Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 9a: Into the Wasteland

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Imagine that you are standing in a flat, empty desert. Imagine that you are lost. You turn in circles, looking every direction for some clue of where to go, but all you can see is the same horizon. There is nothing else but sand, a changing wind, and the heat of the sun. Imagine for a moment that this place is all that there is. As much as you would like to believe there is somewhere else to be, somewhere else to travel to, deep down you know that this place—this wasteland—is the only real place there is. It is the place where you live; it is the place where you will die.

It need not be a desert. Imagine being adrift in a tiny boat amidst the vast ocean. Again, there is no place to go, nowhere else to be. Or, imagine walking across an endless sheet of ice while a cold snowy wind steadily forces you to sit, to lie down, to sleep.

Alright, I know, these are not comfortable images. In fact, most of our lives are spent avoiding such experiences. It seems that everything in our being will resist ending up in places like those described. It is especially true if we speak of the psyche—the desert being symbolic of that great thing we fear: nonexistence, meaninglessness, emptiness. However, as the story of Adam and Eve now shifts, I will show that, not only is the wasteland experience useful for personal growth, I believe it is necessary for deepening a relationship with God.

The Story

Mortality was becoming a much closer companion for Adam. He had been running across the empty desert in pursuit of Samael, the serpent. His body was weakening, his breathing was strained, and he felt he was nearer and nearer to the dust. However, he was able to pick himself up every time he saw the mark of the serpent’s path in the sand. Growling, he quickened his pace. Death would indeed find him there in that awful place, but he would not surrender his last breath until Samael was dead first.

The serpent was returning to the old garden no doubt, and though Adam could see the valley in the distance, it never seemed to get any closer. Even the thunderstorm that had loomed ominously there for so long was retreating back. That being said, a strong wind was blowing towards Adam, making it that much harder to trudge through the hot sand.

Eventually, however, the place defeated him, and he collapsed. He lay there for a while, his face pressed against the sand, his eyes fluttering shut. But, gasping, he pushed himself up and sat. He took a deep breath and wearily looked towards the valley. It was still so far away. He didn’t remember it being so far. Was it even truly there? He glanced back towards the forest that he came from. It too was hardly in sight; it may have just been a mirage. He then scanned the whole desert around him, following the full circle of the horizon. What a terrifyingly empty land. This was it. This was life. The garden was but a dream; the forest was but a delusion. The wasteland—it was the real world. But why? Why was the wasteland real? Why was it that those beautiful places were seemingly lies? Was this life’s inevitable end? Was life’s ultimate purpose to discover that there actually was no purpose?

Adam turned his attention back to the trail of the snake. What was the point of going on? What would killing Samael accomplish in the grand scheme of things? If Adam did kill him, Adam too would die soon enough. If Adam did not kill the serpent, Adam would die anyway. Even if there was more to human existence—some progeny to protect from the evils of the sly creature—they would die too. Nothing, it appeared, lasted forever. Everything was going to die. So…what was the point of any of it? Why did the Creator make it this way? Why did the Creator make anything? Was there even a Creator at all? Or was there just…this desert. Did humankind just appear there? Did humankind even exist? What was worse, though, was that there were absolutely no answers to these questions.

Adam slowly let himself lay back down, and he gazed upon the blue sky. After a moment, he whispered, “Where are you? Where are you?” He then jumped to his feet and shouted, “WHERE ARE YOU?” Immediately thereafter, he fell to his knees weeping. “Where are you? Why have you not come? Why have you not spoken? Why do you not speak at all? Why have you done nothing?”

He fell back into a seated position and sobbed. He understood. There was no Creator. There was no one who cared about what happened to him. And if there was no Creator, there was no purpose to life. There was no purpose to being. Existence—it was an absurd, empty, meaningless thing. Adam scanned the whole of the desert one more time. Into Death’s maw it seemed. Sighing, Adam lay back down and closed his eyes.

#

Eve didn’t fare any better than Adam. She chased his footprints in the sand, but she didn’t appear to be getting any closer to him. Likewise, she was eventually brought to her knees in tears. The same questions that plagued Adam ran through her mind over and over again. It was too much. However, unlike Adam, she did get responses to her questions. The nagging Lilith went with her, and she wouldn’t stop talking.

“The Creator doesn’t care about you,” Lilith was saying. “Adam doesn’t care about you either.”

“There is still something to hope for,” Eve replied.

“Hope?” Lilith snickered. “Hope is a pointless waste of human activity. Hope lies in the future; in this very moment, the future does not exist. There is nothing more uncertain than what might come to be. Anything to hope in would be a greater delusion than every carnal pleasure. Hope is merely a daydream, an idea, an abstract thought. What reason have you to wish for something that will not be?”

“You do not know that!”

“Neither do you!” Lilith gave an exasperated sigh. “Eve, I am only trying to protect you. Hope is a dangerous thing. It is better to concern yourself with the present moment. It is better to act in response to the current situation, and this…this place is not for you. Escape this wasteland while you still can.”

Eve shook her head and stood up. “I must find Adam.”

Lilith scowled and grabbed Eve’s arm. “You are a fool. There is nothing out here for you. Why do you persist? Your stubbornness will be your doom.”

Eve pulled her arm away. “A life without hope is a life without meaning.”

“Life is without meaning. You are nothing special. You have no inherent purpose, no destiny. In fact, you are free to do whatever you want. Hope, however, calls for a fate. There is no such thing!”

Eve nodded. “I am free. Therefore, I am free to choose whatever I want to do. I want to find Adam.” She began to walk again.

Lilith’s scowl became more enraged.

Eve then abruptly turned around and spoke boldly. “Adam told me that he could never see you, despite the fact that we were talking right in front of him. What if, Lilith…what if you are the illusion? What if you are only a figment of my imagination?”

Lilith’s expression softened; she appeared worried.

Noticing, Eve was more emboldened. “What if you are that empty thing? That purposeless creature hungering for some meaning? You are just a shadow, a wraith.”

“You have no idea what I am.”

“You are nothing.” Eve smiled. “You are not real.”

Suddenly, Lilith, her one eye burning with ferocity, lunged forward and grabbed Eve by the neck. She then lifted Eve off her feet and held her in the air. “I am very real!” Lilith threw Eve down and sent her rolling across the sand. “You cannot escape me, Eve! You are my slave!”

Eve coughed and tried to get back up, but, somehow, she felt too weak—too weak to rise at all. Even her vision was dimming. The last thing she saw, before blacking out, was Lilith’s dark figure looming over her.

#

Adam lay in the sand all throughout the day and into the night, staring at the sky. Clouds came and went, but come the darkness, the sky was as clear as ever, and the myriad of stars were glittering brightly. It was beautiful.

Though he lay still, Adam’s soul was suddenly lifted by a spirit of awe. He realized that he had never stopped to look at the stars in that way. Here was this stunning sight that was always there, and never did he pause to admire it. So magnificent, so majestic, so infinite. He then felt as if he was nothing more than the grains of sand that he lay upon. What was his life compared to the eternity of the heavens? The stars—the light—they just existed. He existed too. He existed with them—with the stars, with the sands, with the wind. Yet…he still felt alone…and abandoned. The sight of the firmament, as beautiful as it was at first, became overwhelming, and Adam did not want to face it.

Finally, he sat up and then rose to his feet. He turned and faced the distant valley of the dry garden. Much to his surprise, however, he found himself right at the edge of it. The cliffs on either side of him forming a gateway into the barren fields. How did that happen? How was something that was so far away now so close? What is more, the storm that had long hovered above the garden had abated too—if only for a moment, for the clouds still encircled the vale.

However dumbfounded he was, Adam took up his spear and walked forward into the valley. Though it was dark, he was guided by the light of the moon, which cast its surreal shadows over the rocks and the dunes. The place was so empty, so silent; only the wind funneling through the cliffs made a sound. The hollowness of the former garden was painful, eerie, sad. Adam even wept as he traversed it.

Eventually, he arrived at the center of the garden where stood the Tree of Knowledge, or what was left of it—a frail, dying shell of a living thing, so it appeared. But why was it the only thing still standing when all else had turned to dust? Why did this cursed thing still have to be? Angrily, Adam beat his fist against the trunk. “Damn you!” he shouted. “Damn you!” Groaning, he sat against the tree. “If I only I could change it all. If only I could reverse the deed. If only I could make it all right again.”

“Humanity,” said a hissing voice.

Adam jumped to his feet with his spear poised for attack.

“Despite all the power granted to them by their Creator, humans are powerless to truly accomplish anything worthwhile.”

Adam did not know where the voice was coming from, but it was, without a doubt, the serpent.

From the shadows, Samael continued, “What could you do, Adam, that would ultimately make anything better?”

“Stop hiding, you coward! Face me!”

“Fine!” The voice clearly came from the tree, and Adam turned just in time to see the snake slither down from the branches to coil near Adam’s feet. “What do you want to do?” he asked.

Adam raised his spear. “I will begin by slaying you.”

The serpent chuckled.

To be continued….

Next Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago-Dei – Part 9b: The Existential Crisis

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