My granddaughter is 2-and-a-half years old now. For anyone who has been around a toddler, you will know that this means the dawn of strong willfulness.
As a grandfather, I can step back in a way that I could not as a father, and observe and (trying very hard to keep it to myself) laugh at the things which would have brought out the omnipresent, stern corrections that were the hallmark of the parenting style of my younger days.
What am I observing this time that I did not as a father? It is weird in a complex and sad kind of way, but I think I am getting a glimpse at the fall of Adam and Eve. A two-and-half-year-old’s rebellion IS funny to me, this time. Playing this humor against my understanding of Scripture offers my thoughts a blooming flower with petals of conflict. Some of the petals have humor and beauty, some have horror. Through this odd flower creeps a particular perception of my opinion of The Fall of Adam and Eve.
I have had to think of these things before. It was when I was commissioned to paint the icon of “The Expulsion from Paradise”. Now I weigh those thoughts from the time of painting it with the current thoughts that stem from watching my granddaughter.
Zoe’s willfulness is funny to me, a human sinner. Was Adam and Eve’s willfulness “funny” to God the Father, creator of the universe? I do not imagine or believe that it is that simple. However, if a sinful human like me can love a willful toddler as deeply as I love my granddaughter, I do not find it so difficult to extrapolate that God’s love can be infinite, unconditional, and merciful towards Adam and Eve and all of His children.
Zoe’s willfulness is complexly funny while simultaneously having a weird beauty. It is beautiful in the way it offers that glimpse into God’s eternal, ubiquitous mercy. It is complexly beautiful in the revelation that the beginnings of humanity’s sins may, just maybe, originate from seeds of toddler-like rebellion. (I do not believe that I am alone in this perception of the fall. It is my recollection that some of the Holy Fathers suggest Adam and Eve’s fall was child-like.)
We are willful, us humans! It comes from somewhere. With Zoe, is it a sense that she knows some chastisement or guidance that is being “inflicted” onto her is not perfectly, exactly correct or born of perfect love? Is it the same for all of us? Is it a sense that she thinks she knows more, or what is best for her, or what she needs?
The Bible, by way of Genesis especially, would tell us that we have placed ourselves above God. Observing a toddler seems to echo the primordial story and message found in Genesis. A toddler, like Adam and Eve towards God, would believe that she is above her caregivers.
Why do I laugh then? What does placing ourselves above our caregiver, God, look like in its most primordial way, in a toddler? From all the angles I look at it, it always comes up funny, yet sad, yet beautiful, yet complex, yet simple, yet beyond words.
And maybe that is why the fall of Adam and Eve, our human ancestors, is so hard to fathom and maybe observing a toddler is the best window we have into understanding it.
Now, as a “grown up” who contemplates, regurgitates, and rolls through the mud of trying to understand “The Fall” with the touchstone of a granddaughter’s simple, complex, baby rebellion, I have come to two main conclusions.
If all of the horrors and sins and darkness of mankind are, ultimately, born of childlike willfulness, even the most horrific horrors might, just maybe, deserve mercy.
At some point, like I imagine Zoe will discover, we may get our first inklings that willfulness does not always pay off. It may take a lifetime of challenging and questioning and measuring but sometimes, by some grace, a sliver of light beams into us humans and we may find something altogether different than the game of will and the game of self and the game of power. We might, by grace, find Jesus.
This would be a great discovery. All of the kooky toddler things could dissolve with such a discovery.
Our toddler perceptions, like knowing what is best for ourselves, knowing the truth, knowing what we want, could become meaningless compared to the new message that we are unconditionally loved, that we will never be lied to, that we will be cradled, hugged, washed, fed, and protected, perfectly, fully and endlessly.
I observe Zoe’s willfulness and feel that microscopically as a grandfather, I might be getting a shadowy sense of God’s perspective on all of us.
In the midst of willfulness or ranting, or crying, or pouting, or anger, or any rebellion, is not Jesus ready and waiting to give us whatever we need?
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