The first creation narrative the book of Genesis offers us is a very pretty story, yet one creation narrative was not enough for Scripture. While the first story is very beautiful, it is in the second narrative that we read about loneliness, conflict, manipulation, temptation and relationship tensions between the Creator and Adam, between Adam and Eve, and between Adam, Eve and their Creator. The second narrative uncovers the dark side of relationships, be they with self, other humans or with our divine Creator.
The first story narrates a sequential order of Creation which ends with the Shabbat-rest, also G-d’s gift to humanity – another key message within the two stories of creation, but one which tends to be ignored and not-honoured by us Christians. However, in the second narrative we learn about Adam’s loneliness even though paradise was his home and he lived in the presence and grace of the Creator. It is in the second narrative that we also learn about the Creator’s struggle in trying to make Adam happy. Here, we encounter an image of G-d who is like a father, relating to his son – trying to make him happy. It seems that for Adam, the presence of the Creator and all of paradise was not enough, he desired something more. Also, G-d seems to be learning about Adam’s happiness through trial and error, and learning how to respond to his desires through their relationship. Adam’s desire is fulfilled through the creation of Eve (his equal?), his desire satisfied through the gift of human companionship, pleasure and intercourse. Sadly, the second narrative does not offer us a happy ending but takes a tragic turn. Soon after happiness and completeness are found, the newlyweds are tempted to dishonor their Creator and break their pact with the divine Creator. The outcome is paradise lost. Adam and Eve, and all future generations are doomed to exile. Both human relationships and those with the divine are marked by tension, conflict and struggle. Idyllic peace and harmony are forlorn.
In his encyclical Deus caritas est, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, refers to Plato’s symposium and elicits lessons from it, to highlight the unique theological lessons learnt through the Jewish creation narratives also found in the Christian bible. Interestingly, Plato’s symposium does not offer us the heteronormative landscape of creation, as the Jewish narratives do. In the Greek myth, we also find the pleasure of union between the all-male, all-female and the androgynous; the three sexes linked and compared to the three planets – the earth, the sun and the moon. However, in Plato’s symposium humans are created in union and separated as a form of punishment. In the second Jewish narrative, union and intercourse are a gift to humanity and the fulfilment of Adam’s desire (of course one may ask what about Eve’s desire, and to answer that question, looking at Lilith may be helpful).
And yet, in these three creation stories we find humanity struggling with their Creator. In the Greek myth, the gods punish humans for their arrogance, pride and belief to be self-sufficient. The joy of union is forever lost and humans are doomed to search for their other-half to find completeness. In the Jewish narrative, soon after the joy of intercourse, union with G-d is violated and that relationship breaks. What is it about human intercourse that is so profoundly sacred and yet, can turn out to be so terribly tragic? What is the matter that we seem not to be able to resolve, as both sexual and spiritual creatures in our erotic relationships with other human beings and our Creator? Could it be more about idolatry rather than a Creator who is envious of human erotic pleasure and who begrudges sexual joy?
If we utilize Girardian theory and James Alison’s theology as tools to help us re-visit these narratives (and not to allow them to become texts of terror), we may find out that maybe, there are other ways of understanding the Jewish creation narratives, if we start from the resurrection of Jesus Christ as our starting point and location, as Alison suggests. (We may also find fresh perspectives if we become more familiar with both Jewish and Muslim interpretations and reflections of these same stories). And yet, by using Alison’s theology and Girardian principles we can question if it was G-d the Creator who exiled humans out of paradise, or rather, if it was Man who exiled G-d out of earth-paradise; a pattern that human beings keep repeating with each other throughout history; that of excluding, marginalizing, rejecting, killing or exiling some others. As we know from our own experience, when the other is expelled, something of the self is lost and damaged.
As we approach Christmas and celebrate the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, may we remember that Jesus finds his joy in being among us, even though he was murdered and exiled out of Earth. And yet, he was given back to us and he promised to remain, the gift of his non-violent presence among violent and brutal human beings. As we contemplate the divine child in the manager this year, may we re-consider exile. May we remember that this G-d of ours, declared sacred all of Creation, including its wilderness and places of marginalization (except for violence), both after Creation and through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. May we find healing in this divine-human relationship and the courage to include rather than exclude, to meet the other with joy in our hearts, and to bless that which is wild and unfamiliar. May we strive to construct civilisations of love; societies grounded in fraternity and friendship and may we remind this humanity, living on planet-Earth-paradise today, that there are other creative ways and forms to resolve conflict. What needs banishing is neither humans nor our Creator, but war and violent conflict.
Photo credit: Angela Cassar