'The Second Tree of Paradise'

The following is the first in a five-part series.

By Dan Valenti

Scripture and the teachings of the Church proclaim that God is mercy and faithfulness and that from His infinite perfection and blessedness, in an act of total goodness, He created us to share in His blessed life.

His desire is that we be like Him, filled with mercy, faithfulness and abiding goodness. God draws close to us, so much so that as we live His "goodness" and "mercy," we proclaim His faithfulness as one and enduring. The beauty is that as God's creation, we are equipped with the capacity to faithfully receive and transmit limitless mercy.

This is perhaps the most important spiritual realization to achieve during Lent, for that is the key to self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others. Sin has no chance in the light of this goodness. What a wonder, this inherent goodness is, the supplied software of corporeal life, included free with the package.

Hold a flashlight behind your hands, and you will see the red of the life-giving blood coursing through your fingertips in an incomprehensibly complicated network of connections. Even the simplest organisms possess mind-boggling complexity and a hierarchy of convolution. You can, if you are curious enough, hear physicists declare that subatomic particles are so minute that the relative "distance" between them inside of individual molecules is analogous to the expanse that separates stars within a galaxy.

The Equations of God
The least bit of reflection reveals that we have not found, cannot find, and never will find an ultimate explanation for the wonder and mystery of life that does not refer to God. Theoretical physicists speculate on the discovery of a Unified Field Theory, a Theory of Everything that would be able to account for every object and force in the universe - literally all the physical constants of nature, the fundamental relationships between matter and energy, and including even such metaphysical concepts as the nature of time and the existence of other dimensions. Is this a scientific attempt to discover God?

Albert Einstein spent the last 20 years of his life trying to work out the equations for a Theory of Everything, and the work continues to this day. If science succeeds, the Unified Field can only end up being one thing: a mathematical understanding of God. If this hidden Divine Equation is ever discovered, it will have to account for human behavior and therefore human nature - virtue, for instance, and the precise makeup of love. Any formula that leaves out consciousness and awareness will remain incomplete.

As staggering as life is in its physical structures and metaphysical capacities, it has an even more astonishing equivalent in the spiritual realm - namely, the human craving for love. Where does it come from, and how do we account for divinity's satisfaction of that hard-wired human desire? Where is the science that will explain the supernatural capability to extend that love throughout the universe? Love - mercy's other name, as Pope John Paul epigrammatically put it - is unlike any material substance. The more you give it away, the more you have of it.

Singing Forever
To explore the nature of God is to examine the characteristics of love. To do this is to always be one small step from self-obliteration, not a suicide of despair but a self-sacrifice of joy wherein the boundaries of ego melt away and consciousness extends everywhere, to everything, in all directions. This is the "death" of self that Jesus so often talks about in the New Testament. The person who tries to save her life dies, He tells us, and the one who loses his life will live. Someday, there may be a set of equations that explains this odd notion. For now, we resort to words, inadequate as they may be.

I think here of the stanza of deceptively simple verse that begins St. Faustina's Notebook II, with its Psalm-like beginning:

The mercy of the Lord I will sing forever,
Before all the people I will sing it,
For it is God's greatest attribute
And for us an unending miracle. (Diary of St. Faustina, 522)

In "forever," St. Faustina alludes to the infinite. How can one "sing forever" except that one lives forever? And how does one forever live in an earth-bound existence that with certainty will end in death? This strange, new life that's capable of singing (doing anything, actually) "forever" must be unlike the present life we know on earth.

Judging by the poet's juxtaposition of words, we can safely link the immortality of "forever" with the "unending miracle" of divinity's "greatest attribute," which is mercy. If God is omnipresent, mercy, which is goodness generally and love specifically, must then be the actual fabric of the universe (what John means in his famous line, "God is love"). We can "sing forever," and "be forever" through the exercise of this goodness and love, which is our "godness." Each of us has this capability.

God's Grand Regret
In our capacity as transformers of and transmitters for Divine Mercy, though, we have a big problem. Our connections to God aren't operating well. In neurological terms, our synapses have snapped. In electrical terms, someone pulled the plug. That "someone" would be Adam and Eve, causing our perfect goodness to go dark. In computer terms, evil used Adam and Eve as passwords to hack the network, and we crashed.

Eve picked the apple, took a bite, and gave it to Adam, who did the same. The worm turned. Paradise lost.

Things got so bad that God actually regretted the mistake He had made in creating humans in the first place. The Sixth Chapter of Genesis has some of the most startling words in the Bible:

God saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that the thoughts in his heart fashioned nothing but wickedness all day long. God regretted having made man on earth, and His heart grieved. "I will rid the earth's face of man, my own creation," God said, " ... for I regret having made [him]" (Gn 6: 5-8).

These are hard words to ponder. They point out the depth of God's disappointment at what Adam and Eve had chosen. He so regretted what He had done that He wanted to undo it. God seems to be admitting that He made a mistake. Let that sink in for a moment.

Booted Out, then Booted Up
Of course, God didn't wipe the man off the face of the earth. He did, however, come close. Genesis tells of a great flood caused by God in which only Noah, his family, and the animals of the earth were saved. All other life was wiped out. Did God lose his mind to a fit of vengeance and anger? Did he violate the moral law against killing? The answer is "no" but to see that we must extract meaning from the stories of Eden and the Great Flood by considering their figurative meaning. A literal reading of these two great events would reduce them to caricatures and rob them of significance and essence.

With the flood, we have the story of mankind rebounding. It does so after the great cataclysm. As the floodwaters receded, Noah, his family, and the animals get out of the ark and start over again. The earth with all its creatures is repopulated after the great disaster, one, incidentally, that science accepts as actual based on geologic evidence. Since floodwaters waned, the unfolding of man's history has been that of his crashed nature being "booted up" after being booted out of Eden.

But how are we to understand the fall of mankind?

Part two will look at the Garden of Eden and the Great Flood stories from Genesis in light of Divine Mercy.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online.

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