Father Booth’s Weekly Reflection

God Steps In

Mankind has always needed a moral compass largely because of our fallen nature. Before the fall of man, God had given one explicit command to Adam, and through Adam to Eve: “The Lord God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die” (Gen 2:16-17). But what if God had given a second command to Adam and Eve? What if He had said ‘You shall wear durable clothing to protect yourselves from the elements and to protect your dignity: these clothes shall cover most of your bodies as fur, feathers, or scales cover the bodies of the beasts of field, the birds of the air, and the fish that swarm in the sea’? Such a reasonable command would have helped Adam and Eve, if they would have followed it, especially after their fall. Having fallen, their nakedness causes each of them shame, and they fashion for themselves loincloths made of fig leaves. Clearly these loincloths are impractical and insufficient. Eve’s fashion sense is deficient and Adam probably does not mind terribly. The loincloths might even have been his idea. Because they both lacked a sure and certain moral compass, God has to step in: “The Lord God made for the man and his wife garments of skin, with which he clothed them” (Gen 3:21).

In the case of the forbidden fruit and the fig leaf loincloths, Adam lacked courage. He did not protect his wife from the serpent’s deception or from Adam’s own objectification of Eve. In both cases Eve lacked discernment and judgment. Generations later, God has to step in again and specify a number of moral, didactic, and practical commandments, 613 of them, through the Law of Moses. Some might ask how anyone could be expected to adhere to over 600 laws. But then again, how many civil laws – local, state, and federal – are we subject to? It is hard to say, but it certainly many, many more than 613. That we recognize that numerous laws are necessary to constrain immoral behavior and to regulate a society testifies to our defective moral compasses and the fact that we have a multitude of law enforcement agencies confirms that testimony.

Why is all of this necessary? This is so because, like Adam, we lack the courage to do the right thing and because we lack the courage to correct and challenge immoral behavior. This is also so because we lack discernment and judgment much as Eve failed to exercise these virtues. Is it therefore necessary for laws to multiply? Likewise, do those writing our civil laws have the proper courage, discernment, and judgment to enact law after law on our behalf, or are they no better than Adam, Eve, you, or me? Sadly, our legislators are as fallen as we are, in many cases, much more so.

In any case, God stepped in again with Jesus. This time He did not multiply laws, but He clarified, amplified, and streamlined the Law of Moses. In fact, Jesus did not multiply commandments but went back to basics, distilling morality down to two fundamental commandments: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Mt 22:37-40). So, Adam’s lack of courage in the two preceding examples can be seen as a lack of love for God by not challenging the serpent’s lie and a lack of love for Eve by putting her life in jeopardy by allowing her to eat the forbidden fruit. He likewise showed a lack of love for God and Eve by objectifying her. Eve failed to love Adam when she doubted that the commandment about the fruit came from God and a lack of love for God by wanting to be God’s equal.

Love, properly understood, is thus the only commandment we need. The problem is that we struggle to love properly, wanting to place many limits on how and who we love. Jesus steps in to give us an example of how to love God and love our neighbors. He died for everyone so none of us can say that any of our neighbors is unworthy of our love. To show us how to love Jesus died carrying out the will of the Father so none of can say that the cost of following God’s will is too steep a price to pay.

—Fr Booth