Vol II No. 5
From the Quarterly

Shame and Hiding

by William J. Martin

God_judging_adam_blake_1795Any 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 response to man’s disobedience, but an inquisition. And the interrogation is couched in the context of an eerie calm that alone can facilitate rational discourse. 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 will not be disturbed or disrupted by man’s sin; why should they? They remain faithful to the contours, lines, and biddings of their respective natures. The only physical alteration to the environment is the cooling of the air, perhaps nature’s subtle way of distancing herself from man’s selfishness and idolatry. In any case, man senses that the atmosphere has changed. Man cannot bear the spiritual encounter, and so he and Eve hide themselves. That he thinks that he can hide from God reveals the corruption wrought by his willful idolatry. 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. He believes that the Spirit of God is as avoidable as any other creature. He supposes that he can conceal or hide his being and knowing from God.

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 describe his newfound spiritual condition. He means, where are you spiritually? What is moving and defining your soul today, Adam? Tell me; confess the truth.  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 him. 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.