The Bible is a wonderful Book because it is full of hidden treasure. The letter of Scripture may be translated from Oriental into Occidental forms of speech, but the rich glow of spiritual truth can be seen and felt only "between the lines," by the inner perception. Its prose, though not rhythmical, is really poetic. So long as rigidity of form, doctrine, and proof texts, as such, are in the mind, the beauty and inner plasticity of the Word is veiled.
The story of Eden, and of Adam and Eve, is a signal example of the wealth of the East in allegory and literary art. One vital truth, however, should be kept constantly in mind. The thing or principle symbolized is always vastly greater than the illustration or symbol. The imagery comes, not to destroy but to fulfill. The figurative words and phrases are only the tools of the artist, and are of no more lasting significance than the painter's brush or the sculptor's chisel. Think of the generations gone by, who have been taught to venerate the tools which have been placed in front of the divine masterpiece, and have thereby "died without the sight."
Before the full significance of the Edenic narrative can be interpreted, some knowledge of evolutionary and psychological processes is necessary. Creation no longer means something from nothing, but a process of unfoldment and sequence. From the letter of the account, the details are arbitrary and historic, but incoherent. By divine fiat the cosmos springs forth out of nothing. But notwithstanding this superficial appearance, Moses, or other early Biblical writers concerned, had a poetic vision or intuitive perception of the fundamental truth. This clear-sightedness stood in the place of scientific or technical acquirement.
Before taking up the tradition more in detail, we may note the later and broader philosophy of creative development. To some, evolution still means Darwinian materialism, but this has passed as any full and coherent evolutionary statement. Though of great value in its own domain, and as an entering wedge, it is only partial and incomplete. It is to science what literalism is to the Bible. Only does development become fully rounded and rational when it includes the psychical and spiritual depths of being. Rich ore does not usually lie upon the surface. Philosophical idealism shows the fallacy of the theory that sensation is the basis of all knowledge. Darwin's dictum, that "all potency is contained in matter," has long enough been held up as defining evolution by its dogmatic opponents. Were not Spencer, Drummond, Le Conte, Fisk, and a host of others entitled to be called evolutionists? Spiritual unfoldment, as normal, is as impossible to the materialist as to the dogmatist. The former deals only with the factors of sense, while the latter defines evolution by the same limited standard. "Men of straw" are easily knocked down. Kant gave a finishing touch to the doctrine that sensation forms the complete basis of knowledge, but his wonderful psychological analysis needed the crown and counterpart of the spiritual realm. Every man — and philosophers are no exception — receives his wages in the coin of his own realm. To disconnect matter, mind, and spirit, an essential and interrelated trinity, is to make each fragmentary and misleading.
Evolution when grasped in its full breadth is the handmaid of religion. Only an exclusive view of its lower side has made it seem atheistic, and like an enemy. On the other hand, an arbitrary religion of dogma, stripped of its vital relation to unfoldment, is equally misleading. If we insist upon breaking the beautiful sphere of truth into fragments, how can they be symmetrical?
The Fall, as an allegorical picture of an evolutionary boundary in human unfoldment, has been dealt with in two previous works by the writer ("The Symphony of life," chapter "From the Pre-Adamic to the Human," and "God's Image in Man," chapter "Evolution as a Key,") but the subject is so fundamental that in this connection a concise presentation seems necessary.
Though the creative story shadows forth, in allegory and metaphor, an order of sequence in general accord with modern cosmology, its primal purpose is portraiture of the nature of man. The curtain is lifted upon the drama of soul unfoldment. We turn outward and gaze into the past, when in reality its acts and scenes are within. It carries a dual significance, including the race, and also each individual unit. As the long physical history of the steps of human development is told again in the gestative processes of the antenatal body, so the Adamic nature and experience is evermore repeated. What a convincing proof of the solidarity of the race that its history is re-written in every member. Adam in Eden was a candidate for humanity. In the narrative there are two accounts of the creation of man, which are radically unlike. Rather the first was creating and the second forming. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." This is a picture of real man — what he is in essence. In a certain deep sense he was divine and complete from the beginning. God's image could not be essentially imperfect, even though imperfectly manifested. It is the manifestation which perceptibly advances.
The later account, in the second chapter reads: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground." The first was man, the child of God, and the second, the outward form. The first was God's likeness, really a part of himself, and the second, man's material instrument or embodiment. Scientific, philosophical, and religious systems, alike, have taken the garment of flesh for the man himself. When this clothing becomes unfit for further service, and is laid aside for new combinations, they say, "man is dead." This mistake has come down and received general installation. The form of dust represents the common opinion that man has had of himself. Is God made of dust, that it should be his image? Though "a living soul" in reality, when measured by his own consciousness he is an animated form of clay. The one important and all comprehensive lesson in life is the transfer of the self-consciousness from the seeming to the real. That is the "Jacob's ladder" which human understanding is to climb, step by step. All the experiences on this plane of life have this for their ultimate purpose. All the religions and "means of grace" are to this end. What is spiritual is primal, but in expression and consciousness the lower self comes first. The laws of growth, in order to be well understood, must be wrought in by experience. Nothing less than the friction of this educational life will deeply engrave upon human consciousness the one great lesson: I am not what I seem; I am spirit clothed upon.
The divine image is ever back of all degrees of personality which imperfectly represent it. Adam stands for the first and lowest in the order of humanized expression. His name defines a state of consciousness — a mistaking of the shadow for the substance — and all embodied souls pass through this zone in their development. When pre-Adamic man (man to be) becomes Adam, he enters the rudimentary class in humanity. What a step from the animal soul to the knowledge of good and evil. For the first time there is a glimpse of the moral law which hangs threateningly overhead. Before, he had no aspiration, but now he aims forward at a mark but continually misses it.
The story of human nature in Eden is independent of time, space, or locality. It is a passing vision of the universal order of development. Perfected animalhood can go no further in the Garden, and must emerge with a new faculty into the thorny field of wisdom by experience. The graduate of the lower order steps into the primary department of the higher. Seemingly a fall, really an infinite rise.
It is quite immaterial whether Moses or some other intuitive soul wrote the Edenic allegory. The particular human channel for Truth is incidental, even though the vision be a rare and significant one. We glance at man in the making, with an epitome of cosmic correspondences. Hebrew scholars inform us that that language has little tense significance. Its verb forms denote state or condition rather than time or circumstance. The translation is simple. Pre-Adamic man was a splendid creature and stood at the apex of his kingdom. With keen senses and fine physique, the color, odor, taste, and feeling of the Edenic paradise ministered to him completely. The Garden represents the utmost luxury and fullness of sensory enjoyment. Its occupant was innocent, irresponsible, and unmoral, being incapable of morality or immorality. His instinct was exact but every rational and spiritual faculty yet was latent. He was the full ripeness of one great evolutionary subdivision and was now ready to cross the line to the next. Behold the Garden with its wealth of delight for every sense! Nothing was wanting and no improvement possible. But at length satiety became ominous. Such was, or is, the Edenic paradise within man. But on an eventful day, the God-voice in the expanding soul became audible. From gestative slumber rationality emerged into the consciousness.
Infantile and stumbling reason now took the helm and mistakes became the rule. What a contrast with former unerring instinct! Trouble and friction everywhere! Was it not a great fall, and what an apparent basis for the creative tradition I But in reality, a limited and low-vaulted kingdom was exchanged for one of infinite possibilities. A quick transition, by the telling, but time is but a feeble factor in soul development. Millenniums may be required, merely for crossing a line. Eden was gone forever, but a great residuum of animalism was carried over. Unrest, discontent, the moral law, penalty, a sense of guilt, toil, and sweat, must be faced. How slow the progress and how slight the perception that all the obstacles were — and are to this day — educational advantages! Spiritual muscle is developed in the exercise of their removal.
Note again the rare and significant symbolism! Adam and Eve represent the intellectual and the spiritual, the rational and the intuitive, the masculine and the feminine elements in the human soul. These are in all souls, and sex is but superficial, but in general it marks a qualitive predominance of one of them, as indexed by outward expression. Adam came first in order, as the rational faculty being lower in rank comes earlier into manifestation. How true to evolution in the order of unfoldment! Some have rated the intuition as perfected instinct, or as its survival. But intuition being intelligent, with unlimited possibilities, properly comes after rationality.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was in the midst of the Garden of the inner self, and the voice, now audible, told man that the penalty for partaking of its fruit — moral discernment — would be death, that is, to his type. Not physical dissolution which already prevailed, but an end to native innocence, animal contentment, and sensuous fullness. The animal, pure and simple, went down. That grade of soul was lost with the discovery "as one of us, to know good and evil," and of a new and higher life. Spiritual perception was a fresh development and involved moral choice by contrast. Man was now to choose between the higher and lower, the lawful and the unlawful, and the seeming and the real. A little later in the narrative, Cain and Abel personify the two states which bring forth fruit in outward expression. The lower appears first in the natural order, but Cain was no longer an animal, for he was conscious of wrong.
To miss the mark (sin) is an experience, which, through penalty, is educational. To learn to choose the higher instead of the lower, constitutes salvation. During the slow unfoldment of the spiritual soul, struggle, pain, thorns, and thistles of every kind, are rank in the consciousness, and triumph and defeat alternate in the candidate for spiritual and ideal manhood. Life is a series of charges and retreats, but on the whole of increasing advances, at a price which makes spiritual values apparent. The lower is but the soil in which the higher takes root. This growth gains in breadth and grandeur, and comes from adverse conditions, overcome, outgrown, and left behind. The persistence of the substratum of animalism in man is shown by the outcroppings of selfishness, envy, strife, and war, which crowd human history. The animal nature, which was good in its own time, becomes an adversary if it emerges into rule during the human period. After it loses its rightful crown, its new position is only to serve.
Man's choice of the higher must be free, for if he were forced to take the higher road he would become an automaton. To wrestle with that lower selfhood which is typified or personified by the devil, is not only a duty but a privilege. "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil." (Matthew iv, 1.) "Led up of the Spirit" is significant. The temptation and fasting for forty days is a striking allegory of an inner period of great spiritual and moral development. Every soul has its wilderness. The recorded experience of Job, told in epic form, is a vivid object-lesson of the same principle made intensely dramatic by symbolism.
As the Adamic soul is left behind and the spiritual self becomes dominant, the ego is lifted to a higher outlook. The divine element in man is his Redeemer, his subjective Christ. It is the leaven which leavens the whole lump. All souls are candidates for such an incarnation.
The whole Edenic delineation, including the expulsion and the "flaming sword," is neither meaningless fiction, nor objective history, but a study in evolution, scientific as well as religious. It is a psychological and spiritual drama, put upon the stage and acted before us. The dominant animal makes his final adieu and rationality leaps to the front. The former has served well but now is deposed, while his successor is but an inexperienced child. How weak and helpless the babe of today appears when compared with the trained Arabian horse, and yet how far superior in rank, potentiality, and spiritual consciousness! When humanity burst its shell in the animal soul, the nucleus for divine capacity and unbounded ideals was in evidence. The very wealth of possibilities in store produced immediate discouragement. There was kindled an intense longing utterly incapable of near-by satisfaction. It was a great hunger with but a morsel of bread in sight.
The Eden of sensuous delight was no longer possible, and Adamic man — now human — was forced out, and this by no arbitrary divine ruling, but by the necessity of his own nature. But Eden was still a sweet recollection, and, for the present, what a contrast! While the children of Israel were on their way to the Promised Land, their longing turned back toward "the flesh pots of Egypt." Many today are trying to find the road back to Eden, believing that paradise still lies in that direction. Even awakened souls have some corresponding experience. They are so far behind their own ideals that there is deep discouragement over present attainment. Sometimes we look back to the ignorant innocence of childhood as a kind of Eden, which it well typifies. What a weight of responsibility comes with added years, greater knowledge and awareness of our spiritual potential!
The human mind is filled with new longings and glimpses of lofty ideals. But still man turns his face back toward the Garden-gate, and there flashes before him the "flame of a sword" which turns every way. He may indulge himself in animalism, but he cannot again be an animal. His dissatisfaction, which is really a hunger for the divine, he cannot interpret. It is impossible to go back, and to go forward means sweat and sorrow. Another paradise, far more pure and beautiful is potential, but it is so far ahead that it is hardly perceptible. The universal trend is forward, and to animalize himself after his rational incarnation is to "kick against the pricks." So the human cannot again go back to the animal, nor the animal to the vegetal, nor the vegetal to the mineral, nor the mineral to the elemental. A flaming sword is everywhere to the rearward and cuts off any retreat over the boundary of each kingdom. A material paradise is no more for human kind, for man is a spiritual being. Man must advance and the rough ground be tilled and cultivated. As a race, and as individuals, we must try not merely to get rid of thorns and thistles, but to transform them. The flaming sword is a provision of divine love. It would be easier for a man to go back to childhood than to parry the sword and scale the walls of the Garden. But even were it possible, the beauty would have dissolved. We have a universal warrant of progress. The sense of incompleteness as well as the drawing of spiritual ideals urges man onward. The kindly thorns in the rear now guard us against our seeming selves.
In the first chapter of Genesis, the Creator is called God. In the second chapter, divinity is represented in more concrete terms, as acting and having a voice, and is called the "Lord God," or, as rendered in the new American revision, "Jehovah God." It seems reasonable to interpret the latter as the inner voice or spiritual intuition in man. There is much involved in the story of the part taken by the serpent in the temptation. With ancient seers and mystics of the East, the term serpent is much employed in symbolism, and its significance is very elastic. In various ways and relations it may stand either for good or evil in high degree. Says Dr. Brewer in his "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable":
The serpent is emblematical:
(1) Of wisdom. "Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves." (Matt, x, 16.)
(2) Of subtility. "Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field." (Gen. iii, 1.)
The serpent is symbolical:
(i) Of deity, because, says Plutarch, "It feeds upon its own body; even so all things spring from God, and will be resolved into deity again."
(2) Of eternity, as a corollary of the former. It is represented as forming a circle and holding its tail in its mouth.
(3) Of renovation. It is said that the serpent, when it is old, has the power of growing young again by casting its slough, which is done by squeezing itself between two rocks.
(4) Of guardian spirits. It was thus employed by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and not unfrequently the figure of a serpent was depicted on their altars.
Among the ancient Greeks serpents were fabled to be able to foresee future events. "Their ears have been serpent-licked," was said of augurs.
Besides figuring in Christian art as the tempter in Eden, "the old serpent" is a general name for Satan, or the adversary. In mystic lore the serpent rampant symbolizes the lower human passions, and propensities, while in the form of a ring, with its tail in its mouth, it represented both wisdom and eternity, because eternity has neither beginning nor end.
The account in Genesis clearly makes the serpent symbolic of wisdom, and does not indicate that it included malignity. In fact, it appears that the prophecy of the serpent as to the result of disobedience turned out to be true. Though it was death to the animal type of being, which was ready to die, “their eyes were opened," and they became as "God, knowing good and evil." This prediction, and its fulfillment, exactly described the great evolutionary transition which was both natural and necessary. Development is couched in spiritual terms. The ultimate end to be worked out by this disobedience was, and is, beneficent. The serpent evidently means mystical wisdom, which, though symbolically personified, came into the mind of Eve, who stands for the intuition or spiritual perception. There was no disobedience to God, the Unchangeable, because the whole transaction was in accord with his law of progress which was eternally ordained. Stated in plain terms the great upward step came from wisdom through Eve, or spiritual insight. This being quicker to perceive than the intellectual — or Adam — leads in the new departure. Though in the order of outward manifestation Adam came first, the intuitive faculty — Eve — outranks him and is the natural leader. "The first shall be last and the last, first." The voice of warning against the new departure should not be indentified with God, the Creator, as used in the first chapter. It seems to represent the doom of a type — the animal —that was about to lose its supremacy and go down. It was an instinctive cry which was personified to make it more distinct. In an Oriental book, where symbolism makes animals talk, and trees "clap their hands," any great principle might well be represented as having a voice. If you advance so as to discern good and evil, you shall die as a dominant order. You evermore will be subordinate. Without pressing symbolism too far, it seems as if this interpretation, in general, tends to reconcile evolution, religion, science, and psychology. A wholesome "divine discontent” characterizes unfolding spiritual beings, but we may rejoice in being out of and beyond the Garden. Unending aspiration is what is fitting. We should be continually "forgetting the things which are behind." It is unprofitable to look back. The experience of Lot's wife has a wide significance. Life from the lower side is an unending paradox, insoluble until interpreted from the higher point of view.
The ladder, the steps of which stretch up before us, leads from the Adamic to the Christ consciousness. The reactions of life will not permit the soul to be long inert. Adam is not to be condemned but used as a base. In view of the necessity, orderly place, and potential goodness of the Fall, what a radical mistake to count it as a human calamity! It is an integral part of the divine plan that man should discover the secret of his own being, in order that he may work his way Godward. But it was necessary that he should sojourn in Eden until he came into possession of his spiritual faculties.
Conventional religious systems are based upon the idea of repair instead of development. "The scheme of salvation" was formulated when the Fall was taken to be literal history, and the Garden a spiritual paradise. Dogma pre-supposes "original holiness" and a subsequent failure of God's first plan. Verily, it is literalism and not criticism which unwittingly mars the sacred Book. The implication is that God's work in human creation was so disappointing that Jesus must go between and shield the "image" from him who made it. Is it a wonder that human salvation drags while the Heavenly Father is thrown into an eclipse?
If the church is to "win souls" it must modify its worn-out official formularies and lift its consciousness to the level of truth. The whole story of the Fall is a beautiful allegory, filled with evolutionary, psychical, and spiritual significance, and it honors the sacred literature. God's plan and work were eternally perfect and needed no repairs or anxious afterthought. It only remains for man to cooperate, looking not backward to the old sensuous Eden, but inward and forward to a spiritual paradise to be set up in the recesses of his own being, or as defined by Jesus: "The kingdom of heaven is within you." If the corner-stone of the former theologies — the repair of a literal Fall — has visibly crumbled, why not find the unchangeable Rock of Truth and build upon that?