In Genesis, God took pleasure in creating the universe, humanity and everything in creation. God delighted in knowing his creation was good and held together by the spiritual unity of love, creativity and peace. God created his beloved human beings in his own image and likeness so that they too can delight with God in his creation in the spirit of love and peace. God so loved his children that he gave them the freedom needed to love as fully and to create as magnificently as children of God. God gave us freedom to dare to go beyond the patterns of the world of man, to go beyond the frontiers of human reason and senses, and in this sacred space to discover the true reality of God within and without creation. Quite simply, God gave us freedom to be like God so that we could participate fully in the dance of love in relationship with the Trinity. One cannot truly love without freedom. Human beings perfect in God, participating in the mind, heart, soul and body of God, can be trusted in their freedom to hold dominion over all of creation and to continue to bring to full fruition the full mystery of all godly goods of truth, beauty, joy, love, peace, justice, compassion, and hope.
And this is why God created the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden: to affirm that God wants us to be free and to use our freedom robustly, fully, and joyously. But here is the mystery and paradox of this aspect of the Genesis story. Clearly, an all knowing God, in warning us not to be tempted by the fruit of this tree, foreknew that we would not be able to resist this temptation and would seek to exalt in eating this fruit and therefore not only defy God but be like God in knowing and judging between good and evil. So God planted this tree in the Garden as an essential element of his creation of who we were and definitive of our complex relationship with God. God tempted us with the tree, knowing we would eat its fruit. For God wants us to exalt ourselves as his creatures in order to flourish like children of God in his creation, joyous at play and at work, and to hold divine dominion over creation so that we can be his instruments in bringing to fruition all its beauty, wealth and wonder! This is the ironic role of our rebellion from God. God understands and desires that we rebel as part of our journey of discovering who we are his children. We are to then return to God from our rebellion, as the prodigal sons and daughters, so that we can exalt ourselves even more in the polarity of our limited humanity and boundless divinity.
Remember the story of creation as received in Genesis is the inspired word of God communicated into the limited human minds of multiple authors, primarily Moses. It is a lush yet simple poetic and metaphorical account of the “why” of human existence, not the actual details of the “how.” We know simply that God is the creator and author of creation, that creation is good, and that we are created to love God and creation. Genesis thus describes the very nature of our relationship with God, each other, creation and our own holy selves. It describes the original blessedness of life when that relationship was whole and we were in union with God. And it describes the original sin or alienation of humanity when we find the relationship is broken and even non-existent, and we feel alone, centered on our own ego, in a vast and indifferent universe.
So, in my interpretation of the act of eating the apple, God is not surprised by this defiant act of original sin but expects it and even foredained it. God may appear to be angry and disappointed but is deeply compassionate and patient, knowing this is a necessary trial in his ongoing creation of humanity who are incarnate of God. For now we understand the human predicament from God’s perspective. We as humans find we have this profound instinct for survival, and indeed to flourish, to excel, to create, to discover new truths and forms of beauty and justice. This instinct can make us desire to be at the center of attention, in command, and it can also lead us to desire simply to be part of something far greater that ourselves, to be part of a grand adventure. This instinct of survival calls forth the gift of freedom to respond and act upon it. It forms the very ambition of the ego. Our will to power, pleasure and meaning drives forward writ large the advance of society and civilization. This is the glory of triumphant achievement that leads to the creation of great works of art and enterprise. This drives athletes in their training for Olympian heights in ability and inspires heroic leaders to their courageous dedication to peace and justice, and saints to their godly lives of self-sacrifice and amazing love. It sustains amazing accomplishments on a vast scale. It stirs all individuals and communities to the nobility of self-sacrifice in the defense of what they cherish.
This love of our own talents and gifts—this ambition and drive—is therefore a good from God, though it comes entangled with our potential alienation from God and creation. We are called to exalt ourselves, to feel the pleasure of our own strength, beauty and ability. This is God’s necessary anointing of the ego as being set apart from the objective reality of the world. For we need to be detached from God’s full unself-conscious reality in an epistemological sense, to be a knowing subject seeing creation as “objects” out there. This is the very condition of man that Rene Descartes uses as the foundation of his rationalism, the “cogito ergo sum,” based on analyzing the unity of creation by making clear and distinct ideas. “Man tears asunder what God puts together.” To think in a sense is to be human and simultaneously to risk being separate from God. In our very use of language, and therefore our very consciousness, we must make logical distinctions in describing the world around us, differentiating between what is true or false, beautiful or ugly, good or bad, rich or poor, just or injust, developing spectra of what is useful, desirable or admirable. In this way, we are language-saturated creatures, determined unconsciously by this either-or dualism, at once lifted up by the power of language and limited by its essential detachment from the a priori unity of creation. We need both logic and language to name and hold sacred our individual being, our passions, our ties of kinship, and our greater relationships of tribe and nation. And so all of this flows from the necessity of human freedom to exalt the individual mind.Yet this very dualism that enables us to name what we love also causes us to do so against what we do not love; it inevitably causes us to see individuals not as God sees them in the rich blessedness of their lives but as others to judge, to diminish, to condemn. And so on as we view other families, other communities, other tribes, and other peoples. Our very language, our logic, our costly humanity places in this ungodly way of seeing creation in more judgmental and violently egoistic terms. OUr first way out of this predicament, so deeply embedded in human nature, is to at least recognize it. To surrender ourselves in humility before God to forgive us for this harm we do to others, and to our true holy selves.
And here is the paradox from God in why we are given the tree of knowledge. We can only be truly free in obedience to God’s will, in overcoming our rebellion and in going beyond our selves in reclaiming our relationship with God. We are now to consider the problem of freedom and original sin in a new way, especially as we are situated in the maddening noise of our increasingly crowded world, more and more entangled in the greater complexity of a diverse and dynamic world of constantly changing identities of kinship, tribe, and nation. How can we break free of a dualism that sets our virtue and truth in opposition to the lack thereof in others? The very fate of the earth hangs on this question as we seemingly rush to burn our common home up in our desire for material wealth and comfort. We are at once intended by God to eat of this tree so we too can create and be authors of life and new works. So that we too, each of us, can be a unique and original artist and use our singular mind, heart, body, and soul fully in the joy of life. But, through the grace of God and the humility of faith, then see that this singular ambition tends to exalt in our own glory, and to move us further away from God and creation. Our ambition, our self-love, so romantic and intoxicating in our youth, moves us from the original blessedness of the Garden and the unselfconscious joy, peace and love we feel in our innermost being we experience in perfect union with God. This is the recognition of the paradox of freedom that God intended from the very beginning in our long story of creation. Freedom leads us away from God so that we can then freely discover God!! This is the turning of our mind away from our own ego and toward God as the source of all our talents and gifts. This is when we surrender before God and then rejoice in gratitude that we are to freely love him, to serve his will through our freedom, and that indeed we are never more free than when we do. All that we have and are given is from God to be used for building his kingdom of heaven, our beloved community characterized by love, peace and reconciliation, where every need is met, and people relate to one another in a sense of awe, awe before the divine mystery of personhood.
And so in this telling of the “why” in the eating of the fruit, we are to exalt in our ego and then humble ourselves so that we can go beyond its human limits and selfish desires. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, we are to freely transcend ourselves, healing the wound of individuality without undermining the privilege. Development of the human ego, its delight in freedom, is preparation to then go beyond the ego, to romantically break through the bounds of logic and language to truly experience the spiritual presence of God. It is to see the folly of freedom when governed only by one’s own ego, one’s own mind and heart. And to delight in gratitude for the gift of divine life from God, to be a beloved child of God, truly created in his image and likeness, to freely create and hold dominion and love like Christ, as God planned from the very beginning of time.
For believers in Christ, this is to embrace the abundant and eternal life given by Christ in the here and now. For all believers and human beings, it is to know we are all beloved children of God, each of us given the paradox of human freedom in our struggle to find union with God, so that we may freely break through the bonds of the ego, culture and history, and to embrace our unique and original spiritual life of the mind, heart, body and soul. It is our shared calling from the one universal God, whose face Christians see in Christ, and others see in other ways and faces. For example, Mother Teresa saw God in the face of the poor children she loved. Our face should mirror God and we too should see God in the face of others. In this way, we can love God and love others, to love everything that is in creation, to be compassionate and courageous and creative in our relationships within and without our kin and tribe, with those who are like us and with those who are not like us, even our enemies.
We exalt in our freedom to seek God to know what is good and true in what we are doing and in our humility and self-awareness to know what we seek is corrupted by our own selfish egoistic desires and prejudices and prides. We are to freely go to the very limits of our language, our reason, our imagination, our culture, even our faith, and thereupon rediscover that we are indeed poor in spirit and thus go beyond these limits. We remember again that Christ blessed the poor in spirit for their spiritual yearning and hunger, for their gentleness and peace, and gave them the kingdom of heaven, here and now, and forever. This is the joy and suffering of individual freedom. It is an awesome mystery but one given in our very creation story.
In rereading Genesis, consider that God wants us to use our freedom robustly, romantically, joyously and fully, and then when we experience this freedom as alienation from God, as human sin, reflect in humility where did these gifts come from, for what purpose. Certainly, they are not for your own self, not for your own profit or wealth, not that of your own family or community or tribe. But these gift are from God to be used for the good of all of humanity, especially those in need and suffering. For God created the earth and everything in it as good. The purpose of God’s creation, contrary to the modern ideologies of possessive individualism and unrestrained amoral capitalism, was not to work for our mere puny self-interest and profit. Contrary to our cult-like fascination with celebrities and narcissists, we are not to use our individual gifts and capacities for greed and avarice out of unreflective egoism but to create wealth and beauty and goods in abundance for all.
Ironically, this is the very vision of the new social and economic vistas of capitalism, its liberation from the corruption, greed and avarice of the mercantilistic that inspired Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson. It is astonishing that their great works, The Wealth of Nations and The Declaration of Independence, respectively, each anthems of human freedom, were published in the same year, 1776. Both of these apostles of freedom were influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment which held that man had an innate “moral sense” and therefore could be trusted with free economies and self-government. In Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and Jefferson’s whole body of work, they wrote of the promise of human freedom in awakening from the darkness of the tyranny of church and state and the mercantilistic corruption that oppressively enabled the rule of the few and the privileged over the masses of humanity. They envisioned a dream of greater collaboration and community through shared enterprise, through the full education of all individuals to their potential as essential to a robust and health society and economy. Theirs was a humanity sensibility underlying the free market economy and self-governing democracy, a vision of the moral economy through freedom rightly understood and practiced, not the modern ideology of mere short-term profit seeking. Capitalism was not to be reduced to the justification of the exploitation of labor and the planet to constantly extract greater finance capital. It was not to glory in the primitive survival of the fittest now under the modern illusion of the meritocratic flourishing of the best and the brightest, the devil take the hindmost. No, they saw something unprecedented in human history, something new under the sun! I wonder if these early philosophers of the promise of democracy and capitalism understand the new possibilities of freedom better than we do now. It is to exalt in our best selves through courage, compassion and creativity. By using our freedom in the way God intended. God delights in those who do live this grace-filled freedom and still compassionately, patiently, and lovingly hopes and perhaps knows this is the greatest desire of all humanity, though individuals still struggle with their egoistic sense of freedom. I rejoice that I am freely within the ever greater body of Christ and seek to use my original spirit-led life to the glory of God. To love and serve God, to love and serve others.