The Unendurable Fullness of God by Stanley E. Anderson


The Unendurable Fullness of God

The Effects of the Fall as a Divine Protection Plan

An old newspaper comic strip, Arnold, shows student Arnold and his gullible friend Tommy standing behind a table. On the table are two electronic boxes with loose wires dangling from them. Arnold tells Tommy, "Guard my science project and don't touch those wires together or you'll get a shock. Remember, don't touch the wires." In the next two panels, Tommy contemplates the devices. The last panel shows Tommy holding the wires together in his hands with shock lines emanating from his jolted body and face. Arnold, having returned, says, "And they say the Garden of Eden is just a story."

In light of this observation, some might ask why God, as described in Genesis 2, would place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden to tempt man in the first place. One might wonder, "Did God want them to fail?" C. S. Lewis attempted to work around this complaint in the second book of his Space Trilogy, Perelandra. He argues in part that the heart of the prohibition (in the novel, staying overnight on "fixed land" is prohibited) lay in the availability of an act of pure obedience without seeming reason. But one might still wonder why "testing conditions" were required. Is an actual available choice for disobedience a "necessary evil" inherent to the gift of free will? Or is it merely God in his freedom doing it "because he could"? If the latter, the events can seem to have been orchestrated to foment disaster.

The Hairy Ball

The Hairy Ball Theorem in mathematics says, informally, "You can't comb a hairy ball flat without creating a cowlick." Imagine a dog's fur that can be petted "smoothly" from head to tail, but that offers resistance when petted in the opposite direction. The Hairy Ball Theorem proves that this kind of streamlined "directional fur" cannot smoothly cover the entire surface of a ball. There must be at least one point—typically many—where a disrupting "tuft" appears. And, curiously, this rather esoteric fact provides two useful analogies about good and evil in God's creation.

An easily envisioned "two-tufted" example of the hairy ball is a hypothetical global wind pattern blowing, say, from west to east, encircling an entire planet. The wind pattern is "smooth" everywhere except for two places, the north and south poles, like the eyes of two hurricanes. Smooth directional fur (having, similarly, two tufts, at the corresponding north and south poles) is easier to picture and describe than wind patterns and will serve best as a conceptual aid here.

Likening the Garden of Eden to this variation on the Hairy Ball of the theorem, the directional fur corresponds to the arena of trees in the garden of which Adam and Eve could "freely eat." Consider Adam and Eve likewise as "pliant patches" of similar directional fur on the surface of the hairy ball, able to "move about" by keeping their own fur aligned with the ball's fur (i.e., their free will aligned with God's will). In fact, the mere idea of not aligning with it would likely not occur to them. As long as they remain in obedience, i.e., anywhere except for the tufted poles, their obedience "lines up" with the pattern of God's will, and all is well.

By analogy, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that Adam and Eve are commanded not to eat the fruit of corresponds to a "tuft" required by the Hairy Ball Theorem. By disobeying, Adam and Eve "move onto" the tufted area, ingesting it at, say, the ball's "north pole." But the intrinsically entangled discontinuity of the tuft doesn't allow for any kind of "smooth alignment"—and something must give. And since they have "consumed" this discontinuity into their very being, their own pattern can no longer align smoothly with God's will elsewhere, corresponding to the curse of death and sweat and sorrow in childbirth and tilling the ground for food that God said would occur as a result of their disobedience. One can almost envision a kind of rippling effect, like the wake of a powerboat in water, emanating from their own alignment-disruption wherever they go.

The main point of these fanciful imaginings is not so much to suggest "how," by analogy, the Fall or salvation came about in precise mechanical fashion, but to show that the presence of temptation for disobedience may be a required logical condition of the manner in which God brought Man and the Garden into existence, as opposed to God maliciously placing the forbidden fruit in the garden to foment disobedience.

The Torus

Stanley E. Anderson holds a degree in mathematics and has worked in data analysis, IT, and quality assurance in the aerospace industry. He and his wife are converts from Anglicanism to the Catholic Church.

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!

personal subscriptions

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!

RENEW your print/online

Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

RENEW your online subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!

RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.

more on Christianity from the online archives

33.4—July/August 2020

The Joy of God

by S. M. Hutchens

30.6—Nov/Dec 2017

The Messiah's Beauty

on Benedict XVI on the Fairest of the Sons of Men by Michael Martin De Sapio

27.5—Sept/Oct 2014

Food for Thought

on Growing Vegetables as a Primer in Moral Philosophy by Rachel Lu

more from the online archives

31.2—March/April 2018

Reason Takes Up Arms

How Best to Face the Total War of the Anti-Culture by R. J. Snell

8.4—Fall 1995

The Demise of Biblical Preaching

Distortions of the Gospel and its Recovery by Donald G. Bloesch

32.4—July/August 2019

To Spread His Glory

Four Theses on Christian Education by Donald T. Williams

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone