Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Genesis as Icon, Part IV: An Icon of God's Loving Response to Sin

The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

So the Lord God said to the serpent: "Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel."

Did you catch that? Because it’s breathtaking. God’s very first concern after the ancestral sin was our salvation! For her sake, whom God loved and the serpent had tricked, the devil, God says, will henceforth live in disgrace and eventually be crushed by the woman's Descendant, Note, her Descendant, not Adam’s, namely Jesus, born of a virgin. Satan will “bruise His heel”; that is, will succeed in crucifying Him (satan will do this, not God!) but He will trample down the devil. Already God, in his unfailing kindness, promises the Savior and curses the enemy. Alice Linsley, an Orthodox scholar one of whose fields of expertise is focused upon the first book of the Bible, says this message is in fact the main point of the whole book of Genesis; the entire work, she tells us, is fundamentally an account of the origins of messianic expectations.

Let us pay special attention to what and whom God cursed – NOT Adam and Eve, as is commonly supposed and too often preached.

Time Out!

Satan? Isn’t he a just piece of antiquated mythology?

We simply cannot get around satan (with a small “s” to avoid showing any respect) and maintain any intellectual or moral integrity, since he is not merely an item of Christian belief, but of the experience of millions of people over thousands of years. Both the Old and the New Testaments bear witness to this experience (otherwise known as God’s revelation in history), and so do all the Fathers of the Church, and the saints and ascetics down to the present day. The witness is unanimous, of prophets, patriarchs, apostles, martyrs, and saints, and of Christ Himself.

But if anyone cannot bring himself to believe in satan, let him go forth to wage spiritual warfare himself. Struggle to learn never to judge anyone. Try weaning yourself from enslavement to all the various bodily pleasures and comforts. Strive for sexual purity. Learn to forgive and deeply love your enemies. Try taming your tongue. Do these things (or even just one of them) not for a few days or a few weeks, but for many months, stretching into years. Then come back and tell us whether you can find any better description of what you have found yourself up against than “satan”. The more you struggle to cultivate your spirit, the more accurate you will find “satan” as a portrayal of your opponent in the fight.

Put another way, if there is no satan (and if there are no demons), there may as well be! In effect, there are. Only those without experience in spiritual struggle have not learned this.
Although God had permitted the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve, that by resisting him they should win their first spiritual victory, nevertheless it was wicked for the serpent to have lured them into disobedience; he had not, in other words, been acting on God’s behalf. Contrary to what many imply, God does not ever employ the evil one! He regularly turns the tables on satan, so that his wiles ultimately work in our favor, but that is not the same thing as saying He and the devil work together or for a common purpose. The devil is always, always the enemy.

Adam and Eve certainly do not escape blame for their sin, but in the Genesis account, the blame is shared with satan, in fact, rests primarily upon satan. Therefore, we are to regard Adam and Eve with compassion, not only as perpetrators of the sin, but also as victims of the devil. That we should have compassion for them is all the more appropriate since they are icons of ourselves, who continue willfully to accept the serpent’s deceptions.

Nevertheless, chastisement (not a curse) is now placed upon Eve: her childbearing will be painful, yet she will still desire her husband. She is now placed in subjection to Adam, “the figure of Him who was to come” (Romans 5:14), who was not deceived as she was. In being placed under Adam, she typifies the Church’s subjection to Christ. Henceforth, her childbearing will become physically painful, mirroring the tragedy that death, now infecting her very genes, will be transmitted to all her progeny. (The death itself is not from God's hand, as we shall see in the next post; but the reminder of it, in every birth, is.)

As the serpent was cursed for Eve’s sake, the ground was next cursed for Adam’s sake. Even the ground would no longer bear enough food for him by itself. He would henceforth have to work and sweat for his survival.

Man had been created as the priest of creation, and with the falling away of Adam and Eve, the whole creation fell, because it had lost its priest and mediator.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. (Romans 8:20-22)

Creation’s crowning glory, man, had reverted almost to the level of a mere animal, and in some ways, to a worse level, for animals do not sin. The animals, having been created for Adam, and having come to him to be named, became afraid of people. In Adam and Eve, the whole universe suffered captivity to satan.

[The forbidden tree], not given, not blessed by God … was food whose eating was condemned to be communion with itself alone, and not with God. It is the image of the world loved for itself, and eating it is the image of life understood as an end in itself. (Schmemann, Fr. Alexander, For the Life of the World (Crestwood, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), p. 16)

When we see the world as an end in itself, everything becomes itself a value and consequently loses all value, because only in God is found the meaning (value) of everything, and the world is meaningful only when it is the “sacrament” of God’s presence. Things treated merely as things in themselves destroy themselves because only in God have they any life. The world of nature, cut off from the source of life, is a dying world. (ibid., p. 17.)

This cursing of the ground and beginning of hard labor was meant to teach and correct Adam, to show him the whole world’s utter dependence upon God, and his own, personal dependence upon Him, as well.

These chastisements were given, says St. Irenaeus, lest Adam and Eve, “by remaining unreprimanded, should be led to despise God.” (St. Ireneaus, op. cit., 3, XXIII, 3.)

There is no biblical record of Adam and Eve repenting as a result of these lessons, but the icon of Pascha (Easter) depicts Adam and Eve as the first ones Christ raises from the dead. St. Irenaeus argues emphatically that Adam was indeed saved. (St. Ireneaus, Against Heresies, 3, XXIII.) And legend has it that Christ’s life-giving cross was erected directly over Adam’s grave, so that the holy blood fell upon his remains.

The Risen Christ Raises Eve, then Adam, From Their Graves

The calamity that happened in Eden is multi-faceted. We have barely begun to describe all the aspects of it. The next post will be devoted to one, to how death entered the picture, not as a reaction of God, for He did not inflict it, but as a natural consequence of our first parents’ unnatural act.


s-p said...

Great stuff! Thanks for posting.