Sunday, March 1, 2009

In His Own Image: God's Relationship With Man From Ancient Babylon to Beowulf

I'll be happy to provide citations to anyone who asks; without any apparent need, it doesn't seem worthwhile to move my footnotes into this blog post.

In His Own Image

From the beginning, God was the Creator. In the Book of Genesis, He fashions the world in seven days. In Ea Elish, the Genesis of ancient Babylon, creation takes the form of birth and death; birth given by Tiamat to the gods, and the death of Ea giving way to the creation of Man.
When Man was birthed, the roles of God became more plentiful and complex. He has not ceased to maintain his role as the most prime of creators, however; In the Christian tradition, “it is through Him that all things are made.” Man’s relationship to God can be classified as that of a creator, a controller, and a giver of law.

Divine creators do not make man first of all things; mankind is often formed last in creation myths. The function for which man is created is stated explicitly in Ea Elish, and left slightly more ambiguous in the Bible, yet one message cohabitates both of the stories: it is imperative for man to behave in a manner that is appropriate to their standing with God. What behaving like this entails is perhaps the most discussed theme in the Bible. The reasons for the laws of Judeo-Christianity—that false idols must be shunned, for example, and that a holy day must be observed—are largely based on man’s actions in respect to God. The existence of these rules assigns a role to God: the giver of law.

In Ea Elish, gods created man to perform rituals in honor of the gods.

Punishment they inflicted upon [Ea] by cutting the arteries of his blood
With his blood [the gods] created mankind,
And they had imposed the services of the gods upon them

In Genesis as well as in Ea Elish, it is the duty of the first human beings to live within the boundaries that a god makes. God created the wonderful Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve to roam in, but he restricted them from eating of two trees, including the Tree of Knowledge Good and Bad. Man disobeyed God, which set the tone for all human beings to come. Now, in addition to being a creator and a law-maker, God became a controller of man. (Control and law are different, for Man has the free will to sin and thus go against God’s law, but he cannot avoid his own fate.) He sentenced them to eventual death, and to labor pains that would in a sense punish Woman for bringing new human beings into the world. This established God’s relationship with Man as that of the controller and the controlled.

Although the punishment of labor pains was not later alleviated by God, the sting of death was. Later in the Bible, Christ shared the good news of Heaven; that every good person would have a room reserved for them in the true temple of God. This added a note of benevolence to God’s relationship with Man. Death was no longer a punishment for the sin of Adam and Eve, but a way to reach a closer covenant with the Lord. This too falls under into the category of control. Whether an individual is sent to Heaven or Hell is God’s decision.

Perhaps Adam was created to provide God with a companion. Unlike the trees and animals, man was created in “God’s own image.” What it means to be created in His image is not definitively explained, but it does bring man closer to God than any of His other creations. Perhaps it has something to do with God wanting to be worshiped.

“Can any praise be worthy of the Lord’s majesty?” Augustine asks in his Confessions. What can individual men and women do to sufficiently offer praise unto the Lord? A few lines after Augustine poses this question, he illustrates the extent of man’s attachment to God as he sees it.
Since he [man] is a part of your [God’s] creation, he wishes to praise you. The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, for you made him for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they can rest in you.

What is man’s duty to God? What is his responsibility as a creature “made…for” God? What does it mean to be made by, and yet for, the Lord? This again raises the question of whether or not men and women are intended to be companions to the Lord. They are not God’s equals, and thus not his peers. So instead of being companions, perhaps God’s purpose in creating mankind is to have beings to laud (or praise, in Augustine’s words) Him.

Why does God want to be worshipped? Just like the Babylonian gods, the Judeo-Christian God requires worship for some reason and uses humans for this purpose. (“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the Pharaoh and tell him: thus says the Lord: Let my people go to worship me.” ) Perhaps it is that He knows His Word is truth, and He wants to share the truth with mankind. Or perhaps He needs His work appreciated. Another possibility is that God wants acknowledgment that He is the almighty being. He might wish for men to be in awe of him, and not challenge him or disobey the laws he sets. It might even be that he sets these laws for the sole purpose of having laws, any laws at all, as long as they are followed and thus prove his power.

In the Book of Isaiah, a friend of the narrator had a vineyard that did not grow quality grapes. As a result, the vineyard-keeper destroyed the land with a malicious attitude towards his creation. God uses fire and flooding to rid his world of sinners. Why does the vineyard keeper ruin his vineyard instead of fixing it? Cannot God tend to his people with kindness and love instead of lethal punishment? This, too, is an act of control.

The Book of Job is centered around an interesting relationship between God and a man. Job had everything taken away from him by God; but then again, God gave him all of those things to begin with.

Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb
and naked shall I go back again.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
blessed be the name of the Lord!

The action of Book of Job epitomizes the idea of a God that control’s man’s fate. In this case, the way that God chooses to exercise His control is completely separate from law, as Job abided by God’s law.

The relationship between Man and God is very much complicated by the presence of Christ. Both man and God, he lived among human beings as one of them but was also more divine than even the prophets. “Who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him? But we have the mind of Christ.”

The Beatitudes in the Book of Mathew imply a very close and special relationship between God and Man.. Unlike in Genesis, Isaiah and Amos, in many books of the New Testament “mercy” and “comfort” are gifts of God, emphasized over death and punishment given to sinners.

For what purpose was Man created? What does it mean to be made “In God’s image”? Eating from the Tree of Wisdom seems to have made human beings what they are today, but what were they before they gained wisdom and became aware of their nakedness?

Before they ate from the Tree of Wisdom, humans were basically God’s dolls that he played with in his dollhouse. Until Adam and Eve tasted the apple, humans did not have suffering, did not have wisdom, and did not make choices. Once the choice to eat the forbidden fruit was made (even before the fruit was actually eaten,) humans ceased to be dolls and started to be what is now considered to be human.

When reading Beowulf, the reader is frequently reminded that the events taking place in the narrative happened because they were the will of God.

Much as he wanted to, there was no way
he could preserve his Lord’s life on earth
or alter in the least the Almighty’s will.
What God judged right would rule what happened
to every man, as it does to this day.

Augustine shares the philosophy that God preordains the fate of the individual, for he says that it was God’s will that he reach his holy epiphany in the garden at the time that he did and not earlier in his life. In Exodus, God himself claims to control the outcome of situations when he informs Moses that He will make the Pharaoh “obstinate.”

God’s relationship with Man is characterized by three things: creation, control, and law. God is responsible for the creation of man, for he made him; control, for he preordains the fate of every man; and law, for he communicates rules that human beings ought to follow.

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