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Fr. Joe Answers:
Thank you for your question. You ask: “What was the nature of Adam and Eve’s perfection? And is this the perfection we are trying to journey towards?”
The book of Genesis relates that “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). Adam and Eve are in the image of God in their capacity for love and companionship. Their nature is fulfilled in that they are in harmony with God and with all of creation.
They lose this harmony when they seek to “be like God” (Gen 3:5). By eating the forbidden fruit, they deny their human nature and seek to usurp God’s power. This results in alienation and disharmony. Adam and Eve find themselves at odds with nature, with their own bodies, with each other, and with God. The gift of what they had been is only apparent when they have lost it and feel its absence. It is in this way alone that they achieve “knowledge over good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).
Couples in the first phases of being in love may find themselves reliving the experience of Adam and Eve. In their love for each other, they are willing to make great sacrifices to please one another. They experience the state of harmony and gracefulness we call romance. They are living in paradise. With time, however, ego begins to get in the way of their love. They begin, sometimes in subtle or even unconscious ways, to gain control of the relationship, to assert their own will rather than do what their partner seeks. The struggle for power becomes more important than their original love. Disillusionment, disharmony and even alienation follow. In seeking to become “like God”, they lose paradise.
Such couples may discover that if they are to continue to journey toward unity with each other, they must make a decision to place the other first, even when their will resists doing so. They discover, in words popularized by Marriage Encounter, that “love is not a feeling, but a decision.”
In our own lives, moments of “Eden” or “paradise” are possible but fleeting. Our own fulfillment lies in making a decision to love and serve God in the presence of those who are in need. In the words of the prayer Jesus taught us, we work to make God’s kingdom a reality “on earth as it is in heaven.”