At the Garden Gate: A Choose-Your-Own-Ending Story
By Debbonnaire Kovacs, submitted June 3, 2015; written in 2007, originally appeared in Renewed and Ready magazine. This week’s Old Testament passage is from Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve hear God coming and instead of running to greet him, they hide. I thought I’d share a story with you that I wrote some years ago. It is entirely imaginary, and happens some years (even centuries) after that event.
A blade flashes. Blood spurts. Flames leap high on the stone altar and a sizzle of flesh begins.
I cover my eyes, shuddering.
What kind of God would ordain such a thing? My friend Sho’tet* says his spirit gods are better. They tell him this world was, after all, created for us. Our only duty is to enjoy it.
I went to the party at Sho’tet’s house last night. It was wonderful! Lights hanging in the trees, gleaming on the fountain, on silent marble figures, on lively human bodies. Jewel-bright fruit heaped on silver platters, drinks that sparkled in the throat. People dancing, singing, holding each other. That was a spiritual experience.
A loud voice drags my unwilling eyes forward again. Grandfather Adam is standing by the altar, his arms stretched to the empty heavens. Red drips from the knife and down his muscled arm. He is crying out, “Oh, Elohim, who is a God like you, loving us still, forgiving us—?” His voice cracks and his head sags. His shoulders are heaving. I want to look away, but can’t.
He is changing, our greatest grandfather. Different every week, it seems. His hair and beard are almost white now, curling down over shoulders that aren’t as broad as they once were. Even his great height seems diminished, and the hand that holds the sacrificial knife trembles.
Not that he doesn’t still tower over everyone else. People are all getting shorter, young and old. Shorter and shorter every generation, as if in the end we’ll be miniatures, like the little carved statues in Sho’tet’s garden.
Sho’tet says that’s Elohim’s fault, too. The Garden—I will not look that way—would have kept us young and strong forever. Instead it is shut to us all. My face twists into the familiar frown. It’s not fair! I didn’t eat from that cursed tree! And for that matter, who was it that cursed the tree to begin with? It was such an arbitrary choice. A Thou Shalt Not just for the sake of tripping them up. And when it did, Elohim went into a rage and slammed the Gates. Forever.
I will not look that way!
Movement catches my wandering eyes. Grandmother Eve has gone to her husband. She, too, is bowed and white-haired. Older than he, you’d think. That’s from all the birthing. Speaking of unfair…
I scrunch my scowl tighter, hoping bitterness will keep tears at bay, but it’s not working. Why does the sight of her arms, still strong and brown in the sunshine, holding him while he cries, why does that make me cry?
Sho’tet comes up beside me, slipping an arm around me, murmuring in my ear. “There you are. Such a good little Sabbath-keeper. Why do you keep on coming, watching these emotional displays? I can see by your face it’s only upsetting you.” The love and gentleness in his voice pulls at me, as always. It’s as if he’s a magnet, and I’m a sliver of iron. Maybe he’s right when he says we were meant for each other. “Come on. I’ve got some new musicians you have to hear to believe!” He tugs at my waist, but I resist. I don’t know why.
The stench of burning flesh makes me choke and gives an excuse for my watery eyes.
The ancient couple, still clinging together, turn to face us all, and I lean forward, trying to hear. This, though I don’t like to admit it even to myself – this is why I come. She’s going to begin now. “Oh, Elohim, bless them. Be with them. Thank you for loving Seth, Tirzah, and Enosh…Shoshana, Kenan, and Mahalalel…” The list goes on and on. Her voice drops, trembles like Adam’s hand. “Our lost Cain, and his family…” She still remembers our names. She remembers all our names. How can she? “Jared and Sho’tet…”
Sho’tet’s voice changes. “Look at them, sobbing on each other’s shoulders, crying over the mess they got us all into, wailing to a God who doesn’t listen anyway! Are you coming or not?”
Sho’tet turns away. His low laugh pulls at the iron filing inside me. I shift my feet and hesitate. Then my eye catches the gleam of the sword at the Garden Gate. Oh, Elohim, I wasn’t going to look! Why do You always make me look? The sword turns, turns, flashing so brightly I wince. Behind the angel, I can faintly make out shapes, tall, glorious trees, a flash of red feathers, the shine of quiet waters. All lost to us forever. Finally, against my will, I look at the angel’s face. And I see the tears.
I turn my head to find Sho’tet. His smile is so understanding. I take a step toward him.
Then I hear my name on the lips of the Mother of all living. My heart gives a painful bound, and I lurch back again, tears flowing suddenly.
“And oh, Redeemer,” says Eve in a voice all can hear, “thank you most of all for not being angry with us, but giving us the Promise…”
Not angry? But I thought—
I glance over my shoulder.
Which path do you think the character chose? Why?
Have you been in this spot? Which path did you choose? Why?
What are some questions you have about the anger of God?
*Sho’tet is adapted from a Hebrew word meaning whiplash or goad.