“The serpent deceived me,” the woman said, hoping to mitigate what she was about to say next. “That’s why I ate it.” She was relieved when God turned his attention to the serpent.
The serpent had been watching these proceedings with great interest and had many things he wanted to say. For one, he wanted to point out how very flawed and undeserving these new creations were, “made in the image of God.” But God asked him nothing, and without permission, he could not speak. He was silent as God condemned him to crawl, belly to the ground, for the rest of his life. From then on, groveling would be his only mode of transport.
“I’m declaring war between you and the woman,” God said.
“Well, that’s already happened,” the woman thought, giving the serpent a sharp sideways glance.
“… and between your children and hers,” God continued. “He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Fear chilled the woman’s heart, fear for her children yet to be conceived. Fear for the one who would dare to strike the serpent’s head. She hugged herself to quiet an involuntary shiver.
“I’ll sharpen your pain in childbirth,” God was saying, as if he had read her mind. The woman drew a sharp breath. “You’ll want to please your husband, but he’ll lord it over you.”
“What?!” she thought. Was this because she hadn’t first consulted her husband? Was his judgment so superior? If the man had known better, why hadn’t he said anything? The idea of her husband coming out ahead chafed her a little.
As if responding to her thoughts, God said, turning to the man, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from, the ground is cursed because of you.”
Because of me. Had he listened to his wife? He had heard them talking, the woman and the serpent. He wanted his wife to be happy. What was wrong with pursuing a little happiness? That it seemed to contradict God’s commandment was a bit of a sticking point that he had been trying hard to reconcile, when she bit into the fruit.
Everything had happened so fast. Already he had sensed a growing separation between himself and the one he had called Woman. Her arm was stretched towards him. He had reached out instinctively to meet her halfway. He didn’t want to lose her.
But then it was done, and he had lost everything.
“All your life you’ll struggle to scratch a living from the earth,” God continued. “It will grow thorns and weeds. Until you die you’ll have to sweat and work hard to get it to grow food for you. You were made from the dust, and to dust you will return.”
So they would live, but only a shadow of their former life. Everyday he would pour his strength into an uncooperative earth, and it would drink from him until he had nothing left to give. The man sighed, already weary. Without access to the tree of life they would eventually succumb to decay. Returning to the dust seemed a mercy of sorts, a hope of final rest.
They were about to leave the only home they had ever known. But there was one last thing.
Before God sent them out, he covered them. He brought out animals and cut their necks so their lifeblood gushed out, dark and pulsing into the earth. The man and woman saw the blank eyes lolling in hollow sockets and understood for the first time something of death. They watched as the skins were torn from these innocent creatures to cover their naked shame, and they received these new clothes with solemn gratitude and not a little awe.
The man and woman glanced back one last time. They could see the flaming sword flashing in the hand of the cherubim who guarded the way to the tree of life.
This was the end. And the beginning.