Monday, June 28, 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Image and Likeness - Installment Five

b. Anatomy of the First Temptation

The serpent (Satan) speaks to Eve. This should not surprise us. Adam and Eve exist in a state of communion with God and His creation. Adam has given names to all creatures (cf Gen 2.19-20). In Scripture, names indicate the spiritual reality of the creature. Consequently, a name also indicates a spiritual relationship between the one who names and the one who is named. The name symbolizes how the creature is perceived and thus how the one who names will interact with the one who is named. This also explains why the Name of God in the Old Testament is so mysterious, and why It is not spoken by devout Jews to this day.

Scripture does not specify how the serpent speaks to Eve. As we have noted above, far from being a simple snake, the serpent is in fact Satan. As a fallen ‘angel’, Satan has spiritual powers that allow him to tempt man. He has the ability to deceive through his use of these powers. This being so, the exact means by which Satan communicated his temptation to Eve is not given, and to some extent it is not relevant. Suffice it to say, “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.” (Psalm 36.1)

As we have noted above, human beings are created as communal creatures. It is through speaking that man primarily communicates with others. Thus, all communication, even spiritual communication, is understood and ascribed in Scripture in terms of verbal communication.

The serpent begins his conversation with Eve by asking a question: “Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?” (Gen 3.1) This question serves two purposes. Firstly, it presents the serpent as innocently seeking knowledge about God’s command. This places Eve in a position of superiority, as she will have the answer. Secondly, it plays upon the free will. God has told Adam and Eve that eating of the tree will result in their death, but He has not explained why or how this will happen. Up to this point, Adam and Eve have not asked Him. Love does not seek knowledge; it seeks intimacy. Thus, they have had no need to question God’s motives.

However, by framing the question in this way, the serpent has already begun his temptation. Why has God forbidden eating of this tree? What is it about this tree that makes its fruit forbidden? We might say that the serpent has planted a “seed of doubt” with Eve that, even if lying dormant for some time, threatens to grow with disastrous consequences.

Eve enters the conversation. “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” (Gen 3.2) The Church Fathers have noted that Eve’s answer already shows the effect of the serpent’s temptation. God did not prohibit man from touching the tree or its fruit, only that man was not to eat the fruit.

We may further note that Eve’s answer shows the method the devil uses in temptation; first the spiritual; and then the physical. The doubt raised in Eve’s heart by the serpent’s question has raised a desire that manifests itself in the exaggeration or misrepresentation of God’s command. This allows her to enter into the temptation. Is eating of the fruit much different from handling it? All the trees of the garden are, after all, “pleasant to the sight and good for food”; why is this one forbidden? (Gen 2.9)

Also noteworthy is the fact that death itself is mysterious. One can easily understand what the death of another means, but the death of oneself is truly unimaginable. The end of my life, with life going on around and without me, is something I cannot comprehend except in an abstract way. This persistence of expectation of existence is part of the image and likeness of God. Eve, as one of the first two created people, understands death even less than do we since at this point in time no death has yet occurred in creation.

The serpent now presses home the temptation. “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 3.4 – 5) Eve can see the fruit and desire it, she can smell it, hold it. Now the serpent assures her that the threatened consequence for eating it is false. Death, that which she cannot comprehend anyway, will not follow if she eats of it. The serpent has used simple logic, albeit with a false premise, to lead Eve to a logical (and false) conclusion.

In the serpent’s rejoinder the deception of his temptation, the lie, is clearly seen. If Eve eats of the fruit her eyes will be opened, and she will “be like God” and know good and evil. Eve already has full communion with God, yet here she is promised that somehow there is something lacking which she can obtain by means of her own choice to disobey God. She, who is already created in the image and likeness of God, is promised falsely that although she ‘is not like’ God she can be through eating of this fruit. In short, by eating the fruit, she will gain knowledge and this knowledge will be what will ‘truly’ make her like God.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.” (Gen 3.6) The voice of temptation (the serpent) has spoken to Eve’s heart. A longing awakes within her and weakens her weakened trust in God, which in turn leads to her sin.

We must clarify that the pursuit of wisdom is not sinful in and of itself. Rather, the pursuit of a wisdom that is contrary to God leads to sin. It is in acceding to temptation that wisdom betrays and the responsibility for sin becomes personal. Sin warps our understanding and leads to desires that are contrary to the good for which and in which we were created. To some extent, every sin manifests itself in a gained ‘knowledge’ that separates us from God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who practice it.” (Psalm 111.10) Fear of the Lord is not cowardly terror; it is the fear that comes in love. This fear recognizes that my completeness is found in the other; thus, my fear of God is a recognition that the loss of communion with God shatters my completeness and leaves me less than I am and less than I was created to be; this fear it not a matter of servile fear that God will bring me to harm in some way.

In the course of revelation history, God manifests Himself in many ways, and ultimately as Love. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4.16) This mutual abiding in love reflects the image of God within us. It draws from us godly purpose and wholesome desire, through which true wisdom is built up. When Eve enters into the temptation of the serpent she no longer recognizes the gift of God’s image within her, and the wisdom she imagines she will receive in disobeying God becomes reflective of enviousness and pride. These passions reveal the deficit of a rejection of the fullness of humanity within the person and consequent longing for completeness. As this completeness can only be obtained in the intimate communion with God, in whose image we are created, all other choices are deadly. Thus, the responsibility for Eve’s sin falls on her. The serpent may tempt her, but she exercises free will in disobedience.

This should also clarify that Adam’s participation in the sin of eating of the fruit is in no way innocent or the result of deception on Eve’s part. Adam’s fall is entirely the result of his misuse of his free will. Some have portrayed Eve as giving Adam the fruit in a manner in which he did not recognize it. This is no more than an attempt excuse him from his own responsibility in his fall. The reality of his responsibility for his own sin will be clearly manifest when God confronts him.

Next Installment: The Consequences of Sin

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Remembering my father

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St John the Forerunner (for those following the New Calendar). It also marks the anniversary of the birth of my father (a coincidence that ensured his was always the family birthday I never forgot).

In a way, this particular anniversary begins a series of commemorations that undoubtedly will prove difficult for my family and me. As some of you know, my father fell asleep in the Lord last summer, and of course I will be remembering him appropriately on the anniversary of his repose. That said, I find myself thinking of him today and so offer this small post in his honor.

He did the best he could with the lot he was given, and he stood by me when my beloved wife reposed. Thanks be to God, he reposed in the Faith with full Last Rites.

May his memory be eternal.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bravo Team USA

Congratulations to the USA, for making it into the knockout round of the World Cup Football Tournament.

And congratulations also to our mates across the pond, the United Kingdom.

Feel free to blow your vuvuzelas...just not near me, eh?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Image and Likeness - Installment Four


With what we have considered thus far, we may proceed to examine in detail the events recounted in chapter three of Genesis – the first sin and fall from paradise.

At the end of the second account of creation, Adam and Eve are placed in the garden. God has revealed “it is not good that the man should be alone” and created animals and ultimately the female, Eve. (Gen 2.18-24 passim) The likeness of God within man draws him from isolation to communion. Even as God is in a Community of Persons (the Most Holy Trinity), the essence of man, itself possessing that image of God within him, impels him to seek community, to discover his humanity (as it were) in others. The harmony of male and female uncovers the abundance of humanity and reveals the image of God to man. Communion with God, intimacy with the Divine, is incarnated in the union of male and female and in the fellowship of community.

This is the setting at the opening of chapter three. Adam and Eve share communion in the garden with God, both with and through each other and with God. The spiritual intimacy of human life unfolds in its fullness in the paradise of communal intimacy with God.

a. The Serpent – Satan

It is striking then that chapter three begins with the serpent. “Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made.” (Gen 3.1a) We may immediately conclude that the serpent is not another God. God is the creator of all things. Therefore, the serpent is a creature. (Gen 1.1, Wis 11.25) As a creature, the serpent was created good since everything created by God is good. (Gen 1.31)

Yet, we see already in the tone of the text that the serpent (a ‘wild creature’) will play a discordant note in the history of the world. In fact, the serpent is not just some metaphorical “snake in the grass”, he the devil. Scripture does not dwell on the devil, but sufficient information is given that the Church has come to a clear understanding of who this creature is and the purpose over which he has given himself to accomplish.

The devil is often called Satan and is first mentioned by name in the book of Job. In Job, Satan is described as walking to and fro over the earth. (Job 1.7) He accuses Job of hypocrisy and causes a series of events designed to bring Job to despair. (Job 2 passim) In First Chronicles, Satan tempts David into ordering a census, contrary to the Will of God. (I Chr 21.1) In Zechariah, Satan is seen standing next to the high priest accusing him before God. (Zec 3.1f) The Apocalypse identifies Satan specifically as the serpent and reveals him to be an angel.
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Rev 12.9-10)
We can thus conclude that Satan is a deceiver who accuses man before God. He existed before man was created, but is himself a creature nonetheless.

Further, he was himself cast out of heaven. Our Lord says of him, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10.18) The Wisdom of Solomon reveals that the reason for his fall was envy. “God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.” (Wis 2.23f) Moreover, our Lord says of him, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8.44)

From these passages and others, the Fathers of the Church have taught that Satan was a spiritual being created by God with wisdom and power. Yet Satan rebelled against God, and in his pride and envy attempts to deceive man into similar rebellion. How he seeks to accomplish this is seen in clear detail in Genesis chapter three.

Next Installment: Anatomy of the First Temptation

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Children, Adults, Abuse and Experts

Offered for your consideration: two links to provoke reflection on the state of Western society.

Both deal with children and 'progressive' dystopic interference with their childhood development. We all know that physical, psychological and sexual abuse of children is immoral (or do we? See the second link). However, we should also be on guard against the societal abuse of children.

The first is from the New York Times: A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding

From this piece consider the following:
“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”
The second link is from the always poignant MercatorNet: Troubling theories about childhood innocence

And from our second witness:
In a paper on this theme, “Kiss and tell: Gendered narratives and childhood sexuality”, Mindy Blaise, a senior lecturer in the faculty of education at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, describes how she tested this theory on some three- and four-year-old children in an Australian childcare centre.

It is worth looking at this is some detail to understand her method.

Using a popular picture book aimed at 6- to 10-year-old children (Clarice Bean, That’s me by Lauren Child) Blaise focuses on a page where Clarice’s older sister Marcie is sitting on her bed reading a fashion magazine. The researcher points and reads out to the children (4 girls and 3 boys) thought bubbles saying: Do boys give you the dreamy eye? Are you a flirt? Have you ever kissed a boy?
Beyond the deadly serious issues both articles raise (and make no mistake, these reveal very serious matters, indeed), I am also led to ask the more prosaic questions:

Why do children need to 'schedule' playtime?

Is this not already a sign that something is seriously wrong with Western society's approach to child rearing?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Image and Likeness - Installment Three

c. Free Will and Goodness

We have touched upon the concept of goodness and value as inherent in the very creation of the universe, and particularly in man who is created according to the image and likeness of God. Man has a dignity unlike other creatures and the elements of creation. Note in particular God’s charge to man:

And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth and master it; and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and all cattle and all things on earth and all the creeping things that creep upon the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant bearing seed for the sowing of seed which is on the earth, and every tree that has in itself a fruit seed fit for sowing; to you it will be for food. And to all beasts of the earth, and to all birds of the air, and to every creeping thing that crawls on the earth, which has in itself the breath of life, also every green plant for food." And it was so. (Gen 1.28-30)
While the other created beings (animals, birds, fish, etc.) all participate in the benefits of creation, the dignity of being created according to the image and likeness of God grants the possibility of that communion with God to which we have already referred. Indeed, in the Paradise God speaks to man. He reveals Himself in a manner that is intimate and comprehensible. The image of God in man fosters a creative impulse in him that God approves and encourages. God encourages man to be fruitful and multiply; not just in the sexual sense, but also in a spiritual sense of creativity and ingenuity, of insight and intellectual growth. \

In Genesis, to name a thing is to have power over it in that naming defines it in relation to the one naming it. Here, almost as presenting gifts, God brings all the ‘living creatures’ and lets Adam name them, thus defining them. (Gen 1.19) By God allowing Adam to name the animals he reveals the gift of man’s participation in the creativity of God. This is the gift that enables man to “fill the earth and master it”. (Gen 1.28)

The injunction to master the earth is not one of destructive dominance since “to everything which has in itself the breath of life” God has also given “every green plant for food”. (Gen 1.30) Thus, the dominion which man will possess over creation man is nurturing, appreciative and caring. Man is placed in the garden to work it and guard it. (Gen 2.15) The likeness of God allows him to both perceive and participate in the goodness of God in creation.

Through his embodiment, man recognizes the beauty of creation. Creation does not exist as an empty chaotic surrounding; it is filled with spiritual beauty and meaning because man recognizes in it the Will of God. Therefore, his universe is filled with value. This is seen in the fact that the trees of the garden produced fruits that were “pleasant to the sight and good for food”. (Gen 2.9) Man does not just benefit nutritionally from these foods; he experiences their goodness and perceives them as pleasant. This ability to appreciate them is qualitatively unlike the basic receiving of the material benefits of them experienced by other created beings.

d. Evil, Life and Death

We come to the question: Why the prohibition against eating of the Tree of Perceiving the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

According to Genesis everything is created by God. (Gen 1.1) And since God is Good by nature, when he created God “saw everything that he had made… [and] it was very good.” (Gen 1.31) Reflecting on this, the author of the Wisdom of Solomon observes of God: “You love all things that exist, and have loathing for none of the things which you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have remained if you had not willed it?” (Wis 11.24-25a) We can conclude then, that there is an inherent goodness in creation itself.

We then must ask: If everything was created by God and thus by definition is good, what exactly is evil?

From what we have learnt thus far, we can state the following:

1. Evil is not created by God. (cf Gen 1.31)

2. If it is not created by God, it cannot form part of the original inherent dignity and value of man, who is created according to in the image and likeness of God. (Gen 1.1, Wis 11.24f)

3. If this is so, evil must be an absence of good. For evil to occur there must be some condition or action that completely opposes God and the goodness of God’s creation. In fact, when we say that evil occurs we are actually saying that an action is chosen, representing a choice denying God. So we loosely might say that in choosing evil one chooses nothing over a something.

The origin of evil, then, is found in the misuse of free will. It is exercising the will contrary to and in opposition to God. For we must remember that it is not the “Tree of Good and Evil” but the “Tree of Perceiving the Knowledge of Good and Evil” from which man is forbidden to eat. By eating of this tree, man will experience the knowledge of good and evil personally (or 'interiorly'), it will not be an abstract knowledge.

Of this tree, God says, “you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die the death.” (Gen 2.17)

Here we have the first reference to death in the Scriptures. The context is revealing.

We have confirmed that evil occurs only as a free will choice opposed to and contrary to God. We have also reflected that God created the universe and all things within it, thereby imbuing them with inherent goodness. We have affirmed that God is the source of life itself, and life itself is good. Therefore, if a choice contrary to God cannot result in good, and if God is the source of life – the breath of life, if you will – then exercising the will contrary to God can only be a choice that is contrary to life itself. God does not create evil, it is the result of a choice away from God. St Paul reflects this understanding when says, “Sin came into the world through one man and through sin death.” (Rom 5.12) Sin is evil in action; it is the act of a free will choice opposed to God. The consequences of such a choice (evil) can only be death since to deny God is to deny Life itself.

Therefore, we see that the Tree of Perceiving the Knowledge of Good and Evil is the tree that, in choosing to eat of it, man would be choosing to act contrary to God. He would be exercising his will away from the source of life. He would be choosing to separate himself from God, to break communion with God, to refuse that likeness of God within himself, which is good and life-giving. Thus, in so choosing, he would experience the inevitable result of that separation, i.e., death. Again, the Book of Wisdom confirms this: “God did not make death, and he does not take pleasure in the destruction of the living”. (Wis 1.13)

This is an insight that will be significant for one asking "For what reason did the Christ come?"

Next Installment: Temptation, Sin and the Fall of Man

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Image and Likeness - Installment Two


We must consider whether the image and likeness of God in man is static or dynamic. Is it simply an attribute we possess or is it something that we acquire and/or develop over time? What exactly is the image and likeness of God essentially (in and of itself)?

To answer these questions, let us go back to Genesis and the Garden of Paradise. Everyone is familiar with the basic story of the Garden and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Nonetheless, a careful review of the details may prove rewarding.

a. Genesis and Creation

It would be helpful to begin with general remarks before we study the passage in detail. Thus we start with the recognition that within the first two chapters of Genesis we have two different accounts of creation. The first, often termed the “Eloistic” account, details God’s actions of creation in the context of a week, complete with the first Sabbath rest. Here, God merely speaks, and it comes to be. “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” (Gen 1.2) In these passages of the Pentateuch there is a philosophical objectivity to God’s interaction with His creation. The Divinity of God is emphasized by His otherness and His omnipotence.

In contrast, beginning at Genesis 2.4 a second account, often called “Yahwist” due to its use of the Divine Name, describes God almost as a gardener or potter, and employs anthropomorphic images. Here, the Hebrew translation states that “the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground” and “planted a Paradise in Eden in the east.” (Gen 2.7, 8) When reading an English text translated from the Hebrew, the use of the term “LORD” or “GOD” in all capitals is a convention indicating the occurrence of the Divine Name in the original. The Greek states that “God formed the man of the dust of the earth” and God “planted a paradise in Eden, towards the East”. In this paradise, or garden, are the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowing the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Gen 2.9) (In this study we will use “paradise” and “garden” interchangeably.)

The author of Genesis certainly knew that these were two separate accounts of God’s action in creating the universe. By including both in his account of the origins of the world and ultimately the history of how Israel came to be in Egypt, we are given notice as it were that the Scriptures will reveal the truth of God’s interaction with man in a composite portrait made up of differing sources. Taken together, these will provide a more vivid picture of His revelation to man than the selection of one sole source or view might offer.

This is significant for several reasons. Firstly, the multitude of witnesses whose testimonies are combined in the Bible truly do provide a rich understanding of God. Secondly, given the period covered between Genesis and the Apocalypse, we understand that the God who reveals Himself in Scripture works in the real world of human history. Thirdly, and more significantly for this discussion, we realize that in studying the Scripture we must not isolate one text from the rest.

While it is undeniable that the first two chapters of Genesis represent two different meditations on the origin of the universe and God’s essential role as Creator, we need not view them as fully unrelated or contradictory. The truths revealed in the one account are relevant and integral to the other. It is not a question of subliming incongruous details into an imagined better whole. The two accounts, dramatically differing in detail, combine to offer profound subjects for meditation and reveal a rich appreciation for the mystery that is God’s self-revelation. It is in this light that we can approach the account of the Garden in reference to image and likeness.

The distinction in style and content between the Eloistic and Yahwist traditions is also significant for our study. The Yahwist use of metaphor and anthropomorphic images in its narrative must be recognized as we interpret it. It is at once poetic and revelatory. We need not imagine God literally molding the first man out of clay to accept the specific relevance being conveyed in the imagery. The specific terminology used in these passages (especially in the Greek) will yield insights echoed in the Church Fathers’ reference to and interpretations of the metaphor and anthropomorphisms in the text.

b. The Garden of Paradise and Free Will

The account of the Garden principally begins at Genesis 2.15 and following.

And the Lord God took the man he formed and put him in the Paradise to work it and guard it. And the Lord God commanded Adam, saying, "You will eat food from every tree of the garden; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat from it, for in whatever day you should eat from it you shall die by death. (Gen 2.15-17)
Here we see the first created human being placed in a paradise (or “Garden”) and being in communion with God. The first man, Adam, is aware of God and God is present to him, speaking to him directly. He is granted a freedom to eat of “every tree of the garden” except the Tree of Perceiving the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This reveals several things about the original state of man.

The paradise in which man finds himself is not limited in the variety of its offerings. It is not a question of man only having one food for nourishment; he may eat of “every tree” except the Tree of Perceiving the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This paradise was prepared specifically for man with many kinds of fruit. “And God caused to rise out of the earth every tree beautiful to the sight and good for food, the tree of life in the middle of the Paradise, and the tree to perceive knowledge of good and evil.” (Gen 2.9)

Note, the Greek does not merely speak of a tree of the “Knowledge of Good and Evil” as many translation read, but rather speaks of a tree whereby one come to perceive, to know or, literally, ‘to see” in the sense of coming to understand or recognize. It is also worth emphasizing that the tree of life, which grew “in the middle of the paradise”, is itself but one of the many fruits from which Adam can choose. The significance of this is the implicit acknowledgement that free will is part of man’s nature. Adam can choose to eat of the tree of life or not, he can choose to eat an apple or not, etc... This freedom to choose does not in itself exclude him from communion with God; it is actually encouraged by God from the beginning.

The prohibition against eating of the tree to perceive knowledge of good and evil must be understood in this context. Adam is created with free will and placed in a paradise in which he enjoys direct and intimate communion with God. We may enhance our understanding of this by recalling (from the earlier account of creation) that Adam, like of everything created by God, is good. (Gen 1.26, 31)

Next Installment: more on Free Will, Goodness, Evil, Life and Death.