Knowledge from a Tree

I’ve often taken issue with the fact that the downfall of humanity, according to the Bible, was the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Not hatred or envy or selfishness or pride, but knowledge. Really? No wonder Christians have a reputation for being stubborn and outdated.

Not too long ago, while mulling over this quandary, a new thought occurred to me: Knowledge wasn’t the problem. The problem was the tree.

In the days before sin, God walked in the garden with the creatures He had created. After they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve recognized the sound of their Creator’s footsteps. His gait was familiar to them. It was within their power to speak with God Himself, the source of all wisdom and knowledge, as dear children. Even their own minds bore His likeness.

Could they not have asked Him anything they desired? Would He not have taught them, gently and in order, in a way that their still-growing minds could comprehend without breaking? Would He not have led them to maturity in time?

Yet when they desired knowledge, the first people did not seek it at its source. They did not even rely upon their own God-breathed intuition. They listened to an animal. They ate from a plant. They acquired their knowledge secondhand. It was natural that they should desire wisdom and to be like God–God designed them to be like Him (Genesis 1:26). But it was a mistake for them to seek knowledge from a tree and a serpent when the counsel of the Maker Himself was theirs for the asking.

I wonder sometimes if this is part of why our modern world feels so disorderly, in spite of unprecedented access to the collective understanding of our race. The internet in particular is a spectacular tool for learning. But we have grown so used to Google searches and backlit answers, we are so overwhelmed by arguments and counterarguments and two thousand versions of the secret to a better life, that perhaps we are forgetting how to analyze and to listen.

I once saw a friend turn away from a meteor shower to look up the size of meteors on his smartphone, killing his night vision for the next several minutes. How many times have I felt unwell and looked up symptoms on WebMD, ignoring my body’s own knowledge of its trouble, only to come away with confusion and fear that only a hefty doctor’s bill could placate?I do not mean to say that this kind of thing is sinful, but it does not sit well in my spirit. There is disorder in it. We trust doctors and preachers and robots and salesmen, but we do not trust ourselves. Certainly we do not trust God.

I believe that the human race was designed to be marvelously bright and quick and curious. But I also believe that we were designed to have access to a higher source of knowledge and wisdom than this mortal world can offer.

Call it a New Age streak or world-weariness or common sense, but I think we could learn a lot from closing our eyes and turning our phones facedown and re-training ourselves to listen when we pray–the way small children listen before they “know better” than to expect a response. Perhaps it’s time we stopped hanging our hopes on things so much smaller than us.

God Like Water

I do not know if anyone else here grew up with a mom who blamed every ailment on the need to drink more water, but I am sure I am not the only one who still has to make a conscious effort to down those eight glasses per day. Here’s the kicker with water intake: You can’t marathon it. You can’t drink hundreds of ounces over the weekend and expect that to carry you through a week of coffee and sodas. Hydration is a routine, a lifestyle.

A couple months ago, it came to me during prayer that perhaps God is also like water in this very practical sense. I do not expect to stay hydrated this week just because I met my water quota last week. But how often do I insist that I’ve prayed and read my Bible and I still can’t sense God in my situation–when in truth it has been three or four or ten days since I sought Him out?

This new perspective did not come to me as a judgment on my inconsistency, but rather a breath of relief, a gentler answer to my questions than I could have hoped. I am quick to blame bouts of shaky faith on huge, unrealized mistakes on my end, or to question the flavor of God’s goodness by attributing my struggles to “tests and trials.” Yet how many difficulties of faith might be solved as simply as childhood headaches and nausea on hot days when held up to the mom-test: “Well, have you had any water today?”

The nourishment we find in God is not a treat but an essential, as vital to the spirit as water is to the body. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice continually, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I do not think that this verse commands us to drop everything and cloister ourselves to seek and pray. It calls us to approach our daily lives in a new way.

When I fall victim to the nagging headaches and scratchy skin of chronic dehydration, I can’t remedy the problem by chugging a couple gallons of water over the course of an afternoon. I drink a glass. And then another glass. And the next day I do it again, until those absent-minded refills are not a health goal but a habit.

In the same way, finding peace in God has less to do with long-winded prayers and hour-long study sessions than with little sips of His grace throughout the day, every day. The habit is formed in the breaths of thanks, the nods to His presence, whispers and meditations between daydreams and heartbeats. Few things change a life like redefining the ordinary.

Faulkner and Something Bigger

If you are a writerly sort of a person, or an artsy sort of person, or even a particularly thoughtful sort of person, and you have not read the author William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize speech, then stop right now. Here is the link. It will take you two minutes.

Faulkner gave that speech in 1950. Nations were living in the aftermath of the two most horrendous wars the world had ever seen. The first atomic bombs had leveled cities just five years before. The Cold War threatened an uneasy “peace.” And people were afraid.

“Our tragedy today,” Faulker said, “is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained that we can even bear it.” But even as we bear it, it takes its toll on our hearts. Fear is distracting. Nothing steals attention from life, from the spirit, like brute survival.

The thing I loved about this speech when I first read it in college is that Faulkner, literary heavyweight that he was, believed in something bigger. He believed during an age that made it popular to believe in nothing. Faulkner said of the writers of his time, “He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope . . . He writes not of the heart but of the glands.” This statement, while of course not universally true, describes a hefty portion of the art and literature produced in the past several decades. Much literature (including film, television, etc.) seems to veer into one of two categories: either “Life is hard and sad and nobody understands it”–as though any person needed a story to tell them that–or else “Life is short and happiness is all that matters,” a neat little message that dissolves as quickly as a donut.

Art has, or can have, a greater purpose than merely to reflect the surface of our lives, the ordinariness of fear and stale habitual pleasures. Perhaps that is why so-called speculative fiction, with its wizards and gods and superheroes, captures the imagination and floods the market despite every academic stigma against it. People are starving for something bigger than the workday and the news, politics and diets and fads. Writing can be to life what the Hubble is to the iPhone camera. Yes, the coffee is cold and the news is frightening, but look! Look at this universe, so huge, and so brimming with lights.

For myself, I stand with Faulkner when he says, “It is [the writer’s] privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.” This is not a matter of forcing happy endings but rather acknowledging that real life is bigger than the world we experience with our senses, just as the universe is bigger than this one planet. It is not a matter of making ourselves feel small but of remembering that we are a part of something vast. It is a reason to take heart. So take heart: You are a part of something bigger.

Well and Welcome

Well. I had no idea this blog was still visible to the outside. I thought I made it private a long time ago, allowing it to lie dormant until I could commit to posting once a week or so. Apparently that notion, like those once-a-week posts, was imaginary.

And some of you still follow? Is that true? You are either loyal or in need of a spring cleaning, but either way, I am grateful for you.

A long time ago, when I was very sad, I used to write about my sadness. I kept personal blogs. (Tumblr, mostly. I was one of the only text-posters I knew, bless my heart.) Those writings were neurotic and self-indulgent, but they helped me. And more importantly, they helped other people. A few. A few who read and said “me too.”

I can think of a lot of reasons never to post anything to the internet again. But I can also think of at least one reason not to stop, or at least not to stop completely: Maybe, once in a while, something I write can make somebody else feel less alone.

And that’s why I’m still here, more or less.

If my writing could be like anything in the world, I would want it to be like a window to let the light in. I have always wanted that, but I do not know how to apply the idea in any kind of ordinary sense. So I go, as usual, mostly planless into this next generation of blogging. Welcome aboard?

On God and life and starstuff.


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