By John Rieping | Published 30 May 2015 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
The first book of Jewish scripture, Bereishit (aka Genesis), tells of the creation of the universe — once. Yet the origin of humanity is told twice.
As a writer myself, I suspect the author wanted us to pay particular attention to that part.
One sentence from the first telling has always delighted me: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (1:27)
As a Christian, such words speak to me of the equal dignity of men and women. For Christianity sees our creation in the image and likeness of God as the root of our human dignity.
Now notice another implication: the image of God is displayed in humanity, but humanity is fully revealed in a couple -- not an individual.
That's hardly an American stance there. After all, the U.S. is a nation that especially prizes independence and self-reliance. Tough individualism marks our mythology, from the western frontier heroes to many of our superheroes.
However that isn't the only challenging thought of this verse.
Consider this: we may take the sexes of humanity for granted, but it is no absolute necessity. Some creatures do fine with only one sex (look up the female-only New Mexico whiptail lizard). Why would humanity's two sexes, together, show the divine image better than only one would?
As the rock band Boys Like Girls sang in a 2009 duet with Taylor Swift, "Maybe two is better than one," though I think we can go deeper than that.
The medieval thinker Tommaso di Aquino (A.D. 1225-1274) once claimed Christians had to admit that the abundance and variety of God's creations were intentional.
God, Tommaso wrote, wanted to share and show the divine goodness with and through creation. So God made many and diverse creatures because the creator's goodness "could not be fittingly reflected in just one creature." Thus "what each individual thing lacked in order to reflect the divine goodness would be made up for by other things." ("Summa Theologiae," 1, q. 47, a.1)
One just isn't enough. It is not that we, as individuals, are incomplete. Rather all creatures, at their best, offer little glimpses of the divine. We form a mosaic.
Even so, there's a more subversive idea here. For if humanity's two sexes can show the image of God better than one, then it seems they must not be identical. Men and women are equal in dignity, personhood, and humanity, but we differ. And we do so in more than where our mushy parts can be seen or are absent.
These differences, far from being bad, show the divine creator more fully than either sex could alone.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this is when a man and a woman, acting according to their natures, take part in creation itself by together bringing a new life into existence. It is hard to be more creator-like than that.
That relies on those aforementioned mushy parts and such, but that isn't all there is to it. There's a natural result of offspring that, ideally, shows us God in a special way: motherhood and fatherhood.
The Jewish and Christian scripture often uses such imagery of mother and father to describe God, as well as the image of a husband. As a spirit, God transcends male and female. Nonetheless, God is paternal, maternal, and spousal in the most wonderful of ways.
We can't reflect that in solitude. Others evoke our parental or spousal sides in us. Thus it is we cannot reach our human potential in isolation. Instead, it is our relationships with others (especially God) that expose us most fully, even to ourselves.
As God reportedly said in the beginning, it is not good for us to be alone (Bereishit/Genesis 2:18). So let we who claim to believe in God dare to love, patiently and perseveringly, like God loves us.
"Listen, and tell your grief: But God is singing! / God sings through all creation with His will. / Save the negation of sin, all is His music, / even the notes that set their roots in ill / to flower in pity, pardon or sweet humbling. / Evil finds harshness of the rack and rod / in tunes where good finds tenderness and glory.
"The saints who loved have died of this pure music, / and no one enters heaven till he learns, / deep in his soul at least, to sing with God."
— Jessica Powers, aka Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit (1905-1988)