Sunday, October 14, 2007

BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING: Address 2: Adam and Eve Enter University (Gen 2)

Address 2: Adam and Eve Enter University (Genesis 2)


In the first address, I spoke of God as the principal actor on the stage of time and the world: God made the world: He made it in time, He made it by His Word; and He made Man in His image.

When we come to Genesis chapter 2, the focus of attention is on the earth and on the Man made from the earth and the Woman made from the Man. Our first glimpse of the earth is rather bleak, something like the surface of the moon, but immediately God adds the necessary ingredient, sending water through springs, like oases in the desert. This life-giving water mixed with clay forms the body of a new creature, into whom God breathes the final essential element: “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (verse 7).

Genesis 1 tells us that Man is an animal bearing God’s image. Genesis 2 tells us that Man is earthy but filled with the divine breath. We human beings are both common and unique, and our lives and history are a complicated mix of low and high, of flesh and spirit.

The focus of the chapter moves quickly from the earth in general to a particular piece of the earth called in Hebrew “Gan ‘Eden,” the Garden of Delight.

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. (verses 8-9)

The Greek Old Testament and the New Testament speak of this Garden as “Paradise.” What was Paradise like? Well, let me suggest it is a lot like Uganda. Bishop Muhima once described this land as so fertile that if you planted a pig’s tail it would grow a pig! When I first came here to Mukono seven years ago and walked around the campus, I was stunned by the natural beauty as well as the lovely historic buildings and landscaping. I said to myself, “This is like Paradise.” So I want to project this image of UCU Mukono back on the Genesis story and suggest that it portrays Man – first Adam and then Eve – as being admitted to university. This account in Genesis describes the education of man in many ways, some of them unfortunate. It is also a preparation for God’s later interventions in history, in giving His Covenant and in His saving acts on man’s behalf.

When we enter university, we encounter new knowledge and we meet new people. This was true for Adam and Eve in the Garden as well.

The Knowledge Tree

I understand Bishop Tucker College was situated in a mango grove, and you can see some of the old mangoes still standing. The Garden of Eden seems to have been quite a luxuriant orchard as well:

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. (verses 8-9)

Now it may seem strange to think of a university as a sensuous place, a place that delights the eyes, the nose, the ears. But actually, a major part of a university education is a disciplining of the senses, of the moral and intellectual faculties. I find that I have spent much of my time here as Vice Chancellor involved in planning and designing the campus and its structures. Is this important? I think it is. The layout of one’s house, one’s compound, says something about one’s view of the world.

Take our buildings. I often tell people that we aim to build simple but lovely structures and designs here so that students may take with them an image of beauty and order out into their later life. We have tried to build with a structural openness to the environment, to the lovely breezes that waft across this hillside. We have also tried to honor the history and craftsmanship represented in a structure like the Bishop Tucker Building.

We also have to be economical. I was struck by an article in the news recently that Makerere University was building a 2-billion shilling fence around the campus – and that it had collapsed in places due to the rains. I had admired the fence as I went past on the road, but I think we shall have to find some practical solution that does not bankrupt the budget.

Anyway, back to Eden. Adam and later Eve were invited by God to practice this kind of household economics. In doing so, Adam had to develop mental and moral sensibilities. His first tutorial was in animal husbandry. God brought the animals He had made to the man “to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name” (verse 19). Just as God created the world by His Word, now Man in God’s image recognizes God’s various creatures by naming them. In one sense, naming is arbitrary: a particular animal can have a Latin, English or African-language name. But all animals cannot have the same name – or confusion would abound.

Clearly, Adam and Eve could tell an apple tree from a mango. Therefore God has no problem commanding him: "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (verses 16-17). This command adds another dimension of knowledge, not just between this red fruit and that yellow fruit, but between this permitted fruit and that forbidden fruit. In other words, Adam is learning the difference between good and bad. This may sound strange given that the forbidden tree itself is called the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” I understand this paradox this way: God has created us free and wants us to make moral choices, but he has also made it possible for us to make good choices only. We do not have to learn by our mistakes, at least in the big issues of life, unless we refuse to accept His instruction. It is common for some innocent young people to think they are missing something when they see their peers, say, going into a bar or staying out beyond the curfew time. The Bible would teach us that experience in disobedience is not necessary or rewarding. Indeed it brings with it severe consequences, as we shall see in the next chapter.

So Adam’s first day in university is a momentous one. He begins what will be a long course of education in the natural order and the moral order. Indeed, we may suspect that this course of study will involve lifelong education This education will prepare him for what UCU’s mission statement calls a “life of fruitful service.”.

The Sexual Other

Adam not only encounters a new kind of knowledge of the world, but he also meets a new creature – Woman. The story of Adam meeting Eve – let’s call it a love story – runs through the latter half of Genesis 2, beginning with God’s claim that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (verse 18). We are not told up to that point that Adam was unhappy with his state. Indeed, like a baby he may have been blissfully ignorant of his adult needs. But God sees that he is incomplete, and God begins to educate him on the kind of companion he needs to fulfill his humanity.

First, Adam is asked to judge a beauty contest for Miss Paradise. Linda Leopard passes down the catwalk, as does Babette Baboon, Geraldine Giraffe, and Deborah Dolphin, oh yes and Catherine Cobra. “But for Adam no suitable helper was found” (verse 20b). The word translated “suitable helper” is important; more exactly it can be translated “helper opposite him.” Maybe a better way of saying this is his “counterpart” or his “complementary mate.”

The winner does not come from the animals God has made, but is a new creature, fashioned out of Adam’s own body by God’s surgery. Now I just had minor surgery three months ago, and I can tell you even minor surgery brings pain you don’t easily forget. So let’s not assume that Adam’s surgery was painless. He lost something of himself, his own self-assurance, as if the whole world depended on him. Like a first child in a family when a new baby arrives, he might have felt: this is not a companion but a competitor. But he didn’t. Why? Well, he explains when he sees the new creature: "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman, 'for she was taken out of man" (verse 23). When he says “This now...” there is a sense of “Eureka, at last I have found you!” Whatever pain he felt is overwhelmed with a new emotion: sexual attraction, what the Greeks called eros. This attraction is physical: he identifies her as having the same flesh and bone structure as himself, and yet she is not Man (Hebrew ’ish) but Woman (Hebrew ’ishah). Suddenly in man is born a longing for completion, which he had never felt before. The Woman is his helper, one might even say his savior, because she alone can begin to meet this inner longing.

It is not enough, however, to see the story as just a story of “boy meets girl.” The narrator immediately sets this erotic relationship in a larger context: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (verse 24). While there is no specific mention of children, the mention of leaving father and mother assumes that this couple will “increase and multiply and fill the earth” that they will be the father and mother of all human creatures. There have been some religious groups in history that see sex as bad and procreation as good (or at least necessary). There are other usually secular people who see sex as good and having children, especially having a lot of them, as bad. The Bible refuses to separate the sexual impulse from the impulse to reproduce your own kind, your own family.

The last line of the chapter cannot help but strike us as strange: “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (verse 25). It is true that in some African cultures men and women went about naked, but in most cultures there has been a compulsion to clothe oneself. We shall see next week the origin of that shame. Here in the Garden of Delight, we see that God has created the body to be good and beautiful, and he approves a kind of innocent appreciation of the sexual other in his or her bodiliness. One other part of the Bible – the Song of Songs – expounds this in greater detail. It is not wrong to notice an attractive woman or man, and in the marriage bed, to enjoy this attraction unclothed. But we are not in the Garden any more, and the desire which Adam felt has been distorted by sin.

Conclusion

The philosopher Sigmund Freud once said that “love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” The education of Adam and Eve involved just these objects: learning to love one another, and learning to work usefully in their garden. I call this the aim of a university education. You do not come to Uganda Christian University simply to leave with a certificate three years later. You do not come here simply to qualify for a profession, be it lawyer or social worker or clergyman. You come to university to become fully human, to acquire the kind of knowledge that will lead to good judgements and right actions, the kind of passion that will lead to a wholesome friendships and marriage.

Now I need to add one crucial element to this mix: God. God is seen at every step of the way: from creating the man out of the dust, to noticing his aloneness, to operating on his body and bringing him the perfect partner, to establishing the covenant of marriage for the future of the race. Yet curiously, there is no indication that Adam and Eve respond to God’s activity. Do they not see what is happening? Do they attribute all this to some natural forces? Are they so absorbed in this new knowledge and love that they fail to acknowledge the Source of all happiness. Perhaps so. It is a common human failing, and we shall see in the next chapter that this neglect leads to far worse, the downfall of Man.

I suggested last week that we would do well to use the General Thanksgiving Prayer in the Anglican Prayer Book to recall our “creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life.” I close this week with another Prayer Book collect for Education, in which we remember that we are enrolled in God’s university here on earth.

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom: Enlighten by Your Holy Spirit those who teach and those who learn, that, rejoicing in the knowledge of Your Truth, they may worship You and serve You from generation to generation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


19 September 2007

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