|“The fall of Man” by Cornelis Van Haarlem, 1592|
Following the creation of mankind in sacred scripture we find almost immediately that, in giving his favorite creation free will, God opened the door to bad choices. In the third chapter of the Book of Genesis (Genesis 3:1-10) we find the account of “the Fall.”
Now the snake was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?”
The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’”
But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die!
God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
When they heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you?
He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.”
Then God asked: Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat?
The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.”
The LORD God then asked the woman: What is this you have done? The woman answered, “The snake tricked me, so I ate it.”
That event opened the door to sin and death and spoiled the innocent creation that was man and woman. The Fall closed the gates of our eternal home with the Father. Our adoption by him was forfeit. This fallen state continued until, at long last, God was pleased to send his Only Begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, into the world and the Gates were once more reopened.
We consider for a moment a deeper warning contained within this story which uses figurative terms to describe a primeval event (CCC 390). God created mankind with his own intellect which includes a keen sense of curiosity. From earliest times, we have sought to understand God’s creation, over which he gave us dominion (Genesis 1:28-31).
The problem arises when curiosity is de-coupled from faith. Over the past five hundred years, especially in the Western World, intellectual pursuits have taken center stage in the development of human society. The idea of innocent faith has been disparaged on an increasing level by those whose basic formation omitted the development of a firm and lively faith. It was as if, for a majority of those studying the natural world, there was no interest in the metaphysical, the things of God. There were only problems to be solved and mysteries to be uncovered. And always in the ear of these eager and gifted explorers was the voice of the serpent; “you will be like gods. “
With no voice of God to hold them accountable and no knowledge of God to provide a moral road map, the wonder of God’s creation was relegated to simply a series of natural laws and random chaotic acts of nature. No one warned them that pursuit of wisdom without appreciation for the foundational faith in God would lead them also to the ultimate realization also found in the story of the Fall; shame, strife, suffering, and most damning, separation from God. In their pursuit of pure knowledge, they have forgotten the author of all knowledge and have embarked on their own fall. This crushing failure of human intellect is most visible in the halls of academia, most especially in the hard sciences; physics, math, biology, and chemistry. But it is also epidemic in the social sciences as well.
The real problem comes when those who would be like gods are responsible for educating children over generations who have likewise not be given a deep and lively faith by their first teachers, their parents. Coming into these halls of learning they are immediately, in more subtle terms told “you will be like gods.“ And if they cannot hear the message and recognize its origin, they too will forget the Creator and look only at the mystery of the created.
God certainly inspired the authors who penned sacred scripture all those millennia ago. His message was both obvious and hidden (as St. Augustine said “The New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.”). The deeper biblical truth in the story of the Fall is that there is a danger in the pursuit of knowledge, but only if we forget the source of all knowledge who is God.