By Father Mieczysław Piotrowski TChr,
1. Man’s situation before the Fall
Everyone desires to be happy and achieve happiness in its perfection. The one terrible force capable of destroying human happiness is evil. Why then do people sin? Why do people committing a sin believe that in so doing they will achieve happiness or some good? What is it in the human mind that makes it so susceptible to the glamour of evil? Why does sin, which leads to death and self-destruction, seem to be such an attractive means of achieving happiness?
Let us seek the answer in Scripture. In the Book of Genesis God tells us that He created us in His own image and likeness. What does this mean? It means that God endowed us with reason and freedom, and thus enabled us, alone of all His creatures, to engage in a dialog of love with Him and others. For man, happiness means to love and to be loved. Eden is a symbol of this original state of happiness. Man lived in the certainty flowing from belief that God loved him and that everything necessary for human life and happiness came from God.
The happiness of Eden was happiness in the course of development. It was intended to be perfected in the divinization of man, i.e. when men became full partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). God called man into existence without his consent, but He destined him for perfect happiness, but only on the condition that man believed Him, and freely accepted His love.
From the biblical narrative we know that our first parents set great store by God’s command that “…of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gn. 2:17). The tree of knowledge of good and evil represents a truth, which God reveals to man.
What is this truth? What is the meaning of the prohibition that God places on the fruit of this tree? The truth is simply this: remember, man, that you are not God. By your own efforts you are unable to achieve perfect happiness. Your heart is filled with limitless desires and aspirations, but without Me, and left to your own devices, you are finite and mortal. Remember, then, that there are certain boundaries, which you may not cross. You may not transgress my commandments and decide for yourself what is good and what is evil, since my commandments flow from My love of you. They are simply signposts of reality, pointing out the one road of life by which I desire to lead you to perfect happiness, i.e. as partakers in My divine nature. Perfect freedom, love and life are yours to achieve provided that you are united with Me in love. If, on the other hand, you take and eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, i.e. if you chose to believe the lie that you can achieve happiness by your own efforts, and in spite of My love, then you will surely die, since in rejecting Me you reject love and life, and chose death and self-destruction. Thus sin constitutes man’s greatest tragedy.
2. The first attempt at falsifying the truth about God
Before their fall from grace men had God’s law written in their hearts, and did not see it as a yoke or burden. They naturally and spontaneously believed that God alone satisfied their desire for happiness. An attempt to call this truth into question originated not from within man, but from outside — in Satan, the “father of lies”, whom the biblical narrative represents in the form of the serpent. The serpent stands for the power of evil, an objectively existing spiritual presence. Rather than choose God, some of His angels (pure spiritual beings whom God created for the purpose of freely accepting and returning His love) chose themselves. They fell in love with themselves with a self-love that turned their love of God to hate. Self-love brought them to a state of horrific selfishness.
Pope Paul VI, in his general audience of 15 November 1972 taught that: “Evil is not just the absence of good, but a living being, a spirit, but deformed and depraved. It is a horrifying reality, a mystery arousing fear… The Demon is enemy number one, a tempter in the full sense of the word. We know well that this dismal, destructive, and disturbing being really exists and acts, laying sophistic traps for us, in order to destroy man’s moral equilibrium. He is a perfidious hypnotist, well practiced in the art of entering us (through our senses, imagination, desires) in order to cause all kinds of deviations”.
“Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, You shall not eat of any three of the garden?’” (Gn. 3:1). This apparently innocuous question put to our first parents contains the following insidious suggestion: it is not true that God loves you. He forbids you to eat of this one tree, and therefore He limits your freedom. Satan goes further. He denies the fact that disobedience to God will bring death in its wake: “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gn. 3: 4-5). In the language of the Bible “knowing good and evil” means having the power of God Himself. Conjuring up limitless prospects of divinity, the serpent suggests that man will know full happiness only when he has transgressed God’s command and eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In this way the Evil One succeeds in totally falsifying God’s image in man’s mind. Before the temptation, man believed and felt that Creator loved him, and that his greatest good consisted in total obedience and trust in God. And now suddenly he hears that God is not his beloved, but his greatest adversary, an absolute tyrant, since in forbidding him the fruit of this tree, He is barring man’s way to happiness, and will not allow man to become like Him.
Presented in such an alluring way, Satan’s temptation arouses suspicion and doubt in the minds of our first parents. Who is telling the truth: God or Satan? “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…” (Gn. 3:6). This is how original sin was committed. It was a sin of pride and disbelief in the love of God. Man stopped believing in God, and believed Satan. He believed that Satan, and not God, was telling the truth. He did not believe that sin was man’s greatest misfortune, and that it led to death. He did not believe that in prohibiting the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God was guided by motives of the purest love: do not do this, for it will be your undoing. It can only lead to absurdity and death.
In giving credence to Satan’s words, man disbelieved that sin is something evil, that it leads to the dissolution of human happiness and life. It precisely this falsified image of God that underlies the conviction, so prevalent today, that evil is something attractive, that sin in itself is alluring and good, that it gives pleasure in life, and that it is a sin only because God forbids something that is ultimately good. This is the line of thinking of people enslaved by the father of lies. Thus the drug addict sees freedom in his “crack”, the alcoholic in his bottle. Likewise with those addicted to sex, money, the desire for power, and other forms of sin.
Our one recourse in the face of this horrifying reality is belief in the love of Christ. We must believe again that God is in love with us, that He will never stop loving us, and that He desires nothing but our good and happiness. We must therefore believe, as Mary did, “with a hope against all hope” that in every situation of our lives, Christ is with us and leading us by the simplest road to union with Him in love, and thus to perfect happiness.
The above article was published with permission from Miłujcie się! in November 2010
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