Niko Bilić SJ (11 Feb 2011)

Human mission in the world

(Gen 2 in its context)

The dignity and responsibility of human person

The Holy Scripture mentions that before creating human being the Creator paused for a moment in deliberation. It only in this case that the Bible offers a self-motivating imperative: “Let us make humankind” (Gen 1:26). In the interiority of God’s own world his intentions and are revealed and his own impulse is manifest.

Text Box: p	image of God 5x Gen 1:26.27[2x]; 5:3; 9:6)    p	created 7x Gen 1:27[3x]; 5:1.2[2x]; 6:7    p	in relation: God Gen 1:26 – human being Gen 1:27    p	giving  name: God Gen 1:5.8.10 – human 2:19.20.23; 3:20    The Bible is insistent in pointing out the accepted and recognized idea that human being is created in the image of God. Five times the first chapters repeat the expression צלם אלהים [tselem ‘elohîm] image of God (of Divinity) for the human being (Gen 1:26.27[2x]; 5:3; 9:6). When we take in account that making images of Divine is generally forbidden (Exo 20:4), we understand even more the horizon of this description. Human being is the only image of God in the world. The living human being is the image of God and some dead sculpture or pagan idol simply cannot fulfill that function. The description of Adam being father in Gen 5:3 is relevant to see the filial relationship implied in “being image of”, which is generally known and part of our common experience.

The special place of man and woman in the created world is supported also by repeating seven times the reserved God’s action ברא   in describing of their creation (Gen 1:27[3x]; 5,1.2[2x]; 6,7). With other beings this is never the case, and it is clear that this way of creating means the whole universe („heaven and earth“ Gen 1:1; 2:4)

A created human being is an image of God because exactly in that moment of his creation it is clear that God himself is a communion. It is the only plural of God’s action in the whole report and it will be immediately copied in the created human – man and woman (Gen 1:27). And that is why divine consideration evaluates: “It is not good to be alone” (2,18). Twice the opening chapters of the Holy Scriptures point out that human being is created in and for communion: God created and blessed man and woman, male and female (Gen 1:27f; 5:2).

The extremely wide spectrum of different Creator’s activities in the first two chapters of Genesis calls for attention. God is speaking, seeing, calling out, making, separating, setting, forming and building. The image of God represents this engagement which is giving and creative, and not destroying and taking away. The whole notion of modern consumerism is here in question.

Human being is the image of God because it is to give name to the created beings (Gen 2:20; cf. 3:20) as the Creator himself does (cf. Gen 1:5.8.10). Human being is entrusted with this divine function: to give the name, to recognize the true definition of the beings environing him, to relate to their sense and perspective of existence of the being he encounters in his life. In the Bible God respects and recognizes the results (Gen 2:199.
A created human being is called to be good and wise manager and ruler (רדע rada’ Gen 1:28) which is to be clarified and explained in the image of the garden: a human is missioned to keep, to watch it (שמר shamar Gen 2:15) and to cultivate it (עבד ‘abad 2:15), literally to serve the ground out of which he is made of.
Thus from the beginning there is duty to be a wise and prudent servant who will give account to his Lord.

It is a human being that in the course of creation is the only really able to hear and understand the word of God and his commandment: “Be fruitful and grow!” (Gen 1:28). Jesus, the Master, will take over this first commandment to apply and explain it in choosing his disciples in order to have them bearing fruit and the fruit which will remain (John 15:16). And St. Paul will interpret the second part of this primordial commandment declaring that we have to come to the “full measure of Christ’s own plenitude” (Eph 4:13). Bear fruit and become sufficiently great – this is the first human mission in the Bible.

In the beginning the human being, man and woman, receive blessing from God (Gen 1:28), as well as fish in the sea and bird of the air received it already (Gen 1:22) and the day of the rest will get it at the end (Gen 2:3), when the work is finished. The new beginning in the covenant with Noah will be marked by the new blessing of God (Gen 9:1). With Abraham there with be something extremely new. To the human mission will come something more. For the first time in the Bible there is a human being himself who is a blessing: You will be a blessing (Gen 12:2) – says the Lord to his chosen one at the first calling and he repeats it revealing the whole horizon of his divine intention: “in you there will be blessed all the families of the earth” (Gen 12:3). The created human being becomes not only the receiving one but also the active bearer of the blessing. And the priest Melchisedek will be the first one to apply this special power, he will fulfill the mission in actively blessing (Gen 14:19).

If these first biblical texts were misused to argument improper attitude toward the natural good it is urgent to discover that the Bible itself has no such tendency. The most important issues in the scriptural report is that the human being, in spite of special place, is created on the same day with other living beings on the land. Our delicate nature of divine origin of life is placed in the dust out of earth (Gen 2:7). The humankind is blessed immediately after being created (Gen 1:28) but it is after the fish and birds received the first blessing (1:22); and the famous commandment to fill up the earth comes in the Scriptures after the word unto fish to fill the seas.
The famous instruction to rule the world has its restriction in the text itself. The mission give to humankind is expressed with the word רדע  rada‘ (Gen 1:28), which is not משל mashal (Gen 1:16f) designating the power of sun and moon in the same text . Furthermore the idea from the first chapter gets immediate explanation in the image of the garden where – as we have seen –  it is explained as cultivating and keeping (Gen 2:15).
Finally even the word about “subduing” or “conquering” (כבש Gen 1:28) the earth so easily misunderstood belongs to very scarce biblical vocabulary, is of no emphasized importance. In the Bible it is seldom used and basically it points out God’s authority. “The land is subdued before the LORD” (Num 23:22)