Essays















Adam and the garden

Just the other day, I asked myself about the embarrassing problem of Adam. It is said that he was created whole, put into a garden or a paradise; then broke a commandment issued him directly by God, so that he was thrown out of the paradise. Thereafter, he was always guilty, never free of sin, and his role in life was to work, have children, remember God, and die.

I won’t go into the details of this story; everyone knows it; and I have tended to ignore it. Until the other day. I don’t ignore the sin aspect, and our need to seek out God; I don’t ignore the commandments, and all that follows from this story. But I do ignore the precise aspect of Adam’s story which says that Adam, and the rest of us, are what we are because Adam disobeyed.

That element, that there was once a first disobedience by a single individual, for which we must all pay the price: that is what I have not bothered to question. I have always seen it in the St Augustinian way, which is to say that we live in a Fallen world, and that the story is a roundabout way of saying that the world is messed up.

But Genesis has it that the Fallen world, a ruined world, is what it is because of Adam. That’s my question: at what point in history did Adam do what he did? To our mind, he seems never to have existed, nor to have eaten that fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

Recently, I have told myself my life by writing a book. I have finished writing the book, and am revising it. When I read it over and examine my childhood, I realise that I think of my childhood as a time when I was never alone; there was always a Presence with me. I was confident, often unhappy, but never miserable. I was looked after. It was like a dream state where you dream yourself; where the dreaming you is always somehow sure that you are sleeping, and everything is fine, because you are being dreamed by a sleeping man, by yourself. You never die in a dream; you can always wake up if you need to. It is a perfect innocent world. That is what my childhood was like.

When we are children, we are simply confident and innocent; everything is going to turn out okay. And then, with adolescence, in my case at least, something terrible happens; I lost my confidence and rather lost my world. The Father left me; I woke from the dream. At the same time, the Spirit or the demand for intellect and a different kind of responsible life of intellect and reasoning came on me. That was very painful, too. And, later still, I became an anarchist, a Nietzschean, somebody who I now consider to have been bad.

I reflect that the story of Adam in the Garden is the Mosaic way of interpreting God’s vision of us and for us. And that vision is this, perhaps:

You are the first man, the only man, the first creation, and this is the life given to you. You, as a child at least, are Adam. I was a naughty boy, no doubt, as a child. But I was never guilty. I never committed a sin. Childhood was a naïve paradise, wherein my days were sheltered and nurtured by God. At around seventeen years of age, however, I was perhaps offered the choice of staying like that, in that half-animal state of innocence and proximity to God, or of doing my own thing.

Like everyone else, I chose to go my own way. I became conscious, responsible, guilty, and aware of my own self, as if naked. I acquired an intellect, and a rational faculty. It was truly awful for me, for several years. It was absolute loss of self; utter loss of meaning; chronic, shameful weakness. I had to put myself back together bit by bit, and become a man. You become Adam cast out of paradise, and stay like that.

I think that this is unavoidable, that we go our own way, and become adults like this. And every adult follows of necessity the same path as Adam, and Eve. Paradise is lost.

But what you acquire by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is exactly that: knowledge, reason, freedom, and an intellect.

This is why it is completely right that St John’s Gospel begins by introducing Christ as the Word. Because, the Fall from paradise into responsibility and guilt is the movement toward intellectual independence. And the answer or the redemption from sin is also intellectual: namely, the correct and pure intelligence of God, God as the Logos or Word.

In Milton’s Paradise Lost, a theme which he meditated on at epic length in his poem, is the literal event of the Fall. And, in a Protestant manner, he said, that at the Fall of man, the whole Earth and the whole of creation was ruined. The Earth was set off its true axis. Events, things, all became sinful or destined to harm Adam and his kind.

But this is not necessary. We consider that the creation is still what it was when God first imagined it and made it; Adam’s personal disobedience did not ruin it, too. In fact, the Logos does not change creation either, Christ shows the nature of it, but does not change it.

Just as every person is asked to become the Son of God; so everyone born into human life is given the same period in Paradise, and is cast out from it at some time in their life, and so he finds himself guilty, alone, and bound to die; then follows the long progress toward acquiring the Spirit, and finding eternal life and God again.

We ask, however: if the world is perfect as made, why do we have to sweat and labour in order to eat; and why does Cain kill Abel; or why does Adam have to procreate with Eve? I recall Schopenhauer, who said, that if pleasure was not associated with sexual intercourse, the race would have died out a very long time ago.

I suppose that, seen in the proper light, with pure understanding and resignation to the will of God, you can see all events as good. There is no evil then. Creation, that is, is devastating, terrifying, very long, billions of years; creation is ruinous, extreme, boring, deadly, everything. Witness the investigations of medicine, paleontology, biology, physics, cosmology. It is infinitely interesting, and none of it in itself evil, when seen in the correct spiritual and scientific way. It is a paradise still; only my post-adolescent and untrained personality and self-obsessed mind made of it a hell. And only the acquiring of the Spirit will make it completely right again.

I meditated on these things last night; thinking of Adam and how like us he is; Peter of Damaskos advises (Philokalia, Vol. 3, passim), in his rather cautious and pedestrian way, that during meditation we should think of the Scriptures. And, doing so, I recall the happiness and naivety of childhood, when God was with me at all times; I had no responsibility for myself, and all was going to go well, it was all going to turn out right, which it did – until I was cast out, and became a man, or a sinner, or whatever you want to call it.



Design Jason Powell, 2020.

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