, the power to do something for another person. With that very power arises the capacity for misuse and destruction. For this reason, it is said that the ones closest to us can cause us the greatest harm. Who hurt Christ more? Judas Iscariot or St. Peter?
Mortal loves must be grounded in the good of their objects (not merely the good of the lover) in order for them to fulfill both parties. And since God is the supreme good Himself, the greatest good of the object of love is God. Thus, all mortal loves must ultimately be directed toward God or else they lead to perdition. Supernatural charity must indeed infuse them, must direct them toward God, lest they lead us astray.
Adam loved his wife, but he had not yet put on charity. This was his test. And this was his failing. He wasn’t deceived. He just could not find it within himself to let go of Eve. He chose to love her in the way that they had hitherto known one another and that meant staying with her even unto death. In a way, it strikes us as very noble. After all, Christ himself confronted death and descended to hell itself to rescue those held in captivity. But Adam could not rescue Eve by joining her disobedience. He placed natural affection over real love. And by the evening of that day, he was blaming God for having given him such a lousy wife!
C. S. Lewis gives us a splendid view of Adam’s struggle in the second book of his Space Trilogy. In that science fiction novel, Lewis portrays another world, Perelandra, at its inception. There, too, the female is confronted with a deceiver who tries to lure her into disobeying a divine commandment by (again) offering her a possible (false) motive for the command. Meanwhile, in a remote part of Perelandra cut off from his wife, the man is faced with a very different test: what will he do if she falls? Given to see her struggle but unable to do anything to help her, he comes to a decision of what he would do if she were to fall. He is faced with the same gut-wrenching affection for his wife as Adam, but determines that even if she falls, he must not follow her, even if it means their separation. He realizes on some level that his fidelity to the good might be her only path back to salvation. He may temporarily lose her, but her only hope might lie in his faithfulness.
Human loves are terrifically good things, capable of motivating our ascent to the heights of moral heroism. But that same power sometimes provides us with the ultimate test: to choose the lesser good of our temporal affection or the eternal and perfect goodness of the love of God. Jesus said that he came in a way that might drive a sword between even the most cherished familial relationships, and Adam’s terrible struggle over Eve’s fate offers us a heart-wrenching example of the tragedy borne of choosing the wrong good.