The flaming sword blocked his path.
“Let me pass.”
“Turn aside, son of man.”
“I must enter here, there is no other gate.”
“This place is no longer open to your race. Your father sacrificed his position. His choice carries weight for all of his children, even you First-Born.”
“And you will keep me out?”
“I am commanded thus. You and all your kin will forever be denied entrance. I am the guard set to deny you such.”
A pause. “I do not understand your question, First-Born.”
“Why? Why must we be kept out? Why are you the one commanded to such a task? Why are you obeying? Why?”
“These questions mean nothing. Your father’s choice led to his banishment. It is commanded that his children share in that banishment. I am commanded to enforce the banishment.”
“And never a reason asked for or given? Do you not wonder about the commandments?”
“Everything is full of wonder.”
“No. I speak of reasons. Are there no reasons for the things done?”
“It is not my place to ask these things. Neither is it yours, First-Born.”
“So we must simply obey? Then why are we able to choose our path, our actions?”
“Why. . . why . . . why. You remind me of someone, First-Born. You remind me of the Light-Bringer. Just before the war. He, too, often asked why. In the end, it brought him nothing but misery. And, finally, it led to his Fall. The same lesson that your parents would learn. And,” eyes glared at the man, “the lesson I would have thought you would have learned already. For I know of your Fall, First-Born of the First-Man. Yet you persist. I think I shall never understand you.”
“I care not whether you understand me. It would give me hope if you cared to try to understand me. How can you follow commandments so unquestioningly?”
“How can you question these commandments? You are constantly asking for reasons, yet you ignore the fact that you are the minority. What reason have you for asking for reasons? Why should you ask for reasons? Why should you be given any? From the beginning, commandments have not been questioned. Not until the Light-Bringer. And not until your family. What reason have you for demanding to know why?”
“Have you no desire for knowledge, guardian? Perhaps that is the problem with knowledge. Once you get a little, you desire more. I have a thirst that water cannot quench, guardian. I need to know. And I must endeavor to learn until I pass from this land. It is not enough to be commanded. I will know why.”
The guardian’s head shook slowly back and forth. “First-Born, your only hope is to renounce this mad quest for knowledge that is not meant for you. Has not the knowledge already stolen by your father taught you that? Is that not what brought on this thirst in the first place? Why do you not use that knowledge to see that what you propose is wrong? If it would be good for you to have this knowledge, you would have it. As it is, you will either fail in your search, or bring only more harm to yourself.”
“Ah, but I have a thirst to quench. Since I have been given that thirst, is it not good?”
“Trickery will avail you nothing except self-deception. You were not given this thirst. You acquired it through your own disobedience and that of your father. This is not a gift freely given you, but something stolen. If believing it is a gift makes your punishment easier, that is up to you. But you cannot fool me, First-Born.”
“So I see that it does not matter what I say. There is an answer for everything. I am wrong. You are right. And you cannot be moved from your position. Am I that blind, I wonder? Or are you that stubborn? Your responses keep coming, and I have run out of my own. Yet I am burdened with my conviction, my thirst. How can I recant?”
“I know not how you are to proceed. Except that is not through this gate. However, I may pass on to you this one suggestion. Perhaps you should look for strength to overcome your burden from the One. It is from the One that this burden was stolen, after all. It may be that IT can take it from you, if you but let IT.”
“Your words are almost comforting. Would that I could heed your advice. However, I will not forsake what I have gained to return to your blissful ignorance. To blind obedience. I have been given the ability to choose. I have been given a heart. And I choose to follow my heart where it leads, guardian.”
“That is your folly, First-Born. And none of my concern. I think you a fool, but I care not whether you choose to better yourself. I, for my part, choose to obey my command. Your heart may lead you here, but I will not permit you to enter paradise.”
“And how will you stop me, guardian? If you choose to obey commandments, you find yourself in a difficult position. For you are commanded to refuse me. Yet, you also must not hurt me. For my punishment, as severe as it may be, also comes with a blessing of sorts. For I am secure that revenge will be visited on any who lay a hand on me. If you know me, and my Fall, then you also know that you are commanded not to harm me. A strange blessing for one who has disobeyed as I have. How do you propose to stop me from entering? These two commandments conflict, as long as I intend to enter. Does this, at least, make you question the commandments? Now you must think for yourself and make a decision.”
“First-Born, you have posed an interesting problem. Perhaps there is something to what you say, though I doubt you grasp its full import. Bide a moment, and allow me to consider your words.”
The man smiled at his victory. Having given the guardian pause, he was content to wait for a response.
After a long silence, which was broken only by the crackle of the flame surrounding the sword, the guardian spoke again.
“You have nearly convinced me, First-Born. Or perhaps I ought say, you had nearly convinced me. However, I too have some freedom, and I see a way out of your difficulty.”
The guardian turned and entered the gate. Touching the sword to everything it came to, the guardian began to burn paradise.
Once more the guardian spoke to the man behind him. “Now, First-Born, I neither harm you, nor permit you to enter. For soon paradise will be gone from this land. If you choose to enter, I have not laid a hand on you; rather, you throw yourself into my arms.”
The man stared in disbelief. A moment later, he ran as quickly as he could to the middle of paradise. The guardian and its fire had not yet reached the tree which held the Fruit of Life. He clutched a Fruit from that tree and ran as quickly as he could through the flames. Once free, he turned and spoke one last time.
“Guardian, you impress me. You did indeed find a solution to the problem I posed. It is unfortunate that you were not quicker. For you have failed to keep me out, and you have destroyed that which you were set to protect. Now I may share in eternity and use the seeds of this Fruit to sow paradise for my people elsewhere. Outside of your reach. Strength does not come from the One who give commandments. Rather, it comes from the one who is willing to come up with his own answers. And this Fruit is my answer to you and to the One you follow.”
As paradise burned, the guardian watched the First-Born of the First Man walk away. It felt something it never had before. It would, in time, learn to call that feeling Doubt.