Return to the Garden- How Every Choice Matters
Our modern world is plagued with a moral crisis that is unraveling our societal stability little by little, day by day. This problem is not unique to the modern world, it is a problem which mankind has been dealing with since Adam and Eve fell from grace in the garden. The fundamental changing of our relationship with God and creation set about a turn of events that we struggle with to this day. In the garden, Adam and Eve turned inward on themselves, embracing a selfishness and pride that caused a rift not just between themselves and God, but within themselves. In analyzing our moral state, it becomes clear that a disconnect within ourselves is at the root of our culture of death and the means of repairing this culture is by understanding our corporeal and immaterial make up and embracing a path of return toward the good in which we were created.
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis, 1:26 RSV). From the moment of creation man was imprinted with an image of the Triune God. Unlike the rest of creation, mankind was neither purely corporeal, nor purely immaterial. Instead mankind was made to inhabit this physical world in a unique way; carrying the image of God. This corporeal and spiritual joining is a unique part of creation found only in man. It is what makes us who we are, and unfortunately a rupture in the balance of our relationship between rational will and our physical emotions is what has led to both our fracture with God and with each other. This fracture is the fruit of a prideful view of self. As Adam and Eve chose their own knowledge and feelings over God’s command, so to lies the base for all our sins.
Through the fall, the relationship between man and women was changed forever. This fracture ripples through all human relationships since that time. “An adversarial stance develops between the two, which frequently plays out as domination on the part of the man and manipulation on the part of the woman. Man and woman cannot be human without each other, yet each is tempted to selfishly strive for self promotion and self protection to the detriment of the other” (Healy, 36). When man and woman acknowledge their selfish weakness and strive to move toward charity toward each other; placing each others needs above their own, a move toward holiness occurs. Each small move in this direction moves mankind into the direction of redemption God desires for us.
God has revealed the truths in a Trinitarian way to us. He has written them on our hearts. He has revealed them through the Word, and it is demonstrated through the love that flows in charity when one follows the Word and God’s moral truth that is written on our hearts. The Theology of the Body returns us to a right ordering of things. It allows us to look outward at our spouse instead of inward on ourselves. When this perspective switches it becomes a catalyst for change in the very fabric of society; the family. As the family changes, so too does the culture. It is important for the world to be equipped with a real understanding of what it means to love sacrificially and to give oneself for another. In embracing this truth we can rescue the culture from its descent into despair, death and selfish ambition.
Today, we see tragedy around us. A disregard for human life, for the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized. We see a loathing of the goodness of God and a mockery of religion. At the same time we see a hunger for more, a culture that is searching for the good, but is looking in the wrong places. Too often our culture is looking for its fulfillment in the individual. This gravitates toward an over embellishment of the physical. We seek pleasure and comfort but our desires continue unappeased. The divorce between our spiritual lives and our corporeal lives leaves a gaping hole that can only be filled once we allow both to flourish in harmony together. Dismissal of the spiritual as unnecessary is the ultimate root of our suffering. We are not meant to be purely physical creatures, nor purely rational creatures. “In this perspective, ‘man is neither his body nor his soul,’ but the composite that results from the union of soul and body. And ‘since it is a matter of an animated body, we must not speak either of priority or posteriority; there is absolute simultaneity, since indeed the animated body coincides with the incarnate spirit.’The soul is doubtless the more noble part, by virtue of its spiritual nature created by God. But it is not a complete substance existing by itself” (Torell, 256). Indeed, it is a right order to the disconnect in our culture between body and soul that can bring about lasting and flourishing change in the human condition. Through an acknowledgment of this disconnect, and further discovery of a pathway to the good in a pursuit of holiness, man can find his way to the redemption of the world God has destined for us. In time, God will redeem us to a place like it was in the beginning in the garden, when man will be perfectly united soul and body with his Creator.
God in his great mercy, has imprinted on our hearts the truth which leads to Him and a pathway to holiness in which our purpose can be fulfilled. This is the reality of which we have come, and the destiny for which we endure. We must embrace this truth in our own families; turning from selfishness, and allowing ourselves to submit to our spouse in love and modeling of Christ and the Church. In this relationship, our “charity….rules over all the means of attaining holiness and gives life to these same means. It is charity which guides us to our final end. It is the love of God and the love of one's neighbor which points out the true disciple of Christ” (Lumen Gentium 42). Our families can act as the seed from which societal change can grow and flourish and mankind can begin to be redeemed into the creation from which we were designed. It is charity toward others which demonstrates discipleship of Christ, and this form of discipleship is the embodiment of the image of God in which our immaterial soul and physical body are perfectly displaying God’s goodness to the world. In looking around, we may see this as a near hopeless endeavor. How can the changing of my own views and interactions within my family make any difference in the culture at large? In reflecting on that question, I recall a statement from Cloud Atlas in which the 19th century abolitionist says, “[my] life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” (Mitchell, 528) It is with this attitude that we can assuredly make changes in our lives knowing that every turn toward the good results in one more drop in the ocean of holiness we are called to.
Healy, Mary. (2005). Men and women are from Eden: A study guide to John Paul II’s
theology of the body. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press.
The Holy Bible, (2006) Revised Standard Version Bible- Second Catholic Edition, Ignatius Press, San Francisco.
Mitchell, David. (2004) Cloud Atlas. London: Sceptre.
Second Vatican Council. (1965). Pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world. Gaudium et spes. <>.
Second Vatican Council. (1964). Dogmatic constitution on the Church. Lumen gentium.
Torrell, Jean-Pierre. (2003). Saint Thomas Aquinas, Volume 2: Spiritual master. Trans. Robert Royal. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.