Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Genesis Notes: The Creation of the Garden

Marie Beloux-Hodieux, Still Life with Basket of Flowers
via French Painters
GENESIS 2:8-17
Again, reading the information imparted by details makes me understand that I have not slowed down or given enough thought in the past to exactly what was being communicated. Did I notice that Adam was to till the land? Yes. Did I ever think about the implications of that statement? Of course not but perhaps this is my wake-up call to do a little more thinking when reading the Bible. There is a connection between this ancient story and the details of our every day lives that is undeniable. Except where noted otherwise, all excerpts come from Genesis Part 1: God and His Creation.

The garden was full of trees pleasing to the sight and taste. In other words, not only was man provided with what he needed, but he was also surrounded by sensuous beauty. The presence of unutterable beauty in the place where God meets man continued in the worship of Israel. The Holy of Holies contained the Ark of the Covenant, which was covered in gold and heavenly sculptures (see Ex. 25:10-22). The vestments of the High Priest were studded with gems so that when he went into the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people, he was arrayed in "beauty and glory" (see Ex. 28:40). The Church's tradition of exquisite beauty in her architecture and art continue what we see here in Genesis. God intends for man to experience beauty in His presence. As St. Thomas Aquinas taught, man's senses are ordered to beauty.

The "tree of life" grew fruit that imparted life. Something man ate would enable him to live forever (see Gen. 3:22). It is the first occasion of a natural element signifying and making present a grace from God, immortality. We call these "sacraments." Understanding this scene prepares us to understand what Jesus said to His disciples in John 6:51: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever."

The Complete Bible Handbook gives a fascinating overview of the symbolism of the Tree of Life.
The Tree of Life, or the Cosmic Tree, is a symbol common in many ancient religions. In Judaism it is associated with the almond tree; the almond was used as the pattern for the cups, capitals, and flowers of the menorah. In the Bible it appears not only in the Adam and Eve story, but in the New Testament. The cross is associated with the tree of Life, mentioned again in Revelation (22:2). The Tree of Life stood at the center of the world (the Garden of Eden), and Christ's Crucifixion is said to have happened at the center of the world. The two trees of Eden (Life and Knowledge) are also reflected in ancient Babylonian religion -- the Tree of Truth and the Tree of Life, which stood at the eastern entry to the Babylonian heaven.

Mankind was not created simply to enjoy creation but to take care of it and work it, to make it productive. In the Garden, work was not a curse before the Fall. Sharing in God's work is one way in which we live in His image. At this point in Genesis, according to the Catechism, "work is not yet a burden, but rather the collaboration [co-labor-ation] of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation." (378)

The need to keep or "guard" the garden makes one ask, "against what?" After all, this is Paradise, is it not? And haven't we just seen that God called all creation "very good?" This is a detail that should leave us on alert.

Adam's not finding a suitable helper among the animals is for his own benefit. He will know from his own experience that while he is like the beasts of the field in many ways, he is different and set apart from them. What he needs in his helper is one equal to himself. Notice here that this kind of knowledge is something Adam reaches through his own experience. It is different from the knowledge that is revealed to him by God. God told him what to eat and what not to eat in the garden. It wasn't left up to him. Man's knowledge in the Garden was of two types: one was revealed knowledge and the other was knowledge obtained through experience and reason.

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