If the garden wasn't some trial-of-worth that God put humans through, then what might it mean, in this great story of gathering that is Genesis?
Perhaps the Garden evokes to us humanity's hunter-gather past (stretching through branches of the genus homo and across millions of years). But all of that long history changed with the agricultural revolution. There was a sudden demarcation between peoples, between ways, and between those who have and those who don't.
Good and evil. Eat and die.
Biblical literalists are lambasted for ascribing to a 6,000 year history of the world, but in terms of the world of agriculturalists their estimate isn't too far off. Everything changed when humans started planting crops. If you need the deets check out Guns Germs and Steel and/or Sapiens (please purchase through your local independent bookseller, if you don't have one, the links lead to my fave in PDX). The short version is that once it was possible to own things like land and more-than-enough it became possible for those with to control those without. That set up the cultures we've seen bumping uglies trying to figure out who's best.
Best is the superlative of good. It implies a teleological good along a continuum of goodness. A continuum demands a teleological opposite.
Hello to evil. hello to death.
Eat *this* fruit and you will surely die.
And all learning is death to the one who knew the world another way. If we truly know a thing--in our bones we know it to be true--then to be wrong about that thing is death from our bones outward. Learning says there is a better way and one worse (perhaps many, perhaps not, learning is also open and curious).
For us to eat the fruit of agriculture, ownership, cities, empires, cultures, revolutions, we must eat death. We must learn that our bones break--and heal. When we take the very best that we know and test it by life and study against the very best we can discover through curiosity, that is learning and it is death.
The response to God in the garden was shame. Adam and Eve hid because they were ashamed. They had suddenly discovered this continuum from good to evil. Better-than to worse-than. Enough to not. Someone had to be better another worse.
Hello to the Curse (okay, I promise I'm going to stop stealing this, but you should totally read In the Shelter by Pádraig Ó Tuama).
The language of the curse is the language of the agricultural revolution: more babies and more toil. Better than and worse than. Desire and pain.
The language of the prophets who claim together this Genesis story is about moving through pain with grace, learning to sit with death, and to dance with grief. It is a language pointing towards both as the way past shame.
Shame is this biological response that got hacked into our human brain about like a Commodore 64 would interface with a quantum computer. The lizard brain is the part that's meant to keep us alive after all the higher systems go offline. You can be stumbling at the last of your strength and it's your lizard brain that will keep ticking just as long as your brain has the calories to circulate air. But shame is a cooperative mammal trait that indicates non-pro-social behavior. Biologically shame got dumped into the same wiring circuit as basic survival.
But the way through shame is the non dualistic thinking that is only possible with the prefrontal cortex firing away like a next-gen super computer. That is what the rest of human history has been about. How do we hold two things at the same time? How can life be good and evil? How can we be good and evil? How can we do things that threaten our standing in society and then be reconciled to society? How can we reconcile ourselves to each other and each other to our shared past of hurting each other? How can we own our privilege and oppression as they intersect in our own bodies and the bodies of our neighbors?
Yis-ra-el, in Hebrew, means "wrestles with God".
Keep wrestling, y'all!