Few stories are as universally familiar as the story of Adam and Eve. Of all the Bible stories I learned as a child, few had such immediate or lasting impact on me as this magical story of a treacherous serpent and the forbidden Tree of Knowledge.
Most everything that has ever been painful or troubling in my life is explained in this marvelous story in a way that, as a child, I could understand. Some measure of the innocence of youth, I think, may be necessary to receive the story’s profound revelation. It is in such innocence that the substance of the story lies.
God created for mankind a world of wonder and beauty, peace, tranquility and plenty. A Garden of Eden. He imprinted upon our souls and infused into all creation the Love which is His substance and spirit. He made us innocents with leave to enjoy the unimaginable delights of a life in paradise and in communion with our Creator.
God made us male and female, commingling in each of us a unique measure of yin and yang, strength and tenderness, reason and passion, all blended into a divine and magical potion to draw us irresistibly into perfect and blissful union with that one corresponding soul in whom we are complete. He blessed us with the pleasures of marriage and the comforts of homes filled with love.
God blessed us each with talents and provided infinite uses to which our talents might be applied. The joys we find in our labor and craft are amplified in the joys of those in whose service they are applied. The baker’s bread nourishes the hungry while filling his heart with pride and purpose. The craftsman creates the beautiful and practical to the benefit of all and satisfies the yearning in his hands and heart to create what is good. So it was with us all in the paradise where we first found life.
In the midst of paradise, at the center of our hearts, stands a single malignant tree from which God has forbidden us to eat. As a mother instructs and denies her child those things which are harmful, so God seeks to protect us from the tree’s poison fruit.
Never far from our sight the beautiful and tempting fruit hangs low from the branches of the forbidden tree. Like a relentless pitch man, the serpent encourages us to eat, promising that the exotic fruit is delicious and beneficial for all men. Within the fruit, he advertises, is nourishment for our minds, a sweet elixir to open our lives to learning, reason, insight and understanding, to at last enable us to reach our full potential. It is, we know, the Tree of Knowledge of all Things.
We are beguiled by promises of mysteries to be revealed, secret books to be opened before us and the discovery of a formula by which we may test God. All of this will be laid bare before us, we are persuaded, if only we eat of this tree.
We are assured by the serpent, and by sagacious and sophisticated men who surely must know, that the pursuit of knowledge will make us masters of our lives, the equals of our God. Such capabilities, we feel in our bones, are surely within us.
As we gorge upon the poisons of pride and conceit, paradise grows pale around us. Our knowledge transforms beauty into ugliness, cleanliness into filth, peace into war and happiness into strife. The poison accumulates within us and makes us insane.
Our hearts turn away and our eyes are blinded to the wonder, majesty and enchanting mysteries of God and his creation. In our delirium we revere cold, lifeless and empty sciences and vexatious philosophies, and we adopt as our home the barren wasteland of moral ruin which they spawn. We are undone by our knowledge, ruined by the knowing. Paradise dissolves before our eyes.
Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden, yet they took no thought of clothing. They were clean, pure, beautiful and as God made them. They were naked and unashamed. They were pleasing in one another’s sight, and in their union served a pure and innocent use, glorifying God in their joy.
For Adam and Eve, their nakedness, once the very essence of their innocence and joy, became a symbol of shame and despair. They covered themselves with false knowledge and declared their naked bodies, the masterwork of God, unclean and the ultimate taboo.
The deadly sap of the Tree of Knowledge makes us ashamed of true modesty, embarrassed by the decent and pure, and too sophisticated for the joys of paradise. Our knowledge decrees that it is not enough that men and women should create and love and play and delight in one another. Our knowledge demands that we dissect, test and question our joy, constantly devising alternative artificial joys to substitute for the real.
Rules upon rules, upon endless tedious piles of rules, proceed from our philosophies, science and theologies to govern our lives and choke all life from the simple truths of Eden.
The Good News is that paradise is not destroyed. Paradise is not lost, it is only denied by a counterfeit wisdom. It remains where it ever has been, never far away. Just as Dorothy’s magic ruby slippers carried her effortlessly back to Kansas, so too can simple faith deliver us from the hellish Oz our knowledge has built. We have had the power to go home all along.
I began this conversation by saying that the marvelous story of Adam and Eve is so simple that, as a child, I could understand it. Some measure of the innocence of youth, I think, may be necessary to receive the story’s profound revelation. It is in such innocence that the substance of the story lies. Paradise awaits our return.