Archive for July, 2013

In Statu Viae

Posted in Uncategorized on July 23, 2013 by ancienthopes

As we view Genesis 1 and 2, we find that God made all things that make up His cosmic temple “good,” but not “good” in a finished sort of way. He left the three elements of chaos ─ darkness, the watery deep, and formless earth ─ out of which He created everything, as fundamental properties of the cosmos, but placed boundaries upon them. This established a binary bright side/dark side world thick with atmosphere, intrigue, danger, potential, and glory. It is within this that He planted the garden and placed humanity made in His own image, free with a terrifying power to choose. Shall he choose God and glory, or choose to be god apart from God, resulting in chaos. Every choice has a consequence in this binary world. Either way, creation was created “in statue via” (in a state of journeying) towards a perfection that lies at the consummation of all things. This consummation will happen, for God stands sovereign above space and time, but it will not happen apart from human choice and effort in “subduing the earth” and having “dominion over it.”

It is clear that God created the chaotic elements of darkness, watery deep, and formless earth in spite of the fact that these creation narratives do not speak of their origin. In and of themselves they are not evil because Scripture everywhere is clear that God cannot be the author of evil. However, in the face of moral choice and the fall described in Genesis 3-11, these physical elements take on a moral symbolism. Darkness is a symbol of evil; the watery deep becomes a symbol of death (a moral issue) and the sea monster within the personification of death; and formless earth the result of evil and its domain. Without these symbols, evil would have no face. Although Hebrew cosmology rejected the pagan view that the world was created through the conflict of chaos gods and fertility gods, it freely borrows this imagery to describe the moral conflict that besets humanity. For instance, consider how creation is described in terms of a primordial conflict in Ps. 74:12-17:

Yet God my King is from old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of Leviathan, you gave him as food for [sharks]. You cut open springs and brooks; you dried up ever-flowing streams. Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the luminaries and the sun. You fixed all the bounds of the earth; you made summer and winter. (RSV)

All cultures use mytho-poetic language to put a face on evil that otherwise passes by and through us every day unseen, barely observed, or blatant. The ancient Hebrews used the sea monster, a snake-like Leviathan with multiple heads (Is. 27:1), to expose it to their consciousness. Medieval Europe used the dragon which, 1) ate men, 2) horded gold although it had no use for it, 3) enslaves beautiful women although asexual, 4) a hybrid of snake and bird that flies. Today, in western culture, in spite of our rationalism and scientific mindset that does not readily have a category for evil, the vampire emerges as the supreme symbol of evil. Like the dragon, it feeds on men, is of old money, enslaves beautiful women, and is a hybrid bat/man. Evil brings men to feed on one another, and exploit through sex and money. The vampire gives evil a face so we can actually see something that is invisible but very familiar, and this is why he is so popular.

And so we like Adam and Eve must make the choice and fight the monster. This choice is not merely a private one, but like Adam and Eve’s, has cosmic implications. It may not be the kind of life we would naturally prefer, for we long for the perfection for which we were made. Instead, we are, like the world around us, in statu viae, in a state of journeying. In the end, there will be a new heavens and a new earth, with no chaos monster to fight, no chaotic elements, the binary bonds will break. If there is something like darkness, it will have no evil connotations; our old sun and moon will pass from memory, for the Eternal City will be lit by the light of God (Rev. 21:23, 22:5). If there is something like a sea, it will be subdued (see the “glassy sea” in Rev. 15:2), no longer associated with death (Rev. 21:1). The city is a garden, with no formless or barren earth.

“ … let me enter my chamber and sing my songs of love to Thee, groaning with inexpressible groaning in my distant wandering, and remembering Jerusalem with my heart stretching upwards in longing for it: Jerusalem my fatherland, Jerusalem who is my mother …” (Augustine, Conf. XII, xvi, 23.)


Binary World of Bright Side/Dark Side

Posted in Uncategorized on July 17, 2013 by ancienthopes

God made the world binary. Everything comes in twos, whether in sets like man/woman, opposites like black/white, or dark side/bright side in positive-negative contrasts. Pagans observed this latter phenomenon and naturally concluded that reality was dualistic, where good and evil always existed alongside each other as equal powers, and are in eternal conflict. Their pantheons with good and evil gods reflect this, and on a more sophisticated level, so does the yin-yang of Chinese philosophy. As we all know, this pagan idea has made deep inroads into our culture with the return of Gnosticism, popularly portrayed and delivered to us through Star Wars with its impersonal “force” battling the “dark side.”

The Bible however, rejects dualism while displaying very profound insight into the binary nature of reality. In Genesis 1 we see that the cosmos was made by God in pairs, light/darkness, day/night, evening/morning, earth/sky, dry land/watery deep, waters above/waters below, fish/birds, and man/woman. We discussed in a previous post, “A Tour through the Holy of Holies,” how God created the various phenomena we labeled “motifs” that made up the Garden of Eden. All these were motifs are presented in Genesis 2 in their positive pristine goodness. However, as we shall see with the Fall narrative (Genesis 3-12), each of these motifs has a “dark side.” This binary bright side/dark side reality is crucial for understanding the physical and moral structure of creation, ultimately associated with a central doctrine of the image of God in humanity; that of will and choice.

The dark side of the garden motif is the formless earth or desert/wilderness motif, and by extension the whole idea of Sheol, the underworld, referred to as a dark “land” in the Old Testament (Job 10:21, 22, Jer. 14:2). The dark side to the mountain motif is the Tower of Babel, the “magic mountain” of pagan thought, the “high places” where Israel engaged in pagan practices. The dark side to the river motif is the watery deep, the symbol of death, and flooding. The dark side of precious metals and gemstones, while good in and of themselves, is the power they possess over the human soul in the form of greed and the magic powers gems were thought to possess. The dark side to the marriage/family union, and by extension societal unity, is the dissolution of human bonds, breaking of relational boundaries in illicit sex, adultery, and murder, as well as humanity uniting for dark purposes (Gen. 11:1-9, Ps. 2). The dark side to the innocence of pristine nakedness is uncontrollable lust, exposure, fear of rejection, and shame. Associated with this is the clothing motif with its bright side of protection and dignity and dark side of “dirty clothes” (e.g. Zech. 3:3). The dark side of aromatic spices is stench and rot. The dark side of the boundary motif is the breaking of boundaries, both physical and moral (law), or the constraint of boundaries that inhibit expansion and blessing, or walling oneself in for selfish or arrogant reasons (e.g. Amos 3:9-11). The dark side of the naming is slandering one’s name, or having no name. The dark side to the work motif is laboring against the elements brought on by the curse of the fall, the work that goes into evil scheming, laziness, non-creativity, and unfruitfulness. Finally, the dark side to the theophany motif is the demonophany where evil penetrated the garden through the serpent.

Everything in reality, both physical and spiritual, is binary! Everything surrounding us, both seen and unseen, is geared for choice. Choice has consequences directly linked to life on the bright side, or death and chaos on the dark side. In a way, the two trees, the tree of life and the tree of all knowledge which translates for us as “doing life our own way,” still stand before us. God in His great power could have anything He wants, but He cannot have my soul except I give it to Him. This is why my choice is so precious to Him. This is why the whole world stands before us in the form of binary structures; every moment offers us opportunity to choose. Adam is every man; Eve is every woman.

The Two Trees

Posted in Uncategorized on July 8, 2013 by ancienthopes

Trees tend to be mere plants to us westerners with little or no spiritual symbolism. Not so with the Hebrews, and for that matter, all ancient peoples. Trees always had a spiritual significance. When Abraham entered the Promised Land, he quite naturally planted groves, and among its trees he worshiped God (Gen.21:33). Elsewhere certain venerable old trees were understood to be connected with revelation and prophetic oracles (Gen 12:6f., 13:18, 18:1, Judges 4:4). Most probably there was a sacred grove within the Temple precincts (Ps. 92:12, 13), which, when we consider the connection between the creation accounts with the Temple, makes perfect sense.

This causes us to pause when considering the two special trees of Eden. They are laden with theological symbolism. First, let’s consider the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Actually, the words “good and evil” make what is called a “merism,” a literary device used in Hebrew to denote two extremes including everything that is between them. In this case, the tree would be better translated as “the tree of all knowledge.” This tree cannot possibly be an essentially bad tree, and we must conclude that since God made it and planted it in the garden, this tree must have been necessary to our humanity. We might even say that what made it evil was purely the divine command against eating from it, and that in time God would have allowed it, perhaps after a time of testing. It has always been a teaching of the Church that however wonderful our pre-fall parents were created, that they were lacking something that only obedience would ultimately give them. The fact that there were innocently naked suggests that they had to grow and mature into knowledge, and that this knowledge is associated with this tree.

One might justly ask why God would plant such a tree with such terrible consequences. It certainly would be cruel if it were not for the fact that He planted it in association with the tree of life. This tree can be understood in two ways. First, the tree, once the fruit was eaten, would immediately translate Adam and Eve into everlasting life, as Gen 3:22 might suggest. This assumes that they did not eat of it. This interpretation has at least two difficulties. First, it is hard to believe that if the tree was allowed that they would refrain from taking it. Second, they were already made to live forever, for death came with disobedience, and was not part of their primal experience. Therefore, we understand the tree to function sacramentally. Adam and Eve did, in fact, partake of the tree, and by so doing, received life into their beings. The tree therefore was the physical means by which their relationship with God was maintained. Eating and relationship are inseparable in the ancient world. The divine concern in 3:22 is best understood that now since they disobeyed and entered into a fallen state, if they should continue to partake of the tree of life in this sinful condition, their existence would become one of eternal torment. (See connection with the Eucharist in I Corinthians 11:27ff.)

A criticism of the two tree symbolism in relation to the fall and the origin of sin is the problem of why, if Adam and Eve were in a blessed state in communion with God, they would compromise this by disobeying. The answer to this is in the above paragraph where we said that Adam and Eve were not created with the full knowledge God intended for them. Something was lacking and they sensed this. Shall they obtain this by trusting in God and patiently waiting? Or, shall they risk known pleasures for forbidden pleasures and knowledge? The two trees must be seen in tandem, and everything revolves around free will. From God’s perspective, the risk was necessary to have a real relationship where humanity actually chooses to do God’s will freely, and thus live in authentic union with these creatures made in His image.

These two trees are the primary motifs in the Garden. The fact that there are two of them tells us something about all the other garden motifs we discussed in the last post, and by extension, why everything in this world is binary in nature. This we will work on in our next post.

A Look into the Holy of Holies

Posted in Uncategorized on July 2, 2013 by ancienthopes

“Once upon a time …” ─ yes! This hackneyed dreamy introduction to fairytales would not have its existence were it not for something real behind it. There really was a garden of paradise in space and time that explains all human longing. It was believed to be an elevated place, for a river ran through it, and splits into four rivers that flowed out to water the garden. These four rivers have names that can be geographically located in the Nile river system (Pishon in Havilah and Gihon in Cush; blue and White Niles?) and the Mesopotamian river system (Tigris and Euphrates) which accommodated the earliest human civilizations. The garden itself was located mystically “in the East,” the direction of the rising sun, a holy orientation. All efforts to find its traces on a map have failed, but an ancient Hebrew would have located it in Canaan, the “land of promise,” which lies in between these two ancient river systems, in spite of the fact that they are not connected by a common river head as we have in Genesis 2:10.

We have, therefore, the first of our paradise motifs; a garden on a holy mountain with rivers of paradise. This place was specifically planted by God for man; out of its ground He made Adam and intimately breathed into him, making a creature like Himself, in his image. Beasts were likewise made from the ground, but lacked the intimate breath of God, and therefore not his equal in relationship. God formed woman from Adam’s side and rib, signifying a right fit, completeness in union, and common purpose. Hence we have the foundation of human society and relationship, the family. Nakedness was natural, for there was nothing to hide; there was complete transparency on all levels, and no need to be protected from the elements. Humanity is social by instinct, longs for transparency and intimacy, and is incomplete apart from animals. This cluster of paradise motifs belong to human relational origins.

With Adam and Eve we have the “first man” and “first woman” motifs. Adam is first man not only in his being the fountainhead of the human race, but also in his ability in naming. Naming denotes knowledge and authority; he did not give the animals arbitrary names, but saw into their essences, and choose accordingly and creatively, so much so that the process captured the “curiosity” of God (v. 19). Eve as first woman is not only the fountainhead of the human race like Adam, but becomes the prototype of the beautiful woman motif. The power of her beauty is founded upon her being made in the image of God; femininity is divine of origin as well as masculinity. Their powers converge creating “one flesh” producing not only children, but sharing one common purpose to “work and keep” the garden. Production, creativity, authority, knowledge, power, dignity and beauty of human form, are all paradise motifs associated with our first parents.

To these motifs we add gold and precious stones in the land of Havilah (2:11-12). How else do we account for the mysterious draw that jewels and gold have to the human psyche other than that they belong to our origins? The same can be said of aromatic spices (bdellium, 2:12). Every sense is engaged in this sensuous wonderland! To this we add the trees of paradise; all except one was allowed for food. Specifically, the “tree of life” and eating its fruit was associated with communion and life with God. This brings us to the “Theophany” motif, for we know that God would visit this scene in the “cool of the day (3:8), that is, the evening.

As we view this garden with our imagination, we simply cannot conceive of a more perfect or complete situation. It is the very interior of the Holy of Holies, the heart of the cosmic temple of God. Here we have the perfect union between the physical and spiritual where the Eternal comes into direct contact with creation. We all know this place! We all have been there in our collective human memory. We all long for it unless we have become so jaded by sin and disillusionment that we can no longer entrust ourselves to the good, the true and the beautiful. As fantastic as it may seem, this garden described above is ultimate reality! Our hearts tell us that this is life as it was meant to be.