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Reflections on Genesis 2:7-9; 2:15-25 Part 2


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"God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." (Genesis 1:31)

REFLECTIONS ON GENESIS 2:7-9; 2:15-25 Part 2


The provision for man's sustenance, wellbeing and pleasure is evident in verses eight and nine where a garden is created and trees planted, which are both aesthetically pleasing and useful in that they provide food. Notice also the sense of abundance in the word "every": "the Lord God made to grow every tree". This word is repeated so often that we cannot fail to notice the extent to which God oversees the sustenance, pleasure and life of man. In all of this it is God who takes the initiative as it always is in our lives. It is he who provides and acts in us and for us.

This gives us confidence in life and a confidence that does not depend on self but on God. It is incomprehensible for a Christian to lack confidence as is the case of many non-believers because of dissatisfaction with some part of one's body, for example. Whoever is without God is left with self only, which is such a precarious foundation on which to build psychological stability and confidence as many are discovering. Our confidence does not depend on such things, but on the Lord: "The Lord will be your confidence" (Proverbs 3:26). Our confidence is in the Lord because we are aware that he provides in abundance:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3)
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14, 15)
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7).
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)
That abundance of life, in this text, is represented by the tree of life. However, it is placed beside the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Here we have the fundamental choice mentioned in the reflections on Genesis 1:1-5, the choice between life or death.

Both trees were in the middle of the garden, as if to suggest that the choice between one or the other lies at the heart of the relationship between God and man. Life, abundance of life, depends on obedience. To achieve the full potential of human life means to walk in the ways of God with unconditional obedience because the laws of God are solely in the interests of man. There was an abundance of trees and all except one was at man’s disposal. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was so called, because eating the fruit of this tree would have brought a knowledge of evil whereas man, until then had only known, or experienced good. By eating of its fruit man would become independent of God deciding by himself what is right and wrong to his own detriment. Man was not free to do this as that would be to usurp the role of God himself. Only God, through his Word and the Holy Spirit, can decide what is right and wrong.

One might ask why God placed this tree in the garden. The answer is that God created man to establish a relationship with him. He created man, not as a thing or a machine. Love is fruitful when it is reciprocal. God gave man the choice of establishing a relationship of love: to accept him, to lose himself in him and thereby to be enriched by him, and live a life increasingly abundant. Man was given the choice to remain in the will of God or to assert himself and disobey. The whole issue is one of recognising who is the Creator and who is the creature. Once again it is a question of truth, humility and obedience not of self-assertion or rebellion. Obedience, by walking in the will of God, maintains this order, unity and prosperity. Disobedience brings death in its wake, personal spiritual death and the spiritual death of communities. It is a moral choice still very much at the centre of man’s existence and of society.

That same choice re-presents itself today in the acceptance or non-acceptance of Jesus Christ as the source of life and salvation “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). It is the very same choice, the tree of life or the tree of death.

It is not by chance or by some strange choice of words that in several passages of the New Testament the cross is referred to as a “tree”, for example in Acts 5:30:
The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. (Acts 5:30)
If we eat of this tree, the cross, we have life. The fruit of this tree is Jesus Christ whom we accept into our lives and in whose presence we live and whose life-giving body we eat:
This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ (John 6:51)
Notice the second commandment of God. The first was to increase and multiply. Here the commandment contains an element of freedom “you may ‘freely’ eat of every tree” but also a warning. One tree was excluded from this freedom of choice, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We should notice that God’s commandments are all in the interests of man and not arbitrary impositions to stifle his freedom. They indicate the way to true freedom. Man is warned against what seems pleasing but which, in reality, is damaging to his very existence. This is yet another manifestation of God’s protection and provision. Forewarned is forearmed.

The laws and commandments of God correspond to the needs of man, although man is not always aware of those needs and may be deceived by things more pleasing to the senses. They give him direction and lead to his joy and happiness:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring for ever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:7-11)
Again, with man’s interests in mind, God sees solitude, as something that leaves man incomplete and therefore provides the company of animals (v. 19). It becomes very clear, in this text, that God’s activity is man-centred and that there are no half measures with God’s blessings for man. However, God saw that this abundance was still insufficient. Man needed one of his own kind so a companion was created. Just as in the creation of man, and unlike the creation of other living organisms, woman was not “spoken” into existence but formed from pre-existing material, the rib from man. We must not read into this something that is not there. There is no hint of inferiority because created after man or because taken from a part of man. That would contradict other passages of Scripture. The fact is that woman was created just like man, by an act of will and with the personal involvement of God and from pre-existent material. It is quite clear that she is made of the same essence as man and therefore shares the same dignity and vocation. Anything short of this would be a distortion of truth. That the central idea is not one of inferiority but of equality is clear from verse 23 where man says: “bone of my bone”, “flesh of my flesh”. Woman is created in the image of man and therefore also in the image and likeness of God. The final confirmation of equality: lies in the words “they become one flesh” (v. 24). The two are one. They are distinct, yet one in nature and essence.

The last point made is that they were not self-conscious or centred on self. They were not ashamed of their natural state.

The overall picture of this text is one of abundance, life, peace, harmony and unity. We shall see, next time, that this situation changes radically. As Christians and new creations these should also be the characteristics of our lives and therefore of our Christian communities:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)

 

Suitable reading:

Dominum et vivificantem On the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1995.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, Encounter, Darton, Longman & Todd, 2005. (Translated from the Russian by Tatiana Wolff)


 

Robert Walsh

 

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