Friday, June 6, 2008

What Happened in the Garden?

Alice C. Linsley

What happened in the Garden?

Adam and Eve lived in the Garden (egan) of the Lord which was well watered, like “the land of Egypt” (Gen. 13:10). Here a creature more cunning than all the other creatures enabled the man and the woman to "see" that the tree was good to eat, a delight to behold, and desirable to make one wise (Gen. 3:6). The woman admits that "the serpent deceived me and I ate." (Gen. 3:13) Having taken the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from the Lord their God because, for the first time, they feared their Creator. This is exactly what the Serpent wanted. Fear is doubt of God's goodness. The Creator desires to protect the man and the woman from fear, the first obstacle to communion with God, since fear is the opposite of love.

Adam and Eve were driven from Paradise for their own protection and the Lord commanded an angel to guard the gate on the east side of the Garden, barring the way to the Tree of Life, "lest he put out his hand ... and eat, and live forever."

The story of the loss of Paradise speaks of the introduction of the "deliberative will" (θέλημα γνωμικόν) which tends toward self and estrangement from others. This will opposes the "natural will" (θέλημα φυσικόν) which tends toward God and union with the Creator. Adam and Eve chose separation from God when they willed to obey the wisdom of the creature over the goodness of God, upon Whom all humanity is dependent for life. Since humanity is made in the image of God, our salvation entails our restoration to Paradise and unity with God through the renewal of the natural will. This will is renewed the the will of Jesus Christ.

God’s plan to restore Paradise

The belief that humans inherit original sin from Adam and Eve presents a different picture. This tenet, upon which the Latin Church bases its understanding of baptism as a spiritual washing, led people to delay baptism until they were near to death and caused people to fear dying without baptism. This notion of ancestral guilt or “original sin” was articulated by St Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) who interpreted St Paul's writings as a platonist, especially this verse: "...through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin passed upon all men because of Adam, [in whom] all sinned" (Rom. 5:12).

David Bradshaw notes that the East-West bifurcation on the question of what happened in the Garden is in part traced to St Augustine's dislike of Greek. He writes, "The change is illustrated by the career of Augustine, who tells us in the Confessions how much he detested Greek as a boy and how glad he was to put it behind him. His entire theological formation seems to have taken place without reference to the enormous body of Greek theological writing which was at that time the main repository of Christian thought. Although this absence no doubt aided the flowering of Augustine’s originality, it meant that the legacy he bestowed on the western church was remarkably disconnected from the earlier tradition." (From "The Concept of Divine Energies", here.)

The concept that all are born sinful because of Adam's sin is not the unanimous view of the Fathers. St. Maximus holds that the significance of the Garden is that we have a corrupted nature. In a letter to his friend Thalassius, he wrote, "Nothing in theosis is the product of human nature for nature cannot comprehend God. It is only the mercy of God that has the capacity to endow theosis unto the existing... In theosis man (the image of God) becomes likened to God, he rejoices in all the plenitude that does not belong to him by nature, because the grace of the Spirit triumphs within him, and because God acts in him" (Letter 22).

By participating in the life of Christ, whose perfect humanity willed to be one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, we are able to enjoy God without fear. The expulsion from the Garden was not a legal judgment requiring expiation, but rather a sigg of God's continuing mercy: "for while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungoldy" (Rom 5:6).

As Christians partake of the Eucharistic food, freely given by God, we return to dependence on God for our life. We also experience a gradual healing of the relationship between God and humanity. The goal is theosis or divinization, a real union with God and closer likeness to Christ than existed even in the Garden.

1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

The Church Fathers agree that Humanity was made originally to enjoy perfect communion with God. That would be possible only without sin. So the first humans were innocent, but something happened to cause them to sin. That something involved a serpent and a tree. Read this essay:

The Church Fathers don't agree on the question of death. As the original humans were flesh, and therefore finite, they would experience death. If you follow this line of reasoning, St. Paul is speaking of spiritual death, not physical death, when he speaks of sin entering the world by Adam and by sin, death.

St. John Chrysostom held that the first humans were created midway between corruption and incorruption and were free to choose. It is like the story (Deut. 27:11-26) of the Isrealites gathered in the valley between Mount Gerizim (of blessing) and the Mount Ebal (of cursing) and God telling the Israelites to "Choose life!"

Again, the Church Fathers speak of the tree which was in the middle of the Garden as having a double meaning. It was both material with a geographical presence and it was a state of being. Adam stretched out his hand and took of the fruit of that tree. Christ stretched out his arms on the Tree (Cross) and as a human broke the curse of Adam. The Cross, like the tree in Paradise, had a material and geographical presence but is also a state of being. As Christians we are to take up the cross and in doing so we choose life.