April 27, 2012
Sin is not simply the product of man’s evil nature. It is the stumbling block, the cruel and dispassionate tuition of error, remorse, estrangement from God and other mortals, the burning fire which refines man, and teaches his mind to adapt, change course, invent another way, improve his lot, and employ his godly nature in the process of achievement.
Explore with me one of the foundational differences between Mormon theology, the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and traditional Western religions. Our understanding of the nature of man and how he came to be are based upon the Biblical depiction of Father Adam and Mother Eve, as well as insights from the modern revelations of Latter-day prophets. And as you walk with me through this less-followed path of thought, you may come to understand why Mormons, or Latter-day Saints, regard the genesis of the United States of America and its Founding Documents with a unique esteem.
We take most seriously the declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And we regard with reverence the United States Constitution which, for the first time in the history of mankind, provides for a form of government whose primary role is to protect and defend the God-given rights of the individual offspring of God.
We do not believe that Adam and Eve erred and became spoiled by their disobedience. We do not believe that they were forced out of the Garden of Eden against their wills. We do not believe in “original sin,” that concept that forever mars the spirit of man, making him soiled and evil by his nature. We do not regard the story of Eve and her temptation of Adam and the forbidden fruit to be a tale of sexual malfeasance, something tawdry that foreshadows the future of mankind with an umbra of degeneracy.
We believe that Mother Eve and Father Adam, in their curiosity and drive to burst out of the limitations of perfect obedience, are the primal heroic figures of man’s history. They eschewed the providence and presence of God to escape the Garden where they could neither learn, nor become fully human without the pressures of survival to engage their minds and hands. We believe that Adam and Eve understood that if they were to escape the flatness of an existence without joy, that they must of necessity experience the apexes of pain. We believe that through Mother Eve’s disobedience and her invitation to Adam to join with her, they set in motion the merciless conditions of mortality. And they did so not to live lives of slavish toil wherein the meager bread of the day would be sufficient and the pastoral solace of the agrarian life would sustain their generations. They left the Garden so they could strive in their living, activating their minds, using their hands, and inventing the world of men so they could become, again, at one and like unto God in His majestic intellect, His perfectly formed personality, and His utter and triumphant mastery over matter and time.
The Garden of Eden was a prison, or more accurately, a paddock, only in the sense that is was a realm unto itself, closed and bountiful, where perfect weather, the spontaneous germination of foods of the Earth, and the equilibrium of a sedentary nature kept Adam and Eve within its parameters. They could not venture outside of the Garden because their undeveloped minds never thought to do so.
Within the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were maintained. Their physical appetites for food and comfort were met. They did not toil for that which sustained them. They had no need to invent in their environment which as free from threat and need. They were at one with the natural world around them because they were like unto dumb nature. Having no pressures to survive through forcing the natural world into submission, they existed, not unlike the animals who kept them company.
For uncounted eons their days came and went, always with the knowledge that their appetite for food would be sated. They lived in an like guileless animals in an uncorrupt stupor, neither experiencing adversity, nor laughter, nor suffering, nor pleasure. And like animals they had not earned the capacity to choose between one thing or another based upon a moral system. They were acted upon, in their case by a loving and gentle God whose presence they enjoyed. But they lacked the capacity of free agents to act of their own volition.
God gave them a set of rules to follow. The primary rule was a negative directive; “Do not partake of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
He also gave them a commandment. “Multiply and Replenish the Earth” was a positive directive to act. The earth in its primitive form was yet unformed, though perfect to meet the needs of Adam and Eve, whose lives were lived in a half-consciousness, and whose controlled and effortless existence produced nothing other than simple, instinctive impulses like hunger or sleep.
But the rule, and the Commandment given to Father Adam and Mother Eve by God so contradicted one another as to completely extinguish the possibility that either could be kept without nullification of them both. And in this existential crisis; the choice between blind obedience to an inscrutable law, and that of acting upon the Commandment to bear children and create a world in which their descendants could live fully as men–the crowning glory and the very Royal Progeny of God– Adam and Eve rebelled against the emptiness of a law which bound them to perpetual nescience. The innocent state of Adam and Eve while in the Garden of Eden was an insult to the creation over which they were to have dominion. Their innocence contravened the nature of God and of His offspring, so if they were to remain in that state the whole purpose of creation, and creation itself would have become a literal void.
Their contentment was interrupted and “temptation” entered the Garden. For Father Adam and Mother Eve “temptation” was the blossoming of their God-like ability to reason. At some point their eyes lifted to the horizon and they wondered, “what’s beyond?” They began to inquire about the natural world, what it meant to dwell with God as His offspring, and what would have to occur for them to become like unto Him. They wanted more. They came to a point of self-awareness. Their illuminate minds transcended in a moment the restive bliss of ignorance, to discern themselves, the space and objects surrounding their bodies, the differences between them and the animals and vegetation, their own resemblance to God, and their nakedness. That first, violent explosion of human consciousness produced will, determination, ambition, and the terror of knowing that in striving to create like unto God, in mortality they would be forevermore separated from Him.
Lucifer, whose very name means “bringer of light,” visited the Garden. His terrible “light” would bring lies, death, pain, horror, war and evil by every name and in every form into the world. If Eve so chose that devastating light; the power to choose evil, to work destruction, to experience suffering and to cause suffering, everything would change. The very nature of the world, having been a perfect Garden, would become a ruined place wherein nothing but the toil, sweat, pain, and industry of man could overcome the cruel elements thereof.
The temptation of Eve was no more nor less than the stirring within her to create something. The creative ambition of our first parents, combined with human minds and hands designed to accomplish the creative act, set Adam and Eve apart from their animal companions. They now had the God-like ability to think, to reason, and to be. And though the serpent, Lucifer, introduced evil into the world, so did Father Adam and Mother Eve, who had been trained and taught in the presence of God, bring good into the world. Human ingenuity, creativity, vision, industry, compassion, love, and all good things that set man apart from the animals sailed into the world on the wings of temptation.
Moral agency; the privilege and accountability of action of the Children of God, defines temptation. Where there is light of understanding there is vision to discern one thing from another according to its moral weight. Where there is discretion there is pressure to act, to choose, and temptation is the intractable circumstance of moral choice. Temptation, and the “light” that Lucifer brought to expose the evil of the world in an awful and marvelous showcase, are natural and necessary conditions of the world where men are stretched to reason.
Adam, Eve’s husband had the same desire to create, but in his Priesthood was constrained at first. With Eve’s defiance of the stipulations of a paradoxical law which promised immortality, but barred the path to Eternal Life, Adam came to understand that if he too were to become fully alive, he must join with her and leave the comforts, the perfect providence, and the prison walls of the Garden of Eden.
Eve wanted to bear the children of her husband, and with her mind and hands create and nurture and invent the world that her children would live in. Adam wanted to be the father of Eve’s children, and with his mind and hands begin to understand what God the Father had always known; how to create, and make a place for his society. Adam learned quickly that the act of creation is painful. It is a process that is both destructive and creative. It requires the full application of will and physical exertion. And creation to the human, is a proposition that is constrained by the limits of the mortal span of life, and the capacity of the individual’s hands and mind that venture forth to act upon the elements, before the elements kill him.
The creation of all things; those things in the Cosmos that are seen, and those that are unseen, are the works of the mind and hands of God. And Adam and Eve, our first parents had minds and hands and so by their nature, were impelled to use them. And the works of man’s hands and the machinations of his mind are imperfect and errant. Sin is natural in the fallen and mortal world. But sin is not simply the product of man’s evil nature. It is the stumbling block, the cruel and dispassionate tuition of error, remorse, estrangement from God and other mortals, the burning fire which refines man, and teaches his mind to adapt, change course, invent another way, improve his lot, and employ his godly nature in the process of achieving.
In breaking the rule and eating of the sweet, but lethally dangerous fruit of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve were obeying the Higher Law; the human law, to Multiply and Replenish the Earth. They multiplied and bore children, becoming co-creators with God and blessing His children of spirit with material bodies, mortal, yet having the promise of immortality through a Savior, and Eternal Life through the mastery of self, and by reason of repentance and atonement with God and His Holy Plan. They replenished the earth through the works of their hands. Their children, for all of the generations of man to this day, by taking the resources of the natural world, both upon the surface of the earth and deep within its bowels, and harnessing the invisible forces within its firmament, have replenished the earth. Man himself became creator, the inventor of civilization. From the furrows ploughed by bleeding hands and calloused feet to the towering cities shining from the hilltops; symbols of the excellence and perfection of man as engineer, the creature, the only creation with whom God shared dominion over the elements, man replenished the earth.
God gained dominion over His worlds through the power of his righteous Priesthood and expansive knowledge. Man gained dominion over the matter and laws of the material creation through his ingenious mind, the sweat of his brow, and the endless labor and meticulous exertions of his hands.
In his selfish ambition to create, man, the posterity of Father Adam and Mother Eve, invented the civil society. The civil society is the broadest and most efficient way for each man’s self-interest to be fulfilled in a reciprocal system wherein commerce makes opportunity available to all to fulfill their individual needs according to the energy they assert in striving with their own minds and hands to meet those needs. Man was not granted dominion over the earth and its fullness by some mystical wish. He earned it by amassing its resources, beautifying it, enticing its abundance from the cultivated fertility of its flat regions, and pulling from its hidden places the stuff of tools, and weapons, and trestles, and skyscrapers, and rockets that carry robots to Mars and to the ends of the Solar System and beyond.
The civil society was not, and is still not, the inevitable outcome of Adam and Eve’s departure from the Garden. With man’s ability to choose one thing or another, to act or to succumb, based upon a moral system that ultimately comes from the Mind of God, some men choose nihilism. Through their inaction, or a self-designated classification that lowers them to the level of their animal myrmidons, they nullify within themselves the grand act that freed our primordial parents from their Garden prison. Men, whole populations of men and entire nations ruled by men who consciously exert the unrighteous dominion of force, choose to revert to the non-thinking, inactive, anesthetized state where succor is expected, inertia is rewarded, and vacuity is the most acceptable state of being.
They forget that having been thrust into the moral world outside of the providence of God, where action is required to survive, that their inaction and dependence will lead to their own regressive state, that the civil society will eventually collapse. The burdens on the backs of those who act upon the godly creative impulse; the thinkers, inventors, workers, and doers, becomes so great that their shoulders give way, and the means of mortal economy is spent and ruined.
God gave to mankind a Savior to compensate for his implacable infirmities and failures. Though mortal life is the necessary proving ground wherein man may strive for perfection, perfection, because man is man, is unattainable. Man cannot reunite with God in the bloodied, battered, and filthy state in which most men complete their mortal venture. The presentation of a Savior into God’s Holy Plan gave man the freedom to escape the confinement of perfect obedience. By virtue of the atoning sacrifice of the Savoir, man’s good faith efforts to use his hands, his mind, and his godly, yet fallen nature to create and strive upon a path back to God, would not disqualify man from returning to God. With a Savior, man could take the risks of reasoning, he could tinker with thought, and he could wonder at the world, his own body, and the application of his hands for good, and too often for ill, always with the promise that his teachable errors would not be the means of his doom. The Savior is the central being upon which man’s thread of existence will lead back to God instead of the dust and insentient matter from whence came his physical form.
Man was not placed upon the earth to be entertained and wrapped in boundless abundance and corporeal ease. Man is that he might prove himself worthy of the very creation and plan into which he is fixed. He is that he might overcome the raw conditions of mortality, and like God, his Creator, Designer, and Father, man is the germ and genesis of creation itself. Adam and Eve fell that men might be. Man is that he might have joy. To have joy is to be fully, painfully alive.
By Marjorie Haun 4/27/12