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Genesis, study guide, part 1.3

Here is a short introduction how we may use the timeline of Logod/Faith Life and Verbum for a historical study of both biblical and cultural research:

LOGOS time line

Genesis, creation of man, Michelangelo

 

 

 

 

Appendix A

 

How to Read the First Chapter of Genesis*
By George Sim Johnston

 

The first chapter of Genesis remains a great stumbling block for the modern mind. The average educated person “knows” that the creation account in Genesis is contradicted by what science tells us about the origin of the universe and the animal kingdom. Charles Darwin himself discarded a mild Protestant faith when he concluded that the author of Genesis was a bad geologist. To his mind, the biblical six days of creation and Lyell’s Principles of Geology could not both be true.
The discomfort with Genesis, moreover, has not been restricted to the educated classes. According to the famous French worker-priest Abbe Michonneau, the apparent conflict between science and the six-day creation account promoted atheism among the poor far more effectively than any social injustice. Darwinian evolution is a major ingredient of that “science.” So is the “Big Bang” model of the universe, which plausibly asserts that the cosmos is billions, and not thousands, of years old.
The confusion over this issue, which Pope John Paul II addressed in 1996 in his highly publicized letter about evolution, boils down to the question of how to read the biblical creation account. In his letter, John Paul simply reiterated what the Magisterium has argued tirelessly since Leo XIII’s Providentissimus Deus (1893): the author of Genesis did not intend to provide a scientific explanation of how God created the world. Unfortunately, there are still biblical fundamentalists, Catholic and Protestant, who do not embrace this point.
When Christ said that the mustard seed was the smallest of seeds—and it is about the size of a speck of dust—He was not laying down a principle of botany. In fact, botanists tell us there are smaller seeds. Our Lord was simply talking to the men of His time in their own language, and with reference to their own experience. Similarly, the Hebrew word for “day” used in Genesis (yom) can mean a twenty-four-hour day, or a longer period. Hence the warning of Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943) that the true sense of a biblical passage is not always obvious. The sacred authors wrote in the idioms of their time and place.
As Catholics, we must believe that every word of Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit—a claim the Church will not make even for her infallible pronouncements. However, we must not imagine the biblical authors as going into a trance and taking automatic dictation in a “pure” language, untouched by historical contingency. Rather, God made full use of the writers’ habits of mind and expression. It’s the old mystery of grace and free will.
A modern reader of Genesis must bear in mind the principles of biblical exegesis laid down by Saint Augustine in his great work De Genesi Ad Litteram (On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis). Augustine taught that whenever reason established with certainty a fact about the physical world, seemingly contrary statements in the Bible must be interpreted accordingly. He opposed the idea of a “Christian account” of natural phenomena in opposition to what could be known by science. He viewed such accounts as “most deplorable and harmful, and to be avoided at any cost,” because on hearing them the non-believer “could hardly hold his laughter on seeing, as the saying goes, the error rise sky-high.”
As early as AD 410, then, the greatest of the western Church Fathers was telling us that the Book of Genesis is not an astrophysics or geology textbook. Augustine himself was a kind of evolutionist, speculating that God’s creation of the cosmos was an instantaneous act whose effects unfolded over a long period. God had planted “rational seeds” in nature which eventually developed into the diversity of plants and animals we see today. Saint Thomas Aquinas cites this view of Augustine’s more than once in the course of the Summa Theologiae. Saint Thomas, author Etienne Gilson writes,

was well aware that the Book of Genesis was not a treatise on cosmography for the use of scholars. It was a statement of the truth intended for the simple people whom Moses was addressing. Thus it is sometimes possible to interpret it in a variety of ways. So it was that when we speak of the six days of creation, we can understand by it either six successive days, as do Ambrose, Basil, Chrysostom and Gregory, and is suggested by the letter of the text … Or we can with Augustine take it to refer to the simultaneous creation of all beings with days symbolizing the various orders of beings. This second interpretation is at first sight less literal, but is, rationally speaking, more satisfying. It is the one that St. Thomas adopts, although he does not exclude the other which, as he says, can also be held.

In this century, Cardinal Bea, who helped Pius XII draft Divino Afflante Spiritu, wrote that Genesis does not deal with the “true constitution of visible things.” It is meant to convey truths outside the scientific order.
While they do not teach science, the early chapters of Genesis are history and not myth. But they are not history as it would be written by a modern historian. (It is not as though there was a camcorder in the Garden of Eden.) You might say that they are history written in mythic language—a poetic compression of the truth, as it were. We are obliged to believe the fundamental truths expressed by the sacred author—for example, that our first parents, tempted by the devil, committed a primal act of disobedience whose effects we still suffer (Catechism, no. 390). But the Catholic doctrine of original sin is entirely outside the realm of physical science. It’s worth keeping in mind, however, Newman’s remark that the more he contemplated humanity, the clearer it became to him that the race was “implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity.”
Biblical fundamentalism—and its corollary, creation science—is a distinctly Protestant phenomenon. Although it has roots in the commentaries on Genesis written by Luther and Calvin, its real beginning was in early twentieth century America. Biblical literalism was a defense against the onslaught of rationalist criticism launched by German scholars who were intent on undermining Christian belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Certain Protestant denominations that were already suspicious of science took refuge in a semantic literalism that sheltered the Bible from the invasive procedures of agnostic scholarship. The intellectual simplicity and doctrinal clarity of this position make it attractive to some Catholics today. This appeal is understandable. They are seeking refuge from the attacks of heterodox theologians who seem as eager as their nineteenth century forebears to deconstruct the faith.
The temptation to biblical literalism should be avoided, however. The Bible was never meant to be read apart from the teaching authority established by Christ. Even many Catholics are not aware of the “Catholic” origins of the Bible. It was not until the end of the fourth century that the twenty-seven books which comprise the New Testament were agreed upon by two Church councils, subject to final approval by the pope. And it was the Church that insisted, against the protests of heretics, that the Old Testament be included in the Christian canon. The Bible was never meant to stand alone as a separate authority. It is the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, that preserves the deposit of the faith, of which Scripture is an integral part. Saint Augustine, as usual, got it exactly right: “But for the authority of the Catholic Church, I would not believe the Gospel.”
Since Leo XIII, the Magisterium has progressively discouraged the literalistic reading of Genesis favored by Protestants. Can a Catholic nonetheless read Genesis as a scientific treatise? Yes, if he wants to—but he may find himself in the dilemma of trying to force scientific data into a biblical template that was never meant to receive it. And he will be severely handicapped in doing apologetics in a post-Christian world. He will, in fact, be the reverse of apostolic if he tries to explain to anyone the doctrine of creation in the terms of ancient Hebrew cosmology.
The test of a first-rate intellect, it has been said, is the ability to hold two seemingly opposed ideas and retain the ability to function. A brilliant twentieth-century Catholic apologist, Frank J. Sheed, wrote of the creation account in his masterpiece, Theology and Sanity. His words are an invitation to Catholics tempted by biblical literalism to use their reason and not engage in overly simplistic readings of Scripture. The author of Genesis, Sheed writes,

tells us of the fact but not the process: there was an assembly of elements of the material universe, but was it instantaneous or spread over a considerable space and time? Was it complete in one act, or by stages? Were those elements, for instance, formed into an animal body which as one generation followed another gradually evolved—not, of course, by the ordinary laws of matter but under the special guidance of God—to a point where it was capable of union with a spiritual soul, which God created and infused into it? The statement in Genesis does not seem actually to exclude this, but it certainly does not say it. Nor has the Church formally said that it is not so.

Catholics in reality have no cause to be timid about Scripture or science. They simply need to distinguish between two complementary but distinct orders of knowledge—theological and scientific—and allow each its due competence. They should be extremely cautious about mixing the two. The Magisterium learned this the hard way in the Galileo affair. A faithful Catholic should be calmly anchored in the proposition that truth is indivisible, and the works of God cannot contradict what He has chosen to reveal through Scripture and Tradition.

 

 

 

 

Appendix B

 

Guide to Lesson Questions

 

Lesson 1

To make the most of this study, respond to all the questions yourself before reading these responses.

1. a. There are four phrases repeated throughout Genesis 1: (1) “And God said, ‘Let there be … and it was so,” (2) “And God saw that it was good,” (3) “And there was evening and there was morning,” and also (4) “God called …”

b. (1) In the repetition of this phrase, we see first the power of God’s Word to call things into existence. We see that God is not only powerful, but that He used His power to create life. He is the source of life. (2) In the repetition of this phrase, we see that pleasure and goodness are packed into creation, intensifying until God pronounced it “very good” at the end. In this, we see God’s own goodness, which He shared with His creation, and His intention to create the universe to be a source of satisfaction for Himself. (3) In the repetition of this phrase, we see that God created the world in measured steps. That the elements of creation were arranged in order of increasing complexity on successive “days” suggests that God planned and designed the universe, creating it deliberately in an orderly fashion. He was like an artist who patiently worked, observed, and then continued working until everything was perfect. (4) In the repetition of this phrase, we see God demonstrating His dominion over everything in His creation by naming it. He knew what each thing was meant to be.

2. a. Genesis 1:2 tells us that “the Spirit” (lit. ruah in Hebrew, or “breath”) was also present at creation.

b. The Spirit was “moving over the face of the waters,” or hovering expectantly over the unformed chaos that was about to become the earth. This description suggests that God’s Spirit was an integral part of all the action of creation.

3. The use of the plural “us” and “our” in Genesis 1:26 suggests two things about God. First, like the royal “we,” it reflects His greatness, power, and majesty. The Hebrew plural noun used for God in the text, Elohim, suggests this as well. There, it is a plural of emphasis, not of number. In addition, there is also a longstanding Christian tradition of seeing in these plural pronouns an intimation of communion, or community, within the Godhead. They suggest that God, although One, is not solitary. This eventually was explicitly revealed in salvation history as the Blessed Trinity (see next question).

4. Challenge question: The New Testament reveals that Jesus was the “word” that God spoke “in the beginning.” He was present as the creative Word of God. Jesus’ role was to create and to sustain the universe and life: “[A]ll things were made through him” (Jn. 1:3); “in him all things were created … all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16–17). From the very first words of Scripture, we are introduced to the Word of God, who will, throughout all the rest of its pages, slowly but magnificently be revealed. He was fully manifested when He took on human flesh in the womb of Mary, becoming the Incarnate Son of God.

5. Responses will vary. As God thought, planned, executed, and evaluated, man in His image should be expected to do the same; in other words, man will be rational. God’s boundless creativity was a central aspect of His creation. Surely, man will likewise be creative. All God created was good and well-ordered; even so we would expect man to have an appreciation of goodness and order. The care God exhibited for creation leads us to expect compassion and care in man. The eternal nature of God, living outside of time, suggests a capacity for eternal life in man. And the fact that God, although One, was not alone but existed in communion with the Word and the Spirit prepares us to expect a need for communion among men. They will not be solitary creatures.

6. God, who is Spirit, and thus neither male nor female, is nonetheless reflected in mankind by male and female together. Man and woman are created “equal as persons … and complementary as masculine and feminine” (Catechism, no. 372). Each has the inherent dignity of being created in God’s image. In communion together, and particularly in the context of the family, they fully reflect the image of the Divine Family, which is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

7. Challenge question: All that God made pleased and satisfied Him. Everything was filled with goodness, since it all came from God Himself. To be blessed by God, in this context, was to be pleasing in His sight. Man and animal were in complete harmony with the purpose God had in creating them. This is an important idea to grasp at this moment in Genesis. As Catholic students of Scripture, we will want to keep a very close eye on what becomes of this blessing that God has given to man. The blessing of God—how we got it, how we lost it, and how we’ll get it back (and keep it)—is the central focus of all salvation history. The entire Bible can be summed up as the story of this drama. Because of its importance in the rest of Scripture, linger here in Genesis 1 and soak in just how magnificent it was for man and beast to be blessed by God at the dawn of creation.

8. a. God’s blessing of both man and animals included a charge to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. In addition, man was charged with subduing the earth and having dominion over it. Dominion means “supreme authority; sovereignty.” God, who is absolute King over all His creation, shares His authority with man by entrusting him with the earth and its resources, thus giving man the dignity of cooperating with Him in completing the work of creation. Man’s dominion is not intended to be domination; he is, rather, to care for the earth, to oversee it, to work it, and enjoy its fruits.

b. Man’s work on earth was to be like God’s work in creation. In giving man the responsibility to be fruitful, God allowed him to participate in the creation of human life. In giving him charge over the earth, God vested man with some of His own authority, asking man to share in His work of ruling. Man’s two-part vocation was thus a reflection of God Himself. It enabled him to be what he was created to be—a creature made in God’s image. And in fulfilling this vocation, he would find true happiness.

9. a. God gave them food to nourish and sustain them (vv. 29–30).
b. In this provision of food, God made it clear that He is the source of all that living creatures need for their lives to be sustained. It is of great importance for Catholics to recognize this simple provision from God, which appears so early in Genesis. In connecting Himself to the sources of food for man and beast, God showed Himself to be the true nourishment of all life. Is it any wonder, therefore, that the Church has, as its central act of worship of God, the provision of a heavenly meal for man, the Body and Blood of Christ?

10. Responses will vary. It is difficult to answer this from Genesis 1 alone. However, given God’s self-sufficiency and limitless perfection, and having observed the great care with which God fashioned the earth for us, it is reasonable to assume we are here because He knew we would enjoy living and knowing Him. He created us for His good pleasure and our own. Theologian Frank J. Sheed has this to say: “It is a new light upon the love of God that our gain could be a motive for His action. He knew that beings were possible who could enjoy existence, and He gave them existence. By existing they glorify Him—but who is the gainer by that? Not God, who needs nothing from any creature. Only the creature, whose greatest glory is that He can glorify God.”

 

Lesson 2

To make the most of this study, respond to all the questions yourself before reading these responses.

Completion and Rest: The Seventh Day (Gen. 2:1–3)
1. God rested not because He was tired, but because He was finished. Nothing formless or empty remained in the world; it was complete and perfect. In His essence, God is not just a being who works. He is a being who is—He exists complete in Himself. When God rested from His work, He was in glad harmony and communion with all His works. When God’s creative work was finished, He gave man the task of continuing that creative work and caring for it. By resting on the seventh day He set a pattern, a rhythm of work and rest, that would one day be reproduced in man’s life on earth—six days to work, and one day to enjoy and celebrate his glad harmony and communion with God.

The Creation of Man (Gen. 2:4–7)
2. a. God created man in His own image and after His likeness. Whereas He told the waters and the earth to bring forth creatures, God Himself formed man “from the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”

b. This breath of life is the soul, “that by which (man) is most especially in God’s image” (Catechism, no. 363). It is this that separates man from the animals. They are living beings, with the spirit of life in them, but they do not have this soul that comes from God. Breathed into him by God Himself, man’s soul has free will and is incorruptible.

The Creation of the Garden (Gen. 2:8–17)
3. a. The Garden was full of trees that were “pleasant to the sight” and “good for food.” There were two special trees in the midst of the Garden—one was the Tree of Life; the other was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

b. The Garden was a place where man was fully alive and in complete harmony with the purposes for which God designed him. His senses, a gift to him from God, were able to take in the beauty of creation. As the Catechism says, “The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man’s intellect and will” (no. 341). The Garden’s beauty was to be a reminder to man of the goodness and wisdom of God.

c. Challenge question: The beauty of the Garden makes us expect beauty wherever God and man meet on earth. We are not surprised, then, when we find unutterable beauty in the place where God first met man outside the Garden, that is, in the worship of Israel. In the tabernacle, built by Moses when the Hebrews had escaped from Egypt, the holy of holies was the place where God and man, in the person of the high priest, met. It was a place of extraordinary beauty, since its walls were covered with gold. It contained the ark of the covenant, a box containing the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written. The ark was covered in gold and had exquisite heavenly sculptures on it (see Ex. 25:10–22). The vestments of the high priest were studded with gems so that, when he went into the tabernacle on behalf of the people to do his priestly work, he was arrayed in “glory and beauty” (see Ex. 28:40). The Catholic Church’s tradition of exquisite beauty in her architecture and art continues what we see here in Genesis. God intends for man to experience beauty in His presence. As Saint Thomas Aquinas taught, man’s senses are ordered to beauty. (See also Catechism, nos. 2502–3.)

4. Responses will vary. The need to keep or “guard” the Garden makes one ask, “against what?” After all, this is Paradise, is it not? And haven’t we just seen that God called all creation “very good?” This is a curious detail at this point in the story, one we will want to keep in mind.

5. Challenge question: It is clear in this scene that God designed man with the capacity to make a choice that would determine his fate. Man understood that the choice to disobey God would result in death. Long before the serpent tempted him, he was aware of good and evil. “Good” meant living the way God asked him to, and living forever; “evil” meant disobeying God and facing death. We can see that man was, at the beginning, designed to achieve the end for which he was created by means of a choice. Of course, it had to be a real choice (what kind of choice would it have been if God had told man not to eat the thorns from a misshapen bush?). Because God is Himself free, He desires man to freely choose to love and obey Him. The choice was man’s to make.

The Creation of Eve (Gen. 2:18–25)
6. a. Being alone is not good because God is not alone. Within the one God are three distinct, equal Persons in a communion of love. Man alone, without an equal, could not be fully in God’s image. Man must be in communion with others like himself, in order to be all that God created him to be. In that communion, he reflects the Blessed Trinity.

b. Because the creation was an active work of all three Persons of the Trinity, man needed one who could help him do his work of fruitfulness and dominion—“a helper fit for him.” A “companion” is one who keeps another company; a “helper” shares his work.

7. Adam’s not finding a suitable helper among the animals was for his own benefit. He knew from his own experience that, while he was like the beasts of the field in many ways, he was different and set apart from them. He needed his helper to be one equal to himself. Notice here that this kind of knowledge is something Adam reached through his own experience. It was different from the knowledge that was revealed to him by God. God told him what to eat and what not to eat in the garden. It wasn’t left up to him. Man’s knowledge in the Garden was of two types: one was revealed knowledge, and the other was knowledge obtained through experience and reason.

8. Responses will vary. God went into the body of Adam to create a creature truly equal to him, yet different from him. Man and woman were remarkably similar, but they were not exactly the same. By creating the second human being on earth in this way, God guaranteed equality among human beings, in spite of their differences.

9. a. Adam recognized that Eve, as one like him, could really be his helper, unlike the animals. Adam’s work on earth was to be fruitful and have dominion over the earth. He needed someone who could work in the same way he did (with reason, hands, etc.) He also needed someone with whom he could produce offspring. If he looked at Eve’s body and his own, he would have seen that they “fit,” that they were meant to go together. She was just what he was looking for!

b. In the context of verses 23–24, marriage is the happy union of man and woman that enables each to be what God intended for human beings. Their marriage means that they are not alone. It also means that they can fulfill their work of fruitfulness and dominion. They can be fruitful because their “cleaving” will produce the “one flesh” both of intimacy and of offspring. They can have dominion because they will help each other with the work of maintaining what God created. In Genesis 2, marriage appears as the culmination of God’s creative work—a source of joy to both the humans and to Himself.

c. “One flesh” is both the sign and the expression of the indissoluble union of marriage. When a man and a woman come together in marriage, they become, in effect, a new, indivisible creation. The child that their cleaving begets is the expression of that oneness. As the Catholic marriage rite says, “You gave man the constant help of woman so that man and woman should no longer be two, but one flesh, and you teach us that what you have united may never be divided.” This is simply a statement of what Jesus teaches in the Gospels. Marriage was always intended by God to be permanent.

10. Challenge question: Genesis 2 helps us to see the full purpose of conjugal union in marriage. It has a divine dynamic, both for the production of new human life and for the fulfillment of husband and wife in their human vocation. Sexual union, with its intimacy and its power to keep creating human beings, was a great gift to Adam and Eve. We can see this clearly in Genesis 2. Preventing sexual union from accomplishing the purpose for which it was given distorts it and thus robs the creatures of its intended end. Understanding the clear picture here helps us to see that the teaching of the Church on “openness to life” and opposition to artificial contraception has preserved the truths of Paradise faithfully:

Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality.… The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle … involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality. (Catechism, no. 2370, quoting Familiaris Consortio 32)

 

Lesson 3

To make the most of this study, respond to all the questions yourself before reading these responses.

The Challenge (Gen. 3:1–3)
1. The serpent was “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” In the heavenly vision from Revelation, he is described as a great red dragon, with seven crowned heads and ten horns. The crowns and horns represent his tremendous power—he is a creature that strikes fear and dread into the souls of mere men. The Catechism helps us to understand that Satan was once a good angel who “radically and irrevocably rejected God and His reign” (no. 392). In addition to being a rebel against God’s authority, he is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). He was an enemy of God’s first human creatures, seducing them to fall into disobedience and death. He even tried to “divert Jesus from the mission He received from the Father” (Catechism, no. 394). Although he is clearly powerful and intimidating, Satan is still a creature in God’s universe. His power to wreak havoc is finite. This truth will become abundantly clear as we move through the rest of Genesis 3.

2. a. We have to wonder why God would allow His enemy to enter the sanctuary of the Garden and tempt His creatures to disobedience.

b. Challenge question: As surprised as we are by the appearance of the serpent, we realize the serpent could never have gotten into the Garden without God’s permission. In the first chapter of Genesis, we saw that God created all things. There cannot be any creature with a power equal to or independent of Him. Even though the serpent is clearly evil, he did not get into the Garden by some horrible cosmic accident. If we took seriously the rich details of God’s goodness in the first two chapters, we must conclude that, however it may appear to us, His goodness was not violated in this episode. There is no other reasonable conclusion, although it is not one easy to embrace. “To this question [why does evil exist?], as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice” (Catechism, no. 309). The irrefutable testimony of Genesis 1–2 to God’s character helps us to have hope, in spite of appearances. “We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God ‘face to face,’ [1 Cor. 13:12] will we fully know the ways by which—even through the dramas of evil and sin—God has guided his creation to that divine Sabbath rest [cf. Gen. 2:2] for which he created heaven and earth” (Catechism, no. 314).

3. a. Responses will vary. We know from the Catechism that Satan rebelled against God’s authority. If Adam had been given a charge by God to guard the Garden, he was God’s appointed representative there. The serpent bypassed him completely. His pitch, addressed to the woman, was an act of insubordination, perfectly in keeping with his character.

The serpent may have also recognized the importance of the woman’s vocation as mother. In reflecting on the “Proto-evangelium” in Genesis, Pope John Paul says, “The ‘woman’, as mother and first teacher of the human being (education being the spiritual dimension of parenthood), has a specific precedence over the man. Although motherhood, especially in the bio-physical sense, depends upon the man, it places an essential “mark” on the whole personal growth process of new children.… [M]otherhood in its personal-ethical sense expresses a very important creativity on the part of the woman, upon whom the very humanity of the new human being mainly depends.”

b. Responses will vary. We can presume that Adam was right there with the woman as the serpent began his conversation. Why? In the Hebrew text of these verses, all the verbs the serpent used were in the second person plural. His references were to both the man and the woman, although his attention was directed towards the woman. In verse 6, we know that the woman gave some of the forbidden fruit to her husband. In order to translate the Hebrew more accurately than our RSV text does, one Bible renders this as “she gave some to her husband, who was there with her” (the New International Version or NIV Bible). That is the more literal sense of the verse.

4. a. God said to Adam, “[Y]ou may freely eat of every tree of the garden.” The serpent changed the command from a positive (“you may freely eat … except one”) to a negative (“you shall not of every tree”). That changed the command from being essentially an invitation to being essentially a prohibition. The meaning, strictly speaking, was the same: either way, there was a tree that was forbidden. By emphasizing the one tree over the many, the serpent made the woman focus on what she couldn’t have rather than on the bounty God provided for them.

b. The serpent’s language implied that God was harsh and restrictive, when actually He wanted His creatures to live freely and be happy. With just a simple rephrasing of the command, a deceptive shadow was cast over God’s character.

5. Responses will vary. It seems clear that the woman understood that eating from the tree was full of danger. Perhaps in her mind, she had resolved never to even touch that tree, since it had such a severe warning attached to it. She seems to have been making a noble effort to avoid contact with it at all costs.

The Deception (Gen. 3:4–5)
6. a. Everything the serpent suggested would happen as a result of eating the fruit was already possessed by the man and woman. Let’s take a look:
“You will not die.” It was true already that the humans were intended for immortality, because they were made in the image and likeness of God, who is immortal. As we will discover later in Genesis 3, the fruit of the Tree of Life, which had been theirs for the taking, bestowed eternal life.
“Your eyes will be opened.” Their eyes were already open. Adam saw the woman God presented to him and burst into exclamations of delight at the sight of her. Genesis 2:25 tells us that the man and the woman saw each other’s nakedness without shame. There was nothing lacking in their eyesight.
“You will be like God.” They were already like God in the greatest way possible for created beings. They were made in His image and likeness, a fact verified by the work He had given them of procreating and sustaining life on earth.
“Knowing good and evil.” They already knew what God had revealed to them to be good and evil, although they had not yet experienced it. They knew that obedience to God’s command was good, because it would preserve their lives with Him; they knew that disobedience was evil, because it would cause their death.

b. Responses will vary. The serpent suggested that God’s prohibition against the fruit was for His sake, not for theirs. He implied that God did not want competition from the human creatures, so He prevented them from eating the fruit that would make them “like gods.”

c. Challenge question: The serpent wanted the man and woman to break free from God’s authority, implying that He couldn’t be trusted to put the creatures’ well-being first. He urged them to be independent and autonomous. Implicit in this temptation was a taunt: “Don’t be such creatures. Have you no pride? Think for yourselves.” How ironic that he urged them to grasp through rebellion what they already possessed through obedience.
A word from John Paul II is helpful here: “With this imagery, Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone. The man is certainly free, inasmuch as he can understand and accept God’s commands. And he possesses an extremely far-reaching freedom, since he can eat ‘of every tree of the garden.’ But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil,’ for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds it authentic and complete fulfillment precisely in the acceptance of that law. God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments.”

7. a. Responses will vary. Adam’s status as child of God, husband of the woman, and keeper of the Garden required him to stand up in some way to the serpent. He should have stepped in to defend his bride, the Garden, and God’s name in whatever way that battle had to be fought. If the thought of that was frightening to him, he could have cried out for help from God: “Oh, Father! What do I do now?” He should have given himself entirely to preserving the life God had given to him and the woman in the Garden.

b. Responses will vary. It is impossible to know exactly why Adam was silent and passive in the Garden. Did the appearance of the serpent, who seemed to have superior knowledge to his own, intimidate him? Did it cause him to doubt God’s trustworthiness? Was he silent because he was calculating the cost of opposing the serpent? Did he think it might cost him his life, or, if not his life, at least some pain? At the most basic level, the serpent’s challenge caused Adam to wonder whether he could trust God. And uncertainty—as it does to us so often—rendered him speechless and unwilling to act. The Catechism says that “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart, and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of [see Gen. 3:1–11; cf. Rom. 5:19]. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in His goodness. In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good” (nos. 397–98). Adam’s silence in the Garden was the sound of death.

c. Adam’s unwillingness to act left the woman vulnerable to the serpent. She was left to manage all on her own. She had valiantly tried to ward off the serpent’s earlier suggestion to reconsider God’s prohibition against eating the forbidden fruit, but what effect did Adam’s silence and inaction have on her? Adam’s self-donation to the cause of opposing the serpent would have confirmed her in what she knew to be true about God. His living example of putting complete trust in God’s word could have led her to do the same. Instead, she was the only one in the Garden who had not capitulated to rebellion against God. She was all alone, and it is never good for man to be “alone.”

The Decision (Gen. 3:6)
8. a. The tree was pleasing to the sight, a delight to the senses. The fruit looked tasty. Even the name of the tree—the tree of knowledge—sounded appealing. Everything about the tree—its look, its feel, its effects—seemed irresistibly desirable.

b. The beauty and desirability of the tree should have served to remind the woman of the goodness of God. The tree ought to have been a physical representation of the care, wisdom, and love of God. God wasn’t standing there in the Garden, rehearsing how He had done everything necessary to provide for His children. The goodness of creation was His silent witness. But once this focus was lost, the woman lost her way.

c. Challenge question: When the woman saw only the tree before her, she set all her affection on it. Forgetting God, she loved what He had created more than she loved Him. Saint John tells us in 1 John 2:15–17 that love of (inordinate attachment to) the world or the things of the world cannot coexist with love for the Father. The world is not an end in itself. Its splendor is meant to lead us to God and to make us want to live in obedience to its Creator. If our focus shifts from God, who created the world, to the world He created, we lose our way as the woman did. That is why Saint John tells us that love of the world short-circuits our lives. Our affection is meant only for God, and because of Him, for other people. The world is much too small and temporal to bear it. Like an overloaded fuse, if our love rests on the world, our lives are snuffed out; only “he who does the will of God abides for ever.”

9. a. Sometimes we’re inclined to think this test wasn’t fair because of its severity. It is important for us to guard against this reaction. We need to recall what the man and woman knew about God and about themselves before the appearance of the serpent. It might help if we make a list:

• They knew that they existed through the will and power of God.
• They knew that this God was good and cared for every aspect of their lives.
• They knew that even their communion with each other was literally a gift from God’s hand.
• They knew that they were like God because they could procreate and have dominion over the earth.
• They knew that God had revealed to them what was good (obedience) and what was evil (disobedience).
• They knew death existed as a consequence of disobedience.

Once we conclude that the man and woman knew enough to pass the test, we wonder why they didn’t. That will be our next question.

b. The man and woman should have been able to trust the goodness of the invisible God, no matter what appeared before them. The visible goodness of Eden testified loudly to God’s character. Although Adam was not able to “see” God, his own knowledge and experience of God’s goodness should have enabled him to have the courage to repel the enemy from the Garden, no matter what the cost. In other words, the man and woman should have exercised faith, which is trust in God, who cannot be seen. Faith believes that God exists, and faith expresses that belief in obedience to the unseen God.

 

Lesson 4

To make the most of this study, respond to all the questions yourself before reading these responses.

Discovery and Effect (Gen. 3:7–13)
1. a. The eyes of Adam and Eve were opened to see the world without the “grace of original holiness” (Catechism, no. 399). The world they perceived had not changed, but the way they perceived it had been radically altered. The supernatural grace that God had given them died through their disobedience. That grace had been the lens through which they perceived and experienced reality. The serpent’s enticement had been a half-truth. Eating the fruit did open their eyes, but that opening brought blindness, not sight.

Christopher West helps us to understand how these “opened” eyes worked: Adam and Eve no longer clearly saw in each other’s bodies the revelation of God’s plan of love. They each now saw the other’s body more as a thing to use for their own selfish desires. In this way the experience of nakedness in the presence of the other—and in the presence of God—became an experience of fear, alienation, shame: ‘I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself’ (Gen. 3:10).
Their shame was connected not so much with the body itself but with the lust now in their hearts. For they still knew that since they were created as persons for their own sakes, they were never meant to be looked upon as things for another person’s use. So they covered their bodies to protect their own dignity from the other’s lustful “look.” This is, in fact, a positive function of shame, because it actually serves to protect “nuptial meaning of the body.”

No wonder Jesus told His disciples, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If, then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Mt. 6:22–23).

b. Adam and Eve could no longer face their Creator and Father openly. They hid from Him among the trees. Had God changed? No, He was the same God, but their disobedience filled them with fear, making them want to flee from communion with Him in the Garden.

2. a. Responses will vary. God knew everything that had happened, but He asked them for an accounting of their behavior because He wanted them to put into words what they had done. He did this for their sakes, not His. It would have allowed them to have enough self-knowledge to recognize how far they had departed from the life God had designed for them.

b. Challenge question: By asking Adam and Eve for an explanation of their rebellion, God acknowledged that who they were and why they did what they did was important to him. God was the good Father in the Garden. His primary concern was for them. Their words mattered to Him. He gave them an opportunity to take responsibility for their actions and cast themselves on His mercy. This interrogation was meant to lead to restoration, an incredible sign of hope.

3. a. Adam blamed his disobedience on Eve, and, indirectly, on God, since He was the One who had given her to Adam. This response represented a dramatic change from Adam’s perception of Eve before the Fall (Gen. 2:23). There he had been able to see her for who she really was—a gift from God’s hands, to fulfill his life on earth. After the Fall, Adam saw her as the cause of all his problems. The man who had been put in charge of the Garden denied any culpability for its violation.

b. Eve likewise blamed the serpent, who had beguiled her.

4. Adam and Eve did not take personal responsibility for their actions. There was no evidence of remorse or grief over their disobedience—no crying out for forgiveness. With their new eyesight, they could not see how offensive their behavior was to their Father. It wasn’t that they were unaware of what they had done. They were unaware of what it meant.

5. a. Challenge question: As a direct result of their disobedience, Adam and Eve saw everything in their world differently. First, they saw themselves as naked, which caused shame. Second, they saw God as One to fear and avoid at all costs. Third, they lost sight of each other as helpers and companions. They were fearful and defensive. Although their bodies were alive, something inside of them had died. It was an interior death, affecting every aspect of their lives; it was the death of grace in their souls.

b. Responses will vary. Perhaps the most devastating consequence of their disobedience was that the new eyesight promised by the serpent had left them unable to see what they had become. There was no repentance, no remorse over their break with God. When God asked Adam, “Where are you?” Adam explained that he didn’t want to be seen by God in his nakedness. The center of his concern was himself. “I heard the sound … I was afraid … I was naked … I hid myself” (v. 10). How far he had come from his original relationship with God! Yet there is no evidence from the text that he and Eve knew that they were spiritually dead. There was only self-preservation and defensiveness. How great was the darkness.

Curse and Promise (Gen. 3:14–15)
6. Satan was the actual villain here. He was God’s true enemy. This is not to deny the humans’ responsibility, but the first order of business was to address this one who seemed to have gained such power over them. They would not be safe as long as he could wield that power.

7. By God’s curse, the serpent was destined to be the most wretched creature on earth—cursed “above all cattle” and “all wild animals.” He would be the lowest form of life, a status that would be evident even in how he moved from place to place (“upon your belly”), eating dust. The meaning was clear: Satan had gone from his position of pride and power to one of lowliness and impotence. His demise was lightening-quick. This sudden and irrevocable fall of Satan is a common theme in Scripture, as the other readings make clear.

8. a. Yes, a battle already existed in the rebellion of Satan against God.

b. God’s announcement meant that He was going to extend the battle to include the human beings. Initially, the humans had been targets of the devil’s wrath against God. But now God would enlist the humans on His side. Could the serpent have possibly imagined this incredible twist? It is the first great reversal in the story of man. From this point on, reversal will be the underlying theme of our human history. Pause now to think carefully about this. However we come to understand ourselves and our world, we must get this one truth firmly in place—God does His work through reversals.

9. The serpent had aimed his attack at Eve. It was through her act of disobedience that the first bite was taken. It was therefore appropriate that God’s punishment on the serpent should begin with “the woman.” Whatever had been lost from woman’s dignity as a creature in God’s image would be restored by the “woman” of the battle God announced.

10. a. The “woman” and “her seed” would work against God’s enemy, not for him, as Adam and Eve had done through their disobedience. They would stand outside of his power and authority, working as co-laborers with God, as Adam and Eve had originally been destined to do.

b. The question this phrasing provokes is: Why was there no husband mentioned in this scenario? The only “he” is the seed of the woman, not her mate. How can a woman have a child without a husband?

11. a. A head wound suggests one that completely incapacitates. What else does a serpent have to keep him in action beside his head? A bruise on the heel, although painful and aggravating, is not one that would end the life of a man.

b. The outcome of this battle will mean the defeat of God’s enemy, although it will not come without pain to “the seed.”

c. Responses will vary. Remember the contempt for the humans that filled the serpent when he began that deadly conversation that he had with Eve. The devil despised Adam and Eve. They must have looked like such dupes to him. He decided he would strike out at God by striking out at them, since they appeared to be weak links in the chain. He made patsies of them in short order. So, when God announced that, as his punishment, the serpent would face a battle with human creatures (the woman and her seed) in which he would be defeated, it was a crushing, mortal blow to his pride and arrogance. We need to linger long enough to let it really sink in. Whatever the devil attempted to rob from humanity—our life, our dignity, our exalted position in God’s family—was more than made up for in the punishment meted out to him. God will vanquish His enemy through human beings!

d. The promise of God to defeat His enemy through human beings, creatures who had just betrayed Him in the Garden, was a promise so full of hope that it swells and bursts into a vision of glory bright enough to make us want to shield our eyes from it. Who is this God, who loves His creatures so much that He would allow them to participate this way in His plan to defeat evil? How could such faithless beings matter so much to Him? The details we have in the story thus far hardly explain it. We are forced to recognize that behind the words and actions we see in Genesis is an unseen love that is fathomless, mysterious, unconquerable, and capable of unimaginable displays of power and constancy. In the middle of the worst thing that could possibly have happened, hope trumped everything.

 

Lesson 5

To make the most of this study, respond to all the questions yourself before reading these responses.

Disobedience Punished (Gen. 3:16–19)
1. a. Responses will vary. Good parents punish their children out of love for them. If they find behavior in a child that will put him in immediate or long-term physical or moral danger, they introduce a measure of suffering (in the form of punishment) in order to prevent the greater suffering that such behavior, left unchecked, will produce. Punishment has several purposes: (1) it reminds a child of his parents’ authority over him and that he is not autonomous; (2) it teaches him that his actions have consequences; and (3) it aims to deter a recurrence of the wrong behavior.

b. Challenge question: Punishment is a paradoxical sign of hope. Although to the child it may appear as anger or even hatred in the parents, good parents use it for rehabilitation. They know their child is capable of something better. Their love wants the very best for him. They are willing to appear like ogres in their child’s limited sight because they are confident that, despite appearances, they are working for that child’s ultimate happiness and well-being. Good parents are willing to risk the temporary loss of affection from their child in order to do what is best for him. They always take the long view; their hope for something better never dies. The Hebrews passage assures us that God is a good Father, who treats us as His own sons when He disciplines us. His discipline has a purpose, just like that of human parents. It aims to enable us to share His holiness, even though, at the time, it seems painful. This is a truth we will want to hold onto as we make our way through this part of Genesis 3.

2. As a punishment for her sin, Eve would give birth to children in great pain. Nevertheless, she would desire to be married, even though her relationship with her husband would be radically altered. The equality and dignity of her role as his helpmate would be gone; instead, her husband would rule over her, which was a terrible distortion of God’s design for marriage. (Think of the symbolic meaning of the fact that after the Fall, all human beings entered the world through pain. What a graphic, unmistakable clue that mankind is under a curse, that things are not as they should be.)

3. a. Adam had delighted in the creation of Eve because she was his equal. She was to be the remedy for his loneliness; she was given to him to assist him in his work on earth. Because she came from him and was made for him, he would exercise a role of authority in their relationship. As Saint Paul says, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:8–9). Their relationship was to be characterized by joy, harmony, cooperation, and mutual satisfaction, as the two became “one flesh” in marriage. But the effect of sin would be to shatter all this. Adam’s “guardianship” of his wife as husband would become “rule.” Adam would be tempted to tyranny and domination, a radical departure from the image and likeness of God in him. That would leave him at odds with himself, which always causes anguish. Eve, as a result, would seem more like Adam’s slave than his helpmate. For both, marriage would fall far short of its original ecstasy.

b. Challenge question: Saint Paul restored the “headship” of a husband to God’s original design for it. In verse 21, he wrote, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In those words, he reminds married people that their relationship is to be one of mutual self-donation. The husband is to give himself over entirely to the well-being of his wife; the wife is to give herself over entirely to the well-being of her husband. This is the essence of the love of the Trinity, made manifest on the Cross, when Christ emptied Himself, even unto death, for the sake of sinners. We remember that in the Garden, Adam refused to accept responsibility for his wife’s safety. He did not act as her “head.” By his inaction, he capitulated to the serpent, which led to Eve’s disobedience. The curse of sin on marriage meant that Adam moved from one extreme to the other—from passivity to domination, both of which are rooted in self-love, not self-donation. Saint Paul says that Christian husbands are to love their wives as they love their own bodies (vv. 28–29). That is a restoration of Adam’s exclamation in the Garden: “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” The headship of Christian husbands is to protect and nurture their wives. Paradoxically, a husband is “subject” to his wife by his willingness to take responsibility for her. Likewise, a wife is “subject” to her husband by her willingness to respect her husband’s decisions about how he can best love her. (For further reflection on this passage, see “Marriage: Sacrament of Christ and the Church,” p. 42).

c. As a punishment for listening to his wife instead of to God, Adam’s work of dominion over the earth, to subdue it, would turn to toil. The ground was cursed so that it would resist cultivation. His daily work would be full of the sweat of frustration, aggravation, and futility.

4. Challenge question: Responses will vary. Recall that the most frightening consequence of the death of grace in Adam and Eve’s lives was the distortion and disordering of their spiritual and physical faculties. They ran and hid from God; they wanted to remain autonomous from Him and from each other. How would God break through this wall of pride and darkness? How would He convince His children that their happiness was in His hands? Because their choice to turn to Him had to be a free one, He gave them reasons to make that choice. And so pain and suffering entered the human story. If, in their pride and fear of God, they would not run into His arms, would pain and suffering drive them to Him? They did not lose their knowledge that God exists when they disobeyed. But they could not see Him for who He is. If their lives became an experience of weakness, trouble, and desperation, would they humbly cry out for their Father’s help? This kind of additional punishment of Adam and Eve was meant to help them do the best possible thing—cast themselves on God for His mercy and help. If it had to come through pain and suffering, so be it. Better to experience short-term pain than to endure the everlasting pain and darkness of separation from God.

5. When God announced that man would return to dust, without the breath of God to animate him, He made clear the scope of what was lost in the Garden. The Church teaches us that “Even though man’s nature is mortal, God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin [cf. Wis. 2:23–24]” (Catechism, no. 1008). Man, designed to be immortal, would ever after dread death as unnatural and contrary to what he knows himself to be.

A Severe Mercy (Gen. 3:20–24)
6. a. Responses will vary. Once, Adam had named the animals; was he taking charge of his wife in that kind of way? Another possibility exists: perhaps he was taking charge because of his previous failure. Perhaps the words of God’s rebuke for listening to the voice of his wife were still with him. This may be Adam’s first attempt to do things the right way. It’s an interesting point to ponder.

b. The name Adam gave his wife, Eve, was one that was full of hope. Perhaps he was overjoyed to know that not only would they continue to live but that “the woman” and “her seed” would figure prominently in God’s battle with His enemy. Possibly, this exalted role of mother moved him to choose that name for her. There’s an irony in it, of course. Eve would become the mother of the spiritually dead. It would take another woman to be Mother of all the spiritually living. But in the name Eve, there was hope.
It is interesting to note that the Fathers of the early Church frequently saw in this naming of Eve an identification of her as a “virgin” mother. They noted that the record of the consummation of Adam and Eve’s marriage doesn’t appear until after they had left the Garden (see Gen. 4:1). Therefore, Eve received her name as “mother of all living” while she was still a virgin in the Garden.

7. God cared about these people. The fig leaves would not provide the covering they needed—too insubstantial. He wanted them to be properly clothed, in garments that would last.

8. Challenge question: The first shedding of blood on earth happened when God acted to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. It was the first episode of innocence covering guilt. The animals had not been created by God to serve this purpose. In the context of the story, it was a grave indication of the seriousness of sin and the lengths to which God would go to rescue man from it. Some have wondered about the power this detail from the creation story had on all civilizations that followed from Adam and Eve. Would the killing of an innocent animal become a gesture of remembrance or thanksgiving to God from men after that? Would they have an impulse to offer up an animal in order to reenact this provision from God to clothe the nakedness of His fallen children? Does it have some connection with the universal practice of animal sacrifice among ancient cultures? Certainly it was a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world and covers the shame of all human beings.

9. a. God did not want the humans to eat from the Tree of Life and “live for ever.” Why not? Surely it was because of the condition into which they had fallen. To live forever in a state of spiritual blindness and disorder in their natures would literally be a fate worse than death.

b. It is provocative to examine why God expelled man and woman from the Garden instead of just doing away with it. The expulsion, as severe as it seems, was actually a sign of unimaginable hope. It was truly a severe mercy. It suggested that the original plan of God for His human children did not die with the death of grace in them. Could it be that in allowing the Garden to remain, guarded by an angel and a flaming sword, God intended to return His creatures there someday to the life they once had? That, of course, would require healing the systemic wound in their natures. How could they ever receive a renewed human nature? When they left the Garden, with its Tree of Life, their physical bodies would be subject to death and decay. What would make it possible for human beings to eat from the Tree of Life and live forever?

10. Challenge question: Responses will vary. The departure of Adam and Eve from the Garden was tragic, but it was not a completely hopeless picture because of all the signs of God’s love we have seen in this chapter. They left Paradise for a valley of tears, but the signs of hope were everywhere:

(1) God punished them. The pain that Adam and Eve (and thus all mankind) would experience in the realms that mattered most to them was a sign that God wanted to join them in their everyday existence. It would be a powerful motivation for them to cry out for Him. His punishment was aimed at restoring in them what once they had by nature—the ability to see that He was the source and protector of all that was important to them. The misery that would permeate the world would make life in it incapable of satisfying man’s innate longing for goodness, truth, and beauty. This was a merciful blessing from God, who knew that His children, disordered as they were, would not on their own realize that they couldn’t be content without Him.

(2) God provided garments to cover them in their shame and nakedness. In this He demonstrated to them, in a way that they could see and feel, that He still loved them. Even in their spiritual blindness, this was a sign they simply could not misunderstand.

(3) God promised to defeat His enemy and theirs in a battle to be waged through human beings—“the woman” and “her seed.” The loss of dignity, honor, and glory that humans suffered because they betrayed God was only temporary. God had not given up on flesh and blood.

(4) God preserved the Garden on earth, with the Tree of Life. This sanctified place of extraordinary blessing and joy was not lost forever. This raised a flicker of hope that if God expelled them because He didn’t want them to live eternally in their fallen condition, He might let them back in if somehow their condition could change. Knowing that God chooses to work by means of reversal, did Adam and Eve take with them a hope that Paradise could be regained?

 

Lesson 6

To make the most of this study, respond to all the questions yourself before reading these responses.

The Annunciation (Lk. 1:26–38)
1. Recall that the problem in the Garden of Eden was the loss of grace in Adam and Eve through their disobedience. For us to read this greeting of an angel to a young girl should make our hearts race. No one else in Scripture is addressed this way. The last woman to be “full of grace” on earth was Eve, before the Fall. If we have been waiting for a woman to appear in human history who is free from the consequences of the devil’s deception and who will be God’s agent in a battle against him, we have found her. The Greek word used here (kecharitomene) “indicates that God has already ‘graced’ Mary previous to this point, making her a vessel who ‘has been’ and ‘is now’ filled with divine life.” It is actually more like a title than a description. Gabriel’s greeting to Mary marked her out as the woman for whom the world had been waiting. For a fuller explanation of Mary’s life “full of grace,” see the Catechism, nos. 490–93.

2. a. The “puzzle” of Genesis 3:15 was solved by a great mystery. The Father of the “seed” would be God Himself. This would be a most unusual Son! As we stood in the Garden with Adam and Eve, would we ever have dreamed that someday that Word through which the universe was created would take on human flesh—human flesh!—to undo the work of God’s enemy?

b. Perhaps Joseph was overwhelmed by the thought of marrying a woman who was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Could we blame him? He had to be encouraged by an angel in a dream not to be afraid to take Mary into his home. This just man was chosen to give his name and his fatherly protection and care to the Son of God and Mary. His was a unique role.

3. a. Eve looked at the tree and its fruit with disregard for God’s word about it. The fruit had great appeal to her, so she reached out and grasped it. She ate it, and she gave it to Adam to eat.

b. After hearing the angel’s announcement, Mary received into her life God’s word, which produced fruit in her womb, Jesus.

c. Challenge question: Eve disregarded God’s word and grasped for what she wanted for herself. Mary believed God’s word and received what He wanted to give her. Eve’s disobedience led to death; Mary’s obedience led to life. This was a spectacular reversal. No one has described it more beautifully than Saint Irenaeus (c. AD 140/160–202), who was Bishop of Lyons:

Even though Eve had Adam for a husband, she was still a virgin.… By disobeying, she became the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race. In the same way, Mary, though she also had a husband, was still a virgin, and by obeying, she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.… The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience. What Eve bound through her unbelief, Mary loosed by her faith.

The Visitation (Lk. 1:39–56)
4. a. In the description of the Visitation, we have a marvelous opportunity to experience firsthand the joy of Israel at the coming of the Messiah. See that Luke tells us that Elizabeth “was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Her utterance had the power of prophecy. As she jubilantly blessed Mary and the Child in her womb, Elizabeth gave voice to what all creation would want to sing out with “a loud cry” at the coming of the “woman” and her “seed” promised so long ago. Even the babe in Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist, leaped for joy upon the arrival of the Mother and Son.

b. Challenge question: Notice that Elizabeth, in pronouncing her blessing, did not separate the Child from His Mother. Her blessing was on both of them together (1:42); she expressed reverence for both of them when she humbly asked why she should be the glad recipient of a visit from “the mother of my Lord.” It was Mary’s voice that caused the child in Elizabeth’s own womb to leap for joy when he heard it. The promise of God in Genesis 3:15 led us to expect a woman and her seed to turn the tide against His enemy, the serpent. Both Elizabeth and John recognized the fulfillment of that promise in Mary and Jesus. The Church continues to appreciate and honor Mary for her role in redemption.

5. a. As the Catechism points out, it was Elizabeth who first described the source of Mary’s blessedness: “[B]lessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (1:45). It was Mary’s unwavering trust in God that evoked the first act of veneration of her by Elizabeth when she said, “[W]hy is it granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (1:43). Because Mary “perfectly embodies the obedience of faith” (Catechism, no. 148), she has been called “blessed” by all generations since then.

b. Challenge question: We know from the example of Elizabeth, who was full of the Holy Spirit when she blessed Mary, that it cannot possibly be wrong to bless and venerate her. Indeed, Mary herself said that “all generations shall call me blessed.” So we see in Luke 11:27–28 that Jesus did not rebuke the woman in the crowd for honoring His Mother. He simply established the reason that Mary was to be honored. She was the one who had given birth to Him because she heard God’s Word and kept it. Jesus wanted her to be honored for her faithful obedience, not simply because she was His biological mother.

The Presentation in the Temple (Lk. 2:22–35)
6. Simeon prophesied that suffering lay ahead for both Jesus and Mary. The Child was destined to initiate the messianic age in Israel. He would be a source of division, because some Jews would believe Him to be the Messiah and others wouldn’t. His life, His teachings, and His Crucifixion would require a response from every Jewish heart. Simeon made that clear in his words to Mary. In the unusual phrasing of verse 35, he describes a time in the life of this Child when a sword would pierce through Him, and Mary was to share this moment. We know from accounts of the Crucifixion that when Jesus hung on the Cross, soldiers pierced Him with a sword to see if He was dead (Jn. 19:34). Simeon’s words suggested that, in some way, Mary would be there with Him, with her own soul pierced. She would not simply be an observer of her Son’s life. As both Jesus and Mary shared God’s blessing, they were both to share in suffering.

As the Catechism tells us, all followers of Christ are invited to “ ‘take up [their] cross and follow [him]’ [Mt. 16:24],” because Jesus “desires to associate [them] with his redeeming sacrifice.… This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering” (no. 618). This is precisely what Simeon prophesied.

The Wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:1–11)
7. It was Mary who was first aware of the wine shortage at the wedding feast. She took the problem to Jesus for resolution. She expected Him to do something about it, which is why she said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (2:5). The miracle Jesus performed in response to her request was the beginning of His public manifestation as the Messiah. Mary and Jesus collaborated in this work of turning water to wine, which preserved the happiness of the marriage feast in Cana.
The Church sees in this episode Mary’s work of manifesting the glory of Jesus (cf. 2:11). This was a fulfillment of her own statement about herself as a soul that “magnified the Lord” (Lk. 1:46). Mary’s collaboration with Jesus in this initiation of His public ministry, which eventually led to “the hour” of His Crucifixion, and thus His glory, was a stunning reversal of Eve’s collaboration with Adam in the Garden of Eden. There, Eve gave the forbidden fruit to Adam to eat, a collaboration that led to disobedience and death. At Cana, Mary’s work with Jesus was a collaboration that led to celebration and joy.

The Crucifixion (Jn. 19:25–27)
8. Challenge question: Adam, in naming his wife “Eve,” understood that she would have a maternal relationship to all humans on earth. She would be “mother” to all human beings, since they would all trace their physical beginnings back to her. In the gift of Mary to John, Jesus desired to make her “mother” to those who, like John, were His faithful followers. Those who are truly “living,” who have been born again in the waters of Baptism, also have Mary as “mother.” Because our new life comes through Jesus, we all trace our spiritual beginnings back to her, the one in whom God became flesh. There is, at last, a “Mother of all living.”

A Vision of Heaven (Rev. 12:1–17)
9. a. The child is Jesus, the “one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (12:5). Thus, there is a strong indication that the woman is Mary, since she is His mother, the one who gave birth to Him.

b. The woman is clothed with the elements in heaven created by God to give light. “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens” is what He said at the time of creation (Gen. 1:14). These elements were to “give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night” (Gen. 1:17–18). They were the only other creations of God, besides man and woman, to which He gave dominion. For the woman to be clothed with these elements suggests an exalted position of dominion in heaven. She appears like a queen, with a crown of twelve stars.
This is an image of Mary, as Queen of Heaven, that the Church holds dear. Her crown of twelve stars may represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Jews would have recognized that by virtue of being the mother of the Messiah, who was Son of David and royal ruler of Israel, Mary would have been queen of Israel. In ancient Israel, the queen was not the king’s wife but his mother (since kings often had many wives). In 1 Kings 2:19, King Solomon was approached by his mother, Bathsheba, on behalf of someone making a request of him. “And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a seat brought for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right.” Jews had great respect for the queen mother.

c. The dragon tried to devour the child, which he was not able to do. The child was taken up to heaven, to sit at God’s throne. The woman was left behind, but she was “nourished by God.”

10. a. The dragon, who is identified as “that ancient serpent … the Devil,” (v. 9) was thrown down by the victory of the blood of the Lamb, as well as by the testimony of all those who loved Him more than their own lives. This is a fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3:15—the serpent “bruised” the heel of the “seed,” making Him shed blood. By shedding that blood, the “seed” bruised the head of the serpent, destroying all his power.

b. The serpent directed his wrath against the woman and the rest of her offspring. The woman was given special protection from his enmity. The Church sees in this vision the biblical basis for her teaching about Mary’s Immaculate Conception, her sinless life, and her Assumption into heaven. The devil was never able to touch Mary’s life with sin or its consequences. She is the woman “nourished by God” in Revelation. The Church, “all those who keep the commandment of God and bear testimony to Jesus,” are her offspring.

11. Challenge question: Responses will vary. The gift of Mary, given to us by Jesus, adds immeasurably to our lives. Because we have retained Mary in our vision of the Redemption won by Jesus, we have the grace of meditating on her example of faithful obedience to the Word of God. Her wholehearted surrender to God’s plan for her, the energetic assistance she gave to Elizabeth, her awareness of people in need at Cana, her confidence that Jesus could solve the problem, her perseverance through the ordeal of the Crucifixion, and her triumph as the Queen of Heaven—all these shed light on the path that we must follow in our journey home to God. Her life, magnified through the liturgies in her honor and through devotions to her like the rosary, keep her alive in our mind’s eye. In that, she is a constant treasure to us.
Beyond that, we have the joy of sharing a Mother with Jesus. Her prayers and advocacy for us are as beautiful as the Magnificat and as effective as her work in Cana. Our recourse to her as our Mother acknowledges and keeps alive the wish of the dying Jesus, as He gave her to Saint John. Scripture tells us that from that moment the disciple took her to be his own. He recognized the great gift of Mary.
Finally, we know that, as Mary’s offspring, “who keep the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus,” we are objects of the devil’s wrath. She has been completely victorious over him; she knows what the battle is like. We are able to fly to the Queen of Heaven when we feel the full force of the enemy’s enmity against us. In this battle, we are never alone.
Thank You, Jesus, for the gift of Mary in the Catholic Church.

 

Lesson 7

To make the most of this study, respond to all the questions yourself before reading these responses.

Jesus and the Devil (Lk. 22:39–46)
1. a. In the first two temptations of Jesus in the desert, Satan challenged Him to renounce His human limitations and act like the Son of God that He was. He taunted Jesus with the same challenge he gave to the woman: throw off the yoke of creatureliness. In the third temptation, Satan tried to win Jesus’ allegiance away from God for himself. In this, he was a usurper, just as he was in the Garden. His aim in both places was to set himself up as a rival authority to God.

b. Jesus did not rise to the bait of Satan’s temptations; He did not try to prove Himself. He freely accepted the limitations placed on Him by being human. In each temptation, Jesus answered the devil by quoting God’s Word and referring to His commands. He chose humility, which is dependence on God, instead of the pride of autonomy. “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him” (Mt. 4:11).

c. Right from the outset, as Jesus and the disciples entered the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus seemed to have temptation on His mind. He warned His friends to pray so that they could ward off temptation. He knelt down in prayer to face the difficult moment of freely accepting His capture and death. An angel appeared to strengthen Him, just as angels had ministered to Him after His desert ordeal. Although there is no mention of the devil here, these are powerful clues that Jesus experienced the full force of temptation to preserve His life rather than lose it in a brutal assault. It was the temptation to avoid suffering, a scene of intense anguish.

2. In Genesis 3, God told Adam that his face would be covered with the sweat of his toil as a punishment for his disobedience. Adam’s dominion over the earth, meant to be a source of joy for him, would instead bring him suffering. That Jesus’ “sweat became like great drops of blood” in His garden presents a vivid picture of His taking upon Himself the curse placed on Adam (Lk. 22:44). The first Adam’s disobedience was punishable by suffering and death. Jesus, the Second Adam, in the agony of the Garden, began to experience it. The sentence pronounced so long ago was now being executed.

3. Remember the deafening silence in the Garden of Eden when the serpent began his cunning attack? As we watched Adam stand there, perhaps weighing in his mind whether the serpent spoke the truth, didn’t we long for him to cry out for help? We felt that just one cry could have changed everything. In these verses, we see a picture of Jesus doing precisely what Adam didn’t do. He was afraid, but His fear led Him to call down help from His Father. This is the test of love that Adam did not endure. Love has to be a real choice, which means that it must be tested. Love of God leads one to continue to trust Him and to seek His help in the midst of the most threatening circumstances. It is a conscious, willful choice to believe in God’s goodness, no matter what appearances suggest. This anguished cry of Jesus filled His garden with the sound of faith. It was a cry that reached heaven, undoing the silence of the Garden of Eden.

“Here Is the Man!” (Jn. 19:1–11)
4. Challenge question: If you have a picture of this scene in your mind’s eye, it ought to make you catch your breath. Jesus, having been scourged, stood there in a purple robe and crown of thorns (remember the meaning of thorns in Eden in Genesis 3:17–18). Pilate’s grand introduction was meant as mockery. The angry crowd was full of contempt for Jesus. And yet, this was a man in whom the likeness of God had not been lost, and the image has not been distorted (Catechism, no. 705, 1701–2). This was man as God always intended him to be—perfectly obedient and faithful to the covenant, no matter what the cost. In this Gospel scene, Jesus was the only one with real human dignity. He was the New Adam, and Pilate’s announcement of “Here is the man!” heralded the beginning of a new humanity.

5. Jesus understood that power on earth is not without limitation; it is not autonomous, even when it can preserve or destroy physical life. He had confidence in God, which enabled Him to face frightening threats with courage and serenity. He recognized that no matter how things looked, God’s plan would not be thwarted. This is just what we wished we had seen in Adam, when his silence suggested that he was intimidated by the serpent, perhaps believing him to be a source of power and truth that rivaled God.

An Opened Side (Jn. 19:31–37)
6. Pathologists would tell us that a wound like this one, in its place on the body of one who died as Jesus died, would actually produce both blood and water. The Church has always recognized in this detail of Christ’s death a startlingly beautiful symbol of the birth of the Church. The water of Baptism initiates believers into union with Christ; the Blood of the Eucharist sustains them on their journey to God (Catechism, no. 1225). In Scripture, the Church is frequently described as “the Bride” of Christ. The Lord refers to Himself as “the Bridegroom” (Mk. 2:19), and heaven will be the marriage feast of the Lamb (see Catechism, no. 796). In Eden, as Adam slept, God opened his side to create Eve, his bride, a true helper for him and one with whom he would form a permanent union in body and spirit. As Jesus slept the sleep of death on the Cross, the wound in His side poured forth the signs of His Bride, the Church. Adam, tempted by the devil, did not protect his wife with his life, but “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her” (Eph. 5:25–26).

Jesus, the Gardener (Jn. 20:11–18)
7. Challenge question: Who was the very first gardener on earth? It was Adam, of course. God planted a garden for Adam and put him in charge of it. Adam, however, failed in his responsibilities. He did not keep that garden safe and had to be sent away from it. For Mary Magdalene to mistake Jesus as the gardener is a profound clue to us of what actually happened in this garden of Resurrection. He is, in fact, the “Gardener.” He is the New Adam, who will not fail to keep His Father’s vineyard safe and make it fruitful. All things have been made new.

Suffering and Death (Heb. 2:5–18)
8. Challenge question: Remember that Adam was tested in Eden to prove his love for God. In the presence of an intimidating enemy, would he choose God’s way, no matter what? In giving into the temptation of the serpent, he avoided the suffering of self-denial, of losing his opportunity to be “as gods.” Although God had warned him of the fatal consequences of disobedience, he chose to satisfy himself in the short term and avoid suffering. Jesus, as the New Adam, had to retrace the human steps leading up to the first Adam’s capitulation. For Him, it came down to a choice to obey God and suffer a torturous death, or to avoid suffering by putting His own welfare first. We know that Jesus embraced His suffering. He entered fully and without reserve the step that would be the final and unequivocal proof of His love for God. This was the step man was originally designed to take. It was part of God’s plan to perfect in man the selfless love shared by the Blessed Trinity. As the Catechism says, “Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love” (no. 311). It was entirely fitting that Jesus should reach that destination through suffering, demonstrating for all eternity that man has nothing to fear (or lose) in trusting and obeying God.

9. a. Challenge question: The devil does not have ultimate power of life and death. He is only a creature; God alone has that power. These verses suggest that the “power” the devil has in death is the fear that it produces in human nature. The fear of death keeps men in bondage to the devil. How? Think of the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. The fear of death in Jesus had the potential to turn Him away from God’s will. In Jesus, we are able to see that choosing God over ourselves can be painful. It is a kind of death to ourselves. In the case of Jesus, it eventually led to a physical death as well. Think of Adam in Eden. To resist the temptation of the devil would have required a death in Adam—if not physical, then surely a death to what he wanted to gain by eating the forbidden fruit. When men are afraid to die to themselves, the devil uses that fear to entice them away from God.

b. When Jesus died and rose again, He stripped the devil of his most potent weapon against man. If death could not hold Jesus, He is really the One with power over it. He was “bruised” in the process, but in a great reversal, the death of Jesus, in spite of the appearance of victory for the devil, turned the world upside down, and the serpent slithered away with a mortal wound (see Catechism, no. 635). Men need only look at the Cross to know that obedience to God means victory over death. In losing our lives, we find them. We can see through the devil’s sham.

A Surprising Solution (Jn. 3:1–15)
10. Jesus told Nicodemus that no one will see the kingdom of God without being “born anew.” This comment addressed the radical problem man developed in Eden. How would he ever be able to enter the Garden and eat of the Tree of Life again unless he was healed of his debilitating condition of sin, which is lodged in his body and is passed along to his descendants? Jesus said it would take another birth, one of “water and the Spirit.” This baffled Nicodemus, because it seemed so impossible and contrary to nature. Jesus registered surprise that Nicodemus, “a teacher of Israel,” didn’t understand this need for men to have a second birth. Yet we should understand it, because of what we know from Genesis. In fact, we longed for it when we watched Adam and Eve leave Paradise, but we couldn’t imagine then how it would ever be possible. Now we know. Jesus announced to Israel, represented in the person of Nicodemus, that the victory He would win on the Cross (“the Son of Man must be lifted up”) would be for anyone who believes in Him. The birth of “water and Spirit” is Baptism (read Rom. 6:1–11), the sacrament through which a believer is united to the death that Jesus died to sin and to the Resurrection which gives new life. The New Adam and Eve won’t be alone in Paradise; all who believe in Jesus will join them through Baptism.

Eat and Live Forever (Jn. 6:47–59)
11. We know that the first “sacrament” appeared in Eden, where men could have eaten fruit and lived forever. Remember that Adam and Eve had to be sent out of Eden so they wouldn’t eat from the Tree of Life and live forever in their fallen condition. For Jesus to offer Himself as food and drink for those seeking eternal life was a wonderful sign that the time had arrived for men to once again eat food for immortality. The Tree of Life was a prominent feature of life in Eden. Jesus told the Jews that “the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (v. 51). Thus, we understand that the “tree” of the Cross (see Acts 5:30), which is where Jesus gave His flesh, has born fruit for eternal life. In the Eucharist, we eat that “fruit” and live forever.

12. Challenge question: Responses will vary.

Holy water at all the entrances—the Garden was well-watered by a river that flowed out of it, dividing into four rivers. The water in church is a reminder that only by being born of water and the Spirit can man reenter Eden.

Beauty—Catholic churches are often beautiful, some dazzlingly so (think of Saint Peter’s in Rome). In their beauty, they reproduce the great sensual beauty of Eden. Beauty is God’s gift to man fully alive. It is His testimony to our senses that He exists; beauty reminds us that God, who created it, is worthy to be adored.

Sanctified time and space—In the beginning, God hallowed one day out of all the others for Himself. The Church continues to hallow time, identifiable through the liturgical colors of the altar cloths and vestments of the priests. Eden was sanctified space, a place set apart from the rest of the earth for God and man to meet in a unique way. The red tabernacle light alerts us to the continued reality of sanctified space. The Lord is present in the consecrated hosts; the ground of the church is holy ground.

Artistic representations of Jesus and Mary—A man and a woman presided over the first Garden, male and female in the image of God. A woman and her Son were promised to fallen humanity to begin the restoration of life in Eden. To see Jesus and Mary represented in a church, in statuary or art, should plant us deeply into the soil of joy. God has kept His promise to His creatures—the devil has been defeated through the New Adam and the New Eve. The stunning victory of God is complete!

Artistic representations of the saints—Adam and Eve were meant to begin a family, but the fall into disobedience intervened. The people who would have filled the Garden were born outside of it and not allowed in. In the Church, the saints represent the family of the New Adam and Eve. In Eden, Adam would have been the father of all who came after him. In the New Eden, God is the Father of Jesus and all who are “born anew.” This means that Adam’s fall resulted in a better life for us than would have been possible had he not fallen. Adam would have made us creaturely sons of God; Jesus makes us divine sons. The saints represented in churches remind us that God’s family plan for Eden was not only preserved but elevated through the Redemption by Jesus. The human faces of the saints, upon which we gaze in church, give us more occasions to rejoice over God’s triumphant humiliation of the serpent, who so loathed the creatures made of dust.

Crucifix—The Tree of Life in Eden offered fruit that was to be eaten for eternal life; the “tree” of the Cross offers fruit to be eaten for eternal life; it has become the Tree of Life.

Altar/Table—In Eden, God provided food for Adam and Eve to eat; in the New Eden, Christ welcomes us to share a meal of supernatural food and drink. In Eden, an innocent animal was sacrificed to provide covering for Adam and Eve. In the New Eden, the altar reminds us that an innocent man made an offering of His life to cover the guilty. The meal He offers is not a picnic meal. It is a sacrificial meal, which represents life in Eden both before and after the Fall, a meal that makes communion with God possible for helpless, redeemed sinners.

Confessionals—In Eden, God called Adam and Eve to give an account of their disobedience. They were free, and thus responsible for their actions. They showed no remorse for their sin. In the New Eden, men still have the freedom to choose to remain in God’s covenant through obedience. If they fall, they can express their remorse and their resolve not to sin again in confession. They are restored to sanctifying grace through the sacramental presence of Jesus. They are not expelled from the Garden.

Next time you enter a Catholic church, breathe in deeply. You’re back in the Garden!

 

Lesson 8

To make the most of this study, respond to all the questions yourself before reading these responses.

Firstfruits of the Fall (Gen. 4:1–7)
1. It should cheer us considerably to hear Eve’s acknowledgment of God’s gracious gift to her. She confirms for us that although man was weakened by sin, he was not in total darkness. It appears that, in Eve, the harsh punishment from God may have had a restorative effect. Was she humbled by being expelled from the Garden? Was she moved by the unmistakable sign of God’s tenderness and care when He clothed her naked body with animal skins? Eve’s statement about the birth of her son reflects the kind of humility that comes from true repentance. Adam and Eve proceeded with married life outside Eden; even if they were not the people they once were, God’s mercy on them bore good fruit. Perhaps Eve’s humble comment about the birth of “a man” with the help of the Lord reflected her understanding of the promise God made in Genesis 3:15. Was she already looking for the birth of a special baby boy?

2. When Cain got angry with God rather than falling down in repentance and sorrow because the Lord did not accept his inadequate worship, he revealed himself to be a man whose perspective was seriously flawed. He stood in the center of his world, overshadowing God Himself. Cain was firmly in the grip of intense spiritual blindness.

3. a. God told Cain that if he did not “do well,” sin would be “couching at the door” and its “desire” would be to master him. The image here is of an enemy lying in wait, ready to attack a victim. If Cain refused to worship God appropriately, he would make himself more vulnerable to giving into sin again. Why? Because God designed our natures to be habitual; we are, literally, “creatures of habit.” If we choose the good, that choice strengthens us to choose the good again. Choosing good becomes a habit. If, like Cain, we choose evil, that choice weakens us to choose evil again. Choosing evil becomes a habit.

b. Challenge question: Saint Paul warned the Roman Christians about the subtlety of sin and its power to enslave those who give themselves to it. What makes sin dangerous is that it not only breaks communion with God, but it becomes the master of the one who commits it. The Church refers to this as the “double consequence” of sin—one is eternal (a break in communion with God) and one is temporal (a weakened will, making it easier to sin again). That is why God gave such a sober warning to Cain.

4. The difference between Cain and Abel is the mystery of human freedom. Surely both men knew the story of creation and of the expulsion from a beautiful garden. They both inherited Adam and Eve’s sinful nature. They were well aware of God and themselves. Yet one chose to serve God and one chose to serve himself. They were free to make their own decisions, just as their parents had been.

Cain Is Cursed (Gen. 4:8–16)
5. Instead of choosing to accept God’s offer to put things right, Cain chose to plot the murder of his brother. Rather than putting to death the jealousy and anger that raged within himself, he allowed hate to grow into murder. He calmly laid a trap for Abel, inviting him to join him in the field, in the way a brother would. A brotherly gesture was the beginning of his betrayal (just as the kiss of a close friend would one day betray Jesus). This episode reveals to us how hard Cain’s heart had grown. Even though God had made a profound offer of grace to him, he became even more resolved to do evil rather than good. This characteristic of sinful human nature constantly appears throughout the rest of Scripture. When God’s grace—the fire of His love—comes near to some men, their hearts melt and become malleable. For others, however, the nearness of God’s grace causes a hardening like clay in a kiln. Such was the case with Cain.

6. God gave Cain an opportunity to confess his sin and be accountable for it, just as He had done with Cain’s parents in Eden. A Father’s love always wants to hear an explanation of why things went wrong.

7. Cain lied to God, and then he became sarcastic. He disavowed any responsibility for his brother’s welfare, throwing off any constraints on his autonomy. In his pride, Cain chose separation from God and from men.

8. a. Cain didn’t show any remorse or even regret.

b. His primary concern was that he would suffer under his punishment and that someone would kill him.

9. Responses may vary. Perhaps it was Abel’s blood crying out for mercy for Cain that spared his life. Perhaps it was God’s desire that Cain have an opportunity to repent and return to His presence. It may have been God’s purpose to reaffirm the sacred nature of human life, even when it strays far from God’s design. No matter what caused it, God’s preservation of Cain’s life was an expression of His goodness and mercy, especially for sinners.

10. Responses may vary. In the previous question, we recognized God’s desire for Cain’s life to be spared, even though he was a murderer. We have also seen many other signs of His love for humans:

• God expected the best from Cain, since giving the best to God is what men were designed and created for; anything less than the best in man’s relationship with God will mean that man is less than fully human. God’s rejection of Cain’s offering, calling him to something better, was a sign of His love for him.
• God extended to Cain a gracious offer to do the right thing and blot out the wrong that had gone before.
• God gave Cain clear warning about the subtle danger of giving in to sin, as a friend would warn another friend about an enemy lying in wait.
• God gave Cain an opportunity to confess his sin and ask for forgiveness.
• To punish Cain, God gave him what he wanted; thus Cain would have an opportunity to experience the consequences of the choices he made; this could perhaps have led to repentance and restoration.
• In preserving Cain’s life, God indicated that He had not entirely given up on this rebellious son.

Two Cultures Develop (Gen. 4:17–26)
11. a. Lamech, who is the Bible’s first polygamist, appears to have been a violent, arrogant man. He boasted to his wives that he had killed a man for wounding or striking him. He appointed himself to avenge a simple wound in a wildly disproportionate way. He reasoned that if God promised to avenge Cain’s death “sevenfold” (4:15), he was justified in avenging himself, even for a very small offense, “seventy times seven.”

b. Something must have gone very wrong among these people. They knew the details of their family history (how else would Lamech know to compare his deed with that of Cain?), but they had no knowledge of what the details meant. Because Cain, by choosing to be a murderer and liar, had been exiled from his family and the presence of the Lord, his spiritual blindness was not only perpetuated among his descendants, but it intensified. The father always teaches the son, either for good or for evil. This is how it is in families. Through the rest of Scripture we see, over and over, what traits develop among men who, for whatever reason, have shut their hearts away from the presence of the Lord. This is our first example of it.

12. Seth appears to have been a man who, upon learning his family heritage, decided “to call upon the name of the LORD.” This indicated in him a reverence for God, a humility, and perhaps a human spirit like Abel’s.

 

Lesson 9

To make the most of this study, respond to all the questions yourself before reading these responses.

Wickedness Reigns on Earth (Gen. 6:1–10)
1. a. Just as God could look at all His works in the beginning, at creation, and see that they were “very good,” He could look at what man had made of his life on earth and see that it was “corrupt.” Man’s rebellion against God eventually resulted in violence against other men and perhaps against the living creatures who were created to help man. Man’s abuse of his freedom grieved God to the heart, for it was far removed from man’s original destiny. Because evil overcame the good among men, it had to be stopped. God would pass judgment on His wayward sons.

b. Challenge question: As God continued to reveal Himself within man’s history, He showed that although He is patient with sinners, ready to forgive, and tender in His care of them, a time does arrive when, because He is just, He does execute judgment. Rebellion, wickedness, and evil cannot continue unchecked. This is a truth that will appear again and again throughout Scripture. The history of Israel is full of episodes of judgment upon sin, after a period of forbearance. Jesus spoke often of “the day of the Lord,” when God, acting as the just Judge, calls everyone to account. The Flood is Scripture’s first warning that man should never mistake God’s patience and mercy as grounds for presumption. If the Lord is slow to punish sin, it isn’t because He winks at it. As Saint Peter says:

First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago, and an earth formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (2 Pet. 3:3–7)

2. Challenge question: For animals to have been included in the cleansing of the earth suggests the inseparable relationship between man and the rest of creation. The dominion God had given him had real meaning—when man went down, so did all the rest of the earth. This helps us to see clearly how all the elements of creation led up to the creation of man. He was not just one player among many. Without man, the rest has no meaning.

3. Responses will vary. It is never easy for a man to live righteously when everyone around him is wicked. It requires self-discipline, courage, and faith. In Hebrews, Noah is described as one who was warned about events “yet unseen.” He built a huge ark in the middle of dry ground. What kind of confidence did he have in the unseen realities? It was profound. He did not live his life according to what he could see. He exhibited a detachment from the world around him, relying only on God’s commands. Quite possibly he had to face ridicule or abuse from people who lived only according to the imaginations of their own hearts. This was heroic virtue. Truly, he was God’s friend.

The World Saved through Noah (Gen. 6:11–22)
4. a. Responses will vary. One of the truths about God hardest to grasp is that the One who set the stars in the skies, who put limits on the seas, and who keeps the entire universe working also knows how many hairs are on our heads. The fact that we are not lost in the cosmos is a staggering reality. Noah’s quiet faithfulness in the midst of great evil was not overlooked. God is aware of each human life. No moment is lost.

b. For God to preserve the race of human beings through one righteous man, even though nearly all had become entirely corrupt, was a powerful testimony to how precious in His sight human righteousness is. Goodness, in one man, was the victor over the evil of thousands. In this, Noah was a “type” of Jesus, whose righteous life conquered evil definitively for all eternity.

The Waters Subside (Gen. 8:1–12)
5. a. Responses will vary. It would have been natural for Noah and his family to be eager to get off that boat. Perhaps they did wonder why they had to wait so long, while nature ran its course. Maybe they thought about asking for a miracle or two to speed things along.

b. Challenge question: This is a question we should be willing to ponder from time to time. We could have asked it right after Adam and Eve left Eden. Why didn’t God immediately send “the woman” and her “seed” to set things right? Surely Israel’s long wait for the appearance of the Messiah was punctuated with cries of “How long, O Lord?” In our own day, the Church echoes what Saint John wrote two thousand years ago at the end of the Book of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20). A few miracles could certainly speed things along.
As difficult as it may be to accept, God carries out His plan for creation through natural and supernatural means. It must please Him to allow nature and human history to take time to arrive at their destination. When we bump up against this, it reminds us how much of God’s work is mysterious and inscrutable to us. We must agree with the Psalmist: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.” (Ps. 139:6) Sometimes it looks to us as if a miracle or two would be so much more efficient. God isn’t aiming at efficiency. His desire for us is holiness. God, the Artist, works in the media of time, nature, and human history to create the perfection that is our destiny. It takes faith to believe that. Noah is our example.

6. a. When the dove did not return, Noah knew that all the waters had receded and that the earth could sustain human life again.

b. Challenge question: The Church helps us to see the Holy Spirit as the dove that looks for habitable ground. In the days of Noah, it was dry earth that the dove sought and finally found. The appearance of the dove with the olive branch was a sign that a new life for man on the earth was about to begin. At the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s descent on Him in the form of a dove was a powerful sign that the soil of the human soul was finally fit for the presence of God’s Spirit once again (cf. Gen. 2:7). Is there any thought more beautiful than this?

“Go Forth from the Ark” (Gen. 8:13–22)
7. This language reminds us of God’s charge to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. It prepares us for a renewal of the covenant God made in Eden and probably a code of behavior.

8. a. Noah offered a burnt offering to the Lord as soon as he got off the ark.

b. It pleased the Lord greatly to see a man live this way—not just the faith in his heart, but his public act of making an offering. God made a promise never to curse the ground again because of man.

c. Challenge question: Noah’s life provided “rest” for all those who came after him. Never again would they have to fear a return to chaos on the earth. This is the first episode of God’s people being saved through the faithful obedience of a human being. It will not be the last.

 

Lesson 10

To make the most of this study, respond to all the questions yourself before reading these responses.

A Blessing from God (Gen. 9:1–7)
1. a. The repetition of God’s blessing, the command to be fruitful and fill the earth, and His provision of food in the second scene helps us to understand that God began a work of restoration after the purging action of the Flood. He wanted to return His creation to His original intention for it.

b. Challenge question: The significance of the differences between the two scenes is that, although God had taken the initiative to cleanse the earth of evil and make a fresh start, sin and its devastating effects have not been completely rooted out of creation. The harmony of the first creation had been broken; now the living creatures will fear man as he exercises dominion over them. The fear of creatures for man will be a reminder to him that he is not who he thinks he is and not at all whom he was meant to be. As painful as it is to experience this dread in animals, it is a great mercy to us. In our spiritual blindness, we can look very good in our own eyes. With the loss of grace in Eden, we simply cannot see the truth about ourselves. We have an amazing capacity to minimize our sin, forgetting our true destiny. A little bird hopping away from us in fear gives us a moment to see ourselves reflected in its eyes—we are not the holy creatures we were meant to be. In fact, we are scary. We need help.

2. Responses will vary. The prohibition against taking life, which was to be penalized by death, reflected the reality that violence and corruption had spread so thoroughly in the human community at the dawn of history that God had to send the Flood to purge it. God could not trust men to curb their appetite for violence. Now, in the renewed earth, He would use laws with drastic penalties to rein it in. We are to interpret this as a sober sign that whereas God left Cain to his own conscience, without requiring his life for his act of murder, now He must act with laws to preserve safety on earth.

3. Responses will vary. This taboo on blood reflected the value of all life, both human and animal. Even though God permitted man to eat animals, he was not thereby to be callous towards animal life. He was to continue to show respect for life, since it comes directly from the hand of God. Man in his spiritual blindness is subject to pride, in which he sees himself as the center of the universe. It is a short step from there to abusing elements in that universe to serve his own purposes. Prohibitions such as this kept that impulse in check.

The Sign of the Covenant (Gen. 9:8–17)
4. a. Responses will vary. Man, weakened by sin, had the potential to miss the messages God gave him. Was it possible that men would see the importance God attached to that beautiful rainbow and begin to worship it instead of God, who created it? Certainly. We know for a fact that men regularly worshiped what God created instead of the Creator Himself.

b. Challenge question: God took that risk in order to communicate with man in a truly human way. As the Catechism says, “In human life, signs and symbols occupy an important place. As a being at once body and spirit, man expresses and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols. As a social being, man needs signs and symbols to communicate with others, through language, gestures, and actions. The same holds true for his relationship with God” (no. 1146). Scripture is full of examples of God working this way among His people. The culmination, of course, was the Incarnation, when God took on the most profoundly human form of communication—flesh and blood—to reveal to men who He is. That was risky, too. After all, if God became a Man, men could lay hands on Him and kill Him. God knows well the danger involved in His condescension to our humanity. He is not deterred.

The Sons of Noah (Gen. 9:18–29)
5. Responses will vary. We have seen a gardener abuse fruit before (in Eden). That did not produce a happy outcome.

6. Although we can’t be sure of his exact offense, Ham appeared to have been severely lacking in respect for his father. If he was guilty of incest, it would demonstrate not just a lack of respect, but possibly an attempt to reject his father’s authority. He may have boasted about his deed to his brother, always a sign of pride and arrogance; the boasting could have represented his attempt to usurp the rightful superiority of Shem, Noah’s firstborn son.

7. Shem, the firstborn son, and Japheth, the youngest, went into the tent to make things right. They took every precaution to keep their father’s dignity intact. Perhaps we can presume that because Shem was the oldest, he was the one who turned a bad situation away from complete disaster by having his youngest brother assist him rather than stay back and listen to more talk from Ham.

The Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1–9)
8. a. These descendants of Ham reached a high degree of technical proficiency. This seems to have created a great deal of power among them. They did not want anything to threaten that power. They especially seemed to dread having to move out over the uninhabited parts of the earth. Perhaps they feared their power would dissipate if they got separated. Perhaps they didn’t want to leave the comforts that came with civilization. Their desire to build a tower to heaven speaks of an arrogance and autonomy that has been dangerous when we have seen it in others (Adam, Cain, Lamech, Ham). The tower was a physical manifestation of the pride of man, a self-exaltation of men from earth to heaven.

b. God saw that because men had chosen to band together, refusing to spread out, the evil among them could grow without limit. The ease with which they could communicate made this possible. Their power to influence and intimidate each other meant that goodness could easily be overwhelmed by what comes most naturally to man, which is pride.
God responded by confusing the one language all men spoke at the time of the building of the tower. Whether they wanted to or not, the Lord scattered men over the face of the earth, separating them by languages and making unity difficult.

c. Challenge question: The diversity in human languages represents the pride and arrogance of man, who abused his original unity with others to work against God instead of for Him. On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles to begin the work of creating the Church, it is of no small significance that there was a miracle that undid the effects of Babel (cf. Acts 2:1–13). It was a thrilling sign that God was creating a new unity on earth—a unity that would overcome the effects of sin and enable God’s family to live as one, for His glory.

The Descendants of Shem (Gen. 11:10–32)
9. Terah and his family worshiped “other gods,” according to the passage in Joshua. What does that mean? It is simply evidence that even in families that issued from a righteous man (in this case, Shem), there was always the possibility of confusion and contamination in their understanding and practice of the covenant. As we saw early in the history of man, intermarriage between cultures of different religious beliefs always presented problems to those whose heritage it was to live within the covenant. As the Catechism says, “The covenant with Noah after the flood gives expression to the principle of the divine economy toward the ‘nations,’ … toward men grouped ‘in their lands, each with [its] own language, by their families, in their nations.… But, because of sin, both polytheism and the idolatry of a nation and of its rulers constantly threaten this provisional economy with the perversion of paganism” (nos. 56–57).

10. Challenge question: Responses will vary. If we think of the re-creation as an act of God to wipe out wickedness on the earth, it didn’t work. But if we understand the Flood to be an act of divine revelation, it was everything it needed to be. First, it served as a demonstration that God does not restrain His judgment on sin forever. Men need to know this so they can live in truth. When men persist in their desire to be entirely free from God, eventually God gives them what they want. For them, God ceases to exist.
Second, it was a lesson for man in his own history that the solution to the wickedness of the human heart must be interior. Sin is inherent in his nature. It is systemic. The waters of the flood cleansed the earth of sinners, not of sin itself. It will take the waters of baptism to wash clean the human soul. “Baptism, which corresponds to this [the Flood] now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).
Third, the re-creation is one in a very long line of episodes in Scripture in which the persistent longing of God for men is made crystal clear. In it, we saw His willingness to do whatever it takes to keep them in the covenant with Him. The promises He made to Noah and his sons gave them every reason to love Him back in the way He loved them. Frail mortals like us need to read these re-creation stories over and over until it finally sinks in—God will never give up until He has us for His own.

 

Johnston, G. S. (2004). Appendix A:How to Read the First Chapter of Genesis. In Genesis, Part I: God and His Creation (Genesis 1–11) (S. 101–139). Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing.

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