Hiding in Paradise
The early chapters of Genesis have caused endless debate over the centuries… was Adam more a saint who fell (Augustine) or an innocent who was deceived (Ireneus)? Are the creation accounts allegorical (Origen) or literal (St Basil)? And so on… please note these are names of early church fathers! The current squabbles between Creation Scientists (literalists) and those who view the first chapters of Genesis more as stories rich in theology, demonstrate there’s nothing new under the sun.
But I shall bypass all of that, and leave those discussions to others more skilled in the dialogue between science and theology, the languages and norms of Ancient Near East literature, theological scholars, and so on. Because however else you interpret the creation accounts, they can ALSO be viewed as a universal psychological drama.
We are all born naked, and unashamed. Most of us were born to a functional enough mother who was close, nurturing, warm, and safe… a god-like figure of intimacy and love. We are all born into a Paradise of sorts, where all our needs are provided with minimal effort from us.
But as we get older, our troubles begin. We gain the thrill of mobility, some freedom and capacity to make our own choices, but we discover something about human nature as we do so. Our mother tells us the ONE thing we must not do (go near the stove, play with the stereo, touch grandma’s special vase… it hardly matters what) and it becomes irresistible!
Of course we must do that one thing! And this may not go well for us. So we stand there, amid the shattered shards of grandma’s special vase, and have our earliest experiences of guilt and shame. We hide in our bedroom. When discovered, we try to shift blame (“my baby brother did this”). We are distanced from the god-like figure of our mother, and experience her anger.
Born naked and unashamed, as we grow older we become shy. We discover some things are private. We experience self-consciousness and embarrassment. We discover the pain of guilt and shame.
As we grow in competence, we also experience responsibility, and the difficulty of work. As we have experiences of life, we encounter physical and psychological pain on so many levels. Thorns and thistles oppose our labour. The adoring closeness with a mother we experience in infancy becomes a more complex relationship. And worst of all, there is no turning back. A flaming sword guards the road back to Paradise: the only option is to continue to grow into maturity, learning to deal with alienation, pain, struggle, and loss, while our hearts still yearn for the innocence of Eden.
The good news (in all this bad news) is that the love of God is still present… he clothes us to deal with our shame (the “fig leaves” of our cover-ups and pretences come nowhere near doing an adequate job). The punishment we may feel we deserve was loaded upon Jesus Christ. God continues to bless, and to summon us to fruitfulness. We are no longer innocent, but we are still adored.
Pain, struggle, alienation and yearning for intimacy, guilt and shame are all part of normal human experience. (although guilt and shame are absent in sociopaths!) But grace beckons us forward, love embraces us, the God of all tenderness covers over our frailty.
Thinking of “the fall” as a psychological drama for all mankind has a lot of resonance for me, and gives plenty of space for my imagination. Regardless of where we might sit in relation to the events of Genesis (literal or figurative), reading the text as a drama can help us engage in personal reflection. When did I first experience shame? Guilt? Alienation? Psychic pain? And how have I discovered the grace and healing of God in these difficult emotions and experiences? When have I been guilty of shifting blame instead of taking responsibility? What are the next steps I need to take toward maturity, wholeness, and holiness?
What do these reflections stir up for you?