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Friday, July 8, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 17 - The Fall Act 7: Final Sentence (3:17-19)

At this point in the study, we are now at God's judgment upon Adam.  Again, as we have seen, God began pronouncing sentence starting with the lowest first (the serpent) and ending with Adam.  The first thing we notice in verse 17 is that Adam's judgment is a consequence of listening to Eve and eating the fruit, although it is not the sole issue.  As a result, the first part of Adam's judgment is pronounced in verse 18 - the ground is cursed for his sake.  Note the wording of that verse - it doesn't say Adam was cursed, but rather the ground.  There are several implications to this we will now discuss more in detail.

God tells Adam, in pronouncing judgment, in verse 17 that the ground is cursed for man's sake.  Although addressing Adam directly, God is pronouncing this as a permanent consequence for Adam's descendants as well.  He is told that what he consumes he must now produce, and the production was going to involve toil (v. 18).  In verse 19, Adam is told that in order to cultivate the ground, he will have to battle thorns and thistles, and what he produces (the "herb of the field") he shall eat.  Let's now look at a verse in Ecclesiastes 2:22-23.   In this verse (reading from the NKJV), the writer (attributed to King Solomon) says "For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun?  For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest.  This also is vanity."  The writer of Ecclesiastes, some millenia after Adam, elaborates on the severity of this judgment, and the last part, "This also is vanity," says it all:  it was not God's original intention for man to have to work so hard to survive, and the "vanity" of it is how it happened - over a stupid piece of fruit, right?  Reading further, in Ecclesiastes 4:8 the writer expounds even further - "Yet there is no end to all his labors, nor is his eye satisfied with riches, but he never asks 'For whom do I toil and deprive myself of good?' This also is vanity and a grave misfortune."  Again, the "vanity" of all this is that man did deprive himself of a greater good by disobeying in the first place.  Unfortunately, that "vanity" is a necessary evil, for as Psalm 104:23 reminds us, work has now become a natural part of life - "Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening."  The reason for this is a practical necessity, as the Apostle St. Paul points out in II Thessalonians 3:10 when he wrote, "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this:  If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat."  The Apostle didn't mean this as a cruel arbitration either, because honestly in order to produce one has to work to cultivate the crops or raise the herds that nourish the body, and in doing so, those who don't have farms have to generate income to purchase the food items to eat; it is just basic economics.  That being said, the writer of Proverbs notes in 18:9 that "he who is slothful in his work is a brother to him who is a great destroyer."   That translates into a more modern variation - "Idle hands are the devil's workshop," which we'll address more momentarily.  Work, then, was not the way God originally intended man to live, but through the Fall work now becomes a virtue that is to be honored.  Of course, with work comes a wearing-out of the body too (the physical death) which is likewise a consequence of the Fall.  Going back to Ecclesiastes 3:20, it says that "all go to one place; all are from the dust, and all return to dust."  For those of us in the Western Christian liturgical traditions, we know this passage as part of the Ash Wednesday ritual in which the priest says, upon administering the ashes on the forehead, "Remember O man (or woman) that dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return." (People's Anglican Missal, p. 96).  That is drawn directly from Genesis 3:19, and what it serves to remind us of is that we are mortal beings, and one day will pass from this life provided the Lord tarries in His return.  It is an appropriate opening to the penitential nature of the Lenten Season, which is why the Western Church incorporates it into the Liturgy at this time.   That all being established from Scripture and Tradition, let us now examine work as a virtue rather than as a curse.  

Let's face it - the very fiber of our nature hates laboring at anything, and the reason for that is that this was not God's original intention.  But, in our sin God made the concept of labor a necessary part of our daily survival, and it is something we now cannot avoid no matter how technologically advanced society gets.  So, whether entering data on a computer in an office for 8 hours a day, or tilling row after row of a corn field for 12 hours straight, work is tiresome but unavoidable.  However, God has made a part of our being appreciate the fruits of our labor, and if you think about it, after a long day's work one often does feel a sense of accomplishment - the feeling of productivity is a good one, and although we often dread the process, the outcome is rewarding.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a collector of vintage big band recordings, and of course one of those bandleaders is actually quite well-known as he's been seen at least once a week on television since 1954, and although he died in 1992, Lawrence Welk is still broadcast on public television even now on Saturday nights, and has been for 62 years now.  What most people don't know about Welk though is that despite his great success and the great music he has produced, he came from very humble beginnings.  Welk's parents were Volga Germans who emigrated from Russia via Alsace-Lorraine in France, and after they settled on the plains of North Dakota, they eeked out a living farming.  The young Lawrence Welk spent his early days plowing fields, building barns, and in general pitching in as an essential part of his family so that they could survive, and that experience gave him a strong work ethic he had all throughout his musical career.  In his book, This I Believe (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice-Hall, 1979) he writes one very brief but powerful phrase that integrates well with Adam's judgment in Genesis 3:  on page 21, Welk simply says, "Work is not a curse! It's a blessing."  On pages 19-20, he gives some reasons why it is a blessing by noting the following:

1. Work helps one physically, laying the groundwork for future good health.
2. Work helps one stretch one's limits and discover potential, and then gives incentive to work to develop that potential.

On page 19, he in particular addresses the importance of instilling a good work ethic in the young people at an early age, and here is what that entails:

WORK can help young people find out what they want to do in life.  If we don't let them try various jobs, how are they going to find out?

WORK can help them develop the skills and traits necessary for success in life.

WORK can help then develop stamina and patience, make realistic judgments, learn how to get along with people, put a little money in their pockets, and teach them the value of money.

WORK can keep them out of trouble!

Welk here hits upon the very thing I believe why God did curse the ground for Adam's sake.  This was pointed out as well above in Proverbs 18:9, and what it means is that simple old axiom we have previously quoted - idle hands are the devil's workshop.  A person, particularly a young person, will be less likely to get into mischief if he stays busy, and perhaps God was telling Adam that up until that point he had it too easy, and thus was more susceptible to temptation.  So, God in essence put Adam to work!  Another well-known celebrity who has also championed a good work ethic is Phil Robertson, who many will know from the hit television series Duck Dynasty.  As I personally love watching Duck Dynasty, I noted one thing about Phil that was both humorous and at the same time good sense - if Phil has a job, he will find ways of making idle, able bodies (usually his sons or his grandkids!) get the job done!  In his book UnPhiltered (New York:  Howard Books, 2014), Phil writes the following on page 67 which summarizes a part of his work ethic well:

"I think the most important values we can teach our children are a healthy fear of God and the importance of hard work."

Both Phil Robertson and Lawrence Welk, although coming from diverse backgrounds and also now famous and with personal fortunes in the millions, learned the value of a sound work ethic early on in life - both of them came from poor, humble families, and life was not easy for either of them growing up.  One other thing they share in common was a strong Christian faith too, and Phil's quote ties together something very significant - faith and work go hand-in-hand!  If you will recall from the previous lessons, what got Adam into trouble was not so much eating a piece of fruit.  Rather, it was not having the faith in God's mercy, and therefore trying to resort to self-justification to cover up wrongdoing.  So, God put him to work!   Faith and works do play a large part in being together on several levels, as James deals with the spiritual/theological connection in James 2:17.  However, it also has a more practical application, because faith can be cultivated also by physical labor as well.  Physical labor relates to faith in that it does teach us valuable lessons about relating to other people, having personal accountability, cultivating integrity in daily dealings, and proper submission to authority.  If we apply some of what we cultivate in the office desk chair to the church pew on Sunday, we'll find we have a more disciplined and ordered walk with God too.  That could be a whole lesson in itself too. 

Modern decent celebrities are not the only people who understood the virtue of work, as the Church Fathers did as well.  Remember, many of these great men of faith were also hermits and monastics, and oftentimes that meant learning total self-sufficiency to eat and address basic human needs for themselves and their brothers.  So, the rigid spiritual discipline of the ascetic life naturally had a more practical side that was just as rigid at times as well.  In addressing this passage in Genesis for instance, St. Chrysostom observed that God imposed toil on may to remind him of his disobedience (in line with what we discussed earlier, in other words).  And, naturally, some of the Fathers, notably Tertullian, also saw an allegorical dimension in even the thorns and thistles.  Tertullian saw the thorns in particular as a symbol of the sins of the flesh that only the power of the Cross could remove - therefore, in the rigor of work God was teaching man that one day sin would be removed through a crown of thorns (a typology then of Christ's Passion).  Also, to further develop this, the thorns of sin are removed by the labor of submission of our will to God's will (again, Guardini's assertion of "Thy will be done" as the gateway to the "Our Father"), and in a similar way, removing thorns from fertile soil makes good crops grow better.   This is an allegorical image Jesus utilizes in particular in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-9, and also the allegories He and the Apostolic writers use in John 15:2 and Galatians 5:22-23 in relation to spiritual fruit.  And, that entails a two-fold lesson in the reason behind God "cursing the ground."

First, God was telling Adam that because of his sin, he will now have to work for his living - if he fails to do so, evil would proliferate in his life like those thorns and weeds he'd have to toil to get rid of.  Second, it is also an allegorical metaphor in that to produce and cultivate spiritual fruit, we would need to work at it (James 2:20).  What this means then is no more "free rides" or easy leisure, and only through working at both the physical and the spiritual, we could be fulfilled and productive.  Robert Lupton, who founded FCS Urban Ministries in Atlanta, wrote in his book Toxic Charity about the importance of charity also encouraging self-development.  What he says in essence is this - "Mercy that does not move intentionally in the direction of development (justice) will end up doing more harm than good - to both giver and recipient" (Robert D. Lupton, Toxic Charity.  New York:  Harper Collins, 2011. p. 42).  What Lupton means by this he notes on page 41, in which he defines justice as an action that entails fairness or reasonableness, especially in the way people are treated and decisions are made.  He then defines mercy as a fruit which consists of compassion, kindness, or forgiveness shown especially to someone over whom a person has power.  In the narrative encompassed in these verses, we see God modeling that approach with Adam - He dispenses justice, but for Adam's sake (mercy).  Therefore, we also see in the seemingly harsh sentence God gives to Adam a picture of divine love and mercy too - the same loving Jesus in the Gospels is of the same Trinitarian Godhead in Genesis 3, and the mercy is the same although manifested differently.  

In addition to having to toil and labor for his living, the result of Adam's sin is also a physical death as well.  Dr. Scott Hahn, my Theology professor at Steubenville as well as a stellar Roman Catholic lay theologian, talks about this in his book First Comes Love (New York:  Doubleday, 2002).  In the commission of the act, Dr. Hahn notes on page 69 of his book that if Adam did indeed dread death, it would explain his own complicity in this incident - Hahn argues that Adam feared physical death over offending God by sin, and again the real sin here was not about a piece of fruit, but rather a refusal of selfless sacrifice for the sake of his love of God.  Adam and Eve both possessed an inner wisdom about preserving life to avoid death, but they lacked supernatural wisdom to avoid supernatural death.  As Dr. Hahn quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church on page 72, he references CCC 397, which says, "Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart."  In his failure, Adam lost an important dimension to his own growth, and by losing that he also lost his natural mortality, as did all of we his descendants as well.  Returning now to Scripture, Romans 3:23 reminds us that the wages of sin is - what?? - DEATH!  And, we are also reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:20 again, in that from dust we came, so to dust we return.  Now, in Christ, the spiritual aspect of this judgment is lifted, and at the General Rapture we confess in the Creed each Sunday at Mass, we will be resurrected into new bodies if - and only if! - we trust in and receive Jesus Christ as the propitiation of our sins - John 14:6 serves as a reminder to us there as well.  It will be then for us, if we are in Christ, the miracle of Easter that the Byzantine Christian tradition proclaims when they sing the Easter Troparion:

Christ has risen from the dead,
By death He trampled death,
And to those in the tombs He bestoweth life!

Besides Jesus' bodily Resurrection, the other exception is the Virgin Mary.  Mary didn't inherit the curse of Eve, in that she was Ever-Virgin, and at her conception she was sanctified, thus exempting her from original sin (the Immaculate Conception).  She also didn't decompose at her repose, but was "raptured" at her repose to full glorification (the Assumption).  Therefore Mary, as the Qeotokos
was the sanctified vessel through which God made available the climax of His plan of salvation in the Incarnation of Himself as Jesus, God the Son - God in essence shows the full extent of His love by stepping down in order to elevate us with Him.  Mary, as the vessel, therefore shares a role in that plan (Co-redemptrix).   Therefore, Mary is the "New Eve" and her life offers to us a glimpse of what God intended originally for us to be before Adam and Eve sinned.  

By way of conclusion here, let us note the following points.  First, sin and death entered the world via the Fall (v. 18).  But, note in verse 18 that it was the ground that was cursed, and Adam who was judged - big difference that we often miss in reading this passage.  The ground was cursed for Adam's sake to convey a message of redemption as well as providing physical benefits.  Second, work was a reality associated with the Fall, but work is not a curse - rather, it is a blessing of provision to deliver us from the temptations of sin, and it has its own rewards.  Finally, work doesn't just entail gainful employment (although that's important) but rather it could also apply to anything - we master what we work at, and that includes the Christian life.  In the next lesson, we will examine the aftermath of the judgments as Adam and Eve are sent out of the Garden, and begin to live out a long but still mortal existence. 

(The references to the Church Fathers in this lesson are taken from Andrew Louth and Thomas Oden, ed. The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture - Old Testament Vol. 1:  Genesis 1-11.  Downer's Grove, IL:  Intervarsity, 2001.  pp. 94-97.)