“It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.” Most would agree that the early chapters of Genesis were never intended as a scientific treatise on the origins of life. They do, however, answer far more important questions: what is the meaning and purpose of life, and what is our respons-ibility for creation?
The image of man, formed from the dust of the earth and enlivened with the breath of God, is a description of relationships rather than origins. It succinctly describes our unbreakable bond with creation and our relationship with God, the source of all life. The image of man naming the creatures formed from the earth implies our responsibility for creation, and is echoed in the recent encyclical of Pope Francis. In the spirit of Genesis, it is a sacred duty to care for the creation entrusted to us.
The Creator’s reflection that “it is not good that man should be alone” takes us to the heart of our humanity. The Creator has endowed us with a restless longing that cannot flourish in isolation. Our humanity is whole only to the extent that it finds itself in relationships both with God and with each other.
The creation narrative turns more specifically to marriage and the relationship between man and woman. Continued life depends upon the blessing of this relationship, and yet from the moment that sin entered our hearts, it is a relationship that has been broken and abused.
The Book of Genesis, in its description of the joy that man and woman found together, was not a naïve denial of the many difficulties, our own selfishness included, that so easily threaten this relationship. Rather, it was a reminder of the blessing intended by God for this relationship as the basis of a loving family life.
It is the best within us that cries out: “This at last is bone of my bone, flesh from my flesh.” It is the best within us that forsakes all others to live a selfless life with the chosen other.
This was not the generosity with which the Pharisees approached Jesus on the question of marriage and divorce. St Mark tells us that “they were testing Jesus”, seeking some compromise that would undermine his Gospel of healing and forgiveness. “Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife? Moses allowed us to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.”
It had been the intention of the Pharisees to obscure, by subsequent legislation, the vision of marriage set out in the Book of Genesis. The reaction of Jesus was not a rejection of those who struggle in relationships, but a restatement of the joy intended by the Creator. “It was because you were so unteachable that Moses wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.”
Jesus spoke those words as the one who, in himself, would become the healing and salvation of all broken relationships. His grace enables us to reach beyond our sinful compromise, to believe in all that he has called us to become.
This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (2/10/15)
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