“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Who am I? Where do I come from? What am I here for? And finally, what shall I do?
Hungry questions from my hungry mind.
As an almost inadvertent truth seeker, I am ever searching for clues to my origin, creation, and purpose. I say inadvertent, because my desire for truth actually surprises me sometimes; I didn’t really know I was looking for truth for much of my life, even though the subtle undercurrent was always pulsing away within me. I did not look for a solid, well-trodden and dependable path to truth. I was not deliberate or graced with much forethought. I was more of a “not all those who wander are lost” type; stumbling into great adventure, discovery, sorrow, and honesty, being guided by a secret heart set on truth, but a mind unaware.
Because of this personal disposition, the Bible never really appealed to me. I tended toward the tactile and experiential, and the Bible felt outdated, arcane, and even suspicious. A tool for global control maybe, a comfort to very sad people yes, a superficial layer of protection for broken psychologies. But the truth, the way and the life of John14:6? I mostly did not think so. The truth would be more hidden I thought, the way would be less narrow, but the life… now that always tantalized me. The life. The singular life. The singular Alive. That is where the mystery of the Bible romanced my heart, even as a child, and that little seed of Alive stayed with me.
I also did not like the Bible because I conflated its contents (mostly unknown to me), with the way its contents were presented to me. I listened to the edicts and interpretations of a storyteller (a religion and its priests), rather than reading the story myself.
For the last few years, I have endeavored to read the Bible, at least books of it, in the hopes of one day possibly completing the entire compilation, but more importantly, in hopes of diving deep into each book that I do read, and do my best to understand it for myself. I may be right or wrong in my musings and interpretations, but I am at least making a personal effort. Thus creating a tactile and experiential reading of the Bible, something in which my disposition delights. And, working hard at something is good for the soul.
So, here I go!
In my childhood Biblical lessons, I was generally taught that, because of Adam and Eve’s transgression at the Tree of Knowledge, man is inherently sinful. With the additional implications that, because they were so easily deceived, humankind is also feeble-minded. And, in their hiding from God, human beings, in the face of righteousness, are fearful and ashamed, rather than repentant. (I used to wonder as a child, why they didn’t just apologize and ask forgiveness. Perhaps they did. Still a valid question.) So, almost straight from creation, man has proven sinful, stupid, weak, and afraid. Yikes.
Well, that was the storyteller’s version, and honestly, it could be true. But, I read it for myself anyways, many times. And thought about it, imagined about it, allegorized it, let the old story I’d heard fade, and let the actual reading of the story live in me awhile to see how it would grow.
Biblically, the only evil force presented during creation and the time of Eden is Satan, disguised as that ‘serpent of old’, the devil. Satan’s genesis remains a mystery. Many believe him to be a fallen angel. Others believe him to be an original adversary, created by God to be a tester. He remains rather enigmatic, outside of his obvious force for evil and deception, and the curious circumstance that God allows him to exist in this state.
As far as I know Biblically, Satan was acting alone in the Garden of Eden. Later in the Bible, specifically the New Testament, I read of multiple references to ‘legions’ of demons. Legion is defined as a great number of men, usually in a military capacity. So, assuming Satan may be alone in Eden, at the genesis of humankind, how does he garner followers, a legion of fallen angels (or demons), as referenced in the New Testament?
Well, he needed bait, a reward, something to seduce other angels, something to addict and enslave them. Could it be the promise of sensual human pleasures? Pleasures only corporeal beings could enjoy? Why did the serpent deceive the woman? It seems the man would’ve been a greater prize, a more prestigious bounty, as God’s original human creation. But, no, Satan chose the woman. Did Satan deceive Eve so that he could attract his legion of fallen angels? Did Satan promise these angels, if they would only follow him instead of God, the chance to become sensual beings, to mate with women, as Genesis 6:2 suggests, to have offspring of their own? Sensuality, sex, and procreation – three things that seem to be specifically human and non-angelic experiences.
In the garden of Eden, God is the external protection to Adam and Eve, at the expense of their wisdom, at the expense of the knowledge of good and evil. This is very important. Adam and Eve do not know good and evil. So, under these circumstances, Adam and Eve have no chance at being ‘the man in the arena’, because there is no adversary. There is peace, but is there completeness? I think there is not completeness, only a protective nescience. Nothing to hurt them, break them, or scare them. Also nothing to fight for, strive for, or long for. It’s almost like a blissful stasis. Like unignited potential.
And thus enters the adversary, persuading Eve to eat the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. But why did Eve listen to the serpent? Why did she disobey God? Was she even capable of disobedience if she had no knowledge of what disobedience was? Perhaps Eve inherently trusted the serpent because she had no capacity for distrust. It reminds me of a very little child, a toddler perhaps, who does not separate his external reality from his internal reality. Perhaps to Eve, everything was God, perhaps there was never a question in her mind that the serpent was a deceiver, because she had no concept of deception, because God is not deception. And what does she do after she eats? She convinces Adam to eat of it also. (In my mind, I imagine after her first bite, the knowledge awakens within her, and she sees her disobedience to God, the deception of the serpent, and the absolute unprotected state in which she placed herself; symbolically naked. She’s probably freaking out, trying to explain what happened to Adam, and he cannot understand. Not until he also eats of it can he comprehend his wife’s predicament.)
Now, they are both unprotected, naked. Now they both feel unsafe, ashamed, and ultimately hide themselves. They have sinned, but are they guilty? Is there guilt in a mistake? There are consequences to mistakes, but not necessarily guilt. For example, if a toddler touched a hot stovetop, he would be burned, though he would not be guilty. The burn would be a necessary bodily reaction to having touched the stovetop. The burned skin would be damaged, may blister painfully in order to heal, and would also serve as a lesson for the child, not to touch hot stovetops again. Consequences. Now, if his mother fussed at him for being so careless and sent him to his room, that would be punishment. But a good mother would never do that. She would see that the child, from lack of knowledge and experience, did not know any better. The consequence of his action, the bad burn, she could not change, but the punishment she would withhold.
Thus God finds them ashamed and hiding, and is angry. He curses the serpent for his treachery and curses the ground, but in cursing the ground, He tells Adam and Eve He does it “for your sake”. (Genesis 3:17) This is the consequence of their actions. If Adam and Eve touched the burner, then for their sakes they must be burned, in order to heal, learn and grow. Endowed with this new knowledge, they must refine their understanding of it through experience on a cursed and polarized Earth, in order to become complete. New knowledge, new responsibility.
So Adam and Eve enter the Arena of fallen earth. The innocent babes are now at war with Satan; the first two humans on the spiritual battlefield. As time passes, angels fall (if they hadn’t already), mate with women, teach humans inappropriate things and cause much pain and depravity upon the earth. It seems almost an impossible battle, a totally unfair fight; this fight between the demonic and men. It seems like God would put an end to the pain, chaos, death and debauchery immediately, and wrap up his little, infantile, fragile humans back into the safety of his undifferentiated one-ness. Unless He saw something that we do not so easily see. Unless he saw a victory. An unexpected, unprecedented, unpredictable, epigenisis of the human race. The hobbit who somehow defeats Sauron. Impossible. Happened anyway.
There would be much pain, intolerable and utter evil, deepest sorrows, total despairs, and great sacrifice, especially for God. But in the end, there would be victory. And perhaps such a victory as would change the make-up of all the holy things, of all the cosmic energies; a new time, a new place, a new creation.
We humans were deceived to enter the arena, the cursed playing field, but were we as a race cursed? God never directly curses Adam or Eve, only the serpent and the ground. God gives consequences for their actions, but not curses. He even tells Adam and Eve that he curses the ground for their sakes, not their punishment. In contrast, when Cain kills his brother, having the knowledge of good and evil and choosing evil, God curses Cain.
So are we inherently cursed or corrupt? Are we feeble minded, weak, and afraid? Or were we only convinced of these things based on a religious, interpretive narrative and an influential corrupt playing field (fallen earth)?
I am not positing this to fluff up our human pride or discount our earned guilt through life choices. Humility, prudence, and vigilance at every step. But. Perhaps we are not wielding the weapons we have been given. If we underestimate ourselves inherently, if we live believing we are inherently cursed sinners, we are possibly suffering from another terrible deception. A spiritual and mental disability of our own wrong perception. For example, if I told a very gifted athletic child, over and over again, he was a cheater at his sport, that no matter what he did or how he trained and excelled, he would always be a cheater, this would no doubt affect his attitude, and over time, he would hate his sport. He may perform perfunctorily, and enjoy the cheers from his family and friends, but he would never achieve his potential, or find fulfillment in his role, because he had been handicapped into believing he was a cheater, no matter what.
We can all admit to sinning and being a sinner, without having it inordinately define us, without having it limit our goodness or our ability to fight evil, without a curse being our origin. We are living beings, to be pruned and nourished. We all bear fruit. To paraphrase Matthew 7:16, we will be known by our fruit. Our fruit is our choice.
Adam and Eve accidentally upped the ante. They went from the baby’s cradle to the gladiator’s arena. God allowed it. Scary. Accidental. Exciting. Epigenetic. God knows where this is going. Biblically, we may not know the details, but we know that there will be suffering, and we know there will be unfathomable reward. We are in the arena. Shall we be tricked into spectating? Believing that we are weak and sinful? Or shall we be wise, and realize that we can be weak and sinful, but we do not have to be, and our place on the spectrum between sin and righteousness, between weakness and courage, between ignorance and wisdom, is ours to move.