To sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
The following is the first chapter of “Twice Blessed” by S. Michael Wilcox. To read more, click here.
Genesis was the first revealed scripture God gave to the world. Therein are stories and truths that we might call “first-tier” principles. Given so early in the world’s history, they seem to teach those elemental ideals that God would have all His children from the very beginning learn and internalize in their lives. Part of our receiving the healing hope and guidance of these primeval stories, especially that of Adam and Eve, is in our learning how to read them.
The earliest chapters of Genesis are not written in the style of writing we may call “historical narrative,” but are written in one we can title “mythopoetic.” Understanding this is essential. When we read something in the historical-narrative style we anticipate that almost all the elements of the story can be taken at face value and read straightforwardly. The history of David’s life and the ministry of Jesus are of this genre. However, when we switch to the mythopoetic, there are other expectations and unique ways of teaching, which are equally valid. It is somewhat counterproductive to read the mythopoetic with the historical-narrative mind. We will miss a great deal and become subject to misunderstanding and sometimes outright foolishness.
We must not be alarmed at the world “myth,” which suggests to too many people a story of fiction. In this style, not everything must be read as literally as in historical narrative. The figurative and symbolic come into play. The writing is often driven by imagery and emblematic story. We are aiming at the meaning and truths behind the story—not its details.
We are especially invited to deeply relate to the characters in the account, for what happens to them in many cases is archetypal. We must see ourselves in these stories. The personalities and events represent the broad spectrum of humanity. For example, the Creation story is best appreciated when read with the mind-set with which we would read a poem. When read this way, it is more alive, lovelier. The emphasis is on the beauty, variety, and creative genius of God, not a scientific exposition of the grand creative process. “I did it. I did a good job. So love it and take care of it,” the Lord tells us in beautiful and repetitive language alive with imagery. This should receive the emphasis, and this accent is what is rightly depicted in the endowment.
If we tie the creative process down too sharply, we are going to have difficulties, such as in how the account in Genesis, and even in our modern-day scriptures, differs from that given in the temple. On the poetic level the concern goes away, as the details are secondary to the emotional impact desired.
Naked and Not Ashamed
Such is the story in the Garden of Eden. At first glance this is obvious, as man was not factually made from “the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7); woman did not literally arise from the rib or side of a man, and snakes don’t talk or walk with legs. We can remember also that we never have to reject or deny the literal when reading this literary style, as both may be in play, but the essential truths are to be found in the figurative. Here is an example in the Adam and Eve story that may serve as a prelude to the one image dealing with forgiveness we want to particularly understand, as it is central to the Lord’s purpose in the whole Eden episode. Remember, this is a forgiveness story.
“I, the Lord God, caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam” (Moses 3:21). Deep sleep, when used elsewhere in the Bible, does not mean the person is sleeping as we view sleep. In the case of Abraham (see Genesis 15:12) and Daniel (see Daniel 8:18 or 10:9), for example, the person is in a revelatory state, receiving visions and truths in a celestial environment. Each is fully alert.
Of the termination of the First Vision, Joseph Smith wrote, “When I came to myself” (JS—H 1:20), and Paul spoke of a vision he had when he was caught up to the third heaven: “Whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell” (2 Corinthians 12:2). In a manner of speaking, they were both in a state of deep sleep at the time of these revelations. This reading of the description of deep sleep highly elevates the moment in the Garden of Eden when Eve, or woman, is introduced onto the stage of creation.
I do not wish to make this a treatise on figurative language, but I feel the groundwork needs to be set for the first wonderful teaching given in earth’s history of forgiveness, for forgiveness is a dominant theme in this story and it is relevant to us all. We are all Adam. We are all Eve.
We are told both Adam and Eve were “naked . . . and were not ashamed” (Moses 3:25). This could certainly be literal, although we might also say that modesty is an eternal principle. Nonetheless, the beauty and power is in the figurative. In their innocence, Adam and Eve had nothing to hide from each other or God. They had nothing to cover up. They were “not ashamed” because of this, for there was no action that could generate shame. They were innocent and determined to obey all of the Father’s commandments.
When Lucifer accomplished his aim in getting them both to take of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we read, “The eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they had been naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons” (Moses 4:13).
For the fullest insight into this verse we might add as clarification, “They knew that they had been naked—and had not been ashamed.” Now they wished to hide, to cover up. Let us not get diverted in the story by doctrinal issues of the necessity of the Fall, or the courage of Eve, or how much they knew or did not know at this moment. We are looking at the story for insight into our own lives and behavior, and that insight comes with the symbolic.
Fruits from the Tree
In a certain sense, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents human agency and our mortal state. We exercise agency in response to law and thereby taste the fruits of good and the fruits of evil actions. We learn by our own experience what the consequences of good and evil taste like and can increasingly choose the good. The Lord explained it all to Adam, saying, “They taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good” (Moses 6:55).
That is what the tree is all about. It presents the great opposites—despair and delight, good and evil, virtue and vice, sorrow and joy. These are the fruits our choices produce. The tree stands before each of us, and it stands there all the time. Where can you go to get away from the tree in this life? Though many wish to avoid or deny the consequences of choice, the tree will give its fruits as we pick them—bitter or sweet. What fruits come from good? What fruits come from evil?
Later the Father tells the Son, “The man is become as one of us to know good and evil” (Moses 4:28; emphasis added). The core truth of godhood or divinity is the ability to distinguish between all good and all evil choices, with the additional understanding that a god will always choose the good. Godhood is the ultimate and final fruit of the tree, or a perfect knowledge of the fruits of good and evil coupled with perfect choice. This is what we are down here to learn.
Once we learn this we can partake of the tree of life and live forever, but in a state of exaltation. Jesus learned it better than any other human being, for His perception was always correct and He consistently chose the fruits of goodness. We, however, are going to make many mistakes as we taste the fruits of this tree that we savor every hour of our lives. Forgiveness will be a constant aspect of life. We will see our nakedness and be ashamed. How we deal with that sense of shame will make all the difference in our mortal progression.
Adam and Eve, in response to Satan’s suggestion, chose to hide—to cover up. “They heard the voice of the Lord God, . . .and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Moses 4:14). This is a very human response, and we all can relate to it. When you or I exercise our agency and partake of forbidden fruit, or as the Lord taught it, we “taste the bitter, that [we] may know to prize the good,” we too feel ashamed and wish to hide or cover up our actions.
Examples of this are too numerous to name. We, like Adam and Eve, hear the voice of the Lord God calling to us, and He has many voices to invite us out of our coverts. We perceive our nakedness, sew our fig-leaf aprons, and disappear “amongst the trees of the garden” (Moses 4:14), because often we are not ready for the face-to-face encounter with God and our own actions.
There are many types of fig-leaf aprons, and I suppose we are fairly acquainted with them all. We certainly all sew them. Some ways they are most frequently sewn are through telling lies, making excuses, rationalizing, blaming others, hiding in the shadows of self-comforting doubt or intellectual posturing, trying to change the moral landscape to make forbidden things acceptable, etc. There may be as many fig-leaf aprons as there are people to sew them, but God has a better way, as He always does.
Coats of Skins
I assume the Lord’s calling to His two beloved children was with a voice of tenderness. He certainly knew where they were hiding and why they had sewn the aprons. In the ensuing conversation they came out of hiding, acknowledged their actions, and waited for the Lord’s response. Repentance, in a symbolic, visual sense, is removing the aprons, coming out of hiding, and talking openly, trustingly, and honestly with God—and ourselves, we might add.
There are consequences of labor for both the man and the woman, but the main thing to understand is the replacement of the fig-leaf aprons for the coats of skins. “Unto Adam, and also unto his wife, did I, the Lord God, make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Moses 4:27). On the figurative level the coats of skins represent the Lord’s way of covering nakedness, His answer to those moments when we are ashamed because we are tasting the bitter and are learning to prize the good fruits of our actions.
What is His way? Is it not through sending His Son to the earth to “be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. . . . That he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance” (Alma 7:12–13)? If we were to finish the symbolic power and beauty of the coats of skins and what they teach, we might ask, “What animal would be the most appropriate to use to make the coats?” And, “How would one obtain their skins?” We would answer, “A lamb would be most appropriate, for Jesus is the lamb of God.” And, “The lamb’s sacrifice would enable the covering protection to be obtained.”
“You don’t need to hide from me,” the Father assures us all. “There is no reason to sew aprons. I know your nakedness already and have provided my own covering for you. It is the covering of forgiveness made possible through my love and through the love of my Son’s sacrifice.” We need never hide from the Lord. We need never justify, blame, rationalize, lie, or pretend that eternal law is not eternal law.
God does not wish us to evade Him, fear Him, or fail to trust Him. As did Adam and Eve, we simply respond to our Heavenly Father’s voice calling to us, get out of the covering of the trees, remove our aprons, and allow Him to clothe us in His forgiveness—in His Son’s atoning sacrifice.
There is also inherent in the two coverings the comparison of the warmth, permanence, and fullness of the skins against the less substantial, perishable nature and thinness of the fig leaves. Every day Adam and Eve put on those coats of skins as a constant reminder that they were covered by the forgiving foresight and eternal design of the Father. They were covered by the Son’s life and ever-inviting atoning love and mercy.
So it was with our first parents, and so it is with us. From time to time I hear the Lord ask me, “What are you sewing, Mike? Why do you need the fig leaves?” It is always asked with concern, and I hear in His voice the moving toward forgiveness already. I drop my needle, we talk, and I feel again the warmth of that skin covering. We are daily clothed in forgiveness, for we will need it daily, as we are so beautifully shown in the Lord’s own house. This we must never forget about ourselves and about all other selves. It was one of the first truths our Father in Heaven wished us to know! Humanity’s experience on this planet begins with a choice and the subsequent forgiveness.