The time of Quadragesima puts us in Genesis. We are beginning, making a path, making inroads into creation. Like the breezy beginning of it all, we hover above the deep, the face of discernment. It is a time of penitence and a time for understanding origins. The mythos of Genesis presents religious truths in simple and picturesque language, and these truths place us in relation to the way things are for us. In earlier posts I spoke of reshith, a beginning, and of 'image and likeness,' a relationship etched in reality. I would like to continue with those meditations.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
References for Genesis 1:26
References for Genesis 2:21
The Hebrew words for 'suitable helper' (the roots of the words ezer and neged )can also be rendered, without torturing the text too much as 'image and likeness.' The Genesis mythos tells us that God has created all creatures from the earth, but he did not rest until he had caused the appearance of his image and likeness. This is indeed a suitable place to rest, for God could see himself in the human. It is not good for God to be without a suitable creature to continue the work of creation along with him. So, too, it is not good that the human should be alone. But a suitable helper would not be found among non-human creatures. Only when the human saw himself in another creature could he rejoice: this creature is of my very self, my very image and likeness; she shares the human's name because she shares in his humanity. Ish and Ishah, a distinction in names, a difference created to bring the likeness of God all the closer: the likeness of creating, of making.
It is easy to understand how such likeness and familiarity could be misappropriated into a notion of a great chain of being. Perhaps if its conception and execution were fluid and untainted by human greed and power, the great chain could have had some ethical value. But it is corrupt in its origins. Even its repetition in the tenets of the Age of Reason does not extricate it from its inherent intent on domination and power. Some ideas are just born bad to the bone of its bones, which is what the Great Chain of Being said to the Enlightenment. But I digress....
There are two trees in the center of Eden: the fatal one, and the tree of life. To know is to live and die. The human chose first to know, and then to live; of course God would have none of that. Adam and Eve get the boot before they can marry knowledge with immortality. Still, their choice is instructive. To be human is to want to know: knowledge often trumps humanity's best interests, even when given a choice ( sometimes we glow in the things we could do, as we neglect glowing on what we should do). If the humans of Eden had chosen the fruit of Life before they chose the fruit of Knowing, I imagine we'd have a very different book. Nonetheless, we are left with what has come to be known as Original Sin---the breach between the human and the divine that nonetheless maintains the status quo of the static symmetry between God and man.
Original Sin begs the question of 'originality' here, but perhaps its best to think of 'original' simply as 'first;' after all, we're immersed in a book of firsts. I'll certainly not present a theology of sin here, but I will suggest that sin is a departure from the order of creation. This kind of originality pokes at reshith itself, and that's why it's such a big deal (something like Myron Cohen stealing from Milton Berle stealing from Henny Youngman stealing from Jack Benny). Man in his mythic disobedience walks his originality back to the beginning itself, to the plane where he was not, and effectually begins again in that Joycean moment of a thunderous hundred letter word. This is man's nature: to know. to know he will fall, and like many-a-Finnegan, begin again. But God is in on this chaosmic joke, and Genesis lets the cat out of the bag: God brought all the animals to the man to see what he would name them. He already knew man was a creature who names, who knows by naming, and by extension, boxing, categorizing. He knew already than there is nothing that a human will not attempt to know and own by naming, not even the naming of God (witness the Exodus ontology, Ex. 3:14). The naming of cats is a difficult matter.
This is the human condition, and Genesis is its mythos. So why, then, redemption? While the symmetry between creator and created remains intact, the relationship itself has been injured. This much all people of the book acknowledge. This problem is not a matter of hurt feelings and anger, but it is a matter of the symmetry itself. It is inadequate to contain the relationship released through the revelation to come. That will have to wait in time, until a new symmetry can be rewritten on another horizon of love--in time--where it will breathe according to the ruach (the Spirit) to come. The historical moment of the Incarnation is the event in which God insists on a definitive symmetry in the interdigitations of the human and divine.