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)

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