Sunday, July 18, 2010

Image and Likeness - Installment Eight

c. The consequences of sin (Part Three)

The cosmic effects of mans disobedience and breaking the intimate communion with God which he had enjoyed and for which he was created is here revealed. Man, created in the image and likeness of God, possesses a soul unlike any other in creation. While sharing features similar to many of the “higher” animal, it was man alone that God “formed … of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” through which he “became a living being.” (Gen 2.7) Man’s soul is literally inspired by the “breath of life” from God, and because of this man received from God the special blessing: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." (Gen 1.28) While the death (spiritual and physical) that now dooms man and limits his spiritual relationship with creation, a degree of mastery remains; however, now creation also brings forth “thorns and thistles” so that in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Gen 3.18f) Again, this is not a punishment ‘imposed’ by God so much as a statement of the reality of life lived without the Grace and communion of God.

Man, now self-condemned to live in isolation from God and indeed from himself, will also live at odds with the world around him; the effect of this separation will impact the whole of creation. The image and likeness of God within man was the principle means by which God intended to vivify and bless the universe. Therein will be the cause of decay, rot and corruption – the very entropy that bears down upon man taking the whole of creation with him. This is attested by the Apostle stating that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God;
for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Rom 8.18-21)

Genesis 3.20-24 concludes the story of humanity’s creation and the ancestral sin that still plagues us all. Heretofore in the creation accounts, the woman was not identified by name. It is after the disobedience and breaking of communion with God, the besmirching of the Image of God within man, that Adam is said to give his wife the name Eve, in the Hebrew evincing a pun in that she will be the “mother of all living”, that is of all humans to follow.” (One may relect that the woman did not need a name before the Fall in that the man and the woman shared the intimacy and dignity of the Image and Likeness; but after the Fall, the spiritual separation from God separated them also such that their former identity is lost in the distinctness of names.)

The twenty-first verse of chapter three states: “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.” This has led some to speculate that Paradise was originally a spiritual state from which Adam and Eve were expulsed to the material physical world after their sin. Such a view, from a purely spiritual perspective, has merit; however it must be viewed solely as metaphorical in that it is clearly stated that God “formed man of dust from the ground” (Gen 2.7) and is further emphasized by God that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3.19)

Rather, it might be argued that the verse demonstrates God’s ongoing love and concern for man. God clothed them, revealing that despite the damage to the communion with God initiated by man, God continues to bless and assist man to the degree that man’s free will accepts it. In this case, man has complained that he is naked and so God makes garments to cover his nakedness and thereby help ‘cover’ his shame. This act also implicitly reminds man of his difference from the rest of the created order and the former dignity he once possessed.

The remaining three verses of the account may be seen as framed in the perspective of fallen humanity. God considers the danger of a broken humanity continuing to live forever and falling further and further from the purity of the image in which it had been created. Thus the way to the Tree of Life is cut off. God is depicted as considering this potential tragedy saying, "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever" -- ” (Gen 3.22) This can either be seen as fallen humanity’s perception of God as Judge or else a poetic statement of the mercy of God in not permitting the defacing effects of man’s disobedience to continue for ever. In either interpretation, the potential for man to also eat of the Tree of Life has already been shown to be an impossibility in that God, the very source of life, has been rejected by man and life cannot be obtained by any other means. Again, “through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it”. (Wis 2.24) There is no other possibility.

The metaphoric ending is completed with the following verses:

“Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Gen 3.23f)
Man has chosen to separate himself from God. God respects this choice and therefore removes him from Paradise, allowing him to take responsibility for it. Note that from the beginning part of man’s creation God intended for him “to till it and keep it”. (Gen 2.15) Now, however, it is emphasized that the ground he will till is that “from which he was taken”. This is the ground to which man will return when he dies.

Man’s sin affects the whole of creation. Again, the Book of Wisdom notes that God “created all things that they might exist, and the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them; and the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal.” (Wis 1.14f) Man’s sin corrupts the very fabric of the universe. “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” (Gen 3.17f) The effects of this sin will lead to decay and death not only for Adam and Eve but also for their offspring and, indeed, everything in creation. Even though, “the Spirit of the Lord has filled the world” (Wis 1.7), man, created in the image of God, has lost the likeness of God through his own choice, “for perverse thoughts separate men from God [and] wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, nor dwell in a body enslaved to sin”. (Wis 1.3f)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Image and Likeness - Installment Seven

c. The consequences of sin (Continued)

Unfortunately, the break in communion with God, the loss of that recognition of God’s infinite Love and compassion, has reduced Adam’s humanity to one of servile fear. He no longer perceives God as He is and instead considers admission of his transgression in terms of guilt. In this deluded state, the man fears punishment. If he confesses his sin, he will be punished. Rather than understanding the truth that ‘punishment’ for confessed sin is the only path to healing, Adam perceives in terms of further diminishment. Punishment will entail fully recognizing the wrong in his disobedience and this recognition will be ‘painful’. Lost in the finitude of his sinful condition, man seeks to avoid the very conviction and action that can heal him and restore fullness to his humanity.

Therefore, Adam seeks to ‘contextualize’ his sin. He offers ‘mitigating circumstances’ that he hopes will reduce his punishment. “The man said, ‘The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’” (Gen 3.12) In this way, we also see the break in communion between the man and the woman. Man’s very personhood has been diminished in that he no longer sees in the woman the complement completion of his personhood, but rather finds her a source of division and danger whom he can use as an object to deflect attention to his own sin. (Note that in this act Adam truly is virtually ‘objectifying’ Eve, seeing her as an object, rather than as a personal subject.)

God now turns to Eve and questions her. “Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.’” (Gen 3.13) it must not be thought that God has accepted Adam’s attempt to shift responsibility for his sin from himself to Eve. In questioning Eve God is offering her the same opportunity for repentance, contrition and reunion. The solidarity of humanity is hinted at in this as if Eve takes the path of repentance she will serve as a role model for Adam and thus an encouragement for him to follow a similar path in his own relationship with God. As noted above, the personhood of an individual human is revealed and finds its fullness in the humanity of another. The shared nature of humanity is communal; it is not in separation and ‘distinctiveness’ that man becomes fully a person, but in the shared humanity that discovers his own personhood through the personhood of other humans.

However, Eve, like Adam before her, reveals her own diminishment in sin and seeks to place the blame, and therefore guilt, on the serpent. Rather than accepting her own responsibility for her exchange with the serpent, she speaks of the serpent ‘beguiling’ (lying or tricking) her. Yet, we have already seen her active participation in the temptation, the exaggeration of God’s command, the permission she gave her incensive power to lust after the fruit, and the accompanying rise of pride in the false belief that partaking of it would somehow make her more ‘like’ God than her creation in His image and likeness already made her.

It is clear, then, that humanity, that nature common to all human beings, has been wounded. The potential for growth in the likeness of God has been lost in the inability to accept responsibility for the self-chosen separation from God. This break with God has resulted not only in cutting off man from the fullness of communion with God but has also created rift of separation between the man and the woman. This rift is the diminishment of each person’s humanity and the closing off of communion between human beings, the rise of individualism that seeks self validation through differentiation between the self and all others. This self-imposed isolationism has consequences for man’s relationship with God and with each human being’s relationship with all others. The fire of Divine Love that had warmed the heart of man giving comfort and fulfillment in the ongoing growth in that Divine Likeness for which man was created has been perverted into a mistaken belief that only in seeking ‘my personal good’ can my humanity find fulfillment.

The consequence of the sin of separation from God is now pronounced by God. This section (Gen 3.14-19) is often interpreted as God meting out judgment for the transgression, a judgment for crimes committed. Yet a careful review of the passage reveals a more startling reality.

God first addresses the serpent. “"Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Gen 3.14f) God curses the serpent and the imagery of slithering snakes is directly used to convey the debasement the serpent has incurred for its part in the ruination of humanity’s communion with God. But given what we have said before we can understand this as more than a punishment meted out.

The serpent (the Evil One) is cursed “because you have done this”. The Evil One has sought to exalt himself in opposition to God and the finitude of his createdness has given birth to an envy that seeks to ruin God’s creation, and particularly the pinnacle of that creation, man. Yet the magnitude of his separation has not enhanced the Evil One’s standing, it has lowered him. The turning from God has removed him from the communion that is the very source of his existence. Thus, for the Evil One existence is one of total isolation, self-loathing, and callous hatred that knows no peace or joy. The knowledge and power that he once enjoyed as a mighty heavenly power cannot be used in creative ways but only in actions that demean both the one tempted and the Tempter himself. Each attempt to sway others of God’s creatures only further isolates him and increases his debasement.

A more specific result of the serpent’s participation in man’s fall is seen in the statement: “upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” (Gen 3.14) The debasement of the serpent going on its ‘belly’ has already been discussed. But note the emphasis that the serpent will eat dust “all the days” of its life. This does not indicate some pre-scientific belief that serpents eat dust; it is a revelation that the corrupting envy of the Evil One will persist in an ongoing hatred for humanity. God will later tell Adam, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return”. (Gen 3.19) This ‘dust’ from which man’s body is created will be the only reward of the Evil One’s machinations. As he is not God and seeks only self-gratification in his interactions with man, the Evil One cannot obtain the intimacy open to man in his being created in the image and likeness of God. The Divine spark within man may be besmirched but it cannot be destroyed and no amount of connivance from the Evil One can result in the loving communion man was created to enjoy with God. Thus the harvest of the Evil One’s temptations will be merely the reaping of dust.

Further, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3.15) This enmity clearly indicates that God has not abandoned man because of his sin. Man can find no happiness, not personal growth in evil and sin. This is the ‘bruise’ that will be a complication of man’s sojourn – no one and nothing can replace the Love of God man is created to enjoy and without which he can find no peace. Similarly, man’s innate need for God’s love will always remain an affront to the Evil One. His obsession with bringing ruin to man, as the pinnacle of God’s creation, will consume him and add to his self-chosen alienation from all that is good in God’s creation.

God now turns to the woman saying, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." (Gen 3.16) While some would see in this either and indictment or justification for a cultural view of the inferiority of women versus men, in fact it indicates the misery of human life bereft of communion with God. The “greatly” multiplied pain in childbearing is due to the fact that the child born of woman will also be subject to corruption and death. Woman cannot give to her child that which she no longer possesses – namely, the intimate spiritual communion with God. Thus, the child, too, will struggle in a world of unfulfilled existence.

The desire of the woman for her husband and his “rule” over her likewise does not indicate superiority of the male over the female. It states the reality of isolation within the human individual that distorts love into possessiveness rather than free self-giving. The inability to recognize the image of God within the man will also blind him to the image of God in woman, thus leading him to consider her in terms of ownership rather than equal.

And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, `You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Gen 3.17-19)

God answers the man’s original attempt to deflect responsibility for his sin through blaming it on the woman by framing His response in the same terms. The man knew that God had commanded him to not eat of the fruit of the Tree. Man’s attempt to mitigate his responsibility merely further exposes him to the truth of his disobedience. This truth has no contextualization that can free man from his responsibility for his own disobedience and action. Later, the prophet Ezekiel will clearly state: “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins shall die.” (Ezek 18.4)

Next Installment: Consequences of Sin (Part Three) and Conclusion

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Image and Likeness - Installment Six

c. The consequences of sin

“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” (Gen 3.7)

Before sinning, Adam and Eve had dwelt in the garden in a state of intimate communion with God and with each other. This state of communion manifested an openness that left no room for shame. “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” (Gen 2.25) Now, however, they had chosen against the Will of God and the likeness to God was irreparably diminished. The lie of their disobedience brought forth shame within them. It is in this light that their nakedness became intolerable. The physical nakedness that needed covering was itself symbolic of the spiritual nakedness of sin. Man shamefully seeks to avoid the consequences of his spiritual nakedness by covering over his physical nakedness. This physical nakedness has revealed the physical differences between the male and female. The complementariness of their creation as human beings has been lost in a focus on differences that result in shame.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Gen 3.8-10)

In the same way that Adam and Eve attempted to cover their nakedness from each other, they now hide from God. Man does not want God to see the sin he has committed and so attempts to hide from Him. “I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

The desire to hide the effect of sin from God reveals sin’s effect of warping man’s understanding of God. Intimacy with God has been lost through sin and now man conceives of God as dangerous, not to be trusted; Someone from whom he must hide. This is the closing off of that openness which formerly characterized human life. Man’s very personhood has been diminished in the rejection of that intimacy with God that was a constituent part of man’s very being. With the closing of this communion with God, all effective communion with others (exemplified here by Eve) is also demolished. The intellect, the conscience, the very core of man’s existence has been reduced to a focus on fear, isolation and shame.

The faltering admission of Adam, framed in his acknowledgement that he was naked, provokes not immediate death but the opportunity to repent. The serpent had mixed falsity with truth in the temptation in exclaiming, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3.4f) The particular truth that hid the lie was the claim “you will not die”, for the Evil One knew that the death of which God spoke when He said, “in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen 2.17) was not an instantaneous physical one, although physical death would also result from the sin. Nonetheless, a spiritual death has already taken place in the breaking of communion.

With the sin came the end of the intimate communion with God for which man was created. The effect of this new perverted life was the opening of a void in the very essence of man’s existence, the loss of that which gave his bodily life immortality and enlightened his soul. However, the image of God could not be totally lost in man; it could only be perverted. The Love of God, which as noted above is itself the very Essence of God’s Being, would still animate man, would continue to instill in him a desire for love and a propensity within himself to love.

But this propensity and longing would necessarily be corrupted by the absence within man of that intimacy with God that was its origin and defining source. The life of man, created to be immortal, both soul and body, ever growing and evolving into greater likeness to God, his creator, was now separated from God. Thus, physical as well as spiritual decay would set in.

Yet, this mortality was itself both a consequence of man’s sin and a gift from God. Death would prevent the continual degradation of man. The separation of man from God would not be allowed to continue unabated to eternity. Although the Evil One had succeeded in corrupting and halting the growth in the likeness of God within man, he was unable to fully extinguish the Image in which man was created. Death would put an end to the disfigurement of man’s soul – that corrupting rot that disfigures and demonizes humanity. It is also within the context of this slow fruition of the consequences of sin that the opportunity for repentance laid.

The process of repentance is offered to man in the form of a dialogue. As God is all knowing, He has no need to question Adam for His own benefit, rather God will question him to provide a chance for Adam to admit his sin and thus seek the reestablishment of that intimacy that had marked his existence heretofore.

Man has already betrayed his transgression by attempting to hide from God. This reveals the break in communion with God caused by eating of the fruit. It is impossible for anyone or anything to be hidden from God, who is all-knowing. Thus, God begins the dialogue by offering the man an opportunity to confess his transgression. “He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" (Gen 3.11) These questions serve two purposes.

The first question regarding nakedness confronts Adam with the reality of his shame in having chosen to separate himself from God. The intimate communion with God before the transgression covered him, as it were, with the Love of God that perceives all of creation as “good” (cf above). The human being, created in the image of God, enjoys an innate goodness and beauty that cannot be shameful in itself. Thus, ‘nakedness’ is a condition defined by separation, lack of intimacy, and the rightful perception of inferiority. That Adam recognizes his nakedness betrays his own awareness that he has separated himself from God and therefore no longer enjoys the intimacy that previously covered him.

The second question arises both as a consequence of the first and as the opportunity for the man to offer an honest recognition of the sin and express the contrition that could open the door to reunion. God confronts Adam with the fact that his nakedness could only become an issue of shame if he has “eaten of the tree”. Unless this is the case, man’s nakedness would not be a cause of shame. Therefore, confronted with this reality, God’s question concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil is itself an invitation for Adam to confess his transgression. It is through confession that the man will accept the reality of his sin and thereby seek the forgiveness of God, the restoration to that state of communion lost in his decision to disobey. Again being united in the intimacy of his original creation and returned to the true path, man will begin again to grow in the likeness of God for which he was created.

Next Installment: The Consequences of Sin (continued)

My Lady Sleeping

Your suffering, My Love, is now over,
and deep in slumber you rest in the shade;
while left behind and wounded I linger,
my injuries never to be allayed.

Dearest One, in this life how I loved you,
though sincerely I doubt you ever knew
the truth of how deeply I would miss you,
wandering a darkness I'd ever rue.

Here without you I remain left alone.
Day but dawns on another vale of tears,
and midst the lengthening shadows I moan,
and weep for the barren expanse of years.

My God, how malicious you seem to me
to abandon me and take her away.
How pitiless that you did set her free,
and leave me here to tread this empty way.

O My Lord, why did you let me meet her?
Why allow her beauty to pierce my soul
only to rip her away and take her,
and my life never again to be whole?

For now I'm am once again without hope;
my life adrift, storm tossed, crushed on the shores
of futility where I can but tope
the chalice of misery ever more.

Each day now passes slowly into night,
a darkness that only feigns to give way.
I fumble along an endless twilight,
pleading with God to reveal why I stay

while she who was so dear, so beautiful,
should now slumber in the peace of the shade.
God, what sin of mine was ever so cruel
as this exile of my life you have made?

My life’s light you will ever be, My Love.
Twas your radiance alone could give birth
to a life worth living, soaring above
the misty darkness that covers my earth.

Words are too weak to bear my love for you.
Let it suffice that I miss you and pray
for that day's start where all will shine anew,
and ever after once more we may stay

together, never more parted. Dear One,
may my days pass swiftly till this life's through
and I may hold you again at heaven's dawn
and to ages of ages cherish you.