The Garbage Of Sin Covers Paradise

Cairo Street by Henry KarlsonGood is always mixed with evil wherever evil is to be found, for evil thrives upon and uses the good to establish itself. Evil thrives off the good, and finds its existence in the good. For this reason, evil is never pure, and can never be pure, for if and when something became pure evil, it would destroy in itself all that is good, including and especially its very existence. Evil is a parasite which thrives upon the good, uses the good for its own evil end: it must keep some element of the good in order to exist, but it will seek to take as much of it as it can.

This is what happened to the world itself. Created and formed in goodness, evil corrupted it from within. Turned away from its natural purity, evil drained away the goodness of the world, creating a byproduct, a waste, from what it destroyed, covering up the glory of paradise as it used that waste product to turn the world into one large garbage dump. Hell is exemplified by a trash heap for this reason, because it shows that something continues to exist, though in a rotten form, slowly decomposing as its being is drained out of it. The more evil infects the world, the more the world becomes like a trash heap, the more that trash becomes pressed down upon itself, until at last, like in a garbage dump, it goes up in flames – flames which do not end so long as the waste of evil continues to be produced and used to fuel the deconstructing fire.

If we want to understand the creation story, if we want to understand what paradise was, and where it was found, and so, where it can be found again, we need to understand paradise is found in ourselves, even as hell is to be found in ourselves. The kingdom of God is within us (cf. Lk. 17:21). Paradise is found buried deep in each and every one of us, covered up by the waste product of our unwholesome activities. If we can return to our pristine nature, paradise, we can then find the entryway to the kingdom of God, to the transcendent experience of the divine life. Wholesome actions clear out the trash, unwholesome actions help create and produce more trash to be used as fuel for the trash heap within ourselves; hell is the state of being which we experience as the fruit of our actions, with our unwholesome actions, our sins, not only covering our natural goodness and purity, but also fracturing us from within, cutting us apart, using the pieces of our own being cut off from ourselves as the fuel for the fires of hell.

Despite what we do, buried deep within us, is a reflection of God, waiting to be found underneath all the debris of sin. We are made in the image and likeness and God, and this image, no matter how cracked and defaced we have made it thanks to our actions, continues to reflect the greater goodness of God. We can say that this inner image of God within us forms our own inner self, the natural original face which we have covered up; if we can discern it, we can use it to contemplate qualities of God, as Origen suggested:  “But it is our inner man, invisible, incorporeal, incorruptible, and immortal which is made ‘according to the image of God.’ For it is in such qualities as these that the image of God is more correctly understood.”[1]

Being made in the image and likeness of God means there is something which remains pure, undefiled, incapable of corruption within us. This inner person, this pure face, this essence of who and what we are in total, is what has been lost to us in and through our sin. We cover it up, hide it from ourselves, through the trash of sin which becomes as it were, a fiery wall which keeps us out of the paradise (which is found within us).  Thus, St. Ambrose, in trying to discern where paradise is, explained that there were many opinions on the matter, seeking a particular place for it in the world; he thought it was the wrong approach, and instead, it should be searched within us, in our original pure nature, our original face as it were, before God:

Some hold one opinion, others another, yet all agree that in paradise were planted the tree of life and the tree of knowledge which distinguishes good and evil, together with other trees, full of strength, full of life-giving powers, breathing and rational creatures. Wherefore one concludes that the real paradise cannot be considered earthly, nor planted in any particular spot, but situated in the principle part of our nature, which is animated and vivified by the virtues of the soul and the infusion of the spirit of God.[2]

This would then suggest that the tree of knowledge of good and evil is itself in us, even as the tree of life could be said to be found (or once was found) within. When many read that God told us not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, confusion reigns: they believe this means God wanted us to be ignorant, to not know the truth. But that is the furthest from God’s intention; rather, he did not want us to establish in ourselves a discursive will which acts contrary to the purity of our true nature, but rather, through guesswork founded upon ignorance itself. Ignorance brings to us the contamination of evil, the destructive forces which dismantle the good, including the good of our intellect, so that it is able to add evil to the good and so establish a fruit which is both good and evil; it is good because some aspect of the good remains with it, but it is also evil for the rot and decay which ferments on top of that good.

We are said to eat of the fruit of good and evil when we do evil; for it still keeps some good with it while the evil takes that good and corrupts it. That seeds of that fruit then enter us, and are able to slowly develop within us, becoming more places where the effects of evil are seen to be eating away at us from within. We are cast out of paradise because we accept the rot which destroys the good within ourselves.

It can be asked,  what was the first action, what was the first bite into the fruit of the tree of good and evil? It is the taking on desire for some external good, some external lesser good, planting it in the place of a greater good within us, creating as it were, a lessening of the good. So it is not that what was taken in and accepted should itself be said to be evil as much as it was taking up a good and placing it where it will no longer serve as a good: just like water is good, but placed in a gas tank, it can end up harming a car. What appears good to us, for it is indeed good, became an object of our inordinate desire, and so we attached ourselves to it, making it a part of us, hurting it and ourselves in the process.  Thus, St. Gregory of Nyssa, explained the tree of knowledge of good and evil by pointing out that the fruit was both good and evil in a way which the fullness of the good was lost:

Now since the majority of men judge the good to lie in that which gratifies the senses, and there is a certain identity of name between that which is, and that which appears to be “good,”— for this reason that desire which arises towards what is evil, as though towards good, is called by Scripture “the knowledge of good and evil;” “knowledge,” as we have said, expressing a certain mixed disposition. It speaks of the fruit of the forbidden tree not as a thing absolutely evil (because it is decked with good), nor as a thing purely good (because evil is latent in it), but as compounded of both, and declares that the tasting of it brings to death those who touch it; almost proclaiming aloud the doctrine that the very actual good is in its nature simple and uniform, alien from all duplicity or conjunction with its opposite, while evil is many-coloured and fairly adorned, being esteemed to be one thing and revealed by experience as another, the knowledge of which (that is, its reception by experience) is the beginning and antecedent of death and destruction.[3]

Following St. Gregory of Nyssa, we can then say it was the good of material being, the pleasure of pure material being apart from the holistic goodness of true being which is material and spiritual in one, that turned us away from paradise and into the hellish existence where our goodness found itself mixed with what was evil for ourselves. Desire for some good in the world apart from the holistic good means it is a lesser good for us, a lesser good which establishes a ground for evil to thrive in accordance to the difference between the good we should have ordered ourselves to and the good which we accepted for ourselves. That difference is turned to rot, turned to the garbage of being, becoming the fuel of the fire of hell.

And yet, despite the combination of good and evil in our actions, the goodness which remains allows us to continue to follow after and seek the good. The fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, with its corrupting influence upon us hindered our potentiality, and so makes us ontologically wounded, but it has not entirely destroyed the goodness within. We have established a dividing wall within ourselves which covers up our inner being; the wall is established in and through the decomposition of our being through our sin, where the waste product of ourselves become fuel for the hellish fire within.  While we can, as it were, put out the fire, and so get rid of the wall, we will find that we have suffered a great loss: because we have let ourselves be destroyed from within, we have become less than what we should be. We cannot restore that which we have destroyed.  This is where grace comes in; not only is it able to help us clear out the trash of sin, but it will also fill in what we have lost, and allow us to find ourselves once again in paradise. Thus, St. Ambrose explained how Christ brings us back to paradise. First, Jesus came looking for us in the incarnation, where he emptied himself in the assumption of human nature so that he could come to us where we were at and help us turn around :

For, when the human race, in the person of Adam and Eve, was excluded from paradise and banished to a little town, she began wandering here and there, tracing her misguided steps without any delight. But in His own good time the Lord Jesus emptied Himself that He might take upon Himself this state of exile and bring back the soul to her former state of grace. When He found her, and she had retraced her devious course of error, He called her back to paradise, as the Gospel reading explains. [4]

But, Ambrose continued,  Jesus had to counteract the harm of our fall from grace, so that we can be led to paradise and from paradise, to our transcendent destiny with God:

Later, the words of eternal life are explained there in the garden where the Lord even allowed Himself to be seized, as John the Evangelist writes, signifying that our soul, or rather, human nature, after the bonds of error are loosed, returns through Christ to the place from which in Adam she was expelled. Therefore, even to the thief who confessed his guilt it was said: ‘Amen I say to thee, this day thou  shalt be with me in paradise.’ He had said: ‘Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.’ In answering him, Christ did not speak of His kingdom, yet for this reason [He said]: ‘This day thou shalt be with me in paradise,’ that what was lost should first be formed anew, and then must be increased. Thus a way is provided through paradise to the kingdom, not through the kingdom to paradise.[5]

If, then, we understand the text of Genesis spiritually, we find we are ourselves to be both Adam and Eve, as one person who is both, partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, taking forth some lesser good for ourselves, losing our purity until at last we see we have been cast out of paradise and in turn entered the trash heap as the basis of our normal day to day existence. Christ has come to overcome the harm which we have embraced, to cleanse us from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil which we have seeded within; he offers us himself as our seed, as the seed of the tree of life, a seed which can grow in us and overcome any and all evil within us. But we need to take in that seed; we need to accept it, water it, let it grow, until at last we, like Mary, are able to be said to give birth to Christ within us and find ourselves among the saved.

[Image: Cairo Street by Henry Karlson]


 

[1] Origen, “Homily I on Genesis” in Origen: Homilies on Genesis and Exodus. Trans, Ronald E. Heine (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1981), 63.

[2] St. Ambrose, Letter to Sabinus (Spring, 387), in Saint Ambrose: Letters. Trans. Sister Mary Melchior Beyenka, OP (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1954), 130.

[3] St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man in NPNF2(5): 410.

[4] St. Ambrose, Letter to Horontianus, in Saint Ambrose: Letters. Trans. Sister Mary Melchior Beyenka, OP (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1954), 242.

[5] Ibid., 243-4.

 

 

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