Notes on Genesis (iii)
‘Then they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden that afternoon.’ (Gen 3:8)
The Bible often seems to reflect ways of thinking about God as if he were human. Why would he have rested on the seventh day, as if tired or sleepy after his preceding works (Gen 2:2)? Here too, the notion of God taking a stroll in the cool, and calling out to someone (surely he knew where Adam was!) seems inappropriate. But the story may operate at a deeper level.
The response of the first humans to their wrongdoing was one of guilt. (Gen 3:7) It’s an emotion we all feel from time to time, but a thoroughly destructive one, and rather than encouraging it in people who are aware of having done wrong, as some people think it does, the Church looks for a change of mind (metanoia), a taking of responsibility that can lead to an experience of being forgiven. The preaching of John the Forerunner, and then that of Christ, both begin with this. (Mark 1:4, 14) By acting in the way they did, Adam and Eve were walking down a different path, and God calls ‘Adam, where are you?’ not because he doesn’t know where he is, but to set up a situation in which something other than guilt can be displayed: ‘[H]e shows consideration for their limitations so as to demonstrate his own loving kindness, and he invited them to make admission of their faults.’ (John Chrysostom) But neither of the pair is prepared to take responsibility for having done wrong: one blames ‘the woman you gave me’ (hence, indirectly, blaming God) and the other the serpent.
So this story doesn’t simply reflect what might seem a primitive way of thinking about God. It shows a desire that wrongdoers will turn around, and the setting up of a situation to facilitate this. According to Jerome, God walked in the garden to give Adam a chance to repent, just as Christ responded to Judas’ kiss in the hope of saving him and prayed for those who persecuted him while on the Cross to give them a chance to repent. The response is guaranteed: when the Prodigal Son was still on his way home he saw his Father running towards him. Some people find it harder than the Prodigal did to turn around; the Church has a sacramental practice to make it easier.