Prepping a guest lecture for seminary a few weeks ago I was struck with the alignment between Adam’s and Eve’s shrinking from the presence of God after they ate the forbidden fruit, and the shrinking of the wicked from the presence of God at judgment (e.g. 2 Nephi 9). Adam and Eve feel naked, and hide. God calls them forth and rebukes them, confirming that they have something to be ashamed of. They are now to be cast out of his presence entirely. Yet then, after pronouncing curses, he makes clothing for them, as if to say, “Since you’re going out into the world, we’d better at least get you some real clothes!” (Is this Mother acting under the divine plural here?) He confirms they should be ashamed, and yet he specifically intervenes to mitigate their shame, even to bless it after a fashion. Now that he is terrible to them, he goes out of his way to be tender.
In a way our whole mortal period can be read as a shrinking from the presence of God, if Adam’s and Eve’s fall represents our entry into mortality. Yes, they are cast out of the Garden, but only after they have already made aprons of fig leaves and started hiding from God, anticipating God’s own response to their eating the fruit, which is to make coats of skins for them and cast them out of the Garden. It is as though God is only doing a better job of what they were trying to do, themselves! God’s casting them out of the Garden can be read as a wrathful gesture, and in their state of shame can hardly seem anything else to Adam and Eve, but his making clothing for them resists such a reading. Should both gestures be read primarily as tender gestures?
Suddenly the veil feels very different to me in this light. We talk about it as a matter of our being tested, and surely that is true as well. Yet I see a tenderness in God’s staying on the other side of the veil from us while we’re in mortality, patiently waiting for us to be ready to meet him. Is this probation a test imposed on us, or a merciful opportunity provided for us to pull ourselves together? We are capable of recognizing the dissonance between our spiritual state and way of life and his, even now, though not so perfectly as we will recognize it at judgment, if it persists. So he stays discreetly out of sight while we try to prepare ourselves, like a groom waits for his bride to finish preparing herself. While we work out our resolve and our habits as to whether we will freely live his ways. Even the flaming sword to keep us from the tree of life seems a tender gesture in light of Alma 12:26. This ambivalence (not like indecision, but like ambidexterity) between God’s being terrible and tender in his approach to us sinners has over the past few years been becoming the most delightful theme of (modern) revelation to me.
Is this a fair reading? But then is there not enough hellfire in our theology? Or can we have the hellfire and the unconditional love, both, completely, at once?