Creation and the Fall
In moving towards the parables of the Last Judgment, we first need to understand what salvation is from an Orthodox perspective since the Last Judgment is the culmination of salvation history for man. In order to really get a grasp on what salvation is in Orthodoxy, there are two significant concepts that need to be understood: what we fell from and how that is restored. This corresponds with an understanding of the creation and the fall, as well as an understanding of the atonement as a doctrine in Scripture and history, especially with a view of bringing to light those aspects of these which differ from many of the theologies in our previous backgrounds. So, this will be a three part series, first dealing with the creation and the fall, next time dealing with the doctrine of the atonement, and ending with a one or two part look at the parables of the Last Judgment.
In general, salvation in the West has tended to be viewed in terms of the release from a debt to God, and/or release from the guilt of breaking the Law. This will be looked at in more depth next time, but here we simply need to know that for much of Western, especially Protestant theology, the debt or legal problem has to be resolved in order that we might have a relationship with God, and the resolution of these constitutes the foundation and essence of what salvation is. However, in Orthodoxy, the relationship with God is the foundation of salvation for man. Once one understands that, much of the details of salvation in Orthodoxy will make a lot more sense.
This relationship is defined in Genesis 1-2 and then how that was corrupted in Genesis 3. That relationship is what we are going to focus on, not the side issues of creationism vs. evolution that tend to be associated with these scriptures. Those are not the meaning behind these critical passages. However, in looking at the Orthodox perspective we will end up making more sense out of these passages than traditional Western interpretations have done.
So, we want to answer the following questions: 1. Who created everything and what is His relationship to it? 2. What is man’s relationship with the creation? 3. What is man’s relationship with God, both before the fall and after?
Who created everything and what is His relationship to it?
At the very beginning, it is made plain who created everything we see, including us. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” In this once sentence, we have a load of theology being presented. For on one point, this says no matter what views one may hold about how God created the world, it is foundational that He did created it. This indicates further that it was a real creation from nothing, not a re-arranging of pre-existent matter.
This fact also spells out to us the difference between the creation and God. It is a matter of nature. One is uncreated, unchanging, immovable, uncontainable, and infinite in wisdom, power and will; the other is created, changing, movable, limited, finite in wisdom, power and will. Panayiotis Nellas, in his book “Deification in Christ” states, “From the Orthodox point of view St. John of Damascus summarizes the whole of the patristic tradition which preceded him when he teaches that ‘all things are distant from God not by place but by nature.’” For if He is distant by place that denies His omnipresence. He can “hide” Himself from us, but God is not bound by place. Rather the distance is due to the nature of being uncreated and created.
Yet, despite this, as we shall see, God interacts with His creation, and there is a dynamic relationship that exist between the uncreated and created. This interaction between the infinite and unmovable God and His finite and movable creation provides the paradoxes that exist in our faith. Therein exist the true mystery, when the uncreated existence intersects with the created existence, for strictly speaking this is logically impossible. Yet, revelation tells us that it happens, and the Church is founded upon that reality.
What is man’s relationship with the creation?
What many tend to miss in interpreting Genesis 1, is that this is Hebraic poetry. Hebrew poetry is not so much a rhythm of words as it is of thoughts. Psalms and Proverbs are filled with these types of poetic couplets and triples, sometimes comparing thoughts, sometimes contrasting them. We find the same process going on here, but in a more complex form.
Genesis 1 is made up of six days. These days, or literal periods of time marked off by light and dark, form a framework in which the poetic thoughts are expressed. The first three days correspond with the last three so that the first three describe the creation of the environment and the last three describe the creation of that which inhabits each environment. This is clearly seen when we put them side by side.
|Day 1: Creation of light and matter Day||Day 4: Creation of the bodies of “light” in the universe|
|Day 2: Creation of the atmosphere and waters.||Day 5: Creation of the animals which inhabit the air and water.|
|Day 3: Creation of
Creation of plant life on dry land.
|Day 6: Creation of
animal life on dry land.
Creation of man.
We see that day 1 is linked with day 4, 2 with 5 and 3 with 6. What is especially significant is that both day 3 and 6 have two creative activities going on within them, and the creation of plant life corresponds to the creation of man because both are links in regards to life in order to weave this creation into one integrated whole. For plants are very much part of the environment in that they don’t move around and are firmly connected to the inanimate created order. However, they also have life in them and so form a bridge between the two. Man, as we shall see, is also the link between all of creation and the Divine life of God. So, we have here a very symmetrical weaving of thoughts here that lead us to some conclusions.
One, man is bound to the created order, is a part of it. Because of that man bears the responsibility to take care of this creation and has from the first been one of the jobs man was given, even before the fall.
Two, the progression from universe and planets, to air and water, then finally dry land and finally ending with man indicates that man was the crowning of the created order, that creation was made and put here that we might exist. This is further indicated by a poetic triplet in the creation of man, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created he them.” (Gen. 1:27) Here is the climax of the poetic story of creation in six days.
This then gives us the inter connectedness of man to creation, as well as his responsibility to the created order as well, to act as a steward of it since God has given it to man for his existence. Such a gift of God is not to be taken and used in a lazy manner, but with care, respect and love.
What is man’s relationship with God, both before the fall and after?
It is from here on that the Father’s have a lot to say. What can be boiled down in all that is said, however, is a central theme, that man was created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26). Essentially, man is created as an icon of God. This one statement defines the personhood of man in relation to God and in where man finds his ultimate fulfillment.
It is because of this fact, that Panayiotis says, “It thus becomes clear that the essence of man is not found in the matter from which he was created but in the archetype on the basis of which he was formed and towards which he tends…. The category of biological existence does not exhaust man. Man is understood ontologically by the Fathers only as a theological being. His ontology is iconic.” To fully explore this, I would highly suggest getting his book “Deification in Christ” as he goes into a lot more detail than I can here.
At the core of the ability for the image placed in man to obtain the likeness of God, there has to be a union between the divine and man. Otherwise the image is corrupted and the likeness is not able to be fulfilled in man.
This is distinctly indicated in Genesis 2. After speaking of the seventh day which indicates that God was finished and that He had created it just as He intended, verses 4-7 give a brief recap of Genesis 1, however, it gives us the description of man’s creation from another view. It is here that we see the link established, for all the other created order was simply created, and had a biological life with plants and animals. In this case God breaths into man the “breath of life.” In both Hebrew and Greek, the same word is used for “breath” and “spirit” and thus it is understood that this is nothing but the Holy Spirit being infused and united with the created man. While other things like reason and free will are given as characteristics of the “image” of God in us, it is the presence of divine life that makes the image potentially fulfill the likeness of God in us.
Beginning with Genesis 2:8, we find the eighth day, the account of the planting of Paradise: the Garden of Eden, and the simple test God gave Adam and Eve to see if they would chose what was right. As St. Ephrem the Syrian says, God made this as easy as He could. He created a whole garden of paradise with many wonderful trees, and in the midst of them were the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God warns them not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge for on the very day they do, they will die.
This is the gist of what was lost at the fall. As we read in Genesis 3, the serpent tempts Eve and Adam who is with her, and they eat of the tree that God warned them not to eat of. The Fathers say they were not ready for this yet, but would be once they ate first of the Tree of Life. Since they did not follow God’s direction, they ate of the wrong one hoping to become like God, but instead it destroyed the likeness to God that they did have. For, as St. Symeon the New Theologian tells us, we have a soul and a body, thus we have two deaths and two resurrections. On the very day that Adam and Eve ate of the tree, their souls died, “For, as the death of the body is the separation from it of the soul, so the death of the soul is the separation from it of the Holy Spirit.” It is due to this death of the soul in Adam, that later the body dies and he concludes: “for this reason, the whole human race also became such as our forefather Adam became through the fall—mortal, that is, both soul and body.”
When we speak then of the ancestral sin, or often called “original sin” in the West, what we are speaking of is nothing less than the mortality of soul and body and thus the corruption of the image. It is due to this that Adam and Eve had to hide, for corruption cannot stand the presence of incorruption. This will be a key factor in understanding the Last Judgment. Yet, this is what was lost: divine life. Without that life, we cannot be the image of God; we cannot fulfill our created place in the created order. Therefore salvation is essentially about restoring that relationship with God, and it is only in the infusion of divine life back into our biological existence, that we are thus “saved”. Next time, we will take a closer look how God accomplished that restoration.
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