Sunday, November 26, 2023

Onward, Outward, Upward

What a journey we've had from the dawn of creation to here. Since June, we've traced the creative work of the eternal God as his Word spoke into being this realm of space and time, as he brooded over it by his Spirit, as he separated and combined it, gave it shape, and infused it with a dazzling litany of life. And as the last of that life, we met ourselves: human beings – on the one hand, crafted from the matter of earth, sharing an origin with all other animals; on the other hand, formed by a substantial spiritual soul with intellect and will, making us kin to God's angels. As the linchpin between visible and invisible creations, God placed us in a special environment and called us to special tasks. He settled us in a delightful garden in perfect innocence and called us to know him. He made this garden his sanctuary, and installed us there as his cultic images and as his priests, to minister to him in worship on behalf of the creation around us. He appointed us royalty, giving us charge over the earth and its creatures. And all our life and work is for the sake of worship and guardianship, of governance and provision. God made us quite the creature. He made us so that he can see himself in us.

Seeing that humanity was far too exciting to be left generic, God made two ways to be human: male and female, like so many of the other animals. Equal in dignity, complementary in giftedness, men and women are partners in all these incredible and astonishing purposes for which God placed us here and commissioned us. In this first marriage made in Paradise, the first husband and first wife lived in total transparency and radical self-giving. United under God's blessing, theirs was the blessed life. As we bring our journey with Genesis to a pause today before Advent, there are three more things to say about this blessed life.

First, the blessed life means that humanity is to go onward. We spoke last Sunday about how marriage is the proper home of human sexuality – and we all know, I think, where sexuality can lead. Even in the other animals that exist in two sexes like us, that dictates how they reproduce according to their kind. And so to us, as to the other animals, God has a few choice words to say on the topic. What are the first things God says to this first married couple as he blesses them? “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Be fruitful – be growing, be productive. Multiply – become large in number. Adam plus Eve is not supposed to equal only two forever.

Nor does it. In fact, that's where Eve gets her name. We later read: “The human called his wife's name 'Eve,' for she was the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). The Hebrew pronunciation of 'Eve' (awwāh) sounds like the Hebrew word for 'life' (ayyāh).1 Not long after that, we read that “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and gave birth” (Genesis 4:1). The first marriage had then become the first family. And although Genesis doesn't depict this actually happening until paradise is left behind in the rearview mirror, St. Augustine pointed out that “even if there had been no sin, the marriage of the first human beings, which was worthy of the delight of paradise, would have produced children to love.”2

The nature of marriage is such that it is open to life, open to the natural fruit of sexual union, open to becoming a family. Marriage is “an institution blessed by God for the reproduction of the human race.”3 Some thought that a desire for children was the only reason to get married, that any other motive was impure.4 Thankfully, others in the early church recognized that children were only one of the things worth cherishing in marriage.5 But all agreed that the union of husband and wife, on the one hand, and the procreation of children, on the other, are naturally related: the same action that seals the first is designed by God to lead naturally to the second, under the right conditions. It's no wonder that, up until just a hundred years ago, Christians were basically unanimous in officially opposing contraception.6 Openness to natural growth, to being fruitful and multiplying, to family, is part of what it means to validly form a marriage in the first place.7 St. Augustine said, if an openness to procreation is absent, “I do not see how we can call these marriages.”8 For marriage is, by definition, “a union between one man and one woman which is exclusive, permanent, and open to life,” so that agreeing to another kind of relationship is not the consent that births a marriage.9 And Paradise respected that reality: Adam and Eve knew their Edenic marriage was exclusive, permanent, and also open to life.

So, had we stayed in Eden, the human family would've grown generation by generation; and each new person would have been born into the same original righteousness and innocence that Adam and Eve enjoyed and kept whole as an inheritance for each.10 In Eden just like here, “children should be welcomed with love, brought up with kindness, given a religious education,” as St. Augustine put it.11 As the population grew and society became more complex through the division of labor, then as now parents would've taught their children “crafts which are agreeable and suitable to the fear of God.”12 As it was meant to be: a flourishing family before God.

And yet there was a widespread movement in the early church of men and women who said no to being fruitful and multiplying in the marriage-and-family way. Other apostles were married men, but Paul – like Jeremiah and John the Baptist before him – was not. Paul was celibate, “and to the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is good for them to remain as I am,” he advised (1 Corinthians 7:8), since an unmarried person has greater freedom for contemplating God and serving his kingdom (1 Corinthians 7:32). Just over a century later, we hear how “many of us, both men and women,” were “growing old unmarried in the hope of being united more closely with God.”13 “Celibacy and marriage have their distinctive services of the Lord,” they said,14 but in their eyes, celibacy was actually “the superior condition,” viewed as “better and holier” than marriage and children.15

If that strikes us as strange, well, it would've been just as strange to many of their Jewish neighbors, for whom the blessing had come to be read as a commandment: Thou shalt marry, thou shalt try to have kids. So what was it that freed the early Christians to think about the blessing a different way? A few renegades decided that it had been altogether “abolished” and “superseded.”16 The Church actually accepted the command, they just saw new ways to do it. For they'd heard the Lord tell them: “Go therefore and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18). Just as “Be fruitful and multiply” was the Great Commission of the Old Covenant, this was its counterpart in the New. So now, they said, “since members of Christ to be God's people and citizens of the kingdom can be brought in from the whole human race,” there are many more ways for God's people to increase and multiply!17

And so we're told in Scripture that “the word of God continued to increase,” be fruitful, “and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (Acts 6:7). Again and again, we hear that “the word of God is increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24), such that therefore the Church itself “multiplied” (Acts 9:31). The Apostle Paul tells how “the gospel... is bearing fruit and increasing... among you since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Colossians 1:5-6), and that's how even a celibate man like him “became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15), “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Even if unmarried or widowed according to the flesh, we – like Paul – continue to be fruitful, to increase God's word, to multiply the Church, through evangelism and discipleship!18 In spreading the word of God to other people, in helping them to be converted by the Lord, in assisting them in internalizing the word of God so it can sprout and bear much fruit in the soil of their hearts – in these ways, we Christians increase and multiply as surely as by having families. You can be fruitful and multiply as profoundly as a spiritual father or mother to new disciples as by being a natural father or mother to children. And we share a sacred responsibility to let the word of God increase through us, to let the number of disciples multiply through us, so that the new humanity in Christ will go onward as surely as the old humanity in Adam.

A second lesson about the blessed life is that it means that humanity is to go not just onward but outward. The Garden of Eden was a wonderful home for Adam and Eve. But supposing they'd stayed welcome there, they would have been fruitful and multiplied till they started to crowd the garden. This garden God planted in Eden wasn't infinite; Genesis depicts it as a specific location, some amount of acreage, bounded on all sides by places that aren't the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10-14). So what happens when the garden hits capacity?

Well, that raises some other questions. They were given “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). That spurred one early Christian to ask: “How was Adam to rule over the fish of the sea unless he were to be in proximity to the sea? And how was he to rule over the birds that fly throughout every region unless his descendants were to dwell in every region? And how was Adam to rule over every beast of the earth unless his offspring were to inhabit the entire earth?” Or, we might add: how were Adam and Eve to eat “every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth” if they never go to where those plants are (Genesis 1:29)?

In the ancient world, as a king expanded his empire, he would put up statues of himself in the most far-flung provinces. Just like when explorers plant flags in the name of this or that country, it was a way to stake a claim. It was how the king made his claim to dominion visible in that place, a reminder to all who saw his image that this was his territory under his watchful eye.19 The image of the king let you know who owned the land it was in. Well, each human being is God setting up his image somewhere, a visible reminder that it's God's territory under God's watchful eye (Genesis 1:26). God did not intend to stake a claim over just however many acres were in this garden. No sooner did he tell humans to “be fruitful and multiply” than he told them to “fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” (Genesis 1:28). God shows his ownership of earth “by multiplying his images over the earthly domain.”20 So human presence filling the earth is meant to be a good thing.21

But on the other hand, Adam is portrayed as a priest-king installed in the garden as a holy sanctuary. It's where his work belongs. How could he go abroad and leave it behind? And the solution to that puzzle comes when we know that in the ancient world, kings had a responsibility over temple construction and renovation. Even in ancient Assyria, sometimes they'd judge an existing temple “too small,” so the king would “greatly expand this temple beyond its previous extent.”22 But especially in Egypt during the time of Moses, temple complexes “underwent continuous expansion.”23 Many a new pharaoh, as a display of his royal service to his gods, “pushed the perimeter of [temple] walls and courtyards farther and farther into what had previously been secular space,” and in this way, “the area of the sacred was greatly extended.”24 That's how a king honored a god: by enlarging the temple space. So what would happen as they garden filled up with new generations of humans? “They were to extend the geographical boundaries of the garden until Eden covered the whole earth.”25

Picture it: pushing out the boundary markers of the garden, cultivating the newly included ground, planting the trees of holy Eden there, foot by foot. As the years pass, the garden gets longer and wider, more of the earth is claimed as part of this sanctuary. The area of the sacred would extend further out into the world as the human priest-kings subdued acre after acre in the name of life and peace, answering their call to “spread the holiness of the Holy Place to that which yet needed to be sanctified in the world beyond.”26 Whole territories would then be subdued and sanctified. Next, continents. At last, one day, there'd be no patch of dirt on earth that wasn't part of this garden that began in Eden. One worldwide community in highest harmony would fill the holy earth.

That's what Genesis suggests was meant to happen: for humans to “begin from Eden, work their way outward, and spread the blessings of Eden to all the earth.”27 Eden was to go global! Paradise was to expand! Adam and Eve and their children were to grow in practice the kingdom that was theirs by grace – the kingdom of God!

Here we are, though, and we don't live in a garden of trees and flowers and all these things. Neither did Israel. But, as we saw, God gave them back a taste of the garden when they built the tabernacle; he raised them up as his kingdom on earth, promising that if they were faithful in their land, he'd “enlarge your borders” (Exodus 34:34). The tabernacle took up just 675 square feet, inside a courtyard of over 11,000 square feet. In time, they expanded to Solomon's Temple, a building of 2,700 square feet inside a courtyard of 45,000 square feet. When they returned from exile, they built a Second Temple with a courtyard of over 70,000 square feet; and later, even King Herod more than doubled the area of the temple courts. That still didn't measure up to Ezekiel's dream, with temple courtyards covering over 765,000 square feet as the heart of a holy district of over a billion square feet, 40 1/3 square miles (Ezekiel 45:1). And Ezekiel's wildest vision pales next to John's glimpse of a temple-city covering over 53 trillion square feet, bigger than the Roman Empire (Revelation 21:16). Filling the earth!

But what does it mean? The Lord Jesus told his apostles to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Paul explains that “through us,” God “spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of [Christ] everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14). This – the realm of the gospel, of the kingdom, of the church – is the Garden of Eden planted anew. The prophet Daniel foresaw God's kingdom destined to grow and grow until at last it “filled the whole earth,” as the garden was always meant to (Daniel 2:35). The kingdom of God must be extended unended, the fragrance of Christ must cling to all things, all land must be a holy district.

But in a world of sin, we look out to a world that's not merely empty and waiting to be filled with godliness. “Their land is filled with idols,” said the prophet – allergic to the fragrance of Christ, the earthly powers resent the kingdom of God and desperately preserve the land for profanity (Isaiah 2:8). We'll meet resistance, spiritual warfare; we'll have to defend the garden against infiltrating idols inside as much as opposition outside. And as we expand this kingdom of God's peace and God's justice, God's grace and God's truth, God's beauty and God's goodness through all the ways we work and keep his creation, it's up to us to crowd out these idols by a better witness, by a humbler service, by a wiser path, by a more radical love.

We pray, we labor, we march in procession to expand the realm of “peace on earth and mercy mild,” where “God and sinners” are “reconciled,”28 where idols tremble and shatter before the Desire of Nations, where the hungry are filled with good things and the lowly are exalted (Luke 1:52-53), the poor are lifted to sit with princes (1 Samuel 2:8), where the deserts bloom like flowers (Isaiah 35:1). And “as grace extends to more and more people, it will increase thanksgiving to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:15).

Third – and I know we don't have long to tell it – the blessed life means that humanity is to go, not just onward, not just outward, but also upward. Eden is still a distinctly earthly life, sustained by fruits and veggies from the earth. Those in Paradise are, as one hymn puts it, “frail children of dust, and feeble as frail.”29 God walks in the garden in the cool of the day, but he's not manifest to Adam and Eve constantly. They therefore don't know God fully as they are fully known (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12). And Adam and Eve, as will become all too clear all too soon, are capable of falling. This life of Eden is a good life on earth, but it's not yet the perfection God plans for them. There's got to be something more, something beyond Eden, beyond even a paradise earth.

So what if things had continued as they ought to have? As St. Augustine puts it, the bliss of Eden “would have continued until, through the blessing that said 'Be fruitful and multiply,' the number of the predestined saints was completed; and then another and greater felicity would have been granted, which was granted to the most blessed angels.”30 Somehow, Adam and Eve and all their family would “all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52), “changed into a better state... by a blessed transformation.”31 Then they'd have “spiritual bodies,” totally animated and powered by God's own Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:44).32 Then, at last, the life of Eden would flow upward into that heavenly life beyond, a life more lively than any paradise man ever tasted on the earth.

At the start of this year, we spoke about the ultimate purpose for which we're made, which is to see God as he is – to behold the beauty of his infinite depths in such a way that we're completely and eternally fulfilled in it. It's to become happy with God's own happiness, to live with God's own life, to love with God's own love. And in being united to God, we'll be “transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18), until “we shall be like him” in ways we dare not dream (1 John 3:2).

That's what Adam and Eve were meant to gain, and it's what Eden alone couldn't give them. Adam and Eve, no less than ourselves, needed to set their minds on heavenly things above, rather than on the things of their earthly paradise (Colossians 3:2). And now, in Christ, human nature – the nature of Adam and Eve and you and me – is placed on heaven's throne, and God has “seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). As one church, “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the Head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15), in whom “the whole body... grows with a growth that is from God” (Colossians 2:19). So we all – Adam and Eve and all God's people – “share in a heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1), “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). We're on a journey toward “a better country” than Eden, “that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). And there, in Christ, “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). There, “just as we have borne the image of the man of dust,” Adam, “we shall also bear the image of the Man of Heaven,” who is Jesus Christ the King, our Lord (1 Corinthians 15:49).

Thanks be to God! And so let's do what Adam and Eve should have from the start. Let's go onward in Christ, being fruitful and multiplying what belongs to him. Let's go outward for Christ, subduing the earth for the sake of his kingdom of love. Let's go upward to Christ, rising to a heavenly country. Until, at last, God will indeed be all in all, and heaven and paradise and all the new creation are filled with the perfect glory that knows no end! Hallelujah forever! Amen and amen!

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Wedded Love, Mysterious Law

John, sitting in his house on London's Jewin Street, felt desperate for some help. John was the poet who couldn't write. For the past ten years, John had been completely blind. But day by day, feeling like a cow itching to be milked, he needed to get this poem out of his head and onto the page through the hands of a scribe. So he dictated lines – ten, twenty, thirty, fifty at a time – to whatever friend happened to stop by that day.1 Now it was a late autumn day, 1662, and John was nearly finished with this poem in ten books – or should it be twelve? John had begun near the time his second wife and infant daughter died. Then came the 1659 military coup, and the 1660 restoration of the monarchy with the arrival of King Charles II. John, published praiser of the old king's killers, had gone into hiding, lest he die for his treason. Terrified of assassins even after prison and pardon, John was something of a wreck, and by this point, his three dissatisfied daughters had taken to thieving from him.2

It was hard to believe blind John, so fiercely and fearfully embattled, could stitch together any poem unseen, or that he should write movingly of marriage and its beauties. Barely had his first marriage begun than his wife Mary, despising him, had returned to her parents. Deserted, John became the most radical voice calling for an expansion of divorce law. He was furious in being refused the “meet and happy conversation” he believed God had made “the chiefest and the noblest end of marriage.”3 Mary thereafter returned, dying in childbirth seven years later. His second marriage lasted fifteen months before Katherine likewise died. Only recently had his doctor recommended him a third woman to consider for a wife: the doctor's own cousin Elizabeth, three decades John's junior.

But for all John's familial woes, his poetry lavished praise: “Hail, wedded love, mysterious law, true source of human offspring, sole propriety in Paradise of all things common else..., perpetual fountain of domestic sweets, whose bed is undefiled and chaste pronounced...”4 For John, in the books of this poem, was devoted to retelling the opening chapters of Genesis, which he approached in large part as a love story.5 And John succeeded in making his mark on history. For John's last name was Milton, and this poem was his Paradise Lost.

When we left off here last week, we heard how God decided to create two ways of being a human person: the male way, as a man, and the female way, as a woman. We talked about the ways in which men and women are different, made by God to complement each other, made to be fit for each other's company and to enrich each other. And we saw that men and women are equal in value, equal in dignity, equal in faithfully expressing the image of God. Neither man nor woman is the 'default' way to be human. Instead, both need each other.

Continuing from there this week, we see one particular area where they need each other: marriage. And the first thing we should realize is that “marriage is from God and is good.”6 Marriage isn't some bad or dirty thing, not some outmoded waste of time or a bureaucratic straitjacket of love. Adam and Eve belong together in marriage as obviously as a temple and an altar go together. And “it was the will of the Creator to bring the sexes together in harmony..., for marriage combines the sexes into one.”7 This passage in Genesis is written to show us that. Second, marriage is a divine idea, not a human one. Marriage has “an objective structure,” a meaning; it isn't just “a construct... created by its participants and shaped in its meaning and norms by their subjective purposes and desires.”8 And third, marriage is built on God's created reality of sexual difference. That's why a marriage can't be truly formed except between a man and a woman – that's simply part of marriage's objective structure; the man-woman dynamic is essential.

But before we get to marriage, we should say some words about a still wider thing: love. Love isn't primarily a feeling or an emotion. Love involves the lover actively willing good things for the beloved and seeking a union with the beloved.9 Love can take a lot of forms, but the form it takes in a given case should be appropriate to who you are as the one loving, to who and what the beloved really is, and to what kind of relations you should have.10 If you love your child merely in ways appropriate to a pet, or your pet in ways appropriate only to a child; if you love God merely in ways appropriate to a fellow creature, or a fellow creature in ways appropriate only to God; if you love your spouse merely in ways appropriate to a friend, or a friend in ways appropriate only to a spouse – well, those would all be problems!11 “Love calls on us correctly to adjust the relationship to the reality of the other person.”12 Romantic love is a specific type of love where “the other's good as a sexual being is willed in a way that involves the lover's sexuality,” as being a man or a woman, “and the lover strives for... a sexual union with the beloved, a union that consummates the love.”13 That willing and striving is often helped by the emotion we also call 'love,' a sense of “deep empathy and overwhelming passion for someone.”14 And “this union alone has the potential to create new life” in a natural way.15

With that in mind, the Bible is quite clear that a union like that is meant to be a marriage union.16 The reason is that, as “the deepest bodily union one can choose to have with another person,” sexual union “calls for union on all levels of the person, a union extended into the indefinite future.”17 Sexual union can't be appropriate outside of that more comprehensive union – and that's what marriage is. This isn't some trivial truth; it actually matters. In the early church, one bishop dubbed the relationship of husband and wife “the first natural bond of human society,”18 while another said that “the love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together.”19 “Marriage is a community,” and “a community... is a unity constituted by common pursuit of genuine goods.”20

St. Augustine, one of those bishops we just quoted, saw three main goods in marriage: the fact that marriage is the shape of a loving relationship between a husband and a wife; the fact that marriage is where children are naturally conceived, born, raised, and taught; and the fact that the marriage bond has a permanence with a profound symbolism that points beyond itself to a higher truth.21 Marriage, the original two-sex community that fully express humanity, is a profound image of the Creator God who is himself Love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.22

So what would that community have looked like in Eden, when things were still so very good? And what ought it look like for us, if we want marriage today to be as Edenic as we can have it? 

First, it begins with recognizing the other as an amazing wonder, as a complementary counterpart to be loved (Genesis 2:23). John Milton beautifully imagines what it might have been like for Adam to first lay eyes on Eve on their wedding day: “On she came, led by her heavenly Maker, though unseen, and guided by his voice;...: Grace was in all her steps, heaven in her eye, in every gesture dignity and love. I, overjoyed, could not forbear aloud. 'This turn hath made amends! Thou hast fulfilled thy words, Creator bounteous and benign, Giver of all things fair, but fairest this of all thy gifts.... I now see bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, myself before me: Woman is her name, of Man extracted:... they shall be one flesh, one heart, one soul.”23

Milton sees here how important that amazement recognition can be, whether it begins before or after the rite of marriage itself. In calling the woman his own 'flesh' and his own 'bone,' Adam is recognizing her as already being his own nation, his own tribe, his own clan, from the outset (cf. 2 Samuel 19:12-13). She's amazingly like him, and yet amazingly unlike him, revealing to him his own identity. That's what love does: it amazes.

Second, Genesis goes on with a comment about how, because of this new reality displayed in Adam and Eve, “a man shall abandon his father and his mother” (Genesis 2:24). That's a curious thing, since in all the cultures around there, a son's loyalty to his father until death was nearly absolute. If the son married, the new wife was absorbed into the son's father's house. But here in Genesis, defying every culture, marriage makes something stronger even than the bond of a son to his father and mother. Turning from them, “he shall cling to his wife” (Genesis 2:24). Marriage means “to sever one loyalty and commence another.”24

That means it isn't something a father and mother can force onto a son or daughter, much as many cultures have tried to make it so. Whether arranged or not, the pivotal element of marriage is created out of a consent no earthly power can compel. A child didn't consent to come from father and mother, but it's by consent that a man and woman pledge their lives together in loyalty to create this new thing called a marriage.25 Marriage just is, as one theologian put it, “a legitimate consent... by a male and a female to observe an undivided common life.”26 The first marriage began when man and woman first consented “to live together... in single-hearted devotion.”27

Third, while a marriage is created by the couple's consent, it's ceremonial because it's meant to be open to the blessing of God and the support of his creation. In this first marriage in Eden, God plays a triple role: father of the bride, best man to the groom, and officiant for the couple. An early Christian poet pictured that original wedding: “The One who fashioned everything by his skill adorned that bride and gave her to her bridegroom... All creation stood there like bridesmaids, and they surrounded them with their songs and their chants. … And with its gifts, the entire world rejoiced with them. … Paradise opened its high gates, that the wedding partners might enter in, to rejoice there in the banquet of good things that had been prepared.”28

At that first wedding, Genesis tells us, “God blessed them” (Genesis 1:28). Taking inspiration from that, Jews and Christians continued to pray for God's blessing on their marriages (Tobit 8:6-7), and the marriage ceremony developed as a way to embody and express God's blessing. In the ninth century, one bishop explained Christian wedding customs by saying that the bride and groom were “stationed by the hand of the priest in the church of the Lord along with offerings which they should offer to God, and so at last they receive the blessing and the celestial veil, on the model of the Lord who, after placing the first people in Paradise, said to them: 'Increase and multiply.'”29 But already in the early church, they said: “How shall we ever be able adequately to describe the happiness of that marriage which the Church arranges, the sacrifice strengthens, upon which the blessing sets a seal, at which angels are present as witnesses, and to which the Father gives his consent?”30

Fourth, then, once pledging their consent and having entered at least into God's general blessing on marriage, “they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). On one level, that's about the creation of a new identity: this man and this woman are now family to each other. But there's more. What makes your body one body? The fact that it's “an articulated entity with parts that work together cooperatively, each performing some function needed by the whole.”31 Part of what Genesis is showing us is that the two unite – personally, psychologically, physically – as a new body system, for the sake of “a mutual organic striving for reproduction.”32 In sexuality, they undergo “real biological union” to become, in certain ways, “a single organism.”33 And when that full organic union beyond the mating moment by means of commitment, the two endure as 'one flesh.'34 In marriage, man and woman achieve a comprehensive union as persons, in all aspects of their life.35

Fifth, in light of that, “husband and wife also have a duty of fidelity to one another,” and the trust they share is “a spiritual good of great value,” more valuable even than life itself.36 Jesus himself quoted this story to show the Pharisees that marriage, by its very nature, is unbreakable: “What God has joined together, let not man separate. … Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:9-12). For “they are no longer two but one flesh” for life (Mark 10:8). Jesus' words! So Milton was wrong to think, as he did in his pain, that when good feelings or good relations die, “there can be left of wedlock nothing but the empty husk of an outside matrimony, as undelightful and unpleasing to God as any other kind of hypocrisy.”37 Marriage, by nature, is “a union between one man and one woman which is exclusive, permanent, and open to life.”38 And in Eden, this would have been perfectly honored. For Adam and Eve, there was no prospect of unfaithfulness or marital breakdown, no way to grow apart, no testing their ties. They lived to the whole truth of marriage; so should we.

Sixth, in this marriage, Eve was indeed a genuine and equal partner. One early Christian teacher remarks that in the garden, “Eve... would also help Adam... with any other task that Adam was capable of doing.”39 And “the two of them were naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). Or, as Milton put it: “So passed they naked on, nor shunned the sight of God or angel, for they thought no ill.”40 There's no secrecy, no protective distancing, no holding back, nowhere to hide because nothing to hide. Adam and Eve bring no baggage of the past, no fears for the future, no thoughtless deeds or callous words to apologize over. Yet they truly see each other in total transparency. St. Augustine sums up that “the first pair lived in faithful and unalloyed fellowship, and their love for God and for each other was undisturbed.”41 In this right marriage relationship, there are “no barriers of any kind, no self-consciousness, but complete and unhindered giving and enjoying of one another.”42 Recognizing the “spousal meaning” of their unobstructed bodies, they're full of “precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift,” a love that lets them live for each other in infinitely intimate communion.43 So Milton portrayed them, quite beautifully, as “imparadised in one another's arms,” there to “enjoy their fill of bliss on bliss” in the “happier Eden” of their marriage.44

And that sort of transparency and self-giving is something to aspire to imitate in our marriages, as much as we today can regrow Eden at home. Here's how one early Christian pictured “the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope”: “Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. … They pray together, they worship together, they fast together, instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. … They have no secrets from one another, they never shun each other's company, they never bring sorrow to each other's hearts. Unembarrassed, they visit the sick and assist the needy; they give alms without anxiety... Psalms and hymns they sing to one another, striving to see which one of them will chant more beautifully the praises of their Lord. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices.”45

But why were all these things written in Genesis? Not only to teach what we've just said, but also as prophecy, as a profound mystery to be unfolded to view as the fullness of time drew nigh. In limited fashion, it began to unfold at the dawn of the new covenant, which the prophets described as a wedding between God and Israel. Just as someone was to forsake father and mother, so Israel was to “forsake the idols of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:8). Just as husband and wife were to 'cleave' or 'cling' to each other, so Israel was to “cling to the LORD your God” (Joshua 23:8). “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). “I spread the corner of my garment over you..., I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water... and anointed you with oil; I clothed you also with embroidered cloth..., and I adorned you with ornaments and put... a beautiful crown on your head..., and your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD (Ezekiel 16:8-14).

But even that wasn't yet the fullness. Think back: what happened to Adam in the garden? Adam was put into a deep sleep, a sleep as still as death; then a wound was made in Adam's side; Adam's body was opened so that the stuff to birth his future bride could be taken out and then built up by God into a fitting partner (Genesis 2:21-22). Now let me tell you a story, not of the First Adam, but of the Last. The Last Adam was, by his Father's dispensation, nailed to a cross fixed on a hill's rib above a garden place. There, on that cross, the Last Adam “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” in the sleep of death (John 19:30). What happened then? “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear.” A wound was made in the Last Adam's side. Why? Because “at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34). Genesis was prophecy! “In this sleep [of Adam] was depicted the death of the Crucified One, and in the blood and water, all the beauty of baptism.”46 This blood and water is the stuff of the Last Adam's bride-to-be, “the mystery and the rebirth of the Church through fire and water.”47 “A wife is made from the side of the sleeping man; the Church is made for the dying Christ from the sacrament of blood that flowed from his side when he was dead.”48 “From the side of Christ sleeping on the cross flowed the sacraments... by which the Church was established.”49

Here lies the great secret of the cross! “This mystery [in Genesis] is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32). How often, in the days of his ministry, did Jesus have to call himself 'the Bridegroom' for us to get it (Luke 5:34-35)? “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her... by the washing of water with the word,” by baptism (Ephesians 5:25-26). Ever since then, “the Church... was being built up,” and is being built up even now, with his sacramental loving and nourishing and cherishing (Acts 9:31; Ephesians 5:28-30), “so that he might present the Church to himself in splendor” at the wedding feast of the Lamb we're all waiting for (Ephesians 5:27). That's why, to the extent any form of Christianity separates from that Church, “it loves Christ with an adulterous love,” as one bishop colorfully put it.50 The Church is the Savior's helpmeet – in the words of one teacher, she's “a helper and wife that never turns traitor..., a helper that gives life to the dead..., a blameless and indestructible helper. … She has assisted the whole human race... God the Word became one with the Church so that man might never be alone but wholly with God...”51 And to this perfect mystery, our marriages are made to point.

So, in the words of the prophet, let be “heard again... the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank-offerings to the House of the LORD (Jeremiah 33:10-11)! Amen.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Venus, Mars, and Eden

It was the dawn of the fifteenth century since the Savior's birth, and Christine de Pizan was beginning to write faster and faster. A decade or so earlier, at twenty-five, the plague's theft of her husband Etienne had left her a widowed mother of three, supporting her likewise widowed mother. Natives of the Republic of Venice, her father Tommaso had moved the family to Paris when Christine was not yet four, to become a court astrologer for the French king Charles V. With no other means of support once Tommaso and Etienne were taken by the reaper, in the 1390s Christine had turned to writing, with the backing of Queen Isabeau, who rose in prominence in public affairs as her husband King Charles VI slipped ever deeper into near-incapacitating mental illness.

As she was reading one day, she says, Christine began to wonder “how it happened that so many different men – and learned men among them – have been and are so inclined to express... so many wicked insults about women.”1 Hadn't even Boccaccio, in his celebration of famous women, said that women are “endowed with tenderness, frail bodies, and sluggish minds by nature”?2 This constant barrage began to make Christine feel self-conscious, ashamed of her womanhood, to the point where she “finally decided that God had formed a vile creature when he made woman. … As I was thinking this, a great unhappiness and sadness welled up in my heart, for I detested myself and the entire feminine sex, as though we were monstrosities in nature. … And in my folly, I considered myself most unfortunate because God had made me inhabit a female body in this world.”3 But then God gave her grace to let go of that folly and to write this book in defense of womankind.

Ten years after she finished that book, Christine watched as her adopted homeland of France, already beset by civil war, was invaded from across the channel. The English king Henry V inflicted defeat after defeat on the French, so that five years into the invasion, in 1420, he strong-armed Charles VI and Isabeau into giving Henry their daughter Catherine in marriage and, with her, a claim to the throne for their future son – thus disinheriting Charles and Isabeau's own son, the rightful crown-prince Charles, who struggled to fight on through the lonely years against the English and their Burgundian allies.

But then, in the spring of 1429, the French holdouts found a new defender, of the unlikeliest sort: a teenage peasant girl, who had lived all her days since infancy under this black cloud of violence. Jehanne d'Arc – Joan of Arc – was convinced she'd been raised up by God himself to rescue France from her darkest hour. She had difficulty persuading these skeptical soldiers, who were deeply doubtful of this little girl. Joan had already started wearing men's clothing, believing the Lord had commanded her through his angels and saints.4 Dubbing herself 'the Maiden,' she wrote to the English invaders, announcing that she had “come here from God the King of Heaven to restore the royal blood,” and ordering them to “go back to your own countries, for God's sake,” or else “wherever I find your people in France, I shall make them leave, whether they want to or not; and if they will not obey, I shall have them all killed. I am sent from God, the King of Heaven, to boot you all out of France.”5 Adding a layer of armor over her manly clothes, Joan carried a standard, inspired the troops, and advised the commanders. With this maiden's help, the French broke the siege on Orleans and began retaking a town here, a town there. In July 1429, she stood beside the disinherited prince as he was at last crowned and anointed King Charles VII of France in the cathedral at Reims. The war had only begun.

That very month, Christine de Pizan wrote her final poem, a celebration of Joan's story. “This is God's doing who counseled her, who received from him more courage than any man,” she wrote. “Oh, what an honor to the female sex!”6 Christine didn't live to see the day, less than a year later, when Joan would be a prisoner of war, put on trial by judges who lamented that “this woman – utterly disregarding the honor due the female sex, throwing off the bridle of modesty, and forgetting all feminine decency – wore the disgraceful clothing of men, a shocking and vile monstrosity.”7 In the official charges against Joan, one was that she “steadfastly refuses to carry out other tasks proper to her sex, in all things behaving more like a man than like a woman.”8

For these and other alleged offenses, Joan was bound to a stake and burned alive in May 1431, never seeing her twentieth birthday on the earth. It would be a quarter century before, in 1456, the verdict would be revisited and reversed; her reputation as a holy woman has only grown in the centuries since, and today she's counted among the patron saints of France. But in the aftermath of her life, still we're left with these two voices: the men who judged her a discredit to women, and the woman who lauded her an honor to women.

When we last left off in Genesis, we saw that the human being, entrusted with priestly and royal work to do in the garden, was in solitude. And that was the one thing God saw as an ugly stain on his wonderful creation: “It is not good that the human should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). So, as we heard last week, God paraded in front of the human all the living creatures, allowing the human to exercise dominion by discovering and defining them with names of his choosing (Genesis 2:19-20). But none were able to be the human's partner, none able to complete him or complement him, none to equal him or deliver him.

So what Genesis pictures next is pretty amazing. “The LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on the human” (Genesis 2:21). That expression, 'a deep sleep,' is the same word we find elsewhere describing the trance that a prophet went into during a vision from God, as when Daniel collapsed “into a deep sleep with my face to the ground” (Daniel 8:18; 10:9). Perhaps we're meant to take what follows as what God shows him in a dream, displaying less the outer events than the inner meaning of God's work.9 This is a moment of divine revelation.

And while he slept, he took one of his sides and closed up its place with flesh” (Genesis 2:21). I know, I know: we're used to hearing that God took one of Adam's 'ribs.' But the word in Genesis is actually 'side' – a common architectural word. The tabernacle had sides (Exodus 26:20), the temple had sides (Ezekiel 41:5), the ark of the covenant had sides (Exodus 25:12). So so does the human body. And it's just such a side – a crucial element of the structural integrity of humanity itself – that God grabs hold of here. It's not just any flesh and bone the Lord seizes on, but the flesh and bone closest to the man's heart, without which he's utterly exposed.10 So God yanks out an entire side from the human being, rips him apart, and stitches what's left of him back together. There's a lot more missing now than one slim and measly bone. This is a deep symbol. It'll take time to unpack.

But what happens next? “And the side that the LORD God had taken from the human, he built into a woman, and he brought her to the human” (Genesis 2:22). She's not sculpted from dust and mud, at least not directly. No, she's built – again, that language of construction. She's built like a home is built, like a city is built, like an altar is built. And the materials are no inert earth, but the very stuff of human life itself. Her origin is a thing of awe and wonder. Nothing taken from man is left out, nothing more needs be added. The joyous completeness of humanity is present when they meet face to face, as man and woman (Genesis 2:23). It's only in meeting the woman that the other human is able to recognize and name his own identity as a man.11

And the first lesson we ought to take from this holy tale is the divine truth that there are such things as men and women. In wiser ages, this wouldn't have needed to be said. How we got here instead is a long and sordid story. But our culture has broken apart human nature to the point it can imagine that bodies and persons can be at a mismatch – that the body you have can be a lie that needs to be conformed to 'who you really are,' your inner self, the story you want to tell, the role you perform.12 But the truth is, we don't just happen to inhabit a certain kind of body; we're each body-and-soul as one seamless thing. The body reveals the person. Our genes, our anatomy, our lives all bear witness – even if imperfectly – to the essential deep truth of who we are.

From Genesis, in agreement with all human experience, we know that “God chose to create two sexes” – when he surely could've done otherwise, could've made us however he wanted, still he chose this way as the most fitting.13 God created “two modes of being human,” “two different ways of being a human person,” “two original modes of being persons”: the male mode, as a man, and the female mode, as a woman.14 God acted “by creating male and female, each sex being plainly evident in the flesh,”15 a truth “readily recognizable at birth for 99.98% of human beings” and discernible with patient investigation for the few remaining outliers.16

Biologically, a male animal is the one whose body is geared toward contributing the smaller sex cell to the reproductive process, and a female animals is the one whose body is geared toward contributing the larger sex cell.17 That's true “among all plant and animal species that reproduce sexually,” not just us.18 So a man is the kind of human who could have a potential for fatherhood, biological or otherwise, and a woman is the kind of human who could have a potential for motherhood, biological or otherwise.19

God created two modes of being human, but not a third. Neither a generic unsexed humanity nor a third sex is provided for here. In Genesis, “human sex is strictly binary, male and female.”20 And so “binary distinctions between men and women” are culturally a “human universal.”21 Nor is there a prospect for Adam to become Eve, or Eve to become Adam, or either to become some new invention of their own devising. Manhood and womanhood are priceless gifts from God, and they cannot be exchanged; there is no returns policy. All the cosmetic alterations and hormonal replacements cannot delete the truth encoded in the DNA in just about every cell in a man's or woman's body. The fact that we're created as bodily beings “puts a limit on choice, a limit on self-improvisation, a limit on social construction.”22 We have bodies, and they mean things. And one thing our bodies mean is that your maleness or your femaleness is absolutely inseparable from who you are; it cannot be stripped off of what it means for you personally to be human.23

A second lesson God has for us is that men and women are, in some ways, different. Now, to say with the old phrase that “men are from Mars and women are from Venus”24 is an exaggeration; men and women are much more alike than alien to each other, and communication between us hardly takes an interplanetary connection. But we're designed differently, so on average we think and feel and act differently. There's a real biology to this: medical practitioners know, for instance, that “women are more susceptible than men to depression, osteoporosis, asthma, lung cancer due to smoking, and autoimmune disease,” while “men are generally at greater risk” of “cardiovascular disorders such as hypertension, arrhythmias, and heart failure.”25

Male and female brains tend to form some differences in the sizes of brain regions and the ways in which those regions are connected, even in the womb. Then, even as newborns, boys tend to gravitate more toward things, while girls tend to gravitate more toward people and to show more empathy.26 Already in early childhood, boys tend to gain advantages in more abstract reasoning, while girls tend to gain advantages in concrete reasoning and verbal skills.27 In one study, a typical two-year-old girl knew 40% more words than the typical boy of the same age.28 “Girls are also more physically flexible than are boys and have an advantage in fine-motor coordination.”29 Already at this stage, psychologists find “broader sex differences in social motives, behaviors, and personality” that manifest throughout “many different kinds of relationships.”30 And as they grow into their teen years and beyond, their bodies, brains, and often behaviors will tend to diverge more and more.

Genesis suggests that the woman, as a woman, is “fit for the man” – literally, she's both like him and the opposite of him, and vice versa (Genesis 2:20).31 Theirs is “a balance of sameness and difference between the sexes,” offering a “fruitful tension.”32 Men and women are “complementary opposites..., different in ways that make them natural partners.”33 Sex differences are “arranged purposefully to correspond to the difference of the other, so that maleness points to femaleness, and vice versa.”34 So “both femaleness and maleness always have a positive character, each confirming the goodness of the other.”35 They give each other meaning and fit together to form a social whole.

Christine suggested that God had “ordained man and woman to serve him in different offices, and also to aid and comfort one another, each in their ordained task, and to each sex God has given a fitting and appropriate nature and inclination to fulfill their offices.”36 These differences are God-given, she thinks, because men and women each have unique ways to contribute to God's service – distinctly but together. “In the Lord, woman is not independent of man, nor man independent of woman” (1 Corinthians 11:11). To recognize their complementary differences is “an opportunity for mutual enrichment, as well as a responsibility that we have toward persons, to help them become perfect,” to become the fullest men or fullest women God invites them to be.37 So society shouldn't think with only a male mind, or feel with only a female heart. Men and women each need freely to contribute to society's thinking, feeling, and acting. The more we artificially suppress the contributions of either women or men, the less fruitful our society is able to be.

The third lesson is that men and women are equally valuable – not something that taken for granted in the world Genesis was written in. The ancient Greeks, for instance, told a tale where the human race was originally only men, and the first woman, Pandora, from whom “the tribe of women comes,” was created by the gods “as an evil for mankind.”38 Greek philosophers suggested that a female is essentially “a deformed male,” and that the male is always “better and more divine” than the female.39 For that reason, they held that “the relationship of male to female is that the one is by nature superior, the other inferior, and the one is ruler, the other ruled.”40

Unfortunately, that legacy held on through the centuries. Even Jewish writers somehow came to imagine that “a woman is inferior to a man in all respects,”41 created like Pandora as “the starting point of a blameworthy life” whose very existence made humanity less like God than when there was only a male.42 In this tradition – sadly adopted at some level by many Christians – men became identified with strength and reason and other good qualities we might have, with women becoming symbols of weakness, of emotion, and so on. Hence the need, they thought, for women to be ruled, reflecting a natural ordering of the soul's lower faculties to its higher ones. In this mentality, the only real help women were capable of offering to a male world was by having babies; if not for that need, some thought, God should've just made a second man and skipped women altogether.43

So, since the prevailing common sense became that “woman is by nature subordinate to man,”44 even female writers in the Middle Ages often bought into the belief that women were “inferior by nature.”45 Today, in some circles, the distortion runs in the other direction, with some believing men are inferior by nature – less sensible, less open, less adaptable, less capable – or simply stained by a collective male guilt.46 Christine, a standout in her era, didn't buy either. She could see that women “have minds skilled in conceptualizing and learning, just like men,” and can have “enormous courage, strength, and boldness to undertake and execute all kinds of hard tasks, just like those great men... have accomplished.”47 Christine recognized what too many in her time refused to see: “the endless benefits which have accrued to the world through women.”48 Neither was she dismissive of or hateful toward men and the benefits that accrued to the world through them.

So what does Genesis show us? First, Adam isn't Eve's maker – something pretty obvious to Adam, who wasn't even awake for the procedure.49 Neither, of course, was she his maker. Second, the woman isn't pictured coming from the crown of his head or the soles of his feet, as if God were establishing a clear pecking order.50 He might as well be split down the middle. She comes from his side, his torso, beside his very heart. And that's the point: she originates on his level. As Christine put it, a woman “should stand at [man's] side as a companion, and never lie at his feet like a slave.”51 For “God has never held, nor now holds, the feminine sex – nor that of men – in reproach.”52 “There is not the slightest doubt,” she says, “that women belong to the people of God and the human race as much as men.”53 And so, whether men or women, we bear “the same human nature, and with equal fidelity and dignity.”54 Neither man nor woman is the 'normal' or 'privileged' or 'default' way to be human, as if the other were a deviation, a deformity, a defect. “Women don't have to act like men to be considered human, any more than men have to act like women to be considered human.”55

Then there's that word God uses for what Adam needs – a “helper” (Genesis 2:18). Too often, people misread this as a sidekick, a supporting player whose very identity is subordinate to the man's. But you know who Israel has as a helper? “Blessed is he whose helper is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God” (Psalm 146:5) – same word! A helper is someone or something that relieves distress, rescues from danger, even saves from death.56 If you want a more concrete image of what that looks like, you could do worse than Joan of Arc.

God provides the woman to be the man's helper, who is, in her nature, like him, equal to him – an equal partner in all the royal and priestly work that God put humanity here to do. She's his equal partner in subduing the earth and exercising dominion, in serving God in worship, in guarding and stewarding the holy garden. A society that neglects the active help of women or of men is a society that needs saving. A society in which men and women forget we're fundamentally allies in a common cause is a society toying with its own death. Because we are by nature each other's helpers, rescuers, deliverers from a dark and lonely plight.

And as if that weren't enough, remember that “God created the human in his own image..., male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). A woman is no less the image of God than a man is, nor is a man less the image of God than a woman is. Both are equally embodied reflections of God in the world, here on earth to let creation reverence its Creator and to spread blessing and life and hope wherever we go. As one gender studies scholar put it, in Genesis 1 and 2 “there is no hierarchy of value, no dynamic of superiority and inferiority. Sexual differentiation is not a mishap, but cause for celebration and wonder.”57

Have we been celebrating it, then? Have we been struck by wonder at “the beauty of the difference between man and woman,” and at the profound strength of their equality?58 It's a delightful thing when we embrace each other as equals, celebrate manhood and womanhood as equal in dignity, equal in being faithful to the image of God, equal and complementary in the Lord – for male and female, men and women, are “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). May we this week receive gratefully this gift of our manhood or our womanhood from God's hands. May we this week enrich each other with our special contributions. And may we, as men and women, help one another in this holy mission we share, in Christ's name. Amen.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Discover and Define

It was shaping up to be a good year for Carl. It was late May 1753, and the first volume of his latest book was rolling off the presses at Lars Silvius' workshop. The second volume would be ready in August. This wasn't his first book – not by a long shot – but it would make history. Carl – or 'Carolus Linnaeus,' as he styled himself in Latin – taught at Uppsala University in eastern Sweden, over 300 miles from the village where he was born and raised. There in Uppsala he lived with his wife, 12-year-old son, and four younger daughters in a little wooden house next to his orderly botanical garden, his 'living library of plants' all laid out in neat rows, with its menagerie of monkeys, parrots, and more. It was, in a way, his paradise to walk about in.1

The wayward son of a Lutheran pastor, having absorbed less of piety and more of botany, still Carl's deepest thinking had been shaped by the Book of Genesis.2 He was fascinated by what the world around him preached about “the Author of Nature” who had covered this earth with such diverse delights.3 And now, in his newest book, Species Plantarum, he proclaimed that “the world is the theater of the Almighty, adorned on all sides with the highest miracles of omniscient wisdom.” The human being is here, he said, as God's house guest. But any guest, wrote Linnaeus, is unworthy of the hospitality if he doesn't “know how to look at and appreciate the great things of the owner.” So, to acquit ourselves of being awful guests, it's only right to “research these creations by the Creator” so that each creature can be “clearly grasped and clearly named.”4

Out of his deep passion for nature, Linnaeus was on a mission to systematically organize all human knowledge about plants, animals, even minerals. For that reason, in this book he'd set out to catalog every known species of plant in the world, over 7300 of them, and give each a name – a scientific name in Latin with just two words, a genus and a species. Linnaeus' strategy, binomial nomenclature, is what we still use today. If you've ever heard of a Tyrannosaurus rex, well, that's its binomial nomenclature. Linnaeus was the first person to call you a Homo sapiens – he came up with binomial nomenclature for us, too. Every living thing in the world, once we discover it, gets a name in Linnaeus' style, from Felis catus (cat) and Canis familiaris (dog) to our national bird Haliaeetus leucocephalus (bald eagle). And for this scientific language of praise, he's gone down in history.

Seven years before this book came out, when he was already on that crusade and was several years settled into his garden home, a rival, Albrecht von Haller, had sarcastically accused Linnaeus of having “considered himself the second Adam.”5 And to understand why, we're going to need to reflect on this morning's passage.

Last Sunday, we learned that for Israel's neighbors, the phrase 'image of a god' was their way of setting the king apart from the slave-like or beast-like status of human beings before their gods. When Genesis proclaims the human being, the everyman, as made 'in the image and likeness of God,' then, it's a revolutionary declaration that we are, in our very identity, the royal species on earth. As the image of God, it's our royal responsibility to subdue the earth, to claim all the earth as our own and to steward its resources, cultivate it, and bring life and order to what once was dead and chaotic. It's also our royal responsibility to exercise dominion, to govern all the other living creatures around us, not as tyrants but as caring and compassionate kings and queens of nature.

And now, in today's passage, we have the scene where Adam's dominion is first put to the test, given its original opportunity to shine. “Out of the ground, the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens.” Then what? “He brought them to the human being” (Genesis 2:19). They come obediently, come willingly, come in fellowship and friendship and even play.6 This isn't a quick display; this is a one-by-one introduction. God is “calling on Adam to examine each animal carefully.”7 Adam was, in the words of one old saint, “at once immersed in the study of all natural things,” which the animals here represented.8 Adam isn't being spoonfed by the Lord. God wanted Adam – wants us – to learn some knowledge through our own effort.9

So Adam has to meet each and every kind of animal. He has to get to know each of them, not in theory but in experience. He has to look at them, listen to them, observe them, study them. So the man in the garden meets all these animals, with the expectation that he's going to use his authority, use his dominion, to understand them and name them. “Adam would have had to study the animals to name them appropriately.”10 And as a pair of biblical scholars put it, “if we are to rule wisely and well in creation, we need to learn all we can about the earth and other creatures for whose care we bear some responsibility.”11

Later in the Bible, we meet a man named Solomon. The son of David, he's a king, and God answers his prayers for wisdom. God giveth in abundance: Solomon was “wiser than all other men” (1 Kings 4:31). And one of the expressions of that, and of his kingship, was how much he knew and understood about God's world. We're told in the Bible that King Solomon “spoke of trees, from the cedar that's in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall; he spoke also of beasts and of birds and of crawlers and of fish” (1 Kings 4:33). In his proverbs King Solomon professes that God might be glorified when he buries his deep mysteries beneath the surface appearances of creation, but the royal glory of a king like Solomon is “to search things out,” to investigate, to uncover by study the truth about the world that God has buried there, waiting for it to be discovered (Proverbs 25:2). One expression of royal glory, one mode of exercising dominion, is to study and learn, to inspect and investigate, to explore and discover. The early scientist Francis Bacon quoted that very proverb of Solomon as applying to “the sciences which regard nature.”12 Because that's what Bacon saw Adam doing in the garden.

Here's something that might surprise you, especially if for decades you've been hearing people pit science and faith against each other. At the dawn of modern science, the story of Adam in the Garden of Eden was crucial to how modern science got started. A tradition had developed where Adam, the prototype human being in the garden, had incredible insight into the natures of things.13 Francis Bacon referred to “that pure and uncorrupted natural knowledge whereby Adam gave names to the creatures according to their propriety.”14 Even Linnaeus later said that “Adam knew them all and named them all according to their kind, species, and nature.”15

But it was obvious that, east of Eden, learning didn't work so smoothly. And so, to compensate for what they believed Adam lost in terms of knowledge, sensation, and dominion when he sinned, the early modern scientists decided we'd need to carefully use our reason, we'd need to verify everything with experiments, we'd need to create tools to magnify our weakened senses, and so on.16 And when they developed the scientific method, they said explicitly that their goal was to try to relearn what Adam knew and redo the sorts of things Adam did. Bacon believed that “the first acts which man performed in Paradise consisted of the two summary parts of knowledge: the view of creatures and the imposition of names.”17 Their goal was to exactly that, to repeat what they called “the first service that Adam performed to his Creator, when he obeyed him in mustering and naming and looking into the nature of all the creatures,” because praises are better aimed “when they are offered up to heaven from the mouth of one who has well studied what he commends.”18 Their hope was that sin's interference in human dominion over creation could be at least “in some part repaired... by arts and sciences.”19

Linnaeus couldn't have said it better. And that's how Linnaeus, in von Haller's eyes, “considered himself a second Adam” who “gave names to all the animals after their distinctive marks,” thus assuming an “unbounded dominion.”20 Linnaeus was imitating the man in the garden. This passage in Genesis has been recognized as “the biblical root of scientific taxonomy and all the natural sciences.”21 And Adam has even been called “the first scientist.”22 Dominion calls us to science, to philosophy, to history, to art, to exploration.

In learning about God's world like that, Isaiah says that such a person is being instructed by God (Isaiah 28:26). Isaiah describes the agricultural science of his day – things learned by reason, by experience, by trial-and-error – and boldly announces: “This also comes from the LORD of Hosts! He is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom” (Isaiah 28:29). When scientists do science well, when historians do history well, when philosphers do philosophy well, God is the one teaching them things in their experiments and explorations, in their surveys and their studies. And that blows apart any ability we have to imagine that faith calls us to ignore them. Because that would be ignoring the Lord's own voice of instruction to us. So don't listen to the science-versus-faith folks, inside the church or outside of it. Because God wants us to strive to learn all that's good to know.

We have a biblical commission to learn about God's world: “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge” (Proverbs 18:15). We have a biblical commission to encourage others to learn more about God's world: “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge” (Proverbs 15:2). We have a biblical commission to pass on what we learn about God's world: “The lips of the wise spread knowledge” (Proverbs 15:7). We have a biblical commission to live our lives using what we've learned about God's world: “Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly” (Proverbs 13:16). And we have a biblical promise that using knowledge is a richer way to live: “By wisdom a house is built, by understanding it is established, and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches” (Proverbs 24:3-4).

But back to Genesis. What is God up to in chapter 1? Creating things – and naming them. “God called the light 'Day,' and the darkness he called 'Night'” (Genesis 1:5). “God called the firmament 'Heaven'” (Genesis 1:8). “God called the dry land 'Earth,' and the waters that were gathered together he called 'Seas'” (Genesis 1:10). It's by both creating and naming, a two-part action, that God makes reality be what it is. So it should be pretty surprising that God then seems to take a step back. He brings all the living creatures to Adam, to humanity, “to see what he would call them” (Genesis 2:19).

That presumes, of course, that the human being can call them something. If we read through the text, this is the first hint, in biblical order, that the human being has such capacity. No other animal besides the human animal could name the animals. A chimpanzee has no chimp word for a lion or an ant, and certainly could never try to define 'lion' or 'ant.' But we humans have language. We humans have concepts, reason, intellect. St. Augustine said that “to distinguish [creatures] and differentiate between them by naming them is something only reason can do by making a judgment about them.”23 We can classify animals because we have concepts of their natures and the ability to express those concepts, and ideas about those concepts, in communication, in language. Alone among the earthly creatures, we have the power to name, the power of language creation.

So God is content, in this case, to yield the floor to Adam. God gave him the chance to choose how to call each critter. “And whatever the human called every living creature, that was its name. The human called names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field” (Genesis 2:19-20). That's something God didn't have to let Adam do. God could have dictated these names, could've said the final and only word on their reality. Instead, God lets Adam flex the power of language. God made humans to be what one scientist calls “compulsive classifiers.”24 So Adam crafts names, crafts words, crafts a language that, to his sinless mind, both suits the world as God created it but also shapes the world that God created. In a way, Adam's naming creates a “second world,” a world that mirrors and overlays the world as it came from the hand of God.25 What we have to remember is that meaning in our world isn't delivered by God on a silver platter, but neither is it totally up to us, as if the world could be just whatever we choose for it to be.26 Adam uses language to see the world as God made it and then, based on that truth, to decide “the social and functional place of each animal.”27 Adam verbally partners with God in constructing the reality and meaning of life.28

Naming – language – is often a display of power, an assertion of dominion. The psalmist points out that mighty kings had a practice of “calling lands by their own names,” thereby claiming a lasting dominion (Psalm 49:11). Even something so seemingly simple as naming is “a form of acting on the world” to claim it and change it.29 And so Adam naming the animals was “a symbol of his dominion” over them, an assertion of power.30 But for him, it was also a display of recognition, even of relationship – recognizing a shared reality between the human and the living creature, and using language to help bind that shared reality together.31

It's up to us whether we use our power to name to control and manipulate or to acknowledge and relate. Sadly, it's a power we easily misuse, especially when we name the world in ways that are at odds with the nature of things God made. There was a man named Victor Klemperer, a language professor in Dresden; he was in his fifties when the Nazi Party took power in Germany. Victor was, by birth, Jewish, the son of a rabbi. Forced into retirement in 1935, he only survived the Holocaust because of his German wife. During those agonizing years, he carefully studied the ways the Nazi regime manipulated the German language so as to skew the ways Germans were able to think about the world – “making language the servant of its dreadful system,” Klemperer called it.32 “The language of a clique became the language of the people: it seized hold of all realms of public and private life,” until everybody was speaking with “the same clichés and the same tone.”33 Publishing his studies immediately after the war, he insisted the only way to heal German minds was to unlearn “the language of Nazism.”34

Between that 'language of Nazism' and similar distortions of language in the Soviet Union, the novelist George Orwell in 1949 sketched a terrifying vision of a future state determined to rule the very souls of its citizenry through a revised version of English called 'Newspeak,' which was intended “not only to provide a medium of expression for the worldview and mental habits proper to the devotees of [the state ideology], but to make all other modes of thought impossible.”35 He pictured Newspeak as full of newly invented words that encoded value judgments – for instance, ideas consistent with the approved state perspective are called 'goodthink,' and forced-labor camps are called 'joycamps,' while Oldspeak words like 'science,' 'religion,' 'morality,' 'justice,' and 'democracy' had “simply ceased to exist.”36 Big Brother perverts language to keep souls under its dominion.

In much lesser ways today, various social forces have made language an arena for their struggle after power, engaged in a battle to shape people's language so as to reshape the world we see ourselves in. And they can do that because they're perverting a real human power, a power given by God: to exercise dominion over creation through the gift of language. We're meant to do it faithfully. We're meant to do it, not to amass power for ourselves at the expense of others, but to reflect God-given reality while ministering God's love and God's truth to the world. Building along the grain of what God has spoken, we should be naming the world without greed or corruption, but in holiness of mind and tongue. But we must name the world, name the things in the world. Because part of our dominion is the royal call to discover and define the world around us.

Which leads us to our Overlord, the One who wields supreme dominion, the One in whose footsteps all such human dominion is lived out: the Lord Jesus Christ. Before the world began to be, Jesus was the Word who was in the beginning with God, as fully all that God was (John 1:1-2). Jesus is the Word in whom the Father created all things, “and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). They find their source in him, their substance in him, their coherence in him. Jesus is at the root of creation, and so all our study of the world, all our reasoning, exploring, is a great quest whose destination is ultimately Jesus Christ. As the Word that holds the universe together at the widest and smallest scales, Jesus is the Goal toward which all science is aiming, from Adam to Einstein, from Bacon to Linnaeus to Darwin and beyond.

And if he's the Word “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), then he's the One in whom God speaks realities that all our language can't erase, but can only embrace him or pass away. His is the Name above any name Adam or Linnaeus ever gave. Jesus is the True Language of God, and only when we'll fully have Christ for our vocabulary and fully have Christ for our grammar will we name the world in trustworthy and true ways that stand the test of eternity. When we were sinners groping blindly in the dark, we heard him say: “I name you, though you do not know me” (Isaiah 45:4). And after all's said and done, “his servants he will call by another name” at long last (Isaiah 65:15), a “new name” unsullied by all the language games of the past, a name that gives us a new world (Revelation 2:17). In hope of his promise, go learn something about God's world this week, go speak of it in truthful ways, for the praise of the God who has made all things in the wisdom of his love!