Facing Our Dark Side

Yesterday I wrote about how denying and suppressing our dark side turns us into hypocrites in the ancient Greek sense – ie play-actors at life. Using Godly actions to cover and suppress our dark side turns us into white-washed graves. This was the problem which Jesus criticized the religious rulers of his day for.

Today, I want to discuss why we don’t have to be afraid of our dark side. Some of you will strongly disagree with what I’m going to say, but that’s OK. Take it or leave it as you see fit. But there’s life here for those who are willing to listen and consider it.

To understand why we don’t need to be afraid of our dark side, we need to go back to the beginning. Christians have generally taught that prior to the fall, man was perfect. In fact, our dark side is usually seen as the result of the fall – evidence of what is wrong with us. But the text itself doesn’t support this idea.

In Genesis 3, we find Adam and Eve hanging out by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent approaches and asks, “did God really say that you cannot eat of the fruit of the garden?” Eve replies that it’s only the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which they are not allowed to eat. And then she adds: “nor may we touch it.” Which isn’t true.

God hadn’t forbidden touching the fruit, only eating it. Eve has just told a lie. Which means that even prior to the fall, man was not perfect as we conceive of perfect. Our dark side was part of us from the beginning. And yet God said man was “very good”, was pleased with his creation and willing to walk in the garden with them “in the cool of the evening”.

This may seem like an awful lot to read into this small detail in the story. However, look at the world around us. It’s not all sunshine and light. There’s decay and violence at every level of creation. And far from making creation bad, life and its goodness actually rely on these dark processes as well as the light ones to function properly. We are a part of creation and not immune from this reality.

Our dark side doesn’t make us bad or unacceptable to God. It’s part of being human. Trying to hide, deny and suppress it is damaging because it’s basically waging war on how God has created us. And presumably he created us that way for a good reason.

Let’s go back to the story of man’s creation and fall. The text makes a point of saying that the man and woman were naked and “they were not ashamed”. I have often wondered what this nakedness represents. Certainly there are sexual overtones. And there’s a lack of self-consciousness. But I’ve begun to think that it also represents humanity being wholly exposed – not hiding or covering any part of who they are. Including our dark side.

When we ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, our first reaction was to realize that we were exposed – our dark parts were showing – and start trying to hide them. The text says that “their eyes were opened” when they ate the fruit. Which would mean that they were suddenly able to perceive what had been invisible to them before.

Perhaps, having only encountered approval up until now, they had been unaware of their own dark side. Maybe they had never considered that some of their ways – such as lying – could be seen as wrong before eating the fruit. Or they may have been unaware that those parts were exposed for all to see. It could be all three.

We see from Adam and Eve’s behavior that not allowing God to see them suddenly became a paramount concern. Covering our bodies doesn’t make them go away, of course. But it does restrict who can see or perceive them. And we were determined to keep God from perceiving them.* 

So, we’ve been engaging in this game of trying to cover and hide those parts of ourselves we think are unacceptable for a very long time. Clearly, this hasn’t made our dark side go away. And if our dark side is part of who we are created to be, making it go away shouldn’t be our goal anyways.

On the other hand, giving control of ourselves over to our darkest impulses isn’t acceptable either. In nature, death, decay and deformity unbounded by the forces of life and regeneration can stop the proper functioning of creation. It’s no different with us.

But what Jesus says is that the dark must be brought into the light. Since the fall, we have sought to hide the dark from the light. We don’t want it exposed. But this is exactly what Jesus says must happen.

For us, this means we must be honest. We have to stop hiding the fact that we do have these dark impulses. That we desire revenge, unbounded pleasure, slothful ease and, always, an easy way around our problems. Rather than hiding or denying them, we must pull them out and bring them to God. Bring them to the light of the world.

 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. ~ John 1:5

In my next post, we’ll look at what happens when you bring your darkness into the light. And how lighting our lamps helps bring light to other people’s dark sides as well.

*There’s an interesting discussion to be had regarding the roots of religion in the story of Adam and Eve’s coverings – first the ones they fashioned for themselves and then the animal skins God provided them. But that’s beyond the scope of this discussion, so I’ll leave that for another time.

Other posts of interest:

Why Was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden?

The Fall Wasn’t Our Fault

I Asked God to Hit My Husband With a Bus.

11 thoughts on “Facing Our Dark Side

  1. “Lying” would imply intention to deceive; it seems more likely that Eve is simply being imprecise in conveying the gist of what she understands: ‘Best not to mess with that.’ There’s nothing to suggest any motive for deception, nor (sans that sense of ‘good vs evil’) any reason to fear the snake or any other creature.

  2. I’m not sure I would call it lying per se, but the author of Genesis clearly has a literary purpose for this subtle difference. It’s kind of like the way Satan predicts exactly what God ends up saying about “man becoming like us” when God kicks them out of the garden. Of course noticing details like that is dangerous because it muddies the story which the fundamentalists need to be completely cut and dry.

    1. Satan’s take on “humans becoming like us” isn’t necessarily the way God means that. We could see this in something more like the way Alan Lew interpreted the Babel story:

      We tend to think that God confuses people’s languages as a hostile act, a punishment or at best a defense against our wish to get to His place on our own power, after which, Who knows what we might do to the rugs? Well, no, Alan says, we are living in this perfectly harmonious world; but we aren’t satisfied; we are trying to take our fate into our own hands instead, so God (for our sake) makes us cease to understand each other’s words.

      1. The reason that Genesis 11 gives for God confounding the languages is because He’s threatened by the humans. He says if we allow this to happen, then nothing will stop them. There’s no indication that they’ve done anything morally wrong. It doesn’t put God in the best light, but that’s what the text says. Now it’s fine to play around with the text for pastoral reasons, but exegetically we can’t really do that.

    2. I totally agree that I’m reading into the story to call Eve’s words a lie. The reason I feel pretty comfortable saying it, though, is because it is consistent with patterns which we see played out all through out creation. As I said, creation from the smallest, subatomic levels through every sort of life form up to huge galaxies relies on an interplay of creative and destructive forces to work. I think we are mistaken to think that humans are an exception to this relationship between the light and dark.

      Also, in the animal kingdom, particularly among other primates, there exists the sort of dark side which we have traditionally attributed in humans to the fall. Primates have occassionally been observed being deliberately deceptive is a small example. Violence among them would be a more disturbing example.

      Going back into the historical record, which frankly I’m always a bit skeptical of simply because it just doesn’t go back that far. But a truly shocking number of ancient human specimins we have found were murdered.

      All of this throws into question the idea which has been common in Christianity, that our dark side and tendency towards sin and violence is the result of the fall. That prior to the fall, human were free of this sort of thing. Given the evidence of how creation functions and the low likelyhood that there ever was a time when humans were perfect as we think of perfect, i think it’s reasonable and probably helpful to say that Eve was in fact displaying our innate dark side and being dishonest.

      And yes, I love these stories. It drives me nuts that fundamentalists want to lay claim to them and say that it faithful to take them as history. It’s a completely shallow and unserious approach to the sstories. It flattens all these delicious, interesting details!

      1. Yeah, well I read Genesis 3 allegorically as a representation of a journey every human being inevitably makes when we stop trusting others and try to seize independence for ourselves. It’s a paradox. On the one hand, our eyes are opened, but in being opened to our nakedness, there is a death of innocence that happens. I’m probably going to go a different direction than you with how I demarcate things, but that’s okay.

      2. We totally don’t have to agree! My own understanding is that the process and growing which we experience as individuals is also taking place across humanity. I find it helpful to think of humanity as a person who is growing up, just like an individual person. If that makes sense. So to me, the story of Adam and Eve represents something which happened in human development which then gets repeated in the lives of us as individuals. Which has all sorts of interesting and fruitful implications, but I guess I’ll just leave it at that for now!

  3. Thank you, Rebecca. As usual for me you have shed light on an issue and new light on this one. I’ve subscribed to your emails for I guess a year. I haven’t commented to you before but I want to compliment you on your honesty and that you know what you’re talking about. Your theological acumen is evident, you’re spiritually awake, and you write with clarity. You rock!

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