‘Sheer o’er the Crystal Battlements he fell…..’

‘For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.’

 

The Oxford Study Bible interprets The Fall of Man as this is told in The Book of Genesis right at the front few chapters of The Bible, as being a fable about humanoids in the deep dark past becoming for the very first time creatures who posses self-awareness.

 

And indeed there must have been at some time in the past history of humanity a Great Epiphany at that moment when the first men and women became self-aware of themselves as creatures; conscious of their own minds, lives, bodies; and of course, of Giant Death.

 

The traditional interpretation of The Fall is that its occurrence introduced ‘sin’ into the world and as a result of the entrance of ‘sin’; Death was allowed to enter in also.

 

Indeed to be a creature conscious of oneself is to know inner mental conflict. This is the inalienable human lot.  Once one has become conscious of oneself one begins to know that one’s decisions are always under great pressure to be self-interested.  Once one has become conscious of oneself, one is able by natural sympathies to attribute consciousness of self to one’s mate, to one’s children; to ones human companions in life.

 

Thus arises the mental conflict: which is to know that one is under great and constant pressure always to choose the self-interested, self-preserving choice over the choice to assist or to allow other conscious of self creatures like oneself greater consideration or allowance. Simply put – it is the self vis a vis others which is the basis for the primal clash of interests and instincts.

 

The upshot of pressures arising from such internal mental clashes is what we call ‘guilt’ or at least feelings of guilt; especially when one chooses oneself over another and the consequences are extreme and dire for that other.

 

Many animals other than man grieve in the same way that man grieves when a mate or a child or a friend is lost.  This is well attested and most people have witnessed this character in animals not sentient like man is.  Thus in some primordial way such animals know death and have some inkling of death having occurred when they see it before them happen.  A visit to an abattoir will confirm.

 

But man when become truly man and so conscious of self; became able to foresee that death is inevitable and ubiquitous for all creatures and for himself and his kind also.

 

in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened

 

Indeed this opening of man’s eyes – this happening upon becoming a conscious of self creature – opened man’s eyes to the certain prospect of inevitable death; and death as a vision of the inevitable is a consequence of having had his eyes opened.  Perhaps it is The (definitive) Consequence of having had his eyes opened?

 

and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil

 

Indeed this ‘promise’, made in Genesis by the wily serpent who tempts the Mother of Mankind into eating of the forbidden tree and of its fruit; that she and her mate Adam shall be ‘like gods’ when their eyes have been opened; was not a false promise in that indeed they did come to know the existence of ‘good and evil’.  And for a creature like Man to know the existence of ‘good and evil’ is truly a godlike vantage point from which to survey the world; a world in which Man finds himself a creature acting and alive.

 

It must have been quite a shock to that hominid or that group of hominids who first caught the stray thought in their minds that – hey presto! – we are identities – we are conscious beings. The change may have been gradual from dumb animal to sapient being; nonetheless coping with the introduction into one’s life of such a game-changer must have been disorienting and enormously stressful to cope with.

 

No wonder that the Book of Genesis makes this episode the very first, the foundational story, about men and women in a holy work, The Bible, which proposes to be about origins and about fundamentals concerning the world and living things and most particularly concerning humans.

 

One might look at the consequence of knowing the presence of Death through having one’s eyes opened; to be the other side of the coin to us ‘knowing good and evil’ – the downside to the plus side – the good news and the bad news – or as what I believe a Spanish proverb says: ‘God said You can take what you like: But you have to pay for it’

 

Or again ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’ – there’s always a bill to be paid for every good thing gained.

 

And what a mixed blessing this coming to consciousness of self was!  It made us fully and uniquely human – godlike but sinful – seers but seers of bad and well as of good – of possibilities but yet also of our own personal ultimate demise from the earth.  We by having become conscious of ourselves were suddenly released from the bonds of grovelling on the earth and of eating directly from the ground like brute beasts, like a dog or a cat eats, and lifted up, physically onto two legs and spiritually into a place ‘crawling between earth and heaven’.

 

What wonder then that The Book of Genesis interprets this astonishing transformation of man as having been caused by God breathing His Spirit into Adam’s nostrils and so imbuing him and his descendants with life and reason, and so making them in the Image of God Himself.

 

It is really no exaggeration; the momentousness of this sea change cannot be fully grasped; it is so extraordinary; so that God is not ‘being brought in via a back door’ in The Book of Genesis and in this story of The Serpent, The Fall, and of The Entry into the world of Death and Sin; but of that precious gift of Knowledge of Good and Evil as well.

 

The arch-fiend Satan in Book 2 of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, a poem which relates the story of The Fall of Man in Eden, so as to ‘justify the ways of God to man’; the arch-fiend says of the delight he finds in being a creature who is aware  of himself; ‘for who would lose this intellectual being?’.

 

Satan is in constant perpetual torments imposed on him by God in punishment for his and his rebel angels’ insurrection in Heaven; whereupon God cast him out to Hell with his rebels to live in darkness and flames eternally.  Earlier one of Satan’s colleagues had expressed a wish for oblivion rather than suffer eternally the pangs of Hell; but Satan had considered and replied thus: that sentient life, even tormented and suffering sentient life, is valuable and worthwhile simply for the joy in it of ‘intellectual being’; of being a creature conscious of itself and so able to think and weigh up and to consider. .

And indeed this thinking and considering is that part of us which was imparted to us by God breathing his breath into us and placing his spirit in his own Image in our likenesses; this is the very thing Satan still treasures in his otherwise wholly miserable existence. This treasure is the great gift of God.

 

Just as the holy and unholy angels alike partake of and enjoy the delights of this special blessing of reason and consciousness of self which God gave out in his own Image to his angels and then to man; so the good and the bad and the indifferent and the indolent amongst us humans all receive and are blessed with these God-given gifts alike and without stint or favouritism. Believers in God and non-believers alike enjoy and use these gifts showered from Heaven and from the Throne of God upon us.

 

To come to a conclusion now I want to say that our extraordinary abilities to be aware of ourselves and to be able to judge between good and evil; to recognise and to bear a sense of guilt; to act upon conscience and to overcome our animal instinct; which drives us always to serve oneself wherever we are able; to have thus become able to break free from the toils and coils of creaturedom and of the earth; find release from the blind determinism of brute nature; and for us to have become able to desire and to act to help further a Kingdom Not of This World; and for us to have been able to receive and to recognise a Redeemer and a Saviour; that same Person whose life and teaching, death and resurrection, has enabled this privilege for us to be the free and willing servants to his eschatological cause; all this is The Great Adventure of Life, of human life, and as such our lives are things which no-one amongst us could have dreamed of, or could have even vestigially conceived or glimpsed, or have had an inkling.

 

your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil

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