Editor's note: This article was first published in February 2021.
One of the most unique doctrines within our faith as Latter-day Saints is our belief regarding Eve and her decision to partake of the fruit in the garden of Eden. On this week’s episode of the All In podcast, Fiona and Terryl Givens addressed the significance of Eve’s decision, as well as why it is so important for us to remember the Atonement of Jesus Christ is not a backup plan but rather the key to our Heavenly Father’s plan from the very beginning.
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Morgan Jones: In The Crucible of Doubt, this is something I actually had a conversation about with my mom just recently where we were talking about how we wish that there was a better understanding that the Atonement is not a backup plan, you write, “The Atonement is not a backup plan in case we happen to fall short in the process. It is the ordained means whereby we gradually become complete and whole, in a sin-strewn process of sanctification through which our Father patiently guides us.”
You have said that the role of the Savior in the plan of salvation is to shepherd us along in a process that has always been there and that is still very much intact. Why is it important, do you think, for us to understand that the Atonement is not something that is just in case we fall short, and to understand that sin is an expected part of mortality?
Terryl Givens: That was well said.
Fiona Givens: Yes, that's actually a really brilliant question. I'm so glad you asked it. As Terryl said, if you change the beginning, you change the end, and you change everything in between. For most of Christianity, what happened in the Garden of Eden was a catastrophe, as a result of disobeying God. Adam and Eve were ejected, their posterity was condemned, and then we had the birth of original sin. And then Christ had to come in order to save us from our sins. But, in our tradition, it's completely the other way. And of course, Eve, for being the perpetrator of this catastrophe has been vilified for centuries. And we, as women quite frankly, have not done well in our lives in politics and social constructs.
But in our tradition, it is so gorgeous. Eve is the heroine of the human family. I want to change her from villain to heroine. So, for example, in Genesis 3:22, God says in response to Eve and then Adam of eating of the fruit they have “become as one of us.” Now most theologians will say, “Oh, well, he was being sarcastic.” “He was being ironic.” And it was . . . because nobody believes that this was actually a step, an ascent, and that Eve is the heroine of the human family.
And, and we see that repeated in Eve’s “Ode to Joy” in Moses 5:11, [where she says] Had we not eaten of the fruit, we never should have had children. So that was not happening. So that was a brave, courageous step that she took. I think she knew it was going to redound badly on her, but then she follows it up: Had we not eaten of the fruit, we never should have had seed and we never should have known good and evil. Because in Genesis 3:22, God says, they have “become as one of us, to know good and evil.” So we take that in the Hebraic meaning “experiencing.”
And then in Moses 6, God goes on to clarify what He means by good and evil. He's speaking to the heartbroken Adam and Eve whose children are just running amok. And this is wonderful, I think we all fall asleep in verse 55 in any of the chapters, so that's when we actually need to wake up because that's where the really good stuff starts. But He (the Lord) says that the children are whole from the foundation of the world. So that sort of deals with original sin we think, and then the Lord says, “Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin,” and then suddenly, this is like, what just happened? And as a Catholic, I'm thinking, “Did God just convert to Catholicism?” because this is very Catholic language, “We are conceived in sin.”
And then it gets worse. He says, “Even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts.” you go, “Okay, so this is very strongly Augustine” and I'm freaking out. And then he says, “They taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good,” which is exactly what Eve said: Had we not eaten of the fruit of the tree of good and evil, we should never have known the joy of our redemption.
So, life is difficult. It is hard, and some of us are wounded at birth. We are all wounded as we go through our lives, but God is saying, “This is important. There is something about the difficulty of living this life, about the suffering that is sanctifying,” or “I can sanctify suffering, I can make all things work for your good.” And I just think that's brilliant. This idea of switching out “evil” to “bitter,” and this is what we are. We ingest something bitter, it'll either be poisonous or it'll be so unpleasant we don't ever want to eat it again.
Terryl Givens: And that's the point, so that we develop a taste for virtue and goodness and purity. And we can't develop that taste without having sampled its opposite and reacted accordingly and that's the educative intent behind life and the inevitability of sin.
Fiona Givens: And our prophets have spoken: Elder Widstoe referred to Eve's decision as being a choice to choose that which was better. And he says we all have choices in life. Some are better than others, but if the choice you make is going to affect another person, then your sacrifice for that person is the greater good. And that was the case in Eden, it was an incredibly generous giving, knowing that this would probably not work out well for her, which is why I think she's given the title “The Mother of All Living.” So once you change that, Morgan, it's like everything changes. The vocabulary has to change. We're not being redeemed from sin. We're not being redeemed by the Fall. And, in fact, God says that their work and glory is to bring to pass immortality and eternal life of man. That's it. It's optimistic, Christ comes to heal us from our woundedness, and we are asked to collaborate with deity in our baptismal covenant that's in Mosiah 18.
And so, it becomes [that] we're not acted upon anymore. In the traditional Christian theology, we are acted upon. There's nothing we can do for ourselves. In restoration theology, we are invited to collaborate with the Godhead by taking on each other's burdens, mourning with those who mourn, comforting those who stand in need of comfort. And that's a representation of each member of the Godhead. The God who carries our burdens all the way through His life into Gethsemane and on to Golgotha is God the Christ. The God who mourns with us when we mourn is God the Father. And the God who comforts us when we stand in need of comfort is God the Holy Spirit. So, they are inviting us through these baptismal covenants, to cooperate with them in healing the world and creating Zion.
Lead Photo: Provided by Fiona and Terryl Givens
Faith is the first principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So what happens when a person has doubts? Questioning is not the problem, according to authors Terryl and Fiona Givens. “After all,” they write, “the Restoration unfolded because a young man asked questions.” The difficulty arises when questions are based on flawed assumptions or incorrect perceptions, which can “point us in the wrong direction, misdirect our attention, or constrain the answers we are capable of hearing.” This insightful book offers a careful, intelligent look at doubt—at some of its common sources, the challenges it presents, and the opportunities it may open up in a person’s quest for faith. Whether you struggle with your own doubts or mostly want to understand loved ones who question, you will appreciate this candid discussion. You’ll come away feeling more certain than ever of the Lord’s love for all of His children. Find The Crucible of Doubt here.