Vulnerability Through The Story of Adam
We are all born as vulnerable beings, and remain as such throughout our lives. As a baby, our vulnerability and needs are obvious, we cannot even chew our food or take a trip to the restroom. To be sure, as we grow older, we learn to take care of many of our needs “on our own,” yet our needs grow with us, too. As we become older, we gradually need more: our needs for safety, security become refined, our needs for deeper personal connections appear…and now that we are not babies any more, we now want to consciously make sense of our lives and the lives of others around us….and all other various emotional and spiritual needs show up more clearly…
Indeed, as human beings we all share same fundamental human needs –for love, security, freedom, dignity and so on. And, our life journey consists of seeking a way of fulfilling these needs.
A common temptation occurs to all of us often is to think that our needs are a liability and we are all left to our limited devices to fulfill these profound human needs. As scriptures teach us, this is the same temptation that occurred to our primordial ancestors, to Adam and Eve. They thought at first that they had a need that was “out of God’s plan.” In the biblical narrative that need is presented as the need to know more, and they thought that God did not want them to know more. In the Quranic version of the story, their need is eternity: they want to live forever and they believe Satan who swears to them that they will get to it if only they would eat from the forbidden fruit!
In other words, instead of embracing such needs and utilizing those needs for a deeper connection with their Creator, Adam and Eve were tempted to think that such need is ‘somehow illegitimate before their Creator.’ They mistakenly thought that their wish to know more, or to live eternally, must be fulfilled outside of their connection with God. And since there is nothing ‘outside’ of God’s mercy, such attempt only revealed their complete ‘nakedness’ to them. Fortunately, as the Quran says, as Adam and Eve recognize their ‘nakedness’ and vulnerability, they turn to God with a new awareness of who they are and ask for guidance and forgiveness. As you see, when they repent, their mistake became a way of experiencing forgiveness, their need became a bridge between them and the One who will mercifully provide for them. It clicked with them that the One who made them thirst for knowing more, the One who made them feel a profound need to be secure and enduring, is the same One who will surely fulfill those needs.
In both the biblical and Quranic telling of the story Adam and Eve end up leaving their initial abode, the Garden. Yet, as the Quran notes, such is not bad. Only by leaving the Garden and coming down to earth, human beings get the opportunity to face their vulnerabilities and needs more consciously and get to develop their capacities to experience God’s mercy and wisdom in various circumstances of life.
To reiterate, their initial mistake of eating from the forbidden fruit became a good thing once they admitted it and asked for help; it opened the door of a new life in a new location full of challenges and promises for them.
This scriptural story, like all scriptural stories, has various layers of meaning. One meaning is that it teaches us that our needs are actually good, because they become venues through which we can experience the beauty and power of God. If you are not hungry, you cannot enjoy the best buffet! And, the hungrier you are, the more you can enjoy a simple meal. Hunger is not bad at all! Likewise, if you do not recognize your need for help, you cannot enjoy being helped, and seeing God’s help manifest through different people. Similarly, when we help someone else, we are also responding to our deep human need: to see someone else happy, to manifest in the world goodness of God planted in us…. If you do not feel pulled up short, you cannot taste and rejoice in the source of power and wisdom…Indeed our needs are crucial links to One and they make us human…
Again, it is our needs connect us to each other. We all know how hard it is to become genuine friends with someone who constantly denies her needs and pretends to be perfect and self-sufficient. And our needs connect us to the Eternal One, to our Sustainer Lord. Hunger is terrifying only when you think that it is simply a prelude to merciless starvation. Our needs become a liability only when we think we are just randomly thrown into a world of scarcity to struggle on our own. Our needs and human weaknesses become painful only when we forget that they are given to us by someone Merciful, Powerful and Wise.
As human beings our lives have challenges. We can find ourselves frustrated, hurt, saddened in response to certain events, and other events just catch us by surprise and shock. When we remember that all our needs and emotions are guides in our life journey, and joy, gratitude and fulfillment exists through them, then we have the strength and hope to respond to them. When we recall that we each have a unique relationship, to God , our Sustainer [rabb] and a special destiny that is mercifully and wisely planned out for us, then we are able to get out of our ‘victim mentality.’ As you all know, victim mentality is the attitude that says: “since I have been hurt, or oppressed, discriminated against, life is just unfair and I cannot do anything other lamenting what they did to me. I have no other possibility.” Yet, belief in the deeper reality of our life, and belief in the One who created each of us with mercy and wisdom, enables us to look at such an event differently. As we feel pain, we will not be devastated, because we know that that hurt does carry the seed to our empowerment and is the wave to carry us toward fulfillment and joy. Let us, then, keep up the trust in the One, and hope, and recognize that nothing happens haphazardly and all comes from the Merciful.
The ship of life has its ups and downs, colorful various waves hit our ship as we travel along. When we understand that our needs are actually doors rather than blocks, and our challenges are wisely planned stepping stones rather than enemies to us, then we do not fight the waves desperately, instead we creatively use them to travel along further in gratitude and joy.