Tuesday, 06 October 2015 14:03

Eve

Written by  Tim Challies
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 Eve

by William Paul Young

 

On the positive side, I think [William] Paul Young has become a markedly better writer since The Shack. On the negative side, he continues to use his writing to undermine and redefine Christian theology. By my reckoning, that’s a net loss. Where The Shack was meant to revolutionize our understanding of God, his new novel Eve is meant to revolutionize and rescue our understanding of the relationship between men and women. And it is no less troubling.

Now, obviously Eve is fiction, which means it can be tricky to determine exactly what the author actually means to teach through his story. There is a lot in the novel that is complex and symbolic and that awaits the author’s authoritative interpretation. But what is clear is that Young’s novel is a retelling of the creation narrative through which he means to right a great wrong.

The story begins when a shipping container washes ashore on an island that exists somewhere between our world and the next. John the Collector finds a young woman named Lilly trapped inside. She is beaten, bruised, broken, and only barely alive. With the help of others—Scholars and Healers—he helps her to recover, to remember who she is, and to understand her importance in history. Lilly, it turns out, is a Witness, one who has the privilege of watching past events unfold so they can be properly understood and interpreted in the present time. Her privilege is to witness creation and the fall into sin, and in that way to provide an account that corrects all our false understandings.

What she witnesses varies significantly from the account we are accustomed to hearing. In short, she sees a whole new and “corrected” view of humanity’s origins and depravity. Through this character, Young means to show that the story of humanity’s fall into sin has been co-opted and perverted by men in order to gain power over women. Eve’s role in offering Adam the forbidden fruit is a fable men use to dominate and control women.

“But it’s all just a story,” you say. True, but in this case, Young insists that his story, and the truth it contains, is the result of decades of thought and research. He insists that the truth embedded in this story has the power to free us from faulty interpretations of the Bible that have long corrupted human relationships. In an interview with Publishers Weekly he says, “Ultimately, the inspiration for Eve is the Scriptures themselves. The more I studied and pondered and conversed, the more I was driven back to Genesis and the iconic saga of Beginnings, and it was there I began to find answers to the big, system-shaking questions I was asking. Eve is my attempt to express some of what I discovered.” In that way he plays a character within his own work—the character(s) he calls the Scholar.

Now, it’s not like the book is all bad. In fact, there are points where it is downright moving. Young’s descriptions of God’s joy over his creation, and especially his joy in the creation of man, is powerful and stirring. Man’s response to God’s love is equally sweet. Young’s compassion in describing the agonizing abuse endured by Lilly can only come out of the heart of an author who has himself suffered. And the story, while perhaps too complicated at times, is well-written and well-told.

And yet it is, in the final assessment, a troubling, faulty, and even dangerous story. There is much I could say here, but for the sake of brevity, let me target the book’s big point.

Whatever else Young means to accomplish in his work, it is clear that he means to undermine the traditional accounts of creation and human depravity. As he reinterprets those two doctrines, he then reinterprets the relationship between the sexes, teaching that any pattern of authority or submission is necessarily a product of sin. 

God tells us that God created men to take positions of leadership within the church and family, and for women to joyfully submit themselves to this leadership. In this way God provides a much fuller display of who he is and what he is like. His image is shown not in uniformity but in complementarity. After all, the relationships within the Trinity display this very same pattern of leadership and submission. What is ultimately at stake here is not the relationship of man to woman, but our understanding of God as he displays himself in our relationships.

Behind Young’s retelling of this portion of the Bible is the question of the Bible’s authority. The only way he can teach what he teaches is by radically altering the biblical narrative. So has the Bible been wrong all along? Is the Bible only a figurative count and Eve a faithful interpretation? Were the authors such a product of their time, place, and culture that they biased their work with chauvinist ideas? As the dust settles, what exactly is true anyway? Read Eve and you won’t have much certainty.

 

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 October 2015 14:09
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