Genesis 2 complements rather than contradicts Genesis 1 but in an altogether different register. It offers a kind of check upon any notion of presumption about our humanity. In short, it humbles us by recalling us precisely to the dust of the ground and thus to our place within the order of creation. As such it complements, too, the efforts of the Indigenous peoples of Canada to recall our connection to creation and to honour and respect it rather than to presume to dominate and destroy it.
‘Adam, as yet not a proper name, refers to our humanity generically speaking. “The Lord God,” Genesis 2 tells us, “formed the ‘Adam of dust from the ground.” We are dust. Yet we are the dust into which God breathes his spirit and only so did “‘Adam became a living being.” Such is the dignified dust of our humanity, a complement to our being made in the image of God.
The passage read in chapel this week serves as a further commentary on the question about who we are as human beings and about an educational program which emphasizes character. ‘Adam is placed in a garden, the proverbial Garden of Eden, later known as paradise, drawing upon an ancient Persian word for a pleasure garden. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it”. This garden in Genesis 2 is the source of four rivers Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates. But the commentary tradition from very early on sees the rivers as symbolic of the classical virtues that belong to human perfection and character, the virtues of temperance, courage, prudence and courage. This connects the Genesis accounts of creation to the poetic and philosophical teachings of ancient Greece and contributes to the idea of the education of the whole person and to the primacy of the ethical.
Genesis 2 introduces us to two important concepts by way of the imagery of trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Living and knowing are somehow closely connected with respect to what it means to be rational and spiritual creatures. Importantly and in relation to our being made in the image of God, ‘Adam is given a commandment in the garden not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “for in the day that you eat of it you shall die”. Bearing in mind that creation in its parts and as a whole is good, indeed very good, then this commandment has to be taken as good for us as well. The underlying question is about how we come to the knowledge of good and evil. That will be the story of the Fall.
Why are things so bad if everything is so good? The problem can’t be with the world or with God in this view of things. It has more to do with the form of our relationship to God. This will launch us into the long, long story of human redemption understood in its different modalities, not the least of which is learning through suffering and hardship, learning about the good even in and through our separation from it in the experience of sin and death.
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, Head of English & ToK teacherChair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy