Listening to Our Hunger
“You will be like God, knowing good and evil,” the serpent promised.
There is no consensus among Old Testament scholars as to what the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil actually granted. We can say though, that what Adam and Eve thought they were getting by eating the fruit of this tree was not what they actually got.
It seems like acquiring the discernment to know and choose between good and evil would be a good thing. When we grow up from little humans into bigger ones this is what our parents hope for us, that we will one day transition from simple obedience to the rules, to doing what is right because we value its moral goodness.
Whatever the tree gave Adam and Eve though, it wasn’t moral discernment, and certainly not as executed by the just and loving hand of God. The consequence of eating of that tree was an unraveling of relationship, human to human and human to God. In an instant they knew guilt, shame, and then blame. Adam throws Eve, and even God, under the bus – “It was the woman you gave me!” And from that moment forward, human history devolves into brokenness. In the next chapter the first murder happens when Cain kills Abel, and by the time of Noah, wickedness and evil are so prevalent in humanity that God decides to undo it all.
The tree seemed to promise something good. But in wresting it for themselves, without the justness of God, humanity found only the compulsion to wield judgment and power over one another with zero self-accountability.
The things we think we want are sometimes things that can hurt us. Things which, taken for ourselves, have unintended consequences.
For me, the temptation comes through anxiety. I struggle often with overwhelming fears about the world, worries of loss or ruin, and nagging self-doubt and criticism. There is nothing I long for more than to feel absolutely safe in the world, one-hundred percent secure in all of my relationships, and free of tragedy.
When I am most desperate to make myself safe and secure, I am driven to one of three places. First, the place of “I don’t care,” emotionally numbing out so I won’t be affected by embarrassment, fear, or loss. (It’s a lie though. I do care.) The second is utter mania, trying to control everything – my finances, how people will react to the things I say, having an escape plan in case the house catches fire in the middle of the night and the front door is blocked, etc. As if life is a choose your own adventure game, and I can outwit misfortune by preparing for all the scenarios at once. And third, when I am feeling really scared or vulnerable, the hard walls come up like a fortress, repelling anything that might get too close to cause harm.
A few weeks ago I happened to stumble upon Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark. She writes, “When we run from darkness, how much do we really know about what we are running from? If we turn away from darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running from is God?”
I spend so much of my time trying to evade the dark emotions that make me uncomfortable and desperate for control. I use all sorts of things to escape – sugar, Netflix, scrolling through Instagram, running to Target on made-up errands – anything to distract when the anxieties come knocking. Anything to keep me from sitting with the discomfort of my fears and doubts.
But this week we read that Jesus does this thing where he fasts for forty days and forty nights in the desert before facing his temptation. Forty days of hunger, forty days of exposure, forty days of wilderness. The more I become aware of my own running, the more I believe that this fasting is a cleansing, a stripping away of the things we use to escape, a way of creating space to listen. And he does listen. He listens to the dark places inside that whisper security, control, fullness, if only he will reach out and take them for himself. He doesn’t, of course. He chooses to stay hungry long enough to realize that at the heart of these temptations lies a desire that will not be satiated by wresting control. At the heart is a desire for the peace that comes from being utterly held in the hands of God.
So this Lent as I fast, I am asking, “What will happen if I can stay hungry long enough to listen to that hunger?” If I listen to the places that desperately cry out for security, safety, and certainty, what will I find? I imagine that if I can stay my hand rather than impulsively grab for the control I think I want, I will discover that the answer is not in the fruit, but in the sometimes painful desire itself.
When I get caught up in being my own security guard, I lose touch with that garden I most deeply desire and find myself cut off from the vulnerability, the unpredictability, and the fragile beauty of love. What I really want is not control. What I want is the peace to be in communion with life. To be in communion with God. And to surrender to being held.