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May 12, 2014

Mother Eve Church Talk


I was asked to give a talk in our church congregation on Mother's Day this year. About a minute after they asked me, I knew exactly what I wanted to speak about - Mother Eve. I love Mother Eve. After I finished the talk I had several people ask for a copy, so I'm posting it here on the blog. I have tried to provide links for all of the quote sources that I could. Also, I never write out exactly what I'm going to say in my talks, so I'm not sure exactly what I said in between each of the quotes, but what is written here is a pretty close approximation. 


A lot of what I've said can be found in the great book "Eve and the Choice Made in Eden" by Beverly Campbell. It's currently out of print but you can either buy it used or get it as an ebook. 

picture by Rose Datoc Dall


Now, if you are not a member of my faith, this talk is not going to make a whole lot of sense to you, I imagine. The majority of the quotes are taken from priesthood leaders in our church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). We have a different view of the Garden of Eden story than many christian faiths in that we believe it was absolutely necessary for Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If they hadn't partaken, we wouldn't be here. We believe we existed as spirits in heaven before this life on earth - spirit children of a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother - and that the plan was for us to come to earth and get bodies and see if we would could learn to control our bodies and obey God's commandments. Adam and Eve had to partake the fruit for us to begin our mortal journey and make our way back to God's presence. You can read more about my faith by reading my mormon.org profile. And I'm always happy to answer questions.

So here is the talk I gave on Mother's Day:

Good morning. Happy Mother’s Day I want to say that I know mother's day can be a painful day for us women.
- to those who don’t yet have children
Sister Patricia Holland  said: “As I tenderly acknowledge the very real pain that many single women, or married women who have not borne children, feel about any discussion of motherhood, could we consider this one possibility about our eternal female identity-“our unity in our diversity? Eve was given the identity of “the mother of all living“—years, decades, perhaps centuries before she ever bore a child. it would appear that her motherhood preceded her maternity, just as surely as the perfection of the Garden preceded the struggles of mortality. I believe mother is one of those very carefully chosen words, one of those rich words—with meaning after meaning after meaning. We must not, at all costs, let that word divide us. I believe with all my heart that it is first and foremost a statement about our nature, not a head count of our children. (Ensign, October 1987. "One Thing Needful: Becoming Women of Greater Faith in Christ")

That’s what I would like to talk about today – our divine role and nature, and about our Mother Eve; because it all started with Eve. I love mother Eve. I wish we knew more about her. But l am grateful for the additional knowledge that has been given to us through the inspired words of modern day prophets. Eve is a type for us, and we should all strive to be like Eve.

I don't want this to feel like a gospel doctrine lesson, but I feel like it's important that we understand Eve’s role in our lives, because so much of what women suffer through is because of Eve. That sounded bad. I mean that wicked men have been using the Garden of Eve story to put Eve in a subordinate position to men, but with a correct view of the story we see that this was never meant to be. Eve was never meant to be ruled over, and one of the important parts of the restoration in these latter days is the restoration of the garden story and what male/female relationships should be like.

So let’s talk about Eve in the pre-existence. We know that some were chosen before they were born for special missions here on earth. Eve was chosen as one of the most righteous of God's children to come to earth and be the mother of all living. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said "Eve- daughter of God, one of the spirit offspring of the Almighty Elohim— was among the noble and great in the preexistence. She ranked in spiritual stature, in faith and devotion, in conformity to eternal law with Michael." (Bruce R. McConkie, "Eve and the Fall," in Woman (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1979))
Eve was chosen because of her righteousness, just as was Michael.

After Adam was created, the scriptures tell us "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." (Genesis 2:18)
When I read this as a child, I always thought it sounded like Eve was supposed to be a helper, someone who was a subordinate; that she was only there to help Adam, and that made me feel bad. I knew it was a wrong interpretation, but didn't know what the right one was.

Biblical scholar David Freedman tells us that the Hebrew word translated there into English as "help" is the word ezer, which is a combination of two roots- one meanting "to rescue, to save" and the other meaning "to be strong“, but in time was always interpreted as "to help". The other word used in that verse to describe Eve is k’enegdo, which means “equal”. So it appears that with a more precise translation we can understand better the intended role of Mother Eve. Genesis 2:18 would then read "it is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a companion of strength and power who is equal with him.” 

This more accurate understanding of the original words coincides with what the restored gospel has taught us about Mother Eve. President Howard W. Hunter taught; “The Lord intended that the wife he a help meet for man (meet means equal) - that is, a companion equal and necessary in partnership."("Being a Righteous Husband and Father, General Conference, October 1994)

And Elder Earl C. Tingey said “you must not misunderstand what the Lord meant when Adam was told he was to have a helpmeet. A helpmeet is a companion suited to or equal to us. We walk side by side with a helpmeet, not one before or behind the other. A helpmeet results in an absolute equal partnership between a husband and a wife. Eve was to be equal to Adam as a husband and wife are to be equal to each other." ("The Simple Truths From Heaven: The Lord's Pattern" CES Fireside, 2008)

After they were placed in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given two commandments. The first, to multiply and replenish the earth. The second was that they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but then He added “nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee;“
So we see that this command is different. It's more of a warning.

While Adam and Eve were there in the garden, they didn’t just walk around picking fruit and petting the animals. They were learning. Joseph Smith taught "Adam received commandments and instructions from God: this was the order form the beginning.” (History of the Church, 4:207–9; from a discourse prepared by Joseph Smith and read at a Church conference held on Oct. 5, 1840, in Nauvoo, Illinois. Can be found in the Joseph Smith Manual, Chapter 8) Brigham young added that "Adam was as conversant with his Father who placed him upon this earth as we are conversant with our earthly parents.“ (can be found in  Teachings of Brigham Young Manual, chapter 14) So we know that they were being taught in the way we all are taught, line upon line, precept upon precept.

Eve was aware of her calling to be the “Mother of all Living" from the beginning, she was just not aware of how that was going to happen. They must have pondered this. Hugh Nibley suggested that by the time thy were tempted by the being who symbolically is called a sperent, Adam and Eve had concluded that they must partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. 

This to me is the critical question. Did Eve understand what she was doing? Yes, she did! President James E. Faust said: "We all owe a great debt of gratitude to Eve. In the Garden of Eden, she and Adam were instructed not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, they were also reminded, "Thou mayest choose for thyself." The choice was really between a continuation of their comfortable existence in Eden, where they would never progress, or a momentous exit into mortality with its opposites: pain, trials, and physical death in contrast to joy, growth, and the potential for eternal life. In contemplating this choice, we are told, “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat." And thus began their earthly probation and parenthood.” (General Conference October 1999, "What if Means to Be a Daughter of God")

She knew she could stay in the garden forever, with her husband, enjoying being in God's presence and living a life of ease. But she also was aware of her role as mother, and taking thought of all the souls waiting to come to earth through her, she chose to leave her life of ease. Speaking to women, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in a conference talk in 1997: "Yours is the grand tradition of Eve, the mother of all the human family, the one who understood that she and Adam had to fall in order that ‘men [and women] might be’ and that there would be joy."  (General Conference April 1997, "Because She is a Mother")

She understood that they needed to eat the fruit. She understood that it was a necessary step. She wasn’t tricked into it. It wasn’t a fortunate mistake. It was necessary. It had to he a true exercise of agency. The choice couldn't be made in ignorance. Elder Boyd K. Packer explained that "there was too much at issue to introduce man into mortality by force. That would contravene the very law essential to the plan."(General Conference April 1988, "Atonement, Agency, Accountability")   Elder John A. Widtsoe elaborated on the agency that had to prevail in the garden: "The eternal power of choice was respected by the Lord himself . . .It really converts the command into a warning, as much as if to say, if you do this thing, you will bring upon yourself a certain punishment, but do it if you choose . . .
The Lord had warned Adam and Eve of the hard battle with earth conditions if they chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He would not subject his son and daughter to hardship and the death of their bodies unless it be of their own choice. They must choose for themselves. They chose wisely, in accord with the heavenly law of love fore others." (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, Arranged by G. Homer Durham. 3 vols in 1. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960)

Now the next question is, was Eve punished for partaking of the fruit? She was not punished by God. Wicked men have been punishing women for ages, relegating them to second class status, but that was never God's design. The scriptures say that Eve was told: "Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’ The Hebrew word rendered "sorrow" (Gen. does not connote "sadness," but "labor," or "sweat," or "pain."' And multiply does not mean make greater, but instead repeatedly. She will repeatedly labor to bring forth children. And then there's the "he shall rule over thee” part. Elder Bruce C. Hafen points out that the "over" is from the Hebrew word “bet” and means "with". So it should read that Adam rules "with" Eve, not "over”. He is not punishing Eve. God is telling her what is going to happen next. He is teaching her, as He teaches Adam what will happen to him in laboring for food. (Ensign August 2007, "Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners")

Elder Bruce C. Hafen said “The incorrect idea in Christian history that wives should be dependent began with the false premise that the fall of Adam and Eve was a tragic mistake and that Eve was the primary culprit. Thus women's traditional submission to men was considered a fair punishment for Eve's sin. Thankfully, the Restoration clarifies Eve's -- and Adam's -- choice as essential to the eternal progression of God's children. We honor rather than condemn what they did, and we see Adam and Eve as equal partners.” (Ensign August 2007, "Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners")

I am so grateful for the restored gospel that helps put Eve, and all her daughters, back where she should be. Women have had a rough existence on this earth, and still do in many parts of the world. President Gordon B. Hinckley recognized this when he said “Eve became God's final creation, the grand summation of all of the marvelous work that had gone before. Notwithstanding this preeminence given the creation of woman, she has so frequently through the ages been relegated to a secondary position. She has been put down. She has been denigrated. She has been enslaved. She has been abused.” (General Conference October 2004, "The Women in Our Lives")
This surely makes our Heavenly Parents grieve. Eve gave us a gift. We are here because of her and I love her and am grateful for the choice and sacrifice she made.

Before I finish, I want to point out the oneness of Adam and Eve, because I think it’s a wonderful reminder of what we are striving for in our marriages. The scriptures tell us the following:
“8 In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him;
9 In the image of his own body, male and female, created he them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created and became living souls in the land upon the footstool of God." (Moses 6:8-9)
He called “their name Adam.” Adam and Eve together make the family unit known as Adam. They are one flesh, and that’s what we should be striving for in our marriages.  Bruce R. McConkie explained "The name of Adam and Eve as a united partnership is Adam. They, the two of them together, are named Adam. This is more that the man Adam as a son of God or the woman Eve as a daughter of the same Holy Being. Adam and Eve taken together are named Adam, and the fall of Adam is the fall of them both, for they are one." 
Isn’t that wonderful! I love the thought. Let me show you another wonderful thing.

Going back to the scripture, you notice also that this oneness of husband and wife is evident in the term “God” as well. Let me read it again. “in the likeness of God made he him; In the image of his own body, male and female, created he them.”  We are created in the image of God, which is both male and female. We know that our Heavenly Father is male, and we know that our Heavenly Mother is female. The two of them together are known to us as “God”.
Elder Erastus Snow, an apostle from 1849 to 1888 said the following:
“What,” says one, “do you mean we should understand that Deity consists of man and Woman?" Most certainly I do. If I believe anything that God has ever said about himself. . . I must believe that deity consists of man and woman . . . there can be no God except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, or ever will be a God in any other way."(Discourse delivered in 1878, journal of discourses)
And that is pretty revolutionary thinking, don't you think?

And I haven't spoken yet about our Heavenly Mother. We do not know much about her, but we know she exists. We can assume she is one in purpose with our Heavenly Father, and that she loves us just as much.
Elder Glenn L. Pace said “Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your Heavenly Parents in those royal courts on high and you look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny."(BYU devotional, March 2010, "The Divine Nature and Destiny of Women)
Women, you are loved. So loved. We are not perfect, none of us are, but we are valuable. And what makes us valuable? Is it how well we keep a home? Or how beautiful we are? Or how righteous we are? Nope. We are valuable because we are daughters of God, and we are of infinite worth to our Heavenly Parents.


(Also, lds women, you should check out this article about the Two Trees, because personally I think it makes a lot of sense and is just full of beautiful thoughts.)

9 comments:

  1. It's a great talk! Thanks for sharing. I love the idea of God comprising Heavenly Father and heavenly mother. That's awesome.

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    1. thanks Emily. Isn't that a great thought?

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    2. Marvelous talk, Erin--thank you for posting this! I am sharing it with our rabbi friend in New Rochelle, NY, Amiel Wohl. I once heard a feminist in his congregation expound on her belief that the ancient Hebrew references involved a God with both male and female characteristics. She didn't quite capture the idea that they were two separate beings, but she certainly made a case for there being such a thing as feminine deity. I love our concept that we have a Heavenly Mother and my belief that we don't know more about her because our Father in Heaven didn't want her name dragged through the mud, as is His name. Especially on Mother's Day I try to set aside time to think on her and ways I can change to become more like her and ask Heavenly Father to let her know I'm thinking of her. --Aunt Sherlene

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  2. Great talk Erin! This really helps me look at things in a light that I have never thought of before.

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    1. Maybe you'll start treating your wife better . . . jk
      Actually, Jason always says I'm the boss, so maybe our pendulum needs to swing the other way.

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  3. Thanks, Erin, for sharing those wonderful thoughts.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  4. Lovely. Just lovely. Thank you for sharing!

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