In this Compendium Clip I would like to continue our consideration of what God created, this time focusing especially on the high point of God’s visible creation, that is, man and woman, or humanity.
In the book of Genesis, the author uses a literary device of recounting the six days of creation in order to illustrate several things about the visible world (cf. Gen 1:1-31). The first is that there is a profound order in creation, we see this illustrated in the way that the six days correspond to each other, the first three days being a context for what God created on the last three days. For example, the second day with the sky and the sea corresponds to the fifth day with the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea.
Now, this literary device highlights the fact that not only is God the maker and orderer of all things, but also that there is a profound stability, beauty and interdependence among created things. Indeed, the more the sciences learn of the laws of nature, the more we see how intricate and amazing this order is, which God inscribed into creation. He did this, above all, for his praise and glory and for humanity’s benefit.
This leads us then to the summit of God’s creative work, that is, the human person. We again learn from Genesis that, unlike the other five days of creation, which God called good, on the sixth day, after he created man and woman, God said, “it was very good” (1:31). The reason humanity has such a unique position in creation is because the human person is created in the image of God (cf. Gen 1:27). And so, for a person to understand his or her dignity and human identity we need to consider what it means to be made in God’s image.
First, it means that, like God, human beings are personal beings; we are not something but someone and as such have the capacity for knowing and loving. Indeed, it is through knowledge and love as well as service that we can enter into communion with God and one another, which is a further way we are ‘in the image of God’ who is, as we saw when we considered the Trinity, a communion of persons.
Nevertheless, it needs to be remembered that while every person is naturally created in God’s image, the only way we can reach our fulfillment and really understand the mystery of our life is in the Son of God made man, Jesus, who, as St. Paul says, is the perfect image of the invisible God (cf. Col 1:15).
Moreover, the human person is not simply a spiritual being like the angels. Rather, we are composed of both soul and body which are so profoundly united that they form one human nature. The book of Genesis, using symbolic and insightful language, expressed this truth of our material and spiritual unity when the author wrote, “then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). The human body then shares in the dignity of being in God’s image precisely because it is animated by the life-giving principle of the soul.
Yet, the spiritual soul does not come from one’s parents. It is created immediately by God, who also makes the soul immortal, and as such it continues to exist even after death as it awaits its reunion with the body at the final resurrection, a topic we will look at in later Compendium Clips.
But now that we have considered the human person in general, and how he or she is created in God’s image, we need to consider man and woman in particular, and their relationship with each other.
First, God has created humanity to be both man and woman. This means that the difference between femininity and masculinity is a great good willed by God and that both man and woman are equal in dignity as both are human persons in the image of God.
When God fashioned Eve, the first woman, Adam immediately recognized this common dignity and humanity, and exclaimed with love, “this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). Both Adam and Eve could instantly see their mutual identity as persons and their complementarity of being male and female. It is precisely because of this difference that the two can come together to form a communion of persons.
Indeed, God made man and woman for each other and through marriage they truly become one. This is why the book of Genesis says, “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (2:24). But God has also created the union between a woman and a man to be fruitful and bring forth new life, which is why God said, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (Gen 1:28).
Finally, God also calls humanity to subdue the earth and have dominion over it, not in an arbitrary or destructive way, but in a way that man and woman become stewards of creation and cooperators in God’s providence.
To summarize, God created all the visible world with profound order and goodness, and he placed humanity at the summit of this creation. Human beings are so unique because we are created in the image of God and we have a body and a spiritual soul.
Moreover, God made man and woman equal in dignity as well as complementary for each other. He calls them to form a one-flesh union capable of bringing forth life and to subdue the earth and be its steward.
In our next clip we will begin to look at the original condition of creation and humanity and particularly how it was distorted through original sin.
To view an illustrated video of this column and other “Compendium Clips,” visit www.compendiumclips.com.