My wife and I have enjoyed reading to our kids since they were just babies. My son is now seven and my daughter is five. We’ve read through so many books together; everything from the Brothers Grimm fairy tales to the Jesus Storybook Bible. Inevitably, questions come from them in the middle of reading a story. Why does Captain Hook have a hook for a hand? Why was the sword stuck in the stone? How did Jesus feed all of those people with so little food? Those questions make sense in the context of their respective stories.
However, my son had one question about Donald Hall’s Caldecott Award-winning book The Ox-Cart Man that genuinely took me by surprise. “Was he a real man, Papa?” my son asked me when I finished reading the story to him. I can understand why he would ask this question. It is a story about a man and his family living in colonial America. It is about early American day-to-day life told through the changing of the seasons. In many ways, the story reflects our own life. It follows a somewhat cyclical nature. We make, sell, buy, consume, rinse and repeat. My son was having a moment of relating to someone else’s story and wanted to know if the person he was relating to in the story was an actual person.
Mario A. Russo
God is intimately involved with the making of humans and the world they occupy. Not because he has to, but simply because he wants to.
It gave me a new appreciation for why people ask that same question of the creation story and Adam and Eve. Was Adam a real (i.e., historical) person? Did everything that happened to Adam really happen to a real person named Adam? And then it made me wonder, is this question arresting our attention away from the many other truths of the story? Are we asking this question in the hopes of relating our story to an actual person? Whether Adam and Eve were or were not historical people doesn’t change the fact that their story reveals some fantastic truths. In this way, if Adam and Eve weren’t real people, couldn’t their story still be fantastically true?
People love stories. Stories do more than communicate morals and truth, they do it in a way that is dramatic, relatable, powerful, and memorable. Whether you believe Adam was a real person or not, when we talk about God creating Adam and Eve it’s important not to lose the drama, power, and wonder of the story. God forms and fills a world. God fashions humans with his “hands.” God breathes into humans. God is intimately involved with the making of humans and the world they occupy. Not because he has to, but simply because he wants to.
Like most kids, my kids love to play with Legos and Play-Doh. So, one day, I got an idea about how I might communicate the power and wonder of the creation story. I had my kids pull their enormous box of Legos off their toy shelf and construct a “garden.” We built trees and alligators and dogs and fish. We put them all together and set the stage for the next part of the project. They would construct little human figures out of Play-Doh. My kids, being sharp, asked if they could use the gingerbread-man cookie cutter to simply stamp out the figures. But I told them these had to be figures that they made and fashioned with their own hands. It took them a while, much longer than using the cookie cutter would have taken. But eventually they had two three-dimensional model humans.
When they were finished, we talked together about how much effort it took to make the figures. We talked about how much thought and work at first went into building the world that they would live in. Then how much thoughtfulness and care it took to create the Play-Doh humans. The impact of such thoughtfulness and care was no more a theoretical idea, but something they had experienced with their own hands. If such thoughtfulness and care was required by them to make a fake world, how much thoughtfulness and care did God give in making this real world?
So, what truths are being communicated in the creation story of Adam and Eve? There are plenty, and I just mentioned one of them (that God put great thoughtfulness and care in the creation of humans). But we can go one step further than that and learn even more about God. We learn from Genesis that God, as the Nicene Creed states, is “The Father almighty, maker of heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible.” God is Almighty Creator. We are not simply the result of random biological processes, but our life was made by an almighty God who gives our life purpose and meaning.
Moreover, we know from the story of the creation that God made humans because he wants a relationship with them. That is a deep and wonderful truth. God made people because he wants to have a meaningful relationship with them. Before he made Adam, God was in perfect trinitarian relationship with himself (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). He didn’t need to be in relationship with anyone or anything else. But in his love and grace he chose to have a relationship with someone other than himself. So, he created humans. People need to know that God made them because he passionately loves them, and deeply wants them.
But what about Adam? Or for that matter, what about Eve? What truths do we learn from them? Here are two humans in a story that are created and formed by the very hands of God. They eat, work, and love just like me and you. They have a purpose and calling in life like me and you. They fail and face guilt and shame like me and you. They suffer the consequences of their actions like me and you. And they have provision for their life made by God for them like me and you. The more I think about and read the creation story of Adam and Eve the more I can see (and the more I want to see) my own story in their story. And that’s a really important point. We need to see ourselves in the story of Adam and Eve.
Adam’s story is our story. The question of Adam’s historicity is a great question. But it’s a question that can distract from the fuller meaning of the story. The story of the Ox-Cart man beautifully expresses the daily life and cyclical nature of early 19th century colonials. Were we to limit the Ox-Cart man to historical investigation we would tragically miss the richness of meaning in his story. We would overlook the deep joy and satisfying simplicity of life for those early Americans. Subsequently, we would miss the potential for deep joy and satisfying simplicity in our own life.
If such is true of the Ox-Cart man, what can be said of the question of the historicity of Adam and Eve? Adam and Eve’s historical existence is a good and important question. It deserves to be asked and answered in new ways. However, when we discuss this question, it is best not to do it at the expense of the fullness and richness of the whole creation story. Nor should we isolate this question from the grander truths that are contained in the story. Even if Adam and Eve are not historically real persons, I don’t believe their story is any less fantastically true.
God created humans because he wanted them. He knew full well their potential and inevitable failure. He had already calculated the price to redeem them. And yet, God created humans. God looked ahead at the future of humanity and his entire creation and made a decision. It was worth it. My hope is that one day all people will be able to see in the creation story the truths of the seriousness of failure and the costliness of grace. I want them to see themselves in the story of Adam and Eve. I want them to see themselves as exorbitantly valuable. I want them to see their lives as profoundly meaningful. I want them to see themselves as wisdom seekers. I want them to see themselves as deeply flawed, yet completely accepted. I want them to see themselves as overwhelmingly loved and cared for by the Creator of the universe. I want them to see themselves as fantastically human.
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