Temptation has struck again. It may have been a mere pinprick of desire. Or it may have stormed your soul, leaving you shaken to your core. Either way, you gave in and sinned.
An instinctive response, at least for many of us, is to instantly recoil in shame from God. For someone earnestly seeking to lead a holy life dedicated to God, it can be embarrassing to admit that serious temptation—to any sin—still lurks in your soul and sometimes succeeds in ensnaring you. But the worst temptation is the temptation to cut God out of the picture at precisely the moment we are in most need of salvation.
This could be one of great overlooked lessons of the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall. However one wants to characterize it—disobedience, gluttony, pride—we all know the sinful act at issue was the eating of the forbidden fruit.
But was that it?
The Genesis account, read in light of later Scripture, suggests Adam and Eve continued to err in their response to the first sin:
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. When they heard the sound of the Lord God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:7-8).
Consider what Adam and Eve did not do: they did not run to God, confessing their sin and begging forgiveness. Or failing to see God, they did not cry out for Him to show His face. No, Adam and Eve immediately hid themselves from God. In fact, the original Hebrew is a bit more specific: Adam and Eve concealed themselves from the presence of God, or the face of God, as the Douay-Rheims translation puts it.
When God finally confronts them He asks not about the eating of the forbidden fruit. It is, instead, their concealment that is first addressed.
The Lord God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you? (Genesis 3:9).
Adam responds with what some biblical commentators view as a faux confession—he confesses his nakedness, but not the actual sin that has been committed. Rather than confessing his sin before God Adam opts for concealment (Genesis 3:10).
Again, in His response God first questions the concealment. Only after that does He finally raise the issue of the sin itself: “Then God asked: ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat?’” (Genesis 3:11).
The story of Adam and Eve, at least as told in Genesis, is not one of redemption. The interrogatory between God and Adam ends with God issuing his sentence, culminating in their expulsion from Eden.
For us, the story is a lesson in what not to do—how not to respond to our sins, and, perhaps more importantly, our awareness of our inclination to sin, what Adam called nakedness and what today, in the technical language of moral theology, we call concupiscence.
For a model of what to do, we must look farther ahead in the Scriptures. In the story of David and his adultery with the wife of Uriah, we have just such a model. Consider David’s response after the prophet Nathan convicts him of his sin:
Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).
David not only admits that he has sinned. He keeps God in the equation: the sin does not exist in a vacuum. He does not say that he has sinned. He says that he has sinned against the Lord. His sin is immediately “put away” away by God—an indication of the sincerity of his repentance, according to St. Augustine.
David furthermore remains in a relationship with God in the aftermath of his sin. Though the sin itself has been wiped away, Nathan tells David that its temporal consequence has not been remitted: the child born to the wife of Uriah will die. David immediately begins a “total fast,” donning sackcloth and lying on the ground—presumably in constant prayer, interceding with God on behalf of his child.
After his child dies, David does not abandon God. Instead, he does the opposite.
Rising from the ground, David washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes. Then he went to the house of the Lord and worshiped (2 Samuel 12:20).
David’s response to his sin and its consequences stands in marked contrast to Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve cannot even admit their sin. Adam’s confession of nakedness is at best a euphemism for the sin and at worse an evasion from talking about it. David’s confession bluntly acknowledges what has happened. Adam and Eve wear clothes of shame; David dons the clothing of repentance (sackcloth). Adam and Eve hide from the presence of God, David seeks it.
In weighing both stories, we can perhaps read with renewed appreciation David’s prayer in Psalm 51:11-13:
Turn away your face from my sins;
blot out all my iniquities.
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from before your face,
nor take from me your holy spirit.