What Have You Made?
The Bible opens with those well known words, “In the beginning God made....” Five more times in the first 25 verses it repeats “And God made....” until we get to verse 26 and we hear, “Let us make man.... And God made man....” Finally, all of this Divine making comes to a grand conclusion with the end of the sixth day and the Sabbath: “And God saw all the things that he had made, and see, they were exceedingly good.... And the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their arrangement (cosmos).” Then, as if answering back in words the overflowing bounty of God’s work, the verb “made” is summoned three more times in the final two verses to remind us that all that is - heavens and earth and seas and creatures teeming with life in all of them - is made by God.
Less known to us is the fact that what comes next in the story is the account of what mankind has made. In chapters 3 and 4, immediately following their respective sins – Eve through the taking of the forbidden fruit and Cain through killing his brother Abel – God asks them both a very simple question: “What have you made?” Most English translations state the question as, “What have you done?”, an accurate translation except for the fact that it obscures completely the profound connection with Genesis 1. And in the Septuagint it is the same verb: "to make". God made the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that is in them as a cosmos, an ordered beauty, teeming with life. But Eve, by disobedience, and Cain, by murder, what have they made? Death.
The Wisdom of Solomon (ch 1), reflecting on this tragic eruption of death into the world, counsels:
Do not zealously seek death by the error of your life
or bring destruction on yourselves by the deeds of your hands,
because God did not make death nor does he delight in the destruction of the living….
For righteousness is immortal.
But the impious by their deeds and words summoned [death];
considering it to be a friend, they wasted away and made a covenant with it, because they are worthy to belong to its party....
God created human beings for incorruption and made them the image of his own nature,
but through the envy of the devil death entered the world,
and those who belong to his party experience it.
“God did not make death… the impious by their deeds and words summoned it.” This is, essentially, a commentary on the opening chapters of Genesis, on God’s making - cosmos - and our making - death. In fact, we might note on a larger scale that the book of Genesis, which opens with the creation of life and the cosmos, comes to an end in chapter 50 with Joseph dead and in a coffin in Egypt. Death, at least in Genesis, has the last word.
As we attempt to keep the Great Fast as a season of repentance, few questions are as pertinent to us as that which God asked Eve and Cain: “what have you made?” And as we come to Holy Week and we look at our Lord upon the Cross, it is still the same question: what have you made? To confess that we have, by our sin, introduced death into the world and into our lives - that we have “summoned it”, to use the language of the Wisdom of Solomon - is to find ourselves naked like Adam and Eve in the garden. But the one from whom they hid in their shame, who went down to Egypt to bring up Israel, has come down to us in the land of death. He is there, naked, on the Cross.
Facing up to what we have made - sin and death - is painful. But living in denial is delusional. The only thing that makes us able to withstand the question “what have you made?” without collapsing beneath the weight of it is that the one who asks is the one on the Cross. And what he has made, after all, is not only the cosmos in the beginning; "He has wrought salvation in the midst of the earth.” (Ps 73.12)
With love in Christ, Fr John