We can learn much from studying the story of Adam and Eve, even if we view it as a metaphor for human nature. The second and third chapters of Genesis state:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. . . . And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 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.”
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. 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. 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.
And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, “Where art thou?” And he said, “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And he said, “Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” And the man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” And the Lord God said unto the woman, “What is this that thou hast done?” And the woman said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.’. . .
Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” . . . [T]he Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So, he drove out the man.
Adam and Eve’s original sin was pride, as demonstrated by their separating themselves from God by choosing to follow their own will instead of His expressed direction. The first sin was not simply eating some fruit that God told them not to eat; it was consciously deciding to disobey God’s direct instruction. Pride was the real original sin, and all other sins are simply various expressions of pride being repeated by individuals thereafter. Pride is the one universal sin.
In reality, the original sin was not committed by Adam and Eve but by Satan himself. Orthodox Christian theology teaches that the devil is a fallen angel. (Isaiah 14:12; Luke 10:18; Jude 1:6). It was Lucifer’s pride that caused him to fall, and he has been trying to destroy mankind with pride ever since.
The first effect of Adam and Eve’s transgression was shame or guilt, which immediately produced fear, so they hid themselves in the garden. They separated themselves from God. They became spiritually dead. Death is simply separation. Physical death is the separation of the spirit from the body. Likewise, spiritual death results from our separation from God. Sin is nothing more than an expression of our will that is contrary to God’s will, or pride. The simple act of electing to do something contrary to the will of God is an act of secession from Him. Consequently, all sin separates us from God and brings spiritual death. We each are responsible for our own spiritual death because sin is an expression of our own will in competition with God’s.
The main objective of mortal existence is to become unified with our Creator by developing our capacity to love. One of the most devastating effects of sin is that it impedes our ability to love God and our fellowmen. Our natural reaction when we do something that we know is wrong is to withdraw from God and others. So sin becomes our major obstacle to realizing our divine potential. Our guilt obstructs our ability to feel and to develop love. Repentance is how we accept the gift of God’s grace to free us from our guilt so we can love more fully and thus become more like God.
When we separate ourselves from God, we remove ourselves from his love and goodness. We cannot escape the reality of this loss and the truth that it was a natural consequence of our own action. We all are children of the Great Lawgiver, so we all inherently have a sense of justice. When we sin and separate ourselves from God, we naturally feel guilty. This guilt triggers our sense of justice that demands punishment. We now fear the punishment of God, so, in our warped minds, God becomes our enemy. If we feel that God is our enemy, then we naturally seek to hide and run away from him like Adam and Eve, resulting in even further separation with increasing guilt and fear. This false perception that God is our feared enemy generates animosity or enmity toward God.
Thus pride, by its very nature, immediately separates us from God, creating sin, guilt, fear, spiritual death, and enmity toward God. Thus pride, or the expression of our self-will over God’s will, creates a state of hostility between ourselves, God, and our fellowmen. Conversely, Christ is our great example. We learn that he was perfect because he always sought to do his father’s will and not his own.
Pride separates and isolates, while love attracts and unifies. Pride and love are polar opposites. At its heart, pride is competitive. It pits one’s self against others in a contest to prevail. The very nature of this dynamic leads to contempt and enmity, enmity to God and to our fellowmen. Everyone becomes our enemy. This enmity drives people away and exacerbates the loneliness we feel, creating the human condition of universal loneliness, which becomes the source of much of our sorrow and trouble.
Again, analyzing the fall of Adam and Eve helps us understand the source of this enmity toward others. The first actions taken by Adam and Eve when they felt the guilt of separating themselves from God were to cover up their shame and hide. Then, when they could not hide their guilt, they each attempted to divert their guilt onto someone else. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. We tend to follow this same pattern. None of us like feeling guilty, so we follow Adam and Eve’s example and try to suppress or hide our guilt, and then when that does not work, we project our guilt onto others.
We all have become very adept at hiding from our guilt. We do not want to face the consequences of our pride, our choice to rebel against God and pursue our own will. The image in the mirror is too ugly to look at. We cannot endure the terror of justice that our divine nature demands when confronted with our guilt, so we attempt to hide from our sins and pretend that they do not exist. We rationalize our behavior and pretend that we really didn’t do anything wrong. We may even subscribe to the idea of moral relativism. But this denial is simply our first defense against guilt. Psychologists generally refer to this futile attempt to avoid guilt as repression without realizing that it’s actually our natural defense against divine law. But sewing an apron out of fig leaves to cover our sins doesn’t work.
In spite of all our efforts to repress our guilt, we still subconsciously feel it gnawing away at our peace and emotional contentment. We know something is missing in our life. We miss God’s love when we choose to withdraw from him. Abandoning God to pursue our self-will leaves an emotional void in our lives. The greater our emotional deficiency, the more pride we have as we try to counterbalance the emptiness we feel with a deluded sense of significance. Thus, pride begets more pride, which in turn produces greater denial in an ever-deepening cycle leading us away from God and the peace and love we actually crave.
Because our first defense against the justice of God―denial―does not fully succeed, we naturally follow Adam and Eve’s second defense and project our guilt onto others. We pretend that the guilt we feel is not inside us but in someone else. We subconsciously project our guilt onto others in a futile attempt to remove it from ourselves. Once we disassociate ourselves from this guilt, we are then free to unleash our sense of justice and attack the person we have projected our own guilt onto. Consequently, the natural man needs other people, groups, ideas, political parties, or concepts that are outside himself that he can blame for his internal turmoil. This subconscious defense mechanism creates an us-versus-them mentality, with a world full of good guys battling bad guys, instead of the reality that we are all flawed and imperfect creatures who still have infinite worth because we are children of God.
Just as with denial, our effort to avoid the consequences of our guilt by projecting it onto others does not work. The source or root cause of our anger with other persons is generally found in our attempt to find justice by projecting our disapproval of our own guilt onto the other person. Our execution of justice on others is expressed in a variety of ways, such as resentment, criticism, prejudice, unrighteous dominion, abuse, et cetera. Sins against others are typically our misguided attempts to displace the justice that is due us onto others. Of course, this dysfunctional behavior is contrary to God’s will, so our separation from God continues to increase, producing a greater need for denial and someone else to project our anger onto.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where we all suffer from this same dysfunctional spiritual illness and are prone to attack others in an attempt to displace our own guilt. However, when we attack others, we believe that they will attack us. Consequently, we become defensive. Of course, because this whole dynamic is an attempt to eliminate our own guilt, we feel any potential attack on or criticism of us is unjustified. The stage is now set for this dysfunctional human interaction to perpetuate our separation from God and each other, exacerbating our unhappiness.
Whenever we separate ourselves from God, our guilt produces fear. Fear is the genesis of most, if not all, of our dysfunctional behavior. Paradoxically, love is the remedy for our spiritual and emotional illness and its symptoms of guilt and fear. The inappropriate behavior generated by our fears is typically both an expression of our pride and an appeal for love.
When the Lord established his covenant with the house of Israel through Moses, he directed that they should observe a Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) each year, which was to be the most solemn and sacred of all their religious holidays. On this day, two goats were selected. One was given the name of Jehovah and sacrificed, and the other became the scapegoat that carried all the sins of the people away into the wilderness where it was abandoned. In the ninth and tenth chapters of Hebrews, Paul explains how the annual observance of this sacred day symbolized Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. I find it instructive that the Lord used our natural tendency to project our sin and guilt onto others as a means to renew his covenant with Israel, in which God himself would bear our burdens and set us free. But how is this done?
The Savior provides the answer in his last public discourse, the apex of his teachings, when he taught that the first great commandment was to love God with all our hearts and the second great commandment was to love our neighbor as ourselves. The first great commandment is the antidote to the first sin: pride, or enmity toward God. The second great commandment, to love our neighbor, is the antidote for our sins (pride and enmity) against our fellowmen. (Matthew 22:37-40).
We all are deficient in love and cannot produce the love necessary to cure their own spiritual and emotional illness. It must come from an outside source. Just as a person dying from a poisonous snakebite needs an injection of antidote to counteract the deadly toxin, we likewise cannot personally create the antidote of love to save ourselves from the poison of pride that brings spiritual death. We need a source outside our contaminated souls to inject the lifesaving cure of love. Another person with their own deficiencies cannot fully administer it, though they can help. God is the only source to completely heal our soul. This is why grace is so fundamental to all Christian doctrine. As John taught, we love God because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19). Christ’s atonement is the ultimate expression of love, the means to bring salvation from this spiritual death, and the cure for societal discontent. The antidote to pride’s deadly poison is God’s healing, liberating, and life-giving love. Our personal, family, and societal well-being will improve as we open our hearts to receive the love God offers us.
Looking back, I can see how pride was the source of many of my difficulties in life, and am very grateful that God has shown me this weakness.