Monday, January 16, 2006

An update

I have 10 minutes before I need to take my babysitter home so I thought I'd check in here and read the comments to my last post. As usual, fantastic.

I also thought I'd give those of you who are wondering a quick update on where I am spiritually since it's been a while since I've talked about the big picture. A few thoughts:

- I am liking church a lot more than I thought I would. When I first started considering the whole religion thing I kept trying to think of a way to get out of having to go to church. It's now one of my favorite parts of the week. One odd thing is that I usually end up teary-eyed at some point in the Mass, though not about anything in particular.

- Oddly, I still don't feel any closer to God. I pretty much totally accept the idea of God and Jesus intellectually, but don't feel it in my heart. I don't feel ready at all to make a statement like "I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior." I could say it with the caveat "...if he really exists," but not by itself. Also, I still don't totally understand the whole Savior thing (i.e. why God couldn't just decide to forgive us for our sins without sacrificing his Son) but that's the subject of another post.

- I worry about the above. I feel like if I were going to "get it" I would have already by now. Throughout December I hardly even put much thought into it (hence the lack of updates on the blog). Hopefully I'll eventually get it. Maybe I'm just a slow learner.

OK, I am now late taking my babysitter home so that's it for this post. Just wanted to give an update.


At January 19, 2006 3:23 PM, Anonymous SteveG said...

Also, I still don't totally understand the whole Savior thing (i.e. why God couldn't just decide to forgive us for our sins without sacrificing his Son) but that's the subject of another post.

I've already responded to some of the issues you bring up here in respons to your post from 1/17/05. But this is simply to big, and too important to set aside. I want to at least take a stab it this and if nothing else fire up a discussion on this which may help.

What is sacrifice? What or who are we being saved from?


Sacrifice is the act of giving up something of value, particularly for/to someone else. Even in the act of animal sacrifice, what you ultimately have is a message from the individual to the deity that ‘I will take this thing of value and offer it to you because I….I fear/love (substitute motivator) you’. An Ox was of great value in a pre-industrial agricultural society. Think of what this ‘cost’ the individual. Even in cultures where the sacrifice was a pigeon or a small animal, the animal usually was purchased. Once again, there is a personal cost involved.

Such practices usually became so ritualized that the ‘meaning’ of the sacrifice was lost and the sacrifice itself became what was central (as if it in and of itself had the power). But remember that always underlying it is the giving up of something of value (or at least that’s the idea).

Building on this maybe we can begin to shed some light on what it means that God sacrificed his Son for us.

I think the next step is to start to look a little further back by asking what it is that we are being saved from. What is the fundamental character of the sinfulness of humanity that God is trying to redeem us from.

If we look back at the story in the garden, we can see that in fact the fundamental break comes as a result of nothing less than selfishness. A decision that our first parents made for me, instead of for the ‘other’, in this case God. I think that’s fairly clear even in the common/traditional understand of the Genesis account. Humanity is given a choice to follow and trust God, but out of desire to be god’s themselves, they selfishly try to ‘grasp’ at that godhood. Selfishness/Pride is at the root of the fall, and is at the root of all sinfulness. Selfishness, keep that in mind.

Now, buckle up, as this is going to be a bit long, but there is another reading of the Genesis story that few people have ever heard or considered that I am going to share with you that makes this far clearer. This particular exegesis is being considered by one of the bible scholars I most respect (Dr. Scott Hahn). He goes into this in his book ‘First Comes Love’, and goes into it in even greater detail here on his website Creation, Fall and Promise.

If I try to summarize it, I simply can’t do his discussion of this justice, so I am simply going to copy/paste it from the link (it’s long, but not overly long). I’ll pick back up after his discussion (denoted by the line separations). It’s really an incredible read, so enjoy!

Man and Woman: The Original Image
a. God's First-Born Son
God, we're told, "created man in His the divine image...male and female" (see Genesis 1:26-28).

What does it mean that God created man in "the divine image"? It means that the human person is a child of God.

How do we know that? Remember what we said in our last lesson: the way a Catholic reads the Bible is to interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament.

So, we turn to the Gospel of Luke. There you'll find it explained that Adam is "the son of God" (Luke 3:38). We, see too, elsewhere in Genesis, that the phrase "image and likeness" is used to describe the birth of Seth, Adam's son (see Genesis 5:3).

In the language of the Bible, to be born in someone's "image and likeness," means to be that person's child. So, when God creates man in His image, He creates Him to be His son.

From the very beginning, then, we see that God intended people to be His children, His divine offspring.

b. Father of a Priestly People
Adam is created as God's first-born son. He's also conceived as a priest.

In our last lesson, we saw how the world was fashioned as a Temple and the Garden of Eden was depicted as the sanctuary of the Temple - the holy place where God dwells.

Well, you can't have a temple without a priest to guard it and keep it and to offer sacrifices. And that's the task that God gives to Adam. It's a "priestly" task. But you need to know a little Hebrew to understand it.

Adam is placed in the Garden "to cultivate and care for it" (see Genesis 2:15). Something important gets lost in the translation of those words.

In the original Hebrew text, the words used are 'abodah and shamar. And they are words associated with priestly service.

In fact, the only other places in the Bible where you find those two words used together are in the Book of Numbers, where they are translated as "service," and "charge," and used to describe the duties of the Levites, the appointed priests of Israel (see Numbers 3:7-8; 8:26; 18:5-6).

The Levites were in charge of protecting the sanctuary and the altar. And Adam was given the duty of protecting, of caring for, the Garden. All this will become very important when we study Adam's disobedience and fall from grace.

For now, however, let's just note that Adam is described in Genesis as a first-born priest. We also note that he's given the command to "be fertile and multiply" (see Genesis 1:28). Adam is to be the first-born son of God and the father of a people. Since, he's also a priest, it follows that his people are intended to be a priestly people.

What we find, then, in Genesis' account of the creation of mankind is God's original intent for the human race - it is to be a family of God and a priestly people.

If you try to "listen ahead," you'll hear these echoes throughout the Old and New Testaments: Israel will be called God's first-born son and a priestly people.

When Jesus comes, He will be called the Son of God and the "new Adam" and the "first-born of many brethren" and the High Priest. The Church will be referred to as a priestly people.

We'll see all this in detail in future lessons in this class. But it all starts here with Adam, our father.

III. Falling Down
a. Figures and Riddles
How are we, sophisticated, 21st-century Catholics that we are, supposed to read the account of Adam and Eve's fall from grace in Genesis 3 - with its fable-like setting, its talking trickster snake, its gullible couple, oddly named trees, and forbidden fruit?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us some good advice here:
"The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents" (see no. 390).

What's the Catechism getting at here? First, the story in Genesis 3 is written in "figurative language" - it's more like poetry than journalism, more like a painting than a documentary film.

Nevertheless, the story "affirms" an actual event that indeed "took place" at the beginning of human history. What's more, that event, "the original fault" of Adam and Eve, forever "marked" human history.

We can't, then, read Genesis 3 like we're reading a newspaper. But we can't read it like it's a myth or a fairy tale or a fable - as if it's about something that never happened.

Scholars tell us that Genesis is best understood as an example of the ancient literary style know as mashal - "a riddle" or a "proverb" in which there are layers of double meaning.

And when we read Genesis 3 closely, we find the story turns on a number of tricky passages, and words filled with multiple meanings: life, death, wise, trees.

b. That Snake Adam Saw
Let's back up a few paces. Let's look at our characters. First, who's this "serpent"?

We're all used to the storybook Bible image of the long, thin snake slithering around the apple tree. But we might have to change our visual image of this scene.

The Hebrew word used to describe the "serpent," nahash, implies something much more deadly.

Throughout the Old Testament nahash is used to refer to powerful, even gigantic, evil creatures. Isaiah calls the nahash a sea dragon, the great Leviathan (see Isaiah 27:1). Job also uses nahash to depict terrible sea monsters (see Job 26:13).

This is clearly the image the Book of Revelation has in mind when it describes "a huge red dragon" in the heavens, "the huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world" (see Revelation 12:3,9).

The Church, of course, has always interpreted the serpent in Genesis 3 as Satan, the Devil in slithering form (see Catechism, nos. 391-395). So we know, as readers, something that Adam probably didn't know - that this encounter with the serpent was a test against evil, a battle for the soul of mankind.

But we need to see what Adam saw. Once we appreciate that the serpent was a lot more than a little garden-variety snake, we begin to understand why Adam failed in his duties to "guard" his wife and Eden (see Genesis 2:15).
c. Scared Unto Death?
To put it bluntly: Adam was scared to death, scared of dying. He saw the serpent as a threat to his life.

We know that Adam understood what death was. How do we know that? Because God warned him that he if he ate the fruit he would die (see Genesis 2:17). If Adam didn't know what death was, God's warning wouldn't have made any sense.

Adam was scared that if he didn't do what the serpent wanted he would be made to suffer and die.

This story, this understanding of Adam's failure, may be behind a passage we find in the Letter to the Hebrews. It says the Devil has "the power of death" and says also that "through fear of death," the human race had been held "subject to slavery" (see Hebrews 2:14-15).

That doesn't mean Adam didn't have any moral choice or responsibility in the matter.

He chose to save his life, but wound up losing it. He feared dying more than he feared disobeying the Father who loved him and gave him paradise. And in this he plunged the whole human race into slavery.

d. Left Holding the Fruit
Hold on, a minute. Why are we talking about Adam? Why is it his fault? Isn't the whole story about Eve?

After all, the serpent first addresses "the woman." In fact, the phrase, "the woman" is used four times in six verses and the man doesn't come into play until the very end, when it's mentioned that "her husband" was also "with her."

Clearly, it would seem, Genesis wants us to know that it's the woman's fault: She did all the work, negotiating with the snake, weighing the pros and cons, and finally taking the fruit. The man just ate the fruit the woman gave to him.

But is that really the point? Why does St. Paul and the tradition of Church teaching after him, understand this episode as depicting the sin of Adam (see Romans 5:12-14; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45)?

First, we need to stress what the story only tells us at the end - that Adam was with her all along (see Genesis 3:6).

In fact, in the Hebrew, every time the serpent says the word "you" he's speaking in a tense that we don't have in English - something like "second-person-plural." He's saying, in effect, "you guys" or "y'all."

So Adam was on the scene the whole time. Why didn't he speak up, why didn't he take up the serpent's challenge?

That seems to be the point. In his fear for his own skin, Adam left his wife hanging, left her to fend for herself. He was "her husband," the text emphasizes. Husbands are supposed to stand up for their wives - even lay down their lives for them. That's what marital love is (see Ephesians 5:25).
IV. A Test of Love - Failed
a. Sacrifice and Selfishness
What's going on here in the Garden? Adam failed a test of his love - not only of his love for Eve, but his love for God.

God gave Adam the responsibility of guarding the garden sanctuary, the dwelling place of God and man.

In the confrontation with the serpent, he failed in his duties. He didn't protect the garden or his wife or himself.

Why did God test him like this? Because covenant love requires total self-giving. Self-sacrifice is essential to fulfilling the obligations of the human relationship with God.

Remember what we said in the last lesson: A covenant means that God "gives Himself" to His people and the people, in turn vow to "give themselves" to God.

In the Scriptures, each of the covenants requires the people to make a symbolic offering of themselves to God.

There is no covenant without sacrifice. The sacrifice is offered by the people to symbolize their offering of "themselves" to God. The sacrifice is a kind of token of their commitment to the covenant, their commitment to give all that they have and all that they are to God.

Noah makes a sacrifice from each of the animals he took with him in the ark. Abraham is asked to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. The Israelites in the time of Moses are required to sacrifice an unblemished lamb in the place of their firstborn. And in the time of David's son Solomon, sacrifices were offered daily in the Temple.

Each of the covenants foundered and was only partially successful. Why? Because of a failure of love, a failure of sacrifice. The people refused to give themselves completely.

Noah, Abraham and the rest all did great things. But they also did dumb and terribly wrong things: Abraham took a concubine. Noah became drunk. Moses lost his temper in the desert. Israel worshipped the golden calf. David committed adultery with Bathsheba. His son, Solomon, built a harem in addition to building the Temple.

We see in Adam's failure the beginning of this pattern. In fact, because the human race was so weakened by Adam's original sin that no one could give himself completely to God. And because of Adam's sin, humanity lost its birthright - its divine inheritance, its membership in God's family.

b. Death Threats
But before we move from Adam to Jesus, let's look at the riddle of the story. God tells Adam and Eve not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. "The moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die," he warns (see Genesis 2:17).

In the Hebrew there is a "double death" threat here - literally "You shall die die" or "die the death." Why the repetition of the word "die" Can you be more dead than dead?

The serpent directly contradicts God. He tells Adam and Eve: "You certainly will not die" (see Genesis 3:14). He says, too that they will be like "gods who know what is good and bad" (see Genesis 3:5).

And it's true that when they eat the fruit, they don't keel over and die. Instead, their eyes are opened just like the serpent said they would be (see Genesis 3:7). Even God has to admit, "See! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil" (see Genesis 3:22).

Is the serpent right? Was God lying to the two? It certainly looks that way on the surface.

But of course it isn't that way.

Adam and Eve do die the moment they eat the fruit - spiritually. The truth in Satan's lie was this: Adam and Eve would not die a physical death once they ate the fruit. Adam and Eve lost something greater than natural life when they sinned; they lost supernatural life, the life of grace in their souls.

Seduced into trying to be like God without God, they died the death. Yes, they chose the fruit freely, like God they exercised free will. But their freedom only led them into slavery. Their eyes were indeed opened, and they discovered their nakedness and were ashamed.

We know that Satan has "the power of death" (see Hebrews 2:14-15). Adam and Eve should have listened to God, whose warning seems to echo in these words of Jesus: "And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna" (see Matthew 10:28).

V. The Second Coming of Adam and Eve
But even as His children have exiled themselves from paradise through sin, God promises them redemption, a homecoming.

He promises that throughout human history there will be an "enmity" between the serpent, Satan, and the woman, "the mother of all the living," and between their offspring (see Genesis 3:15, 20).

The early Fathers of the Church called this the "First Gospel" (Proto-Evangelium).

God was promising, here in the first pages of the Bible, a new Adam and a new Eve, to undo the damage done by the first couple.

St. Paul called Jesus the "last Adam" or the New Adam (see 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49; Romans 5:14). And the tradition of the Church has always seen Mary as the "new Eve" (see Catechism, nos. 410-411). ;

As Adam called Eve "woman," we see Jesus call Mary "woman" (compare Genesis 2:23 and John 2:4).

As Eve disregarded God's commands, Mary offers herself freely to the will of God and says "Do whatever He tells you" (see Luke 1:38; John 2:5).

Finally, as Eve was the "mother of all the living," Mary is given by Jesus to be mother of the people of God (compare Genesis 3:20 and John 19:26).

Jesus enters the world as the new Adam - the One who does what Adam was supposed to do.

He comes, not to do His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him. He comes to serve and to offer His life as a ransom for many (see Mark 10:45; John 15:13).

Jesus enters a garden and experiences the curses of Adam - the dread of death, falling to the dirt, sweating blood from his face in His agony (compare Genesis 3:17-19 and Matthew 26:36-46; Luke 22:44).

He is crowned in thorns and stripped naked (see Matthew 27:29, 31). And He is led to a "tree," the Cross - which the early Church saw as a symbol of the Tree of Life in the Garden (see Acts 5:30; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24).

Yet on the Cross He was obedient, saying to God in prayer: "Not as I will, but as You will" (see Matthew 26:39).

He does not grasp at "equality with God" as Adam did (see Philippians 2:5-11), but lays down His own life in sacrifice for the sake of the "garden" - the world, for His bride, the Church.

Adam's bride Eve was created from his side while he slept. The Church, the bride of Christ, was born from His side, which was opened by the soldier's lance while he slept in death on the cross. His side issued forth blood and water, symbols of baptism and the Eucharist (see Genesis 2:21-22; John 19:34; Catechism, nos. 766; 1067).

Finally, the resurrected Jesus appears in a garden ("in the place where he had been crucified") to a "woman" and is mistaken as a "gardener" - perhaps a reference to Adam's task to be keeper of the garden of paradise (see John 19:41; 20:14-18).

All this God promises in the "first gospel."


OK, whew! SteveG back again. So you see, in both the understandings of the story of the fall, we see that the sin of humanity is a choice for selfishness over selflessness. As Dr. Hahn says, Adam chose his own skin over protecting the life of his bride Eve. Jesus does for us what Adam failed to. He chooses the path of utter, selfless love, as both an example, and a reality of the depth, and breadth, and width of his love for us.

Yes, God could have waved his hand and sanctified each of us, but what does that show? It shows his power surely, but the creation of the universe and life itself shows us that.

No, it’s not power God wants to display for us in Jesus passion, it’s the opposite. It’s the example and reality of humble self-giving love that we were made for that he wants to show us. Selflessness to the utmost proportions….even unto death. It’s the physical proof of the words of the savior that….

No greater love has a man for another than that he lays down his life for him

Do you see the choice here? The choice for each of us that is absolutely fundamental?

The choice between selfishness (Adam’s choice) and selflessness (Jesus' choice). Jesus is God, he could have just as easily put together an army and used his power to conquer and subdue the world (that’s actually what most 1st Century Jews-including Christ’s disciples-were hoping for). But he wanted to show us something else. Jesus is also true man, what we were made to be, selfless unto death in our love, and what Adam’s (and our own) cowardice desires to reject.

Jesus wanted to show us not power and domination. He wanted to teach us love, service and yes service to the point of sacrifice of even our life. And so, Jesus who is both fully man, and fully God offers everything he is to the Father in love for us. And God the Father allows his son to sacrifice himself out of love for us. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son comes clear now. God so selflessly loved us that he gave the thing that cost him everything…his very son and his very self!

He literarily died because and for Adam’s sin which each of us has both inherited, and surely appropriated for ourselves. He died for our sins to show us how to be free from, how to be redeemed from that selfish nature we are so attracted to which causes us to sin.

And thus, the new covenant of salvation is entered. And we can be saved. Saved from our own selfishness. Saved from the sinfulness that comes from our selfish desires. Saved, literally……from ourselves.

I realize this likely could produce as many questions as answers, and there are probably a ton of threads in this that could be explored in great depth, but I hope that this begins to help to shed at least some light on the nature and meaning of the sacrifice, why it was necessary, and how it applies to us.

At August 31, 2009 9:18 PM, Blogger V said...

SteveG was a Godsend for you, wasn't he?

After I was done "pretending to believe in God" and I really did believe. I spent a year crying in mass. I couldn't believe that God would love me so much, would die for my sins, to make me clean and whole again. It was too incredible, too much to handle.

My eyes are tearing now, just thinking about that intensity of love, for ME.


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