The creation stories in Genesis also introduce us to this mysterious area, helping us to know God's plan for man. First of all they affirm that God formed man of the dust of the earth (cf.Gen 2:7). This means that we are not God, we did not make ourselves, we are earth; but it also means that we come from the good soil, by the work of the good Creator. Added to this is another fundamental reality: all human beings are dust, beyond the distinctions made by culture and history, beyond any social difference; we are one humanity moulded with the one soil of God. Then there is a second element: the human being has its origin in God breathing the breath of life into the body moulded from the earth (cf. Gen 2:7). The human being is made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27). So we all carry within us God's breath of life and every human life - the Bible tells us - is under God's special protection. This is the most profound reason for the inviolability of human dignity against any attempt to judge the person according to utilitarian and power-based criteria. Being in the image and likeness of God means, then, that man is not closed in on himself, but finds in God his essential point of reference.In the first chapters of the Book of Genesis we find two significant images: the garden with the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the serpent (cf. 2:15-17; 3,1-5). The garden tells us that the reality in which God has placed the human being is not a wild forest, but a place that He protects, nourishes and sustains; and man must recognize the world not as property to be plundered and exploited, but as a gift of the Creator, a sign of His saving will, a gift to cultivate and care for, to grow and develop with respect, in harmony, following its rhythms and logic, according to the plan of God (cf. Gen 2:8-15). Then, the serpent is a figure derived from oriental fertility cults, which appealed to Israel and were a constant temptation to abandon the mysterious covenant with God. In light of this, the Sacred Scripture presents the temptation that Adam and Eve undergo as the essence of temptation and of sin. What does the serpent say, in fact? He does not deny God, but slips in a subtle question: "Is it true that God has said 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?'"(Gen 3:1). In this way, the serpent raises the suspicion that the covenant with God is like a chain that binds him, depriving him of freedom and of the most beautiful and precious things in life. The temptation becomes to build their own world in which to live, to not accept the limitations of being a creature, the limits of good and evil, of morality; their dependence on the love of God the Creator is seen as a burden to be shaken off. This is always the essence of temptation. But when it distorts the relationship with God, with a lie, putting oneself in His place, all the other relationships are altered. Then the other becomes a rival, a threat: Adam, having succumbed to the temptation, immediately accuses Eve (cf. Gen 3:12); the two hide from the sight of that God with whom they used to converse in friendship (cf. 3:8-10); the world is no longer a garden to live in in harmony, but a place to be exploited and which conceals pitfalls (cf. 3:14-19); envy and hatred towards each other enter into the heart of man: one example is that of Cain, who kills his brother Abel (cf. 4:3-9). By turning against his Creator, in reality man turns against himself, he denies his origin and therefore his truth; and evil enters into the world, with its painful chain of sorrow and death. And so what God had created was good, in fact, very good; and after this free decision of man for a lie and against the truth, evil enters the world.In the creation stories, I would like to highlight one last teaching: sin begets sin and all the sins of history are interconnected. This aspect leads us to talk about what we call "original sin." What is the meaning of this reality, so difficult to understand? I would like offer just a few elements. First, we must consider that no man is closed in on himself, no one can live only in and for himself; we receive life from the other and not just at the moment of our birth, but every day. The human being is relation: I am myself only in you and through you, in the relationship of love with the Thou of God and the you of others. Well, sin is to upset or destroy the relationship with God, this is its essence: to destroy the relationship with God, the fundamental relationship, to put oneself in the place of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that with the first sin, man "chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good" (no. 398). When the fundamental relationship is disturbed, all the other relational poles are compromised or destroyed, sin ruin relationships, and in this way ruins everything, because we are relation. Now, if the relational structure of humanity is troubled from the start, every man walks into a world marked by this disturbance of relationships, he enters a world disturbed by sin, of which he is marked personally; the initial sin attacks and injures human nature (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 404-406). And man alone, one alone cannot get out of this situation, he cannot redeem himself alone; only the Creator Himself can restore the right relationships. Only if He from whom we have strayed comes to us and takes us by the hand with love, can the right relationships be stitched together again. This is done in Jesus Christ, who goes in exactly the opposite direction of Adam, as described in the hymn in the second chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (2:5-11): while Adam does not acknowledge his creaturely status and wants to put himself in the place of God, Jesus, the Son of God, is in a perfect filial relationship with the Father, he lowers himself, he becomes the servant, he goes the way of humbling himself to death on the cross, to reorder our relations with God. The Cross of Christ becomes the new Tree of Life.Dear brothers and sisters, to live by faith is to recognize the greatness of God and accept our smallness, our creaturely condition, letting the Lord fill it with His love and so allowing our true greatness to grow. Evil, with its burden of pain and suffering, is a mystery that is illuminated by the light of faith, which gives us the certainty of being able to be freed: the certainty that it is good to be a human being.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
Pope Benedict's Thoughts on the Creation
This excerpt from yesterday's Wednesday Audience is simply one of the best, most succinct, explanations of how we are to understand the stories of creation in Genesis, with particular attention to our dependence on God, our basic goodness (as I touched upon in my previous post), and the meaning of original sin. From Zenit...