Any man who thinks that the Genesis account of Creation and the Fall is a fable crafted for the simple-minded should be silenced by what follows on the heals of Adam’s first transgression. Interestingly enough, what ensues is not a violent Divine punishment for man’s disobedience, but an inquisition. It is, as it were, a working out of the problem of man’s sinning in relation to the Divine Truth. And the interrogation is couched in the context of an eerie calm that alone can facilitate rational discourse. You can imagine the whole of creation silencing itself in order to listen in on God’s questioning of Adam! There is something about sinning that brings silence to all else in the world as the soul endures the punishment of its own willing. In the silence, then, shame grows and the soul is driven to hide from the object of its crime. Man is born good. His nature is good. Why? God has made it. Man has never at any time made himself. His existence is dependent and derivative. If he had made himself, he would have remembered it. And besides, if he had made himself he would have had to be in possession of himself before he made it, which is absurd.
So, man is made. There was a time when he was not. He came into being because Being so willed that it should be. His being and wellbeing are the effects of a cause much mightier than himself. When he sinned, he took a perfectly good nature and abused it. You can only corrupt something that is potentially good. You cannot corrupt pure goodness. That would be like saying that you could corrupt God. And you cannot corrupt something that is pure evil. That would be like saying that you could corrupt what is pure corruption. Of course, there is no such thing as pure corruption. Even the devil knows that God is God, and that knowledge is good. You can only corrupt what is good by nature though not good by necessity. In other words, you can only corrupt a good nature by deforming it or by choosing to disregard God’s ideal intention for it. The creature is not good by nature –only God is that! The creature is good by reason of his will. So the creature must continuously choose the good of its nature in accordance with God’s plan for it.
Adam corrupted himself. He came to realize what he had done. He sought to hide the evidence of his sin from God –the evidence being himself. So we read: They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. (Genesis iii. 8) The elements and nature are not disturbed or disrupted by man’s sin; why should they? They remain faithful to the contours, lines, and limitations of their respective forms. Sin hasn’t affected the elements. (Sin cannot have any effect upon nature, except by way of a once-removed effect. Sinful man can relate now to nature sinfully.) The only physical alteration to the environment is the cooling of the air, perhaps an image of nature’s removal from man’s selfish idolatry. In any case, man senses that the atmosphere has changed. His surroundings seem hostile and even adversarial. They cannot and will not aid and abet him in his sin. Man is on his own.
Yet, he cannot bear to face God, and so he hides himself. That he thinks that he can hide from God reveals the corruption wrought by his willful idolatry. Evidently, he actually believes that the trees are now of such substantial tangibility that they can conceal him from God! When man disregards the Spirit of God in the world and worships the material and physical, his remembrance of the Maker’s nature is lost. Pure Spirit is less real to man now that he has begun to worship and appropriate material creation for himelf –away from and outside of God’s plan for it. Now man believes that the Spirit of God is as avoidable or embraceable as any other creature. His perception of God is material. He supposes that he can conceal or hide his being and knowing from God. Matter has been given the power to protect man from God. He has delusions of grandeur. He prays, no doubt, that God will leave him alone. He imagines that God won’t much care, couldn’t be bothered, is wholly uninterested in the finite details of his choices. He minimizes what is maximal to God. God cares about everything. God made everything. Why wouldn’t He care about all He has made? God has made all things down to the atoms, molecules, and so forth. Also, He sustains all things. He even leads all things through to their appointed ends by the movement of His Mind and Heart. To say that everything matters to God merely emphasizes the immediate proximity of the Maker to the meaning of all matter that He has made. The wisdom of God is what is nearest to any creature’s perfection. What is most important to God is the creature’s form or meaning.
And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? (Genesis iii. 9) God questions Adam not because He needs to inquire after Adam’s physical whereabouts, but because he wants Adam to articulate the nature of his newfound spiritual condition. He means, where are you spiritually? What is moving and defining your soul today, Adam? Tell me; confess the truth. Where are you in relation to me? Adam must answer for himself, and the self-confessed truth shows that where he is, is in mental and volitional alienation and separation from God. His answer comes in response to the Divine Presence; it is a relational confession. He perceives God’s nearness: I heard thy voice in the garden. He begins to feel the punishment of freedom from the Divine protection and governance: I was afraid. He experiences the temptations that assault the soul no longer clothed with God’s holiness and righteousness: because I was naked. He is afraid also because for the first time he hears God’s voice as what he has chosen to reject, or as what, even if for a fleeting moment, he has decided to circumvent. God’s voice is his Word; his Word is the commandment that defines and governs every creature’s meaning and purpose in the creation. God’s voice or commandment is essential for the harmonious unity of every particular with the whole. Man now knows himself as alienated from the Word that alone can ensure any future participation in the creation he has dishonored.
It might well be that the author of Genesis is describing here the genesis of conscience. Conscience comes to us from the Latin word conscientia, and it means knowledge or awareness. Here, specifically, it means an awareness of one’s being in relation to the truth. Adam has separated himself from the Divine goodness; it stands against him. He hides himself from God because now he fears God’s judgment of his sin. His being has become as nothing. Nothingness is not only nakedness before the Maker, but powerlessness. It is the state out of which man was made; the difference now is that man knows and experiences its raw and primal impotence. So he experiences a non-being that he was never made to endure.
But hiding from the Divine Truth is a kind of suicidal wish that God, in his Divine Mercy, will not tolerate. The naked truth must be not only endured but in some new way formative in man’s journey back to God. So the dialogue between man and God continues. God in His mercy will allow that, at least. Without it, God would deny the integrity of the rational creature and His own power in relation to it. That evil has been actualized for man does not mean that God’s goodness cannot overcome it through man’s return to his senses. The future will be dangerous, difficult, and daunting. But God’s intention for man remains unchanged. Man ought to be reconciled with God. It is just that, for now, man must take the long road back to God.