“And my delight was with the human race” (Proverbs 8:31)
The book of Genesis begins with the statement, “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth” (Genesis 1:1). And while the modern reader will – and rightly so – understand the world as all there is, the ancients thought in the same manner but added to it another element we tend to forget about, namely that the world is a temple. John Chrysostom, a prolific orator of the Church, said in a sermon on Genesis, “Why does it proceed, first heaven then earth? The temple’s roof made before its pavement? God is not subject to nature’s demands nor to the rules of technique. God is the creator and master technician of nature, and art, and everything made or imagined.” (John Chrysostom – Sermons on Genesis 1.3). We tend to forget that this world was created to be a temple. How do we know this? Fast forward and look at the end of the creation narrative where it is written, “on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day…” (Genesis 2:2). In the ancient world, the deity ‘rested,’ means ‘dwelt,’ in the temple. In other words, God came to dwell in the world as the temple of His rest. Certainly, God is omnipresent. But the presence or dwelling is noticed most vividly in the human being, the image (visible form) of God (the invisible), placed in the centre of the world. The visible and invisible paradox would eventually play a huge role in the formation of Christian theology.
God created the world by the Word, the Logos. God would say “Let there be” and after specifying what He willed to create, creatures came to be. This notion of creating by the Word came to be known by early Christian thinkers as the divine fiat. All elements of the temple were created and “God saw that they were good.” On the sixth day, a lot of changes take place. God creates His visible image. God is no longer using mere words but is rather deliberating. This deliberation the fathers call the divine fiat. Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century Christian theologian, writes in his work Creation of Man,
“O marvellous! All are brought into being with a word, while only to the making of man does the Maker of all draw near with circumspection, so as to prepare beforehand for him material for his formation, and to liken his form to an archetypal beauty, and, setting before him a mark for which he is to come into being, to make for him a nature appropriate and allied to the operations, and suitable for the object in hand.” (Gregory of Nyssa – Creation of Man III.2)
The creation of the human being involved deliberation more than there ever was in creating any other being. Only after God creates man do we hear that “God saw everything, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Over the next few times, I will be examining the visible-invisible identity of the human being, the concept of ‘image and likeness,’ and the role of the human being in the temple of this world.
I would like to leave you with a few thoughts that make this ancient story relevant today. You reflect the divine. Wisdom, identified as the Logos by whom things were made, said, “my delight was with the human race” (Proverbs 8:31). Yes! The human being is the object of divine delight. We must come to terms with our reality as the image of the divine and act accordingly. If the divine brought order out of chaos (Genesis 1:2), then we ought to do the same. If God loved humanity that he brought it into being, then it is time for us to serve humanity with love and honour knowing that each person is a temple of God. As Leo Tolstoy, the Russian philosopher, puts it, “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity” and I would add ‘and creation as a whole.’