Sunday, February 7, 2010

And Cain (who was Righteous) Walked With God...

19 And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
20 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering;
21 But unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not respect. Now Satan knew this, and it pleased him. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
22 And the Lord said unto Cain: Why art thou wroth? Why is thy countenance fallen?
23 If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted. And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee; and except thou shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire. And thou shalt rule over him... [Moses 5:19-23]

We all know how this story ends: Cain rises up against Abel and does indeed slay him, becoming the first man to introduce murder for gain into the world, and in so doing he becomes Master Mahan, a son of Perdition and chief among devils, even over Satan himself.

But this is not what interests me. No, not the end, but the beginning... or at least the middle. The chapter continues:

24 For from this time forth thou shalt be the father of his lies; thou shalt be called Perdition; for thou wast also before the world.
25 And it shall be said in time to come—That these abominations were had from Cain; for he rejected the greater counsel which was had from God; and this is a cursing which I will put upon thee, except thou repent. [Moses 5: 24-25; emphasis added]

The Biblical account of this tale is nearly identical; it is merely that in the book of Moses we have a bit more detail, not least of which is found in the chronology of occurrences. For as can be seen in the above verses, God gave this advice to Cain before the act, but after Cain had begun planning the act; after Cain had in fact begun speaking to Satan.

This strikes me as interesting. This was, after all, not the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had already been cast out and begun bearing offspring. And God no longer walked with man.

Let me say that last again. God no longer walked with man.

Why, then, was he walking with Cain, of all people? Why was he walking and talking - directly, it would seem from the scriptural accounts - with the man who would first murder and in so doing also introduce the secret combinations that would serve to further Satan's purposes throughout history?

The answer is, to me, both obvious (once thought of), and fascinating: Cain had not yet murdered. Not only that, but he was likely a chosen one of the Lord, and one of the great leaders of the Kingdom of God on the earth at that time. For with whom does the Lord walk and talk? Not with the sinners, that is certain: the only occasions when he has done so has been to successfully call them to repentance, as was the case with Alma the younger and, perhaps to a lesser extent, with Saul of Tarsus.

But that is not the kind of interaction occurring here. Here, in these verses (and in their counterparts in Genesis chapter 4), God is speaking to Cain as a friend warning another; as a loving Father who is counseling a son who has until now not only not been wicked, but likely been exceedingly good. After all, Moses 5:24 (above) states that Cain would be called "Perdition."

And who can be called "Perdition"? The scriptures make it clear that this is a title that is reserved not for those who have been wastrels or even evil from the beginning. Rather, it is a term used exclusively for those who have been shown the Son, who have known the truth of the Gospel, who have served with the Priesthood, and then have chosen to knowingly throw away their righteousness in favor of wickedness (see, e.g., Doctrine & Covenants 76: 31-43).

And so we are left with an image of Cain as... a Prophet? An Apostle, perhaps? Someone like Judas who knew the virtues of Christ and then sold his soul for mere worldly goods?

The reason this fascinates me is not only because it changes the image I think most of us have of Cain - that of someone intrinsically evil from the beginning of his life - to one that bears a much greater lesson than the very obvious surface teaching that one should not murder and if one does, great consequences shall follow.

Rather, it teaches that we must never allow Satan to get a foothold in our souls. We must never allows ourselves to entertain thoughts of evil, but must rid ourselves of them in the very moment that they come. Because though (I believe) most of us are "good" people, I also believe that, if we allow it, Satan could have his way with any one of us.

After all, he had his way with Cain.

And Cain, as we now know, must have been a man of great personal righteousness; a man so good he was allowed the singular privilege of talking with the Lord.

Surprisingly, then, I find myself saying that I am not even as strong as Cain once was. How much more, then, must I protect against sin, and shore up the defenses of my soul against evil. I can never "rest on my laurels." I must be ever vigilant. I must be ever wary of the evil one.

Because if Satan could corrupt someone as good as Cain... what might he do to me?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Nothing but a Cool Day in Paradise

Had an interesting time at Sunday School yesterday (yes, I know, when DON'T I have an interesting time... ). We were discussing the fall of Man.

First of all, just so you know and so there are no hurt females out there, the word "man" as we use it in English derives from a Germanic term. In German, there are three terms denoting a person or thing: one is male, one is female, and one is generic.

Guess which one that language utilizes to denote "everyone"? That's right, the germanic generic. And so when the scriptures (or any other pre 1980 text dealing with humanity in general) uses the term "Man" it is neither denigrating nor excluding females. There are exceptions, of course (when aren't there?), but for the most part those texts are simply hearkening back to the germanic root wherein the word man could mean someone male or it could mean (as it does here) "everybody."

Now that I've beaten that little horse of nomenclature to death (don't worry, the horse was a man), I will return to the topic.

So there we are, discussing the usual: God makes Eden. God makes Adam. God takes Adam's rib and makes Eve. Eve eats the fruit. Eve gets Adam to eat the fruit. God shows up and says "What just happened here, kids?" Adam, like any good man (male), blames the other person in the room. Eve, like any good girl (female) tells the truth. God kicks them out of Eden.

And here is where, all of a sudden, I find an interesting verse. Moses 4: 14:

And they heard the voice of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

And for those of you who prefer to stay Biblical, rather than venturing into the Pearl of Great Price, there is a virtually identical verse at Genesis 3: 8:

And 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.

Most of us have heard these verses - or at least paraphrasing of these verses - innumerable times. So what? God showed up, and Adam and Eve hid...

And they did it on a cool day.

There are very few discussions of weather in the scriptures. And all of them - all of them (I checked) - deal with adverse climatic conditions: too much rain, too much sun, too much wind, that one time where the ocean splits in half.

All of them, that is, save one. The one where, for no apparent reason at all, the writer of these books adds that it was a cool day.

Bear in mind, the author of these books was Moses. He himself had been responsible for (through the power and permission of God) more than one major climatic event. So for him to add the words "on a cool day" in his work would be like you or I writing "I sat down on a chair, which was made of leather" when drafting our memoirs about how we won the Nobel Price by curing cancer. It seems to not only have nothing to do with the subject at hand, but is so very out of place that one must wonder if the editor was asleep at the wheel the day this page came in.

Especially since we know - we've been told, over and over again - that space in the scriptures is limited. The actual words of Christ, for instance, as recorded in the New Testament, can be read aloud in about a half an hour. So clearly the writers put in only what they thought - and what they Spirit guided them to think - were the most important words that Christ said. I suspected that on an occasion or two He might have said, "That rock looks like a nice place to rest for a while" or "Boy, talk about windy last night, huh?" or "Did you hear the one that goes..." (yes, I believe the Lord has a sense of humor... He made me, didn't he?). But none of that was included. It wasn't important. In fact, to actually include such things would be to criminally rob us of the space needed in the holy texts for the things that mattered more to our Salvation. That's why everything we read has some importance. That's why everything we cast our eyes on matters. That's why... wait a minute... Adam and Eve were cast out "on a cool day"???

Seems odd. So rather than listen to the rest of the Sunday School lesson, I found myself fixated on this verse. Why, if Scriptural space is so limited, would Moses let us know basically that it was more or less nice if a little on the cool side?

Then I had a thought. But I am about to start using a LOT rope here, so someone can feel free to hang me if I don't do it myself. And certainly don't take this as church doctrine, because it's just me thinking.

So after that disclaimer, here is what I was thinking:

The accepted chronology is that Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They then looked upon one another and knew they were naked and were ashamed. They then made aprons for themselves out of fig leaves.

Now, it's also been made clear, at least in the LDS church, that the Fall of Adam and Eve had nothing to do with any kind of sexual indiscretion. It was, instead, a transgression which resulted somehow in a changing of their bodies from an immortal - though innocent - to a mortal state which had infinite capacity for good and for evil.

So having ruled out the sexualization of the Fall, it leads me to wonder why Adam and Eve would look upon each other as naked and be ashamed and go make fig leaves. By this I mean, there are (at least) two reasons why they would not be ashamed:

1) They were already man and wife. The ceremony was, in fact, performed by God Himself in Genesis 2:

22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

There is, granted, some ambiguity there, but latter-day prophets have made it clear that this was, in fact, the first marriage, and that it occurred in Eden: "The first marriage was performed by God in the garden when Adam and Eve were not subject to death." (Henry B. Eyring, “Be One,” Ensign, Sep 2008, 4–9.) So the fact that they were not "legitimately" allowed to view one another's nakedness is not a factor in their wearing of the aprons.

2) Even without their marriage, the fact is that Adam and Eve had, presumably, been running around in the garden in the nude for an unknown - but presumably long - period of time. Many lifetimes, perhaps.

So mere nudity could not be the reason for the sewing of the aprons. However, the verses immediately preceding our subject verses in Moses and Genesis say the same thing:

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

Nowhere in there is any kind of shame mentioned. It was not until they heard the Lord "in the cool day" that they ran and hid themselves.

In the cool day.

In so many other religions it is understood as doctrine that the fall of Adam and Eve was tragedy. That if only they had stayed, paradise would have come for all without work or woe.

We in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, view the Fall not as a sin, but as a transgression: not as an evil act, but as one that countermanded a law of God, i.e., if you eat of this tree you will die. Adam and Eve eventually came to understand what this meant, whether through Lucifer's unwitting assistance or of their own accord, and chose to partake of the tree. Yes, that meant being cast out of the Garden and into a lone and dreary world... but it also meant that they could have children; raise family; become more like the Lord and someday even be a joint heir with Christ in the Kingdom of God. Mere innocence in a garden has little to compare with such riches.

And so Adam and Eve left.

But still, this "cool of the day" phrase. Why include it? It is possible that it was an accident; after all, though God is perfect, He works through us as imperfect beings, and so often (if not always) we don't get it quite right: if God chose to speak through me, for example, I would end up maybe getting the point across, but being too wordy about it (as this post itself may show).

But I do not think that it was a mistake. Particularly since the detail is included not only in the earlier versions of the Bible, but also in Joseph Smith's translation of the work. And if I assume this is the case, then the previously outlined timeline changes a bit. They were not naked and ashamed because of each other's eyes, but because of God's. So there was perhaps no need for fig leaves... unless...

Was it because they had begun to grow, in something as simple as one of them going "It's a bit cold" and the other saying, "I never thought of this, but we could sew leaves together and be a bit warmer"?

I don't know if this is what happened. I was not there. But I believe that in the Garden of Eden, innocence was not merely an absence of evil. After all, the snake somehow made his way in. Rather, it was a state of ignorance. Perhaps they walked with God not only because they were spiritually clean, but because, like babies, they had to be constantly watched and cared for. But then they partook of the Tree. They began (if they had not already begun) to grow. To make up their own minds.

Agency was born. Perhaps before the snake's proposition. But whether before or after, it happened.

And now Adam and Eve were making decisions... on a cool day in what had been their home. Dressed in fig leaves already, hiding perhaps from the elements that were no longer so perfect, because the Garden itself knew that Adam and Eve were not to remain.

And one more thought: even when God came, even when He told them they were banished from the Garden, nowhere does Moses mention accompanying tempests or storms. Because God had no reason for anger: his first two children of earth had made their first major decision, and had to - or better said were privileged to - reap the consequences of that act.

And so He came, undoubtedly knowing already what they had done.

He asked them what happened, giving them another chance at agency as they chose to tell the truth or tell a lie.

He let them know of the great power they had over Satan, through the lineage of Eve - a stunning reward for what most of the world labels an act of hideous misdeed.

And then God sent them forth. To live. To grow. To be like him.

And all on a cool day in a small garden that led to a vast and amazing world.