THE FALL OF MAN
Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.
—Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 397
In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God…Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God.”
The above passages from the Catechism on the subject of original sin point to the topic of this series: authority. In the Genesis story, God has completed Creation, concluding it with those created in his own image: man and woman. Within this idyllic setting is an abundance of beauty, companionship with each other and the Creator, and sustenance to ensure well-being. Yet there was one stipulation: God required that they abstain from eating ‘of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,’ lest they die. A small requirement, considering all they had. But deception manifested itself in the Serpent enticing Eve into disobedience…then she, her husband in tempting him to eat the forbidden fruit as well. In that one act of disobedience, God’s covenant with them was broken and they were cast from the ideal life God had for them.
But what exactly was the problem? Why was it so important that Adam and Eve follow God’s only instruction in the Garden? It all comes down to the recognition of authority. God had already endured the fall of Satan, his most treasured and beautiful angel, along with those angels who followed Satan in challenging God’s authority. Their free choice to rebel set up an adversarial showdown in which we, mankind, are the prize. Satan’s goal is to lure away God’s beloved created beings…those who were made in his image. Consequently, in order for mankind to maintain a true friendship with God, free submission to his rightful authority was necessary. In the Garden, that freedom to choose ended in casting mankind from the Garden.
In the story of Adam and Eve, we see the consequences when we reject God’s authority. Just as in the examples in previous posts where heretics rejected the authority of the Church, the most disastrous specifically being Martin Luther, such action cannot go without some type of consequence by the one who has legitimate authority. Any good parent will attest to this fact. The best growth in a child’s character is to follow-up infractions with appropriate consequences in order to fine-tune the child’s character.
In CCC 399, we find that the immediate consequence is that Adam and Eve lost ‘the grace of original holiness.’ In their minds, God now appears to be less than the loving Creator they previously experienced. However, this is a distorted image, likely due to the immediate consequence of their disobedience. Where God originally was their friend, he became one they feared. Where they once had no shame in their bodies, they now sought coverings. In addition, by being cast from the Garden, they were forced to deal with a new assortment of issues. Their relationship became a struggle, marked with selfishness and lust. Their offspring, fraught with jealousy, practiced deception…and ultimately murder. Their bodies experienced physical pain, eventually experiencing death. Even creation would now experience decay. These were the immediate and ongoing consequences brought on by the decision to usurp the authority of God.
For us, a generation greatly removed, the foundation of all these terrible consequences remains: sin itself. Because of sin entering the world, our souls are eternally predisposed to original sin. The stain of that sin is imbedded within each innocent life born, and requires baptism and an infusion of grace. But the problem does not stop there. As each child grows, their own free will causes them to reject the authority of their earthly parents, resulting in subsequent sin. It is only through Christ’s passion and sacrifice that we find a way for those sins to be forgiven. Through his Church, Christ offers the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist so as to continue to infuse sanctifying grace for our earthly journey.
But this difficult journey was not God’s intention when he created The Garden. The perfection he intended was shattered by a broken covenant. Those created in his image rejected his authority, and that broken covenant set the wheels in motion for our continued rebellion, requiring God to sacrifice his only Son in order to redeem the world so that his created beings might be saved. Sin and its consequences always have a domino effect of devastating proportions.
So, does authority matter? What might life in the Garden look like today, had our first parents not rejected God’s rightful authority over them? We cannot possibly know the answer to that question; it is uncharted territory. However, what we do know is that the rejection of authority creates chaos, dysfunction and problems. And if you argue that point, simply look to the brokenness in human families where the hierarchy of authority is challenged.
Let’s just be thankful that God that in his infinite wisdom was prepared for resolving the iniquity of sin. Whereas sin entered the world through one man in Adam, the world would find its ultimate redemption through one man–the new Adam in Jesus Christ, God himself come down to earth for the salvation of the world.
Thanks be to God!