Good and evil, grace and sin: commentary on select verses from Genesis 1-11
Year 1, Week 5, Monday Glenroy 1977
“God said: ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” Genesis 1:3
God does not engage in some complex process to create light. The power of his will is sufficient: his fiatis enough.
The power of God is evident to us who have free will. We know that the act of creation is done out of love, gratuitously and generously. Creation is the natural outcome of his own completeness and energy. To say that it is necessary implies a lack of preceding fullness: that God would be less than God without it. To fear that the gratuitousness of creation would make us irrelevant is to misunderstand the act of generosity: the creator loves himself and his work, and wishes to draw his work to himself.
Neither is creation a mere product of technology: God does not create a machine that runs by itself. He establishes a world which he maintains; he continues to direct the world that he maintains and directs it for the sake of humans who are free. Furthermore, he endows humans with every capacity that he, God, possesses, so that humans become creators of the world. God has the initiative, but humans second the creator, having come to share his power. They become their own creators, so to speak, by sharing in the wisdom which was present at start of creation.
In this way we come to know the mind and the purpose of God and why he creates.
Year 1, Week 5, Tuesday Glenroy 1977
“God blessed them, and God said to them, “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.” Genesis 1:28
God creates the different levels of creation and eventually creates humans, the final, the highest and the greatest work of creation, the only work made in the image of God.
The relationship between humans and creation is described in a blessing: “be masters of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth”. All three levels of living things are subject to humans because these are most alive. They are, however, created along with them, beings of flesh and blood. Thus, two things are required: mankind is livelier, mankind is of the same substance: humans are both like and unlike creation.
These two elements must stay in balance if humans are to remain master. If they fail to feel their unity with creation, if they treat creation as something foreign, if they subject creation and exploit it, treating flesh as rock and stones as money, they will become mere slave-masters, and creation will rebel against them and kill them. If, on the other hand, they fail to be livelier, if they give up the process of mastering creation, creation will turn elsewhere.
Humans are both like and unlike creation. They feel the all-encompassing unity, they are aware of every aspect of nature, of their situation and environment. They walk among the trees as among a palace full of persons, they walk in the fields as across coloured carpets. All creation is their body, which they feel and grasp and cherish. They do not have the strength of creation nor its extent in time and space, but they are more quick and their emotions more intense. Therefore, they can take it all as their body.
The purpose is this: to take the essence of all creation and to turn it into the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem, the liberated creation, wherein all the just with their glorified bodies will walk, in all things spiritualised. For if there exists a spiritual body there exists a spiritual creation. And if humankind is resurrected on the last day, creation too – in its essence – will be resurrected. Then it will have the freedom of the children of God who have mastered it.
Year 1, Week 5, Thursday Glenroy 1977
“So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Genesis 2.21-23
The man was made from the soil of the earth and given the breath of God. The beasts were likewise made from the earth, but without the breath of God. Woman, so delicately, is not taken from the earth, but from the body of the man. She is an altogether special creation. This is done so surprisingly, so gently, so human: her origin is human, the part of another body, but with flesh given from elsewhere, we know not whence.
All the beasts were useful. They were certainly a help, but no helpmate. Their usefulness did not remove the man’s loneliness. God is forced, so to speak, to try another tack: he takes the rib, that is, he takes the rod, the ‘bone’, the stiffened flesh of the man, shaped like a rib and encloses it in flesh. The concern is now no longer for the garden but for another sort of tree. She, the woman, is flesh for the man’s bone. She is the crown, the robe, the justification of that tree. She is the one who encloses, captures, tends that tree, and makes it bear a ‘seed’.
The man realises this radical change upon seeing her. He had been asleep – for most great changes in our character and personality occur unconsciously. The man ceases to be a lone labourer, hardly different from the beast, a rude and rough fellow. In his sleep he is changed in his body, as it stiffens; his body helps change the world around him, as it takes on a new character. All gifts are given to us ‘while we sleep’ – ‘the Lord showers gifts on his beloved while they sleep’. It is not our effort that makes the great changes in life. The world changes while we are asleep. The man cannot cope consciously with the change and so withdraws. Every great event is the action of God, and God is seen through them. Man cannot survive the sight of God and so retreats into unconscious.
God brings the woman. The man recognises her: their bodies are perfectly related to one another and so there is a basis, now, not of similarity – for he had that with the beasts, but of relationship: they are made for each other; one is modelled with regard to the other. There is difference, yet the difference is for the sake of a greater unity. On the basis of difference and relation he can recognise that he and the woman are made for each other. Being related in their bodies, they can relate in their persons. And so, he welcomes her; he rejoices at this gift from God; he sees the unity of their bodies. And his loneliness is gone.
Year 1, Week 5, Friday Glenroy 1977
“The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ … 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, who was with her, and he ate.” Genesis 3:6
The tree is referred to as “the tree in the middle of the garden”. There was nothing special about it except that it was forbidden. This fact was temptation enough. The man is drawn to the forbidden and nameless. He forgets his purpose which is to cultivate the other trees and goes after something that is not for him.
The trees permitted and the tree forbidden stand for the order established by God. Order means ‘yes and no’, ‘this and not that’. Every sin is an attack against this order, an attempt to set up a new order; every sin is a doubt about God’s good intentions and a setting oneself up as God. The fall in Genesis is an account of everyman’s fall.
Conscience reveals the law of God; it perceives the purpose without knowing why it is so. In the immediate a forbidden thing can appear good and a commanded thing appear bad. Therefore, there is a conflict between what is known immediately and what is known from the mysterious future. Everyman at some stage chooses the immediate bad instead of the future good.
The result is the loss of the future good and the choice of future evil. Yet God will subvert his own order and not allow man the full price of his folly: he will send one who is without sin and who saves man from the consequences of his unhappy choice. The new Adam will save unhappy Man.
Year 1, Week 5, Wednesday Glenroy 1977
“when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up …And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed…. 15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” Genesis 2:5, 8, 15.
In the desert where there is no rain, no vegetation, no husbandry, God creates his first work: the human being. At the head of creation stands the purpose of all creation: the human, whom God fashions from the clods of earth like a child playing with the sand. Into this shape, so marvellously contrived, God breathes his own breath. The man is alive with the life of God.
God then establishes an oasis for the man, an oasis in this desert of barrenness, with every variety of tree. It is a paradise, a garden, with all that he needs for his sustenance.
From the beginning the man must work: the garden is for his pleasure, to feed his eye; for his sustenance, to feed his body. Yet the man is also for the garden: to cultivate it and care for it. From the beginning work is a part of human existence. Work is not the result of sin and the fall. Creation supports man: man cultivates creation. He looks after it, in a mutual relationship.
That relationship is quite opposite to the attitude of exploitation-idleness. Creation is not an abode to be plundered. The trees do not simply bear fruit. The world is not a breast with unending supplies of milk. This would force man into a perpetual childhood, bad-tempered at that.
Creation, by the structure God has given it, forces man into an attitude of maturity: a contractual arrangement. Creation will support humans if humans cultivate it. The support is free and the cultivation will be free. If either fails, both fail – the contract is broken. If man exploits creation, the trees will fail to produce their fruit and to attract the eye. If creation fails, man will be absorbed by the desert.
The trees are many: we have not even begun to see them all. The riches of creation, the depths of relationships, the powers of the human person: these are available for cultivation. We are given these things. We do not make them, but we cultivate them and allows them to develop.
When human beings have cultivated the ‘garden’ to its utmost, they will find that their work has made them immortal; their effort and the resultant fruit have made them deathless. And for all eternity they live and work. For work is natural. Jesus says ‘God keeps on working and so do I’.
Year 1, Week 6, Monday East Doncaster, 1989
“Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.” Genesis 4:25
During week 5 of Ordinary Time, we saw the introduction of sin into a creation that was originally good. During this week, 6, we see its progress.
The first sin was the offense of man against God. The second sin is the offense of man against man. The original sin derived from the wish to be like God. The second sin derives from the wish to be pleasing to God above one’s fellow. The ground which produced brambles as a result of the first sin now produces offerings unacceptable to God in the second sin. The serpent that tempted from the tree is now a beast crouching at the door. The sin of the children follows on the sin of the parents. Sin against God leads to sin against man.
The garments of skin protect man and woman from their vulnerability but do not remove their guilt. The mark will protect Cain but only by the threat of bloodshed.
Adam has set a trail of blood that will be reversed through ‘the sacrifice more pleasing than Abel’s’, that of the Second Adam.
Year 1, Week 6, Tuesday East Doncaster, 1989
“So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favour in the sight of the Lord.” Genesis 6:7-8
After the sin of man against man, there is the continued growth of violence until the point when God undoes his work of the sixth day. He brings a flood upon the earth to wipe away every living creature. God – in the laws of nature – will imitate man’s violence to its ultimate degree.
Thus, the sin of man against God has bred the violence of man against man which in tum brings about the destruction of all living creatures.
Except that Noah saves a remnant of his family and of the work of the sixth day. In this way a new beginning might begin. The one just man saves a remnant and the remnant repopulates the earth.
Year 1, Week 6, Wednesday East Doncaster, 1989
Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22
With a word God had created the architecture of creation and its furnishing. However, man’s violence had brought God to loosen the joints of the world and to destroy all living creatures.
But things are now restored. The flood subsides. The dove announces the end of the disaster. Noah opens the hatch of the ark to find that the world is once again habitable, for it is through Noah that the world is renewed. His justice has saved a remnant. It is through a man that God restores. With Noah all is remade.
This scene provides the backdrop for Jesus’ work. He will enter the waters of the flood at his baptism. As he rises from the river, the Holy Spirit comes bearing peace and the sign of anointing. In Jesus a new humanity is formed. More than Noah, he, Jesus, himself the remnant, repopulates the earth. Thus, all things are restored in him. In his body a new race is formed, the community of his disciples.
Year 1, Week 6, Thursday East Doncaster, 1989
“God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.”Genesis 9:1-2
Although all things are restored in Noah, traces of violence remain. There was originally no shedding of blood; mankind’s food was only vegetable. But now, after the flood, there is the command to be the terror of all that lives, for mankind will eat flesh.
This violence will not be removed until it too is made fruitful. It needs to be redeemed. Only when Christ shows the traces of the nails and the lance will violence be made useful and glorious.
The restoring work of Christ not only restores mankind in its flesh. It also allows the wounds to be beautiful. It allows violence to be valuable. The sin of mankind is taken away by being transformed into grace.
This is the complete restoration after the flood
Year 1, Week 6, Friday East Doncaster, 1989
“Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, … the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” Genesis 11:4, 9
We come now to the fourth fall. After man’s disobedience to God, after the crime of man against man, after the human destructiveness of creation, there is now the conflict of nation with nation.
Just as the first sin was the human attempt to be like God, so this fourth sin is the human ambition to reach the throne of God. By not observing their proper place, the people of Babel bring about their own destruction. The attempt to be God prevents one man from allowing his brother to be like God. Civil strife begins.
The mark of this disunity is the inability to communicate. Only on the day of Pentecost will this punishment be undone. The various languages are preserved; the one Gospel is communicated in all of them. Humanity has received the Spirit of God and has become like God, not on some mountain but where God truly dwells, namely in the community gathered in prayer.
Year 1, Week 6, Saturday East Doncaster
“By faith Abel …. By faith Enoch … By faith Noah, …By faith Abraham” Hebrews 11:4, 5, 7, 8,
The episodes of the Book of Genesis we have been reading this week have shown the progressive corruption of mankind until the appearance of Abraham, the father of faith. Hebrews 11:1-7 points out that the gloom of sin is shot through with rays of light.
Creation is the work of God. Abel’s offering is pleasing to God, an offering that forecasts the passion of Christ. Enoch who is assumed into heaven prefigures the resurrection of Christ. Noah, the just man, prefigures the Christ who saves the Church, the bark of Peter floating on the waters of baptism.
Thus, sin is contrasted with faith. Faith proves victorious in the end. The sad story of corruption is outshone by the greater story of faith.