Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Genesis. Lecture 4

1964 - 1966

In our reading of the first chapter of Genesis we have insisted so far on the act of creation, on several aspects of it, particularly on the gradual unfolding of what God had first created, from darkness into light, from the first light that appears now as darkness towards another light. And I would like now to keep more or less to the same subject by turning our attention to another side of it. We have spoken of the created: what does this reading and this thinking teach us about the Creator who is in the background, invisible, but capable of being discovered through his work? First of all the beginning of Genesis speaks of God creating things, and He appears to us first of all as a creator. This means that He is at the origin of things, but this is not simply an objective fact that would explain to us that things do exist. If He is at the origin of things, then there is between Him and the things which originate in Him or through Him not only a relatedness but an interrelation. To put it in the crudest possible way, one may say that if all things have their origin in an act of God, which is an act of will, a deliberate intention, then all the destiny of the world is not only willed by God but is part of His responsibility. It means that between the Creator and these things He has created, there is not only the link on which I have insisted in the beginning, the fact that we are willed, that we are not willed haphazardly, that we are willed intelligently, and that this act of God implies that there is a bond of love between Him and us.

What I am insisting on now is the fact that by His act of creation God takes re­sponsibility for all those things He has created, for their eternal destiny, not only by appointing them a vocation and a final term to which they are called, but also by making Himself responsible for all that may happen on this way. This I believe is very important to remember because this first chapter of Genesis, these first events which are conveyed to us, at times in symbols and images, but essentially truly, are at the background of the whole history of what we call the providence of God and the salvation of the world. From the very beginning there is a curious situation by which God and what He created are face to face with one another, and at the same time inter­woven, not simply face to face. On the one hand nothing has got any generic natural substantial roots in God, things do not emanate from the nature of God, the substance of God, things are called into existence out of non-being and of radical naught, and in that respect they are totally `other’ as far as God is concerned.

I have already mentioned the fact that this superfluity of the creation, the fact that it is not rooted in a need in God, does not make the fullness of God more full, as it were, is perhaps the best, the deepest, the most important safeguard of the personal and independent existence of things. Interdependence always means severance; independence always means that the thing which is independent is also left alone. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. But the act of creation, especially with what one sees afterwards in the history of the world, brings forward the notion of divine responsibility and of the way in which God treats this responsibility of His. From the very first moment there is this face to face situation and yet the implicit acceptance by God as to the consequences of His divine act of creation. And this is made patent, real, thousands of years later in the fact that God unites Himself and His destiny – and I am not using this word for lack of a better one, but responsibly – with the destiny of the created. If you will, one may say that the moment God creates an outside to Himself, the notion of a destiny appears also for Him.

When God becomes man, He enters into the becoming of the world, and at a point which is a tragic one, and through a gate which is a narrow one. He enters into the destiny of the world so that He can no longer walk out of it. When, at the day of Judgement, all things created, and particularly all men, will stand before the Judgement of God, one of these men will be called Jesus, born in Bethlehem and crucified without the walls of Jerusalem. Whatever judgement is passed or pronounced on the sons of men, the Son of man is within this judgement, not without. He is not an outsider to the destiny of mankind and, through mankind, to the destiny of all things. And again, when after His Resurrection the Son of God ascends into Heaven, it is also the Son of man who ascends into Heaven. And the sitting on the right hand of the Father means that the tragic mystery of mankind has become intrinsic to the mystery of God Himself. But all this is rooted in the first act of creation which establishes responsibility and which is the expression perhaps at that particular moment of our exposition of what I meant when I said that there is a link of love between God and those things which he creates.

I am not trying now to explain or to understand how this responsibility works out; I am not trying now – to this I think we will come – to explain or to try to understand how this responsibility, with all the tragedy implied, all the becoming con­tained in it, is compatible with the basic faith we have in the impassability of God, in the fact that God is not determined from outside, is not acted upon and made to act, or to be, what He is not at any other moment. As I said, to this we will try to come and try to gain some understanding. For the moment this is important for us in this notion of God the Creator.

And then in this relatedness between the Creator and things created, once more I would like to underline the importance, the creative importance, the freeing importance, of our having been created out of naught. We are not a pale reflection of God, we are not a shadow of God. we are not a by-product of divine life, we are not a necessary complement to God’s existence. His fullness would have been unimpaired without us, as it was before the world began. His act of creation is not determined, it is totally free. We exist really outside, although we are profoundly related. And in this process of gradual unfolding of the pos­sibilities given to the first existing thing, whether you call it an atom, or less, or more, or by any other names, in this process of unfolding, or the opening up of light out of darkness, when yesterday’s light is today’s evening, the possibilities included are infinitely greater than anything which the wildest evolutionary imaginations would allow, because it is not on a lower level that we are based: all things are not created out of something which ultimately is the lowest, the most incomplete, the most unfulfilled, the darkest. All things spring out of a divine act of will. I do not mean in­dividually, but in their very existence. If we think of the created world, it is not rooted in the darkness of an aboriginal matter, – of an aboriginal world or earth or anything.

I think the best possible image would be that which belongs to the Chinese; this tree which grows with its roots Heavenwards, a tree alive, vast, capable of covering all things. But its roots are upwards and it grows downwards. Such is our world, its roots are towards God, it is not rooted in Him, they do not disappear in Him, but it is there where they begin, and they stretch down, meet in the stem and develop further, and this world which is not based on the development of the lowest possible into a higher, but on something which contains all possibilities, because they are given, is a world which is capable of the miracle, the basic miracle which we believe in, the miracle of being Spirit-bearing and God-bearing, akin somehow to the spiritual world, the miracle of being capable of bearing the Incarnation of God, the miracle of being called to a total transfiguration, that is becoming the new earth and the new heaven, when all the possibilities which are beyond simple nature, which are not only the unfolding of creative capabilities but also the reception of the divine grace and presence, will be revealed: the new heaven and the new earth of the Book of Revelation.

It is because there is no common measure between the created and the uncreated that the uncreated can enter the created. This was the great problem of Arius when he denied the divinity of Christ because he could not understand that the unlimited could be limited and the timeless enter into time and the one who was not matter commune with matter. He did not see what we can now, after centuries of thinking on time and matter. He could not seize the fact that it is just because there is no common measure, just because there is a total otherness between the two that their meeting and union is possible. Because time and eternity are not categories of the same kind, because infinity and limitation do not mean the same thing, because God is not only `not-matter’ – He has nothing in common with it and therefore He can meet the created.

I would like now to turn, in connection with creation, to man. This will be just a certain number of preparatory remarks, because there are other things which we still have to take up. First of all, man is created within the common stream of creation. However different the act of creation is, when it comes to man, from the other acts that preceded him, he is one of the links in the chain, and this is very important. We belong totally, completely, to all things created. There is not only a basic but an essentially important connection between us and all things. We are earth and in this kinship resides the fact that the destiny of man and the destiny of the earthly cosmos to which we belong are inseparably connected, not only because, as we may see, man had a special role to fulfil in the creation, not only on that moral level but on the level below, on the basis of this togetherness of material interdependence.

At the moment we are concerned with God in his creation, and not only with man. If we want to see what the act of divine creation reveals to us about God, we will discover at first something which we are not accustomed to: the fact that God created us humans as a society points to something which may be termed a social reality in God. Zander about thirty years ago has written a pamphlet on `The social implications of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity’, social implications on the level of man but rooted in the fact that God, in a way which we will try to understand a little later, is a society. He is not an arithmetic One. And this from the first line, from the first moment, is brought out very curiously when we are not accustomed to this thinking: God said, `Let us make man in our image,’ and He creates a couple. As a German theologian has put it once: one personality in two persons, someone and yet two persons, a society which possesses oneness. This is the first image which we have got of the concreteness of God, because when we speak of God as the Creator, we do not apprehend an image of Him directly, we may perhaps come closer or not to the mind of the Maker, but it is a notion much more than a concrete reality, and here He appears to us, is revealed to us, as oneness in several. Oneness because He says, `Let us create man’, but a oneness which is expressed in multiplicity as is pointed out by `us’ and the following paragraphs.

And then there is another passage which, in very early times, before the subject became controversial between the Jews and Christians, was in Jewish literature interpreted as showing the complexity of God: the passage which we find in the 18th chapter of Genesis, the vision of Abraham of the three angels in the plains of Mamre. You all know the story and probably you all know the iconographic image which we find in the Trinity of Rublev. “The Lord appeared unto him – Abraham – in the plains of Mamre and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day, and he lifted up his eyes and looked and lo, three men stood by him. And when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door and bowed himself toward the ground and said, `My Lord, if now I have found favour in Thy sight, pass not away, I pray Thee, from Thy servant.’

And further, as you read the text you see this curious thing that Abraham speaks to the three angels as if they were God and speaks to the three angels in the singular, `My Lord, if I have found favour in Thy sight pass not away..’ He saw a vision of God. I do not mean to say that he saw God Himself, but he was aware that this vision signified God, that these three angels were meant to convey to him God. And in this passage, which is almost at the opposite of the other, we see God revealed in three persons, spoken of in the singular while in the first passage God speaks of Himself in the plural, while He is creating a oneness, man. This is the first time when we meet with God appearing to us personally, acting as a person, or rather acting as one who is a complex personality. And here for the first time we are faced with the fact that God is Someone, is One, and let us say for this passage, is many at the same time. And yet in the act of creation of man, who is at this stage oneness, He reveals Himself as oneness, a person and a society at the same time. We will have to go into this next time in greater detail, and I will stop here this introduction, because I would like to take up the problem of society, both in man and in God, next time as a whole. If you have a better word to suggest to me to apply to God instead of society, I would be grateful. My vocabulary is not good enough to find a word that would fit both what I mean to say and the meaning of words. I see the difficulty in using the word `society’ applied to God. It has a shabby connotation and a variety of connotations, but if it has the only advantage to shock you, it will have also served a purpose. But if you have a better word, please contribute it to me.

Answers to questions

Christ standing within the Judgement, among the Judges, in his character of man?

Yes, if that makes any sense. I do not think that the whole picture makes any sense, because you cannot exclude Christ from the sons of man unless you are prepared to deny the fact that He is true man, and man for ever. That is one thing. He is bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh. He belongs to mankind totally. He cannot be removed out of it, because otherwise everything becomes fictitious, unreal. We fall into the primitive docetism that his Incarnation was a hallucination. If He is really man, and man for ever, then He stands with the sons of man. Now this is only part of the picture which I have given several times here, the fact that this image of a court of law does not work. We have also the fact that He is our Judge, that He is our Advocate, He is propitiation for our sins, and so He finds Himself in at least three more situations within the same act of Judge­ment which is difficult to imagine, if it is images which we want. But I do think that there is here something essentially important, that the Incarnation has mixed up hopelessly, that we can no longer speak of a face-to-face situation between a God who has created the world and launched it on its destiny. And this world will be answerable one way or the other for the destiny it has made for itself, because I do believe, and it is morally sound, that the Creator, by becoming the Saviour and becoming man, not entering as a God into human history but entering as a man, emptying Himself, as it were, and accepting the form of the servant, is now inseparably linked with whatever happens to the created. And I say `the created’ because it applies to all things and not only to man. If you ask me `how and what?’ I do not know for the moment.. But for the moment this seems to be quite certain: the three points for me are 1) the responsibility of any act of creation 2) the fact that God became man 3) the fact that this man is sitting at the right hand of the Father. These are the three links that make it simply impossible for us – apart from a fanciful imagination – to consider that God and man are face to face, and when the destiny of mankind and of the created world will be fulfilled, God will pass a final Judgement and sort things out one way or another. I do be­lieve that there will be a Judgement, there will be a sorting out, but I do not believe it will be so simple as that.

Question about the theory of types in the Bible

If the theory of the types in the Bible is true, that is of personality which reveals to us in what they were or what they did, something of Christ, is true, then what applies to Noah in Genesis applies to Christ: that He was at the same time the salvation and the condemnation of the people of his times. Because he was righteous there was a criterion of unrighteousness. Because he was righteous the unrighteous stood condemned. But also because he was righteous there was salvation from the flood. Here in the same line of thought St John’s Gospel is quite clear: Christ will come to judge us because He is real man. We could tell a God. who is pure spirit: `If you had flesh and bones, you would not say that..’ We cannot say any such thing to Christ. In St John V 26-27 we are told that `For as the Father has life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself and hath given him authority to execute judgement also, because He is the Son of Man.’ So in that respect the fact of the Incarnation gives God a right to judge. We can never tell God, `Your judgement is unright, untrue’, because He does not judge from the outside. In the Book of Revelation the saints stand up before God and say, `True were all Thy ways O Lord!’ because He is within the situation. And every judgement He passes is always a judge­ment from within and never from without..When we speak of matter and spirit we are really speaking of two things. We have an idea that what we mean to say when we say that God is not matter is that God is not a sort of heavy substance that one can touch, but when we say that God is spirit we certainly do not define his nature in any degree, because we have not the faintest idea of what a spirit is or what the spirit is. We use this word simply as a contrast, in contradiction with the word ‘matter’, simply to put Him outside that. He has not got a substance which He could share with anything else.

…In the 6th century Maxim the Confessor said that the Incarnation was possible because there is nothing in common, because you cannot mix to­gether things which are different and yet belong to the material world, but the example he gives is that the Incarnation is possible because there is no common measure between the two, in the same way in which fire can pervade iron: it is not mixing together two substances but it communicates a new quality to what it takes into itself. Iron is pervaded by something which has the quality of fire and in the process becomes something it was not and yet remains what it was. Instead of being cold, grey, heavy, it becomes luminous, glowing, endowed with new possibilities, and yet it remains itself. The integrity of the first is there, but it is fulfilled in something different. Like any comparison, it leads thus far and cannot go farther.

The knot is tied in the beginning of Genesis.

If you take a musical instrument: it is capable of playing a tune. The tune is outside, the hand is outside, everything that will make the in­strument play the tune is outside, but there is something between the in­strument and the musician, something in common that will make it possible for the instrument to embody, to incarnate, to express in sounds what is an ex­perience. I think there is something of this same kind between man and God, a kinship, an analogy, a similitude, something they have in common which makes man capable of receiving the Revelation of God, of knowing God – some­thing which makes him, together with the rest of the creation, perhaps more because there are perhaps more sides to man than to other things – capable of communing with God, of revealing God, of being transfigured, etc. But the otherness remains while communion is there.

Christ was desire and fulfilment, the two opposites, but not in a sort of logically paradoxical way, but in an obvious way which we know in the life of saints.

I want you as much as myself to go on thinking these things out, even if finally we find that the images that we have derived from our childhood are not satisfactory, because the final consciousness of ignorance is something quite different from the original lack of any knowledge or understanding. Why I insist on the fact that these things are confused is that we start with images which are extremely simple, we start with a parable to the ex­clusion of the others, with one saying or with a group of sayings that fit together and then we can go throughout life without ever questioning this imagery, to our discomfort and to the discomfort of others. I think that if a lot more thinking was done along these lines which I am not capable to carry deep enough, a lot of problems which the unbelievers have could either be solved or not be said in the absurd way in which they are. They would not have this completely absurd image of God which probably God abhors as much as the unbelievers do. And I think if we go on trying to sort these things out we will see that what is confused, get confused, are the very simple and elementary images which we are content with, and will come to a point when we will have understood a certain number of things, and when we can stand facing something which is very mysterious, unresolved for us, but at least it is a terra in­cognita, which is a real realm which we do not know, and not a system of con­tradictions which are contradictory in the realm of human logic, of human ex­perience, human moral sense and so on, to find that things have got a depth which is much greater than the one we are content with very often.

So I would like you to continue this argument and this dialogue (with oneself) and check it not with two quotations of Genesis, but take the totality of the Bible, the totality of your experience, the thinking of others.


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