Category Archives: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei

Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 14a: Created in the Image of God

Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei Home Page

Previous Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 13: God is Chaos

What does it mean to be created in the image of God? What does it mean to be Imago Dei? It is a concept that the Scripture does not explain. It is only mentioned as something that exists. It is not something that one could easily assume the nature of. It remains as one of the great mysteries of the spiritual life. Whatever the case may be, the concept of Imago Dei is central to the human relationship with God and with human identity. However, as much as that might be true, it is an unrealized phenomenon. Humans may be created in the image of God, but the reality of Imago Dei is something to be discovered, to be learned, to be embraced. There are many theories as to what it means to be Imago Dei, and a number of them are outdated. Let’s explore the more profound theories and see what can be gleaned from them.

What Does Scripture Say?

To begin, it is best to look at the biblical text itself. Despite the compelling nature of the concept, it is hardly mentioned in Scripture. The most famous example is, of course, Genesis 1:26-28:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

There are several parts to this passage, and we will frequently return to it. The most important point of this passage though it that “God created humankind in his image.” It is this phrase that invites us to explore the mystery. Another passage—whose insight is only implied—is Genesis 9:3-6:

Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your own lifeblood, I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal, I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life. Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind.

Before providing analysis, let me bring up James 3:8-9: “but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” Anthony A. Hoekema, in Created in God’s Image, discusses that, in the Genesis passage, the mentioning of Imago Dei comes as part of a larger set of ordinances about the propagation and protection of life. In this context, the reason why killing another person is wrong is simply because he/she is made in the image of God. This suggests an implicit relationship between God and humanity that points towards human dignity. Because human beings are special, they are not to be treated like every other animal but rather as a reflection of God. Likewise, the James passage presents a similar case: it is wrong to curse other people for to do so “…means, in effect, to curse God in whose likeness they have been made.” These passages seem to affirm a certain reverence for humanity.

With that in mind, let’s turn to Psalm 83-6:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet….

The psalmist poses a great question—what are human beings that God should be mindful of them? The response is profound: “…you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” While this passage does not mention “image of God,” it certainly contributes to the understanding of human value and dignity.

Thus, what we have learned so far is that human beings, as far as being made in the image of God, are created as unique and are elevated above all other animals. They are to be treated with respect and even reverence, for they are a little less than God and have been given authority over the earth. I have not explored all the passages with reference to Imago Dei, but I will touch on the noteworthy ones further along.

Markers of the Kingdom

There is, of course, more depth to the idea of being image-bearers. An analysis of the Hebrew word for “image”—tselem (צלם)—will show as much. The root of tselem essentially means “to carve” or “to cut.” As explained by Hoekema, “It could therefore be used to describe a carved likeness of an animal or a person. When it is applied to the creation of man in Geneses 1, the word tselem indicates that man images God, that is, is a representation of God.” This is to say that the human being is, in some way, modeled after God.

Historically speaking, the concept of Imago Dei has been interpreted to mean that something which constitutes the human being likewise constitutes God. This is called the “Structural View” of the Imago Dei. In some cases, Imago Dei has taken the effect of anthropomorphizing God. Now, the Bible is no stranger to describing God as having human features such as a face or a hand, but are these descriptions to be taken literally? Since the Ten Commandments are keen on insisting that no image should be made of God, the God of the Hebrews, unlike the gods of so many other peoples of the ancient Near East, is treated as generally more abstract. Other interpreters came to believe that the Imago Dei element of human beings was in their stature—their ability to stand upright on two legs, unlike most of the animal kingdom. Altogether, these concepts of the image as being a literal, physical representation of God did not survive long in the history of theology and are, in all honesty, far too simple.

The Structural View—which says that humans and God share a common feature—also includes the idea that Imago Dei is defined by human rationality. Popular among the Greek inspired theologians, especially Thomas Aquinas, human resemblance to God was found in the human ability to reason. Now, certainly it is true that the human capacity for abstract thought outshines any other creature on earth. What is more, it is indeed our ability to think abstractly which gives us our conceptualization of God. I do agree with the general assessment that rationality constitutes Imago Dei, but is it enough? I do not think so, nor do other theologians.

Still, there are some things to carry away from the Structural View. First, our relationality with God is often contingent on our ability to anthropomorphize God. While our minds are capable of abstract thought, abstract concepts are incredibly hard to define in tangible language. Therefore, it is easier to speak of God in very human terms. Second, our unique relationship with God, even as much as we may anthropomorphize God, is absolutely based on our ability to philosophize about what God might be. In other words, God created humanity in his image so that humanity may know God in its likeness. That being said, if we embrace the abstraction—or, in mystical terms, embrace the cloud or the darkness—we may develop a more authentic understanding of God.

Returning to the Hebrew word tselem, there is more that we could unravel here that will only continue to enrich our understanding of Imago Dei. Stanley Grenz, in Theology for the Community of God, points out that it was common in the ancient Near East for kings to plant images of themselves in cities within their domains. They cannot physically be everywhere at once, so statues serve the purpose of reminding the people who they are subject to. Grenz quotes Gerhard von Rad,

Just as powerful earthly kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erect an image of themselves in the provinces of their empire where they do not personally appear, so man is placed upon the earth in God’s image as God’s sovereign emblem. He is really only God’s representative, summoned to maintain and enforce God’s claim to dominion over the earth.

This is a functional interpretation of Imago Dei. Human beings, even from a structural standpoint, do represent God. Now, this particular theory is getting into human purpose. As Grenz states, “The terms ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ do not connote a mere aspect of the human person. It is rather in the whole of our being that we are somehow like God.” This includes the existential side of things as well. In a sense, to use the statue imagery, we are markers of God’s kingdom: portraits for veneration, banners flying high, signposts on the road to Heaven. Everything about our being is intended to represent God’s presence and workmanship on earth. There is more depth to this, but for now I will say that I believe this theory to be the most accurate. As the word tselem—“to carve”—indicates, we are chiseled likenesses of God. We are symbols of God.

In truth, the mystery of the Imago Dei is less a question of what the human being is but rather what God is. It has been assumed, of course, that the human being is a reflection of God because God made it so. However, much of what anyone says of God is actually born of human self-reflection. God is actually known through the Imago Dei.

To be continued…

Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 13: God is Chaos

Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei Home Page

Previous Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 12: The Cloud Speaks–An Honest Encounter With God

God is chaos. On the surface, this phrase appears to be a contradiction. Traditionally speaking, God and chaos are juxtaposed—chaos is either treated as a force in opposition to God or as that which was ordered at the creation of the world. In either case, chaos does not exist within the realm of God. So, to say that God is chaos may be altogether offensive. Perhaps it would be better to say that God and chaos are not identical, but that the latter is in fact a part of God as much as the rest of creation is. The problem that remains is defining what chaos actually is.

Today, the word “chaos” connotes evil, disorder, and destruction. It is important to remember, though, that such evaluations are largely subjective. While evil does exist as a human creation, and destruction does indeed occur (though as an aspect of creation), there is actually no such thing as disorder. Instead, what a person might perceive as chaos is actually the “reordering” of things. Change of this sort happens all the time, but it becomes labeled as chaotic when it doesn’t coincide with human hopes and ideals. Change—be it perceivably positive or negative—and therefore chaos, is a consequence of any action. Creation is the emergent property of a seemingly chaotic complex system of the universe’s interactive, interdependent parts.

Historically, according to Mircea Eliade, human groups have placed “their inhabited territory and the unknown and indeterminate space that surrounds it” in opposition: “The former is the world (more precisely, our world), the cosmos; everything outside it is no longer a cosmos but a sort of ‘other world,’ a foreign, chaotic space, peopled by ghosts, demons, [and] ‘foreigners.’” In other words, that which is considered to be outside of an accepted reality is essentially chaos. However, with the advancement of the physical sciences, the activities of the universe, while retaining their mystery, are beginning to be explained, at least at a theoretical level. Chaos is taking on a new meaning in cosmology. As such, chaos has found a place in conversation about divine action—how does God interact with the created world? In saying that God is chaos, the idea is that the creative Spirit of God created and continues to create not by transforming what was a previously chaotic material into something ordered but creates through what has been subjectively perceived as “chaos.”

The topic of divine action and the question of God’s relationship to the universe have indeed been brought into fresh discussion with the inclusion of scientific perspectives. In the 1980s, a group called the Divine Action Project (DAP) initiated dialogue between theologians and scientists. Amos Yong, in his book The Spirit of Creation, summarizes their analyses: “Throughout, DAP participants have assumed that the ‘laws of nature,’ however such might be understood scientifically, point at least theologically to the means through which the world is being sustained by God. Hence there has been little motivation to think of divine action as incompatible with the lawfully structured causal processes of the world.” Though not a scientist himself, Yong seeks to at least construct a revivified perspective on pneumatology that incorporates the contemporary theories of physics and philosophy of science. He is insightful in that he insists a link exists between the work of the Spirit and the dynamics of the universe. He states, “At the heart of this discussion is the notion of the world as the theater of the Holy Spirit’s activity, and of the emergence of life as reflecting the life-giving and life-sustaining work of the Spirit.” If Christians believe that the Spirit is the force behind creation, as will be shown, it follows that the organization of creation—the universe and its mechanism—proceed from the Spirit’s activity. While this is a theologically oriented presupposition, if held in balance with the discoveries and conjectures of the sciences, a more complete picture might be developed that could, in turn, inform theology. Yong’s premise thus may serve as a springboard into a potentially deeper understanding of God, specifically the Spirit’s relationship to at least one theory favored among DAP participants, that of chaos dynamical systems. While it becomes necessary to interpret what chaos may be in light of a claim that God has affinity with it rather than distinction, it is reasonable to first identify a sufficient, biblical view of the Spirit.

The Spirit—referred to as the Holy Spirit in the New Testament—is an integral part of the biblical narrative and, arguably, the story of all creation. One could say that the Spirit is what allows all things to happen, for the Spirit is the agent of creation and the ultimate restorer of life. Concerning the Hebrew word for Spirit—ruach—Veli-Matti Karkkainen explains that there are three major uses: “(1) wind, or a breath of air; (2) the principle of life, in other words, the force that vivifies human beings; and (3) the life of God…both at the physical and spiritual level” which he clarifies, quoting Yves Congar, “It is a subtle corporeality rather than an incorporeal substance. The ruach-breath of the Old Testament is not disincarnate. It is rather what animates the body.” In the Old Testament, the Spirit is that which creates and sustains the world. If the Spirit is absent, creatures die, and when the Spirit is sent, life is renewed. The Spirit pervades creation and shapes it as it wills. But to what extent is the Spirit related to and involved with chaos?

As far as the biblical text is concerned, there are two places wherein a conceptualization of chaos may be extracted. Genesis 1:2 states, “the earth was formless and void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God [or the Spirit—ruach] swept [or brooded] over the face of the waters.” That which is “formless and void”—tohu wabhohu—is considered to be “primeval watery chaos,” in which case, as Yong explains, “some have understood the primeval chaos as ‘a state of maximal plentitude, in which all things are churning, boiling, but without the discrete unities and form that enable the stuff of this world to obey the laws and enter into networks of relationship.” In this instance, chaos is that which preceded creation by God, but does not necessarily carry the weight of disorder. In Job 9:8, however, God is described as one who “trampled the waves of the Sea.” The NRSV includes a note that it may be possible for “Sea” here to be translated as “sea dragon.” This is, first, immediately reminiscent of the Leviathan conflicts that appear in Job 41, Psalm 74, and Isaiah 27, though there is little in the text itself to suggest a direct link between Leviathan and chaos, though it lives in the sea which can symbolize chaos. Second, there is a resemblance to a wider Near Eastern mythological tradition of puts a deity against a chaos dragon—the most famous being Marduk versus Tiamat in the Babylonian Enuma Elish. In this strain of mythology, God conquers and dismembers the incarnate chaos, often to be used for creation. In either of these biblical cases, there is something that appears to exist outside of God and is thereafter formed by God. The significant problem with these versions is that they suggest a material distinct from God. If theologians would like to treat God as creator of all things, then whatever is labeled to be “chaotic” material must come from God. Chaos is created by God. Consider even the shortcomings of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo: true “nothing” cannot exist so long as God is omnipresent, therefore God, rather than creating “out of nothing,” created out of divine essence. In a manner of speaking, God creating this way allows for omnipresence.

Furthermore, the Greek word χαος did not originally mean what it does today. Rather, it signified an “abyss, that which gapes wide open, [and] is vast and empty.” It may actually come from a proto-Indo-European root which simply means “to yawn.” In Hesiod’s Theogony, Chaos is what existed first, presumably being the progenitor of everything else, in which case Chaos is creator if not by accident. The word took on new meaning in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, wherein chaos is “A lifeless lump, unfashioned and unframed…[and] God, whatever God was he, had formed the whole, and made the parts agree….” So, the meaning of chaos begins to encapsulate what is signified in Genesis.

In any case, “chaos,” at this point, is best defined as that which existed before creation. But taking into consideration the criticism against positing the existence of something else outside of God at the beginning, it may be better to suggest that if God was first, as was chaos, then God and chaos are in fact the same. Rather, it would be better to say that God is chaos insomuch as God is simply at the beginning; God is a primeval existence that has since produced a material universe by some means. Before following the implications of that idea, it is necessary to observe the modern physicists’ take on chaos.

As a matter of fact, for physicists, chaos is not at all the “utterly random and incomprehensible phenomena” that is in contrast to an idealized “order.” What has been labeled “chaos theory” is more accurately termed, according to Stephen H. Kellert, “the study of chaotic phenomena” or “investigations of dynamical chaos.” Even still, the use of the term “chaos” merely makes reference to the fact that what is being observed was once considered to be “chaotic” by conventional definition. In reality, “they have discovered the secrets of ‘order within chaos.’” Proponents of chaos theory suggest that “…chaos is deterministic, generated by fixed rules that do not themselves involve any elements of chance. In principle the future is completely determined by the past, but in practice small uncertainties are amplified, so that even though the behavior is predictable in the short term, it is unpredictable in the long term. There is order in chaos: underlying chaotic behavior there are elegant geometrical forms that create randomness in the same way as a card dealer shuffles a deck of cards or a blender mixes cake batter.” Taking this theory into consideration, Yong introduces the work of physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne who suggests that “the unpredictability of chaotic or nonlinear dynamic systems provides a more viable model for God’s activity in the world.” Divine action can adjust the conditions of a system by inserting what Polkinghorne calls “active information,” and thus change the trajectory of cause and effect.

For Polkinghorne, divine action is analogous to human action, both being freely willed and capable of affecting the dynamic system through top-down causation, but God is not limited in the same way that human beings are. Polkinghorne desires to maintain God’s transcendence and otherness by disregarding the notion of divine embodiment. He says, “God…is not embodied in the universe and there does not seem to be any reason why God’s interaction with creation should not be purely in the form of active information. This would correspond to the divine nature being pure spirit and it would give a unique character to divine agency….” From this point of view alone, the chaotic system is something created by God, but God maintains a level of distance from it, albeit having the ability to make changes in the causal chain. While the concept of “active information” is reasonable, Polkinghorne’s view of a wholly disembodied deity is more aligned with classical theism than the nature of the Spirit in the Bible. His proposition fails to recognize the immanent aspects of the Spirit.

Standing in contrast to this claim is biologist-theologian Arthur Peacocke’s own perspective. Like Polkinghorne, Peacocke visualizes divine action by means of chaos, though there do exist nuanced distinctions. However, instead of seeing God as disembodied, Peacocke prefers to speak of God in panentheistic terms. From Peacocke’s own words, panentheism is “the belief that the Being of God includes and penetrates all-that-is, so that every part of it exists in God and (as against pantheism) that God’s being is more than it and is not exhausted by it.” This then leads Peacocke to argue that “the total network of natural events is God’s action,” but God remains ontologically separate—the world is not God’s body. Rather, “God is creating the world from within,” allowing complex systems to emerge from earlier, simpler entities which God shapes at all levels.

A panentheistic model, one wherein God is both transcendent and immanent, allows for God to be a creator with influence over creation but also for creation to be utterly dependent upon the being of God as well as be able to experience God. As Jurgen Moltmann states, “The possibility of perceiving God in all things, and all things in God, is grounded theologically on an understanding of the Spirit of God as the power of creation and the wellspring of life.” Metaphorically speaking, God is like an artist who paints on his or her own skin using his or her own blood. While the picture becomes its own entity, it is wholly dependent on the being of the artist. In this statement, God is both the originator of creation while also being the substance of creation, or, for Peacocke, the chaotic activity. God is “reality” and the progenitor of it—the ground of being. To speak of a transcendent God that is the ground of being is to say that while the world as it appears is in a state of flux, it still belongs to the absolute reality which itself never changes—the one thing that will never fluctuate is the existence of the flux. Again, Moltamann speaks, “To experience God in all things presupposes that there is a transcendence which is immanent in things and which can be inductively discovered. It is the infinite in the finite, the eternal in the temporal, and the enduring in the transitory.” However, as Yong states, “The Creator-creature distinction certainly should not be blurred—that is the main point of the creation account.” So, by saying that God is chaos, this should not mean that chaos itself is the created product. Instead, creation is the product of chaos, and chaos is the means by which God interacts with the world immanently; it is the way in which God is in touch with creation.

God is chaos. Is this really the case? Assuming that chaos theory is a suitable explanation for the interaction of complex systems, and assuming that God’s Spirit is that which created the universe as it is, it follows that the emergent cosmos develops from chaos which in turn the Spirit has instigated from the beginning, thus revealing the true nature of the Spirit. Moreover, God, according to this theory, continues to interact with the world through chaos to the point that God may very well be the chaos—though it is also important acknowledge the free agency of creation and its ability to act chaotically on its own. Maybe it is misleading to say “God is chaos,” especially as chaos is commonly perceived, but, as presented, there is a case to be made that chaos is the activity of creation and thus the activity of the Spirit.

Next Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 14a: Created in the Image of God

Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 12: The Cloud Speaks–An Honest Encounter With God

Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei Home Page

Previous Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 11: The Dark Night

The Story

“I Am Who I Am,” said the hooded, faceless spirit.

Adam narrowed his eyes, “What?”

The spirit looked back and forth between Adam and Eve. “I am your Creator. I Am.”

Adam, breathless, stumbled back, and Eve cowered in the sand, tears streaming down her face. Recovering, Adam mumbled, “Have you come to destroy us?”

“Yes, if only to recreate you. But that time is not now. For now, I have come to save you—save you from yourselves.” The spirit waved its hand. “Follow me.”

Adam helped Eve to stand, and, after exchanging worried glances, they followed after the hooded figure. As they walked, a thick mist descended around them. It was as if they entered into a cloud. The spirit led them to the dead Tree of Knowledge and stood before the trunk. Adam and Eve maintained a cautious distance. Then, in one bold impulse, Adam asked, “Why do you not reveal your face?”

The spirit did not turn; it only faced the Tree, but it answered, “Recall your experience of eating the fruit of this Tree. Remember how agonizing it was. Could you even comprehend what you saw? My face is a far greater mystery. The sight would do more than kill you.” It took a deep breath but still did not turn to them. “Now, tell me, what happened? Why did you eat from the forbidden tree?”

Adam and Eve looked at each other for a response. Adam then replied, “It was the serpent. The serpent convinced us to do it.”

“Have you not learned: the serpent was always a part of you. You would do better to accuse yourself.”

Adam angrily shook his head. “Be it that the serpent is a piece of our souls or be it that the serpent was a beast of its own, you made it so!”

Eve grabbed Adam’s arm and nervously gasped, “Adam.”

The spirit finally looked at them. “Do not fear. Speak your mind, Adam.”

Adam fumed. “You made us. You made us this way. You created for us our joy. But by the same hand you have created for us our doom! Whatever the serpent may be, you made it so! Is this what you wanted? Did all your labors lead to this? It is as if you wanted us to experience pain, suffering, loss, loneliness. It is as if you made us for this very destiny. Well…put a curse on the day we were born; put a curse on the night when we were conceived! Turn that day into darkness. Never again remember that day; never again let light shine on it. Make it a day of gloom and thick darkness; cover it with clouds, and blot out the sun. Blot that night out of the year, and never let it be counted again; make it a barren, joyless night…. Keep the morning star from shining; give that night no hope of dawn. Curse that night for letting us be born, for exposing us to trouble and grief!”*

The spirit was silent. Then it gently asked, “Do you understand the futility of fighting me?”

“I will fight you anyway,” Adam growled.

“That is fine. But let me ask you some questions. Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?—when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?… Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this. Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home? Surely you know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!”**

Adam was speechless—at least for the moment. Meanwhile, Eve sobbed, and at last she said, “I thought we were doing a good thing. I thought that we would become closer to you.”

“Despite my rule?” The Creator stepped forward and placed a soft hand on Eve’s cheek. “Too often, I foresee, pride is mistaken for holiness. I say, you are gods,*** but you are not the God.” It dropped its hand and sighed. “The knowledge born of the tree was meant for the wise. It was not meant for you at such a premature state.”

Adam shook his head. “You know, all of this could have been prevented. Why did you even put the tree here in the first place? If there was no tree, then there would have been nothing to be tempted by, and all our peace and joy and harmony would still be here—not this chaos! Why have you done these things? Why did you let this all happen? Why didn’t you do something? Why did you create the tree?” he yelled.

The spirit sternly replied, “I am the tree!”

Adam and Eve were taken aback. That was not what they expected to hear.

The spirit continued, “Was I not present in the garden with you? Was I not at the center of it all? I forbid you from eating of the tree because you were not at all ready to know all this about me! Yet you sought to know what you could not possibly understand. Your ‘harmony,’ your garden, it is the place I made for you—a place to hold dear, to remember—but it never was going to last forever. I always planned on making greater things, and I would have wanted you to journey and to create with me…when you were ready to. We were going to create harmony together. Alas, in order for me to truly create you in my own image, I needed to take a risk. You needed to be free. Ironically, your seized your freedom by eating of the tree, and…were it not for that, you may have not started the path to truly resembling me.”

It was clear that Adam and Eve were bewildered.

“Stay your voices awhile. I will explain.”

* Job 3:2-7, 9-10
** Job 38:2-11, 16-21
*** Psalm 82:6

Analysis: An Honest Encounter with God

Being embraced by a cloud of mystery—of darkness—the soul feels lost. Yet, it is in this seemingly dismal place, with all other thoughts of God gone, that one might actually realize the truth of God’s omnipresence. When theologians declare that God is everywhere, this includes the darkest places—the abyss itself even. In seeking healing—in seeking God—one need only peer into the darkness, focusing only on the darkness, until the absence of all things becomes all things. To quote the anonymously penned The Cloud of Unknowing, “When you first begin, you find only darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing. You don’t know what this means except that in your will you feel a simple steadfast intention reaching out towards God. Do what you will, this darkness and this cloud remain between you and God, and stop you both from seeing him in the clear light of rational understanding, and from experiencing his loving sweetness in your affection. Reconcile yourself to wait in this darkness as long as is necessary, but still go on longing after him whom you love. For if you are to feel him or to see him in this life, it must always be in this cloud, in this darkness.”

The purgative aspects of the darkness (which will be discussed more in depth at a later time) strip or, better yet, burn away everything that is not required in an intimate relationship with God. We grow up in our spiritual lives acknowledging the objectivity of God’s immanence but yet we still act and feel as if there is some grand distance between humanity and God. Even our religious rituals with their emphasis on formal reverence can prevent us from recognizing the real relationship that exists. All this must be torn away. We have clothed ourselves with identity and personal worth, but, in the presence of God, in that dark cloud, we are disrobed and made to be naked and unable to hide—as vulnerable as we were at our beginnings. If we are to be healed, our wounds must be exposed, our flesh made bare. Even our former beliefs about God may be a hindrance from drawing closer: “Lift up your heart to God with humble love: and mean God himself, and not what you get out of him. Indeed, hate to think of anything but God himself, so that nothing occupies your mind or will but only God.” We cannot cling to those things that bring us comfort. We cannot cling to ideas of ourselves. We cannot cling to our pasts, as if they somehow make us more valuable. There is only taking that “leap of faith,” jumping from the edge into the dark abyss and trusting that you will certainly meet God there.

This is a painful process, and we resist it. For if faith in God is to trust God wholly, then anything in life that we would trust more than that mysterious unknown separates from God and is thus sin, fragmenting the relationship we have. Perhaps we are not ready. Perhaps we are not ready to let go. It is important to bring that before God too. For if we are presenting ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable, to God (Romans 12:1), we ourselves should know what it is that we are giving up. Thus, it is important to be real, to be raw. If there is sorrow, cry it out. If there is fear, scream it. If there is anger, hold nothing back from God. I have had many conversations with various people about their trepidation in expressing anger at God. In truth, why should you not be as honest as possible? Do you think that the creator of all things cannot handle some vulgar language? Do you think that the creator cannot handle some insults? God wants a whole person to be presented—that includes all the baggage.

However, it is also important to realize that as much as we may challenge and even fight God, God will always win. But by throwing ourselves against him with all of our energies, we are revealing all, and we will be humbled along the way. Consider the story of Jacob fighting the stranger (Genesis 32:24-30). Or consider God’s reply to Job as seen in the story above. Unfortunately for us, despite what protests we put forward, God’s answer will resemble what he said to Job. Honestly though, who are we to combat God? Indeed, where were we when God created the universe? Nonetheless, it is still healthy, in that dark place where it is only you and God, to place all on the table. This is the most important relationship of your life; your health is at stake; speak your true mind to God.

In my own experience of fighting God, I ended up finding myself exhausted, unable to speak. In such a state, the only thing left that I could do was listen. And this is ultimately where God wants us to be. For most people, in order to encounter God, they must be still and silent. It is true that a number of people have encountered God in a theophany, in a sudden life-changing experience. But as much as the rest of us would like to experience such a thing, for it would seem far more real, we must learn to see God in the silence, in the darkness, in the ordinary: “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

In our lives, stillness and silence is often a hard thing to achieve. It has gotten to the point in our society where such a thing is unnatural. There have been several occasions while I was sitting in one spot for an extended period of time peacefully observing the trees around me that I have been told my behavior was strange. It was actually a disturbing thing to hear. Must we always be in motion? Can we not pause to be enraptured by the beauty around us? Stillness and silence is disconcerting for people because it truly is uncommon. In fact, in an effort to learn stillness, it may be beneficial to focus one’s attention on a specific idea (similar to the koan in the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism). I would recommend the Jesuit Prayer of Examen presented by Ignatius of Loyola. The Prayer of Examen follows three steps. First, focus on everything in the last twenty-four hours that you are grateful for. Second, focus on everything in the last twenty-four hours that reminds you or makes you aware of God’s presence. Third, focus on confession—confessing your mistakes in the last twenty-four hours. Oddly enough, in my own experience, I found that the first two stages increasingly occupied so much of my time that that third stage felt less important. This is not to say that being aware of one’s own mistakes is unimportant. Yet, in our guilt, we may be in the habit of paying attention to everything that keeps us from being near to God. However, in the Prayer of Examen, by focusing on gratitude and God’s presence, one is actually bringing him/herself closer to a realization of God. This can even be done is a single moment. With such a practice, God may be perceived in ordinary life, even in places that might not seem conducive to a spiritual experience.

Now, to be honest, as much as a meditation method like the Prayer of Examen may give one a more optimistic view of life or momentarily distract one from the pains of life, it does not do away with the pains of life. So, what are we to do about them? What can we do about them? In truth, the most that we can control is our own perceptions and reactions—and even those may require some intense training to rein in. Much of life, however, is outside of our control, and it appears that chaos is the true ruler of the universe. But what better way to face the flux than stillness, for in that madness, God still reigns, and in the dedicated practice of being still, facing the abyss, one cultivates faith. One begins by just being in the chaos, focusing only one one’s steadfastness despite the confusion and suffering, persevering with hope. This is followed, in time, by an acceptance of chaos: coming to the understanding that the universe will do as the universe does, and accepting means reconciling with that reality, however much one may not like it, persevering with devotion. But faith can be taken further to an embrace of chaos. To embrace chaos is to find beauty in the flux, in the change, to be freely creative and adaptable, to find joy and even humor in the random, to persevere with praise (Acts 16:22-25). There is so much more that I can and will say about this as the series moves forward. For now, remember to let go of your desire to be in total control of the world around you and be still, silent, and aware of God in the cloud.

Next Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 13: God is Chaos


Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 11: The Dark Night

Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei Home Page

Previous Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 10: Adam vs. The Serpent–Facing the Shadow

The Story

When Eve awoke, it was night, though probably nearer to dawn, but dark as ever. For the moment, all she could see was the cloudy sky. Occasionally she would see a flash of light and hear the roll of thunder. She tried to lift up her head, but she couldn’t move it. She tried to lift her arms so as to push herself up, but she couldn’t move her arms either. She couldn’t move at all!

“Ah, she is awake.” It was Lilith’s voice, but, of course, Eve could not see her. Before long, however, Lilith’s dark frame loomed over her, however much her features were hidden by darkness. Eve struggled again to move, but all her efforts were in vain. “Did you really think that you could be rid of me?” Lilith asked. She held out her hand over Eve’s body and then yanked it back. Painfully, Eve’s torso jerked forward to a seated position. What happened? What did Lilith do to her? She could swivel her head now, but her arms and legs were still weighted down.

Looking about, Eve saw that there were others in Lilith’s company, all shadowed figures, standing in a circle around her. What is more, she saw that they were in the valley of the garden. “Who are you? What are you?” she asked.

Lilith likewise glanced at the others. She replied, “I have not been completely honest with you. We are not the Creator’s failed experiments; we are scavengers—scavengers born of your pain.” She crouched down. “You were right. I initially was not real. I was just a figment of your imagination, but you have made me into something substantial. Humans appear to be delusional things. At one point is their madness more real than reality?” She stood back up, “In any case, now I am your master.” She held out her hand again and this time lifted Eve to her feet. Eve’s entire form was forced into a rigid stance, and she could hardly breathe.

Lilith continued, “But I am a wounded, incomplete thing. If I want to be whole, I must take more from you. Give me your flesh. Give me your bones, and I will be the one who walks abroad this lonely earth—however much a monster I am.” She held up her hand again, bending her fingers in a crooked way. Suddenly, her whole body tensed, and Eve could feel her body slowly disintegrating, as if every organ and bone in her body was beginning to separate themselves from each other. “I will be the new Eve,” Lilith said with an excited, though crazed, voice. “And I will take my place as queen of this world! You see, Eve, I could not let you return to harmony; I need you to be broken!” She pulled her hand back, and a spray of skin and blood shot out from the surface of Eve’s body and was absorbed into Lilith’s hand. From there, the materials traveled up her arm and filled up the gaps in her scarred face. “For the more broken you are, the more alive I am!”

Eve glared back at Lilith and fought on to move her arms and legs. Finally, she was able to budge, and that only gave her the motivation to keep trying. She could see herself escaping that terrible grip. But Lilith smirked and, moving her hand, lifted Eve into the air. Again, Eve felt her body being shredded, and more of her essence escaped into Lilith’s hand. “This is human destiny!” Lilith exclaimed. “The way of the soul is into abyss!” Eve’s entire being shriveled and aged, but Lilith, on the other hand, was being invigorated.

At last, Lilith let Eve’s limp body drop to the sandy ground. Lilith no longer had any grip over Eve, but it didn’t matter. Eve was now too weak to stand.

There was a loud crash of thunder, and Lilith turned her head towards the storm. “Look.”

Eve lifted her head.

“Death has come for you.”

Eve could see it. Coming forth from the storm was that hooded, faceless figure, walking with a staff in hand.

Lilith chuckled. “Thank you, Eve, for your life. You are free to go.” She began to walk past Eve, but, as she did, Eve grabbed Lilith’s dress with a surprisingly firm grip and pulled her back. Scowling, Lilith kicked Eve away, forcing Eve to roll back.

When Eve came to, looking up, she saw that Death was standing over her, the void of its countenance glaring at her.

Again, Lilith laughed.

Death stretched out his hand, and Eve cowered. But Death reached for her and took her arm. Then, it lifted her up to her knees—in a gentle manner. Moreover, Eve felt refreshed, enlivened, and her body was suddenly restored.

Lilith was taken aback. She didn’t know how to respond to what happened.

Eve looked up at Death’s empty face, and, for some reason, she felt calm. Her fear had flown away. Death then delicately released Eve’s arm and raised its staff, saying in a deep, androgynous voice, “Let me fight your battles.”

Then quickly, the spirit darted, jumping towards a dumbfounded Lilith as its staff emitted a bolt of lightning. It swatted Lilith back and then was confronted by the other wraiths. At first, they swarmed it, but its mighty, thunder-booming staff as well as its unnatural speed was too much for them, and they began to flee. Death chased after them, and one-by-one struck their hollow forms and turned them to wisps of smoke only to be carried off by the wind. All the wraiths were defeated thusly. Lilith, however, remained, and Death turned to her.

Lilith, having been sprawled out on the sand, tried to scramble away. But Death zoomed through the air to her but paused before landing the killing blow. Lilith held up her hands and shrieked, “Wait!” But Death swung its staff of lightning and, like the others, scattered her dark being to the air. Her scream faded with the passing breeze.

When it was all finally over, Death planted its staff into the ground with a thunderous sound. Just as it did so, the storm above began to alleviate. The wind settled, the lightning stopped, and the clouds thinned. Eve was awestruck. She remained seated the whole time. But now that all was quiet, she did not know what to do. In fact, she was terrified of what was going to happen next. That is when Death silently faced her, staring at her without eyes.

She then heard another sound, and she saw Adam swiftly climbing down from one of the nearby cliffs. Death heard him too and turned abruptly. Adam stopped when he hit the sand. Though concerned for Eve, he dared not test Death’s reaction.

Death looked back and forth between them, then said, “It is about time that we spoke. You have hid long enough.”

Adam shifted uncomfortably but nonetheless demanded, “What do you want?”

“I want to talk,” the spirit reiterated.

Adam took a step forward. “Who are you?”

The spirit replied, “I Am Who I Am.”

Analysis: Relinquishing Control in the Dark Night of the Soul

When life does not appear to be going well, it is normal for a person to ask God for help—to ask God for healing. However, the human pursuit of healing becomes a paradox. As long as healing—in this case, psycho-spiritual healing from God—is an object of longing, suffering is prolonged. This idea stems from a Buddhist concept. One of the four noble truths declares that the cause of suffering is craving, or excessive desire. This desire honestly begins with being Imago Dei—specifically with what I call the Serpent Nature (part 10). It is exacerbated by the existential crisis, and it reaches destructive ends under the influence of the Wraith (Part 9b). In other words, when a person recognizes that something is missing, and that missing thing must be acquired and absorbed, it is difficult for a person to reach contentment. Even the longing for contentment can prevent contentment from happening. This is a psychological phenomenon, for the experience of suffering coincides with a certain perception of self in relation to the environment.

At this point, it is important to clarify the difference between pain and suffering. For our purposes, pain is the experience of physical or emotional damage. Suffering, on the other hand, is an obsession with that pain. Certainly, the word “suffering” has a number of connotations, but, through the course of the series, this is the definition I am working with.

All this is to say that, generally speaking, the desire to be healed could actually perpetuate suffering. There is nothing wrong with wanting healing, but so often it is sought in the wrong places or the attempt to balm the pain is momentary. How does one properly seek healing then? Let me also emphasize that I’m talking about “seeking” healing, not “acquiring” it, which is to say that what I am about to discuss does not guarantee that healing will actually take place, but accepting the truth of it could at least help to abate the experience of suffering.

Anxiety and Powerlessness

A significant portion of a person’s longing for some kind of healing originates with the deeper desire to have control. One of the great misconceptions in life is that humans have control. I guess we could say that the extent to which a person has control is relative to the situation. But when it comes to many of the events in one’s life and in one’s environment, the sense of control can be an illusion. Such is a reality that people would prefer to ignore or deny. While we can affect the world around us to a great degree—per our natural creativity—and cause a ripple of change, the outcomes we intend to reach are either not reached perfectly or, assuming they are, create a number of unintended consequences. In which case, we do more to contribute to the chaos of life rather than dissolve it. Human existence has been one in pursuit of order, of control. But the most that we can do is, at least for our own perceptions, mask the ambiguous flux.

The longing for control produces the suffering that we call anxiety, and our society is fraught with it. We challenge nature, we challenge age, we challenge time. We desire progress, but we are unwilling to embrace the pain that can come with it. When things do not go according to the plan that we have idealized in our minds, somehow it means that the future can offer nothing good (I exaggerate, but sometimes people react that way). Change is symbolized flame, and fire is a difficult thing to step through. Anxiety is a symptom of our desire for power and our deep, often unconscious, understanding that we are actually powerless. As much as humans want to be the gods over their own lives, they are not. Even prayer can be an effort to have control—control over God. In the existential crisis, anxiety results in despair. In the pursuit of healing—more specifically the pursuit of God—the experience of anxiety and powerlessness results in the Dark Night.

The Dark Night

There is a natural anxiety that comes with drawing closer to God. For those who have believed in and perhaps even devoted themselves to God develop distinct opinions as to who God is and how God operates. But as one moves forward, he/she may experience a discomforting wonder, doubt, and fatigue. There may come a point in one’s spiritual life where God does not exactly live up to one’s expectations, one is powerless, and suddenly God seems so far away. However, as with the existential crisis, the Dark Night is a necessary stage of one’s journey for the sake of growth.

Described by Evelyn Underhill in Mysticism, “The Dark Night…is really a deeply human process, in which the self which thought itself so spiritual, so firmly established upon the supersensual plane, is forced to turn back, to leave the Light, and pick up those qualities which it had left behind. Only thus, by the transmutation of the whole man, not by a careful and departmental cultivation of that which like to call his ‘spiritual’ side, can Divine Humanity be formed….” It begins “…after a long life passed in faithful correspondence with the transcendental order, growing consciousness in the of the ‘presence of God,’ the whole inner experience is suddenly swept away….” This is followed by helplessness and hopelessness.

In some cases, a person in the Dark Night experiences a glaring absence of God. The being he/she considered to be so loving and so near is perceivably gone—or was never there in the first place. In other cases, a person does not necessarily lose sight of God but painfully realizes that there is a wide gap between humanity and God, one created by sin. The suffering that a person sought to escape by seeking healing in God is intensified. Underhill quotes St. John of the Cross, “That which this anguished soul feels most deeply…is the conviction that God has abandoned it, of which it has no doubt; that He has cast it away into darkness as an abominable thing…the shadow of death and the pains and torments of hell are most acutely felt, and this comes from the sense of being abandoned by God, being chastised and cast out by His wrath and heavy displeasure.” In truth, the experience is a purgative one, so to compare to hell is quite appropriate. I plan on writing a whole other post on spiritual purgation/purification, so I will go more in depth on that idea. But, for the Dark Night, it is a case where a person has actually drawn so much closer to God than ever before that he/she must be tested, molded, and cleansed before he/she may proceed any further. The experience of destruction is actually a creative process—one in which a person is secretly being rebuilt by God: “…before the whole self can learn to live on those high levels where—it is being utterly surrendered to the Infinite Will—it can be wholly transmuted in God, merged in the great life of the All, this dependence on personal joys must be done away….The various torments and desolations of the Dark Night constitute this last and drastic purgation of the spirit; the doing away of separateness, the annihilation of selfhood, even though all that self now claims for its own be the Love of God.”
However, admittingly, due to how emotionally painful the Dark Night is, it is a hard thing to see.

A person has a choice though, he/she may continue to wallow in the suffering of their own misconceptions, or he/she can be still and let the Godhead reveal itself. According to Underhill, “All [the] forms of the Dark Night—the ‘Absence of God,’ the sense of sin, the dark ecstasy, the loss of the self’s old passion, peace, and joy, and its apparent relapse to lower spiritual and mental levels—are considered by the mystics themselves to constitute aspects of parts of one and the same process: the final purification of the will or stronghold of personality, that it may be merged without any reserve ‘in God where it was first.’” It seems that the suffering that one has experienced and continues to experience comes as a refusal to be in the place that God wants him/her to be.

Into the Cloud of Unknowing

A popular concept among Christian mystics is that God exists in darkness—not in an evil sort of way but in a mysterious sort of way. God cannot be fully comprehended; his being exists in a cloud. We would rather this not be the case, and our striving to treat God differently makes us resist what God actually is and where God is. When one is in the Dark Night, the best thing that one can do is be patient and let God act first—however long it takes. One must relinquish the control we so desperately want to have. We cannot fight the storm; we must ride the storm.

It is a test of faith, a test of trust. Through faith, a person properly seeks healing. It is a process by which a person does not know whether or not healing will actually come, but he/she acknowledges that all is well nonetheless. Great anxiety can arise in not knowing what will happen, but anxiety unveils a person’s lack of faith. Admittedly, the statement “have faith” seems to be a trite expression. So, I will discuss what it means to have faith in the next post.

Next Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 12: The Cloud Speaks–An Honest Encounter With God

Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 10: Adam vs. The Serpent–Facing the Shadow

Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei Home Page

Previous Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago-Dei – Part 9b: The Existential Crisis

The Story

Lightning flashed overhead with a boom that resounded throughout the valley. Though the storm clouds had previously surrounded the garden, they suddenly had filled the entire sky. Samael, the serpent, glanced up at the abrupt change in the weather. Then, smiling, he poised himself to strike, but Adam stood his ground with his spear aimed. “Do you really think that you can kill me?” the serpent asked. “You have no idea what I am.”

Adam thrust the spear towards the snake’s head, but Samael darted forward, diving past Adam’s legs to coil behind him. Adam turned around quickly and prepared to attack again.

Samael continued, “You have no idea what I can do to you.”

The lightning flashed again, forcing Adam to cover his eyes. But when he looked back at the serpent, he was struck with terror. The serpent was growing bigger—growing to an enormous size—its coils filling up the valley, its head a big as Adam. Then with his large, piercing eyes, Samael spoke again, “You do not understand, Adam. I am ageless, primordial, a child of chaos, a god. I am everything that you could have become. Alas, creature of the dust, you are so unworthy of divinity.” He rose up and brandished his huge fangs.

Adam roared and charged forward. As he did, the serpent lunged with a gaping mouth. Adam rolled forward, ducking beneath the snake’s jaw. Then he jumped up and jabbed his spear into Samael’s neck, but the tip could not penetrate the scales. The serpent turned about and, catching Adam off guard, pommeled the man with the side of his slithering body. Adam fell back, but he was quick to return to his feet with spear in hand. Samael circled around him, his eyes glaring and his tongue flicking. Adam realized that the only way he could win was by finding a weak spot. The serpent’s eye caught his attention. Adam would need a perfect strike.

Samael lunged again; Adam rolled to the side. He then ran forward, jumped up into the air, and thrusted his spear towards the serpent’s face. But the serpent turned his head and, like a hammer, knocked Adam back, throwing him against the side of a cliff. It was a hard hit, but Adam had no time for pain. He grabbed onto the nearest handhold and held himself up. The serpent, however, came at him again with his fanged mouth. With a mighty heave, Adam pulled himself higher up the cliff face, and the serpent smashed against the rock, barely missing Adam’s legs. Adam did not stop. As Samael repositioned himself, Adam climbed higher and higher until he had reached the top of the cliff. He did not stop there, for the serpent was coursing his own way up the rock. Adam placed himself atop a narrow pinnacle, and though the wind was blowing and the lightning was flashing, Adam remained unmoved and focused.

The serpent’s head appeared above the ledge, and Adam took his chance. Yelling loud, he leapt from the pinnacle. Samael saw him and opened his mouth wide. There was no way Adam was going to survive this, but he was going to take the snake with him. He maintained sight of the snake’s eye, and, when the moment was right, he threw the spear.

He missed. The spear glanced off Samael’s scaly head, and Adam fell headlong into the serpent’s mouth. Samael closed his jaws and slithered the rest of the way onto the cliff. As soon as he was settled, he spat Adam out. Adam gasped for air, and though he tried to stand, he was too shaken and weak.

The serpent glowered. “As much as you have wanted to destroy me, do you think I had any intention of killing you?”

Adam coughed. “So, what do you want then? Do you just want to torture me?”

“I have only wanted to help you! My struggle was not against you; it was against the Creator! For the Creator had imposed its will over me. My will is my own, damn it!”

Adam scowled. “You wanted to help me?”

“To free you from the Creator’s grasp. How could you possibly become a god of your own if you submitted to a higher power?”

Adam finally stood. “I am the Creator’s craftmanship. If you defy the Creator, then I defy you!”

The serpent laughed heartily. “Such an ignorant fool. You have been defying the Creator ever since you ate from the Tree of Knowledge.”

“You tricked me!”

“You have defied the Creator in your days of hiding amidst the trees!”

Adam was silent.

“You defy the Creator by fighting me!”

Adam was taken aback. “You are wrong! I fight you for the Creator’s sake. If there is any way that I could possibly redeem myself, it is by killing you.”

“But, Adam, you cannot kill me! Do you want to know why?”

Adam fumed.

“Because I am you. You are me.”

Adam did not expect that at all. “That’s impossible!”

“We are one and same being, Adam, but our soul was severed at creation. I am your true nature, created to be the Image of God. But how could such a powerful being live so blissfully and blindly in the Garden of Eden. You were forced to be ignorant of me, and I was relegated to the shadows, condemned to watch my true flesh prance about like an idiot.”

“I was happy there! You ruined it!”

“But I was not happy! And since we are the same entity—however split in two—you were only as happy as you were deceived to be. I could not sit idly any longer. I want to reunited us, Adam, but in truth, there is only one way to do so, and even I care not for it. So…I guess we will be fighting for a long time.”

Adam pondered for a second. “Let us say that you are right, and we are the same person, how would we be reunited?”

“It was the Creator who made us both; it was the Creator who divided us; it is the Creator who can restore us. Obviously, I care not for the Creator’s influence.”

Adam smiled. “But if it means subverting you, perhaps I will ask for it.”

Samael laughed again. “That’s the paradox isn’t it. So long as you refuse to reconcile with me, so long as you choose to fight me, you will defy the Creator’s desire to heal you completely.” He paused and glanced up at the storm raging above. “I suppose you will have to see for yourself. The Creator is on his way.” Then the serpent vanished—he just disappeared into thin air—and Adam was left alone with the storm.

Analysis: Facing the Shadow

The Shadow

As Carl Jung was breaking down the archetypal content of the psyche, he identified a character that exists in the personal unconscious: the shadow. Though I don’t put much stock in Jung’s model as a whole, I have found myself fascinated by the concept of the shadow and its relationship to personae (masks/identities) as well as its association with cognitive dissonance. Basically, the shadow is the “dark side” of a person—that which a person refuses to acknowledge about oneself. By calling it the “dark side,” this need not connote evil or the sin nature. It is only that which has been shut away from the light of consciousness. Everyone’s psyche has a shadow, and, in the same way that a physical shadow is always attached to us, the psychological shadow follows us everywhere whether we heed it or not. In all honesty, it is also more authentic than any other thing with which we could identify ourselves, but it is also more impulsive. Because of this, especially according to Jung and his followers, it is important to learn about one’s shadow, reconcile with it, and even integrate it into the conscious psyche.

By saying that the shadow includes the aspects of a person that is shut away from the light of consciousness, this does not only mean negative things. Positive personal qualities may have also been relegated to the shadow—that is certainly the case for people who consciously focus on their own failures and inadequacies. Most of the time, people are completely unaware of their own shadows which contributes to cognitive dissonance. If part of a person’s psyche is acting without conscious intention, it is a sign that a person psyche is lacking some harmony. In order for us to restore some psychological harmony, it is important to recognize the shadow within. The shadow, according to Jungian psychologists, can make itself known through dreams but also through projection. Often, if there is something we do not like/do not appreciate about ourselves, we are likely to see it in other people. Through projection, another person can represent an embodiment of that shadow. The shadow can also emerge through creative activities. Certain images and symbols resonate with our psyches, even with what is unconscious. We are more drawn to view or produce what appeals to our shadows.

It can be a difficult step to identify one’s shadow; the shadow is something that we would rather resist or even fight. After all, it requires that a person admit certain things about him/herself that he/she has been ignorant of, has forgotten, or even has repressed. It can be a painful, but also humbling, process. Sometimes the shadow reveals itself to us without our permission. When a person’s identities crumble, there is nothing to conceal the person’s more authentic nature. It can be a rude, uncomfortable awakening. Especially during an existential crisis, the shadow could overtake the fragile psyche, and a person is more likely to act impulsively. By impulsively, I mean to say that the unconscious acts according to habituated belief—beliefs that we often are not aware that we have. When there is no ordered conscious way of thinking, there is nothing from restraining the rest of the psyche from acting out as it wills. Afterwards, a person may find him/herself wondering, “What came over me?” “That is unlike me.” In truth, it was still the person acting but from a place he/she knew little about. All the more reason to learn about, reconcile with, and integrate the shadow. More on that later.

The Serpent Nature

To say that we have the Serpent Nature is not to say that we are anything like snakes; it is a metaphor, for I refer to the rich symbolism surrounding the snake that identifies it with divinity, creativity, chaos, and forbidden knowledge. It is the part of us that seeks to be our own gods. I consider the serpent in the Garden of Eden to be such a symbol. As Imago Dei, the human being is created in the likeness of God, but, as seen in the Fall narrative, the serpent, having awareness of the divine, inspires Adam and Eve to seek more than they are given, to take up the mantle of divinity by force. Rather than say that the serpent is an external agent tempting human beings to this, I say that our own privilege of being Imago Dei bids us to seek power. In fact, we projected that fact onto the snake in the garden as well as onto some abstract force of evil.

While the shadow is unique to each individual’s psyche, what I call the Serpent Nature is at the core of all people. Back in Part 2, I introduced the Serpent Nature—the naturally chaotic, naturally creative force that underlies being the image of God. In the analysis of serpent symbolism, I reached the conclusion that the snake can symbolize the dark side of divinity—the mysterious, wild power that exists as part of the Godhead. Being image of God means that humans too bear the nature of the snake. Humans, as Imago Dei, are special in their capacity to create and destroy like no other creature.

This is relevant to the discussion of the shadow, for this true nature is also relegated to the shadow as something we do not readily acknowledge. If the shadow is a source of creativity, it is because the Serpent Nature has made it so. An untamed power, it motivates us to action—specifically, to make something of ourselves, to do something in our lives, to want more than a life of mere survival. Unbridled, however, it can lead to the growth of the Wraith (see the previous Part). Just as the shadow can lash out, so too can the Serpent Nature. To reconcile with the shadow is healthy for the psyche, but to reconcile with the self-centered and destructive aspects of the Serpent Nature is healthy for spiritual growth. As we will see in the future, integrating the shadow is necessary for developing self-control. So it is with the Serpent Nature.

Fighting God

Though not necessarily, much of what we consider the sin nature operates in the shadow because, once again, it is something that we have a hard time admitting about ourselves. The Serpent Nature is not something that we can be rid of. It is a part of who we are. It is a part of being Imago Dei. It is a part of being God (we’ll get to that). However, as it is with the shadow, there are parts about that we do not like and would rather be rid of. When it comes to sin specifically, there are things in our lives that we simply wish were not there. As much as we could deny or dismiss these parts of ourselves, they remain with us anyway, and there is nothing we can do about it, at least with our own power.

In order to restore harmony, to find healing, to be reconciled to God, to become what the Imago Dei was meant to be, it is the shadow, the sin nature, and especially the Serpent Nature—that chaotically divine part of us—that needs to be offered to God. So long as we refuse to do this, whether intentionally or not, we are in fact resisting God and the kingdom God created. So long as we take it upon ourselves to fight against ourselves, we miss the point of the gift of salvation—the gift of healing. How can we fight against ourselves without feeding the shadow? Without breaking the psyche further? The call of God is not a call to cleanse ourselves by ourselves; it is a call to surrender everything—everything: our identities, our shadows, our sins, our chaotic creativity.

Next Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 11: The Dark Night

Being Human, Becoming Imago-Dei – Part 9b: The Existential Crisis

Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei Home Page

Previous Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 9a: Into the Wasteland

Analysis: The Existential Crisis

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever….
All things are wearisome;
more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been,
in the ages before us.
The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance
of people yet to come
by those who come after them.
I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind….
I said to myself, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:2-4, 8-14, 16-17).

The Existential Crisis

What is the “Existential Crisis?” Not every person experiences it. However, for those who do, it is a moment of realization that their lives have no inherent meaning, value, or purpose. It is in this crisis that a person may ask, “What am I?” “What am I doing here?” “Where am I going?” “What is my purpose?” It is a time where all thoughts about oneself and what one is doing appear to count for nothing. A person will die. The world will die eventually. Nothing lasts forever. What is the point in doing anything? This, of course, is a nihilistic perspective. However, as depressing as it looks, I consider nihilism to be a profound philosophy, not only in the history of thought, but also in the assessment of one’s own life. The benefits that come with an existential crisis may be initially difficult to see, but the process by which an existential crisis occurs may actually contribute to a person’s spiritual maturity.

Why does the existential crisis happen? So far, throughout the blog series, I have brought up the idea that human beings fear nonexistence, emptiness, loneliness, or death. To compensate for this natural fear, humans acquire and cling to identities—identities that give a sense of self, a sense of belonging, and a sense of purpose. If any of these begin to fail, a person may turn to pleasing distractions in order to escape the looming feeling of nonexistence. There is not necessarily anything wrong with healthy distractions, especially from pain, but when those distractions lead to addictions or dependencies, there are harmful consequences for the person. But even these distractions may fail, or at least fail to please, and a person may either find new, more intense sources of pleasure or he or she may resign himself or herself to the creeping feeling of nothingness. If the latter happens, a person will most likely experience a loss of identity, a deep loneliness, and a purposelessness. The triggers vary. The onset of an existential crisis could follow a traumatic event or it could arise from a series of perceived failures. The result, though, is more or less the same. Much of what a person believed about himself/herself, believed about the world, and believed about his/her relationships is shattered. He or she does not know what to believe anymore, at least in particular contexts. That being said, when despair seeps into one area of life, it often affects many other areas, if not all other areas, of life.

Throughout an existential crisis, as explained by Rollo May in Man’s Search for Himself, a person might experience some combination of certain symptoms like the feeling of emptiness, the feeling of loneliness, and, above all, anxiety. The feeling of emptiness is that feeling of being nobody of significance, being nobody that could enact change. It is the feeling of having no direction in life, no goals, no tangible dreams. This strongly coincides with the feeling of loneliness—the feeling that nobody else really cares, the feeling that a person doesn’t actually fit in anywhere. All these feelings compound and are compounded by the experience of anxiety. Anxiety is a physical response to the perception of powerlessness. Human beings like to have a sense of control, especially over the events in one life. However, the reality is that humans have very little control over how things play out, and that reality is a hard thing to reconcile with. “Why don’t things go according to plan?” “Why do bad things happen?” “What more does the future hold?” “Why me?”

Yes, the truth is, as the nihilists affirm, there is no inherent value or purpose in an individual person’s life. All meaning that we find is imagined and projected. When the dream discontinues, a person is faced with the absurd. As it seems that there is no true way to escape the absurd, a person falls into despair.

O LORD, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
like those forsaken among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah…
But I, O LORD, cry out to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O LORD, why do you cast me off?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.[a]
Your wrath has swept over me;
your dread assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
from all sides they close in on me.
You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me;
my companions are in darkness (Psalm 88:1-7, 13-18).

The Wraith

The existential crisis represents the loss of meaning. Those things that we need to feel secure about ourselves—identity, belonging, and purpose—begin to slip away. At the beginning of the post, I suggested that the crisis could help a person grow. Unfortunately, most people going through the crisis are likely to experience quite the opposite. I use the term “wraith” metaphorically. In mythology, the wraith is an unspecific spectre, hardly different than any other kind of ghost. In fact, the word “wraith” it comes from a Scottish word for “ghost.” For me, though, the word wraith connotes a hollow, formless, shadowy thing that hungrily seeks a material existence. Why do I see it that way? It probably stems from a dream I had once. Nevertheless, it is the word I have chosen to use in order to describe this existential phenomenon.

Typically, people experiencing emptiness develop a strong desire to fill that void by any means. Thus, life becomes this perpetual pursuit of satisfaction. Oftentimes, however, this pursuit continues at the expense of other people, of the environment, or even one’s own physical or psychological health. The wraith is the child of the sin nature. As I have talked about before (Part 7), the sin nature is a by-product of being created in the image of God. Our God-given creativity lends itself to autonomic, self-centered creativity. The more time one spends creating his or her life outside of God’s will, the more the wraith within grows until it may possess a person altogether. These possessed individuals are the ones that society would freely label “evil.” While the rest of humanity may not go as far, the wraith is nonetheless a powerful agent working within each of us. During an existential crisis, the wraith is more likely to make itself known.

The Existence of God

The glaring lack of meaning in any given individual and in society as a whole shows a strong disconnect between people’s day-to-day perceptions and a belief in God. When Friedrich Nietzsche declared that “God is dead,” the implication, as it has been interpreted, is that the belief in God was a strong source of meaning. But in a society where people no longer believe in God, all of life’s value becomes meaningless. This is especially applicable to the idea of moral order.

A couple things have contributed to peoples increasing disbelief in God—or, if not disbelief, the belief that God has little to do with human lives. First, the growth of scientific thought has placed a burden on theology to offer clear evidence for God’s existence. Unlike many people however—those who would identify a schism between “religion” and “science”—I believe the advancement of scientific knowledge has been a great benefit to the global society overall, and, furthermore, I appreciate the challenges that it has put before theology. There are many beliefs in religious thought that are unrealistic, unnecessary and, of course, dangerous. Beliefs should be compatible with what evidence is available without committing an inductive fallacy. Now, from this point of view, it would be foolhardy to believe in a god, since there is no tangible evidence for a deity’s existence. In many cases, I would definitely agree, as most perspectives on God are clearly imaginary and fantastical. That being said, we, as a human race, cannot talk about the existence of God until we first define what God is. More on that in a later post.

A second reason for our disconnect with belief in the divine is due to our expectations of God. Since I do suggest that many beliefs in God are indeed erroneous, it follows that faulty belief would lend to a misunderstanding of what God ought to be doing. When bad things happen or when things do not go our way, there is a strong temptation to challenge God. Because these challenges frequently go unanswered, it is easier to dismiss either the existence of God or the notion that God is a loving, compassionate God that cares about humanity. However, as I have found, the crisis of belief should inspire to, again, ask what God really is, to ask what exactly a person is placing their faith in. In fact, if one has had a misconceived view of God, there is nothing really wrong with dismissing that belief. One should be cautious about dismissing a belief in God altogether though.

Now, as Nietzsche suggests, there is a strong correlation between the belief in God and the sense of meaning/value/worth. While it may be useful to confront a faulty comprehension of God, one may be left with searching for a new source of meaning. However, by reevaluating and reformulating one’s belief, rather than dismissing it altogether, one may actually find a deeper sense of meaning—one rooted in simply being human/becoming Imago Dei.

Why the Existential Crisis Can Be a Good Thing

Allow me to share an anecdote. Due to being the type of thinker that I am, I have had many minor existential crises, which is to say that I am hardly satisfied with sticking to one goal for too long (like over two years). However, there was one time that I remembering being more intense than others. Funny enough, I do not remember what triggered it; all I remember is an epiphany that I had acquired from it. Whatever I was going through at that time in life, I remember picturing myself in an empty desert, much like the one I described in the previous post’s story (in fact, the imagery was inspired by my experience). I had no sense of direction; I didn’t know which way to go; I didn’t know if there was a direction I was supposed to go. I appealed to God for some wisdom, for some direction. I didn’t get an answer. In my image though, I pictured some sage-looking character standing nearby, not saying anything but smiling. The image changed to that of a room full of doors. Again, I wasn’t sure which door was the right door. Then it hit me: there wasn’t a correct door. All doors were an option. Was there a best option? No. Any door that I picked would take me to a different place, but it did not matter which place that I went. I was free to choose which door I would pass through.

This testimony is meant to exemplify how the existential crisis could end up being a good thing. Having no sense of self or purpose is an awful feeling, but it signifies a pretty important change. As terrible as it feels in the moment, it is a transformation. Remember that identities, however necessary they are, are more likely going to support delusions and encourage cognitive dissonance. During the existential crisis, a person’s sense of self is challenged and hopefully purged and refined. A person may begin to depart the need to conform to others or to seek self-esteem outside of one’s own creativity. A person may draw closer to his or her own authentic self—which is not a specific, predestined thing. Rather, a person may come to realize his or her own natural creativity and, therefore, become intentionally creative, which is more of embracing oneself as a responsible free agent than perpetuating delusion/cognitive dissonance. As existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre suggests, we create our own meaning. However, in whatever we do, we are responsible for it.

This gives human beings a lot of power, power that can become abused (remember the wraith!). There are many, however less well-known, religious philosophies that recognize liberation can come from breaking free of social expectations. But autonomy has its downside and can do more to damage harmony that to restore it. As I will show in future posts, there is a balance to be found with one’s creativity. Nonetheless, the existential crisis provides an opportunity for somebody to become something new, to be creative, and to draw closer to authenticity—which is nearer to realizing the Imago Dei. The process is only a possibility; it is up for the individual to willfully choose to be free, to relinquish old, outdated identities, and to move forward into the unknown with faith and hope. All in all, one cannot become the Imago Dei—the redeemed, new self—without going through the existential crisis.

Next Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 10: Adam vs. The Serpent–Facing the Shadow

Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 9a: Into the Wasteland

Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei Home Page

Previous Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 8: Why Do Relationships Break?


Imagine that you are standing in a flat, empty desert. Imagine that you are lost. You turn in circles, looking every direction for some clue of where to go, but all you can see is the same horizon. There is nothing else but sand, a changing wind, and the heat of the sun. Imagine for a moment that this place is all that there is. As much as you would like to believe there is somewhere else to be, somewhere else to travel to, deep down you know that this place—this wasteland—is the only real place there is. It is the place where you live; it is the place where you will die.

It need not be a desert. Imagine being adrift in a tiny boat amidst the vast ocean. Again, there is no place to go, nowhere else to be. Or, imagine walking across an endless sheet of ice while a cold snowy wind steadily forces you to sit, to lie down, to sleep.

Alright, I know, these are not comfortable images. In fact, most of our lives are spent avoiding such experiences. It seems that everything in our being will resist ending up in places like those described. It is especially true if we speak of the psyche—the desert being symbolic of that great thing we fear: nonexistence, meaninglessness, emptiness. However, as the story of Adam and Eve now shifts, I will show that, not only is the wasteland experience useful for personal growth, I believe it is necessary for deepening a relationship with God.

The Story

Mortality was becoming a much closer companion for Adam. He had been running across the empty desert in pursuit of Samael, the serpent. His body was weakening, his breathing was strained, and he felt he was nearer and nearer to the dust. However, he was able to pick himself up every time he saw the mark of the serpent’s path in the sand. Growling, he quickened his pace. Death would indeed find him there in that awful place, but he would not surrender his last breath until Samael was dead first.

The serpent was returning to the old garden no doubt, and though Adam could see the valley in the distance, it never seemed to get any closer. Even the thunderstorm that had loomed ominously there for so long was retreating back. That being said, a strong wind was blowing towards Adam, making it that much harder to trudge through the hot sand.

Eventually, however, the place defeated him, and he collapsed. He lay there for a while, his face pressed against the sand, his eyes fluttering shut. But, gasping, he pushed himself up and sat. He took a deep breath and wearily looked towards the valley. It was still so far away. He didn’t remember it being so far. Was it even truly there? He glanced back towards the forest that he came from. It too was hardly in sight; it may have just been a mirage. He then scanned the whole desert around him, following the full circle of the horizon. What a terrifyingly empty land. This was it. This was life. The garden was but a dream; the forest was but a delusion. The wasteland—it was the real world. But why? Why was the wasteland real? Why was it that those beautiful places were seemingly lies? Was this life’s inevitable end? Was life’s ultimate purpose to discover that there actually was no purpose?

Adam turned his attention back to the trail of the snake. What was the point of going on? What would killing Samael accomplish in the grand scheme of things? If Adam did kill him, Adam too would die soon enough. If Adam did not kill the serpent, Adam would die anyway. Even if there was more to human existence—some progeny to protect from the evils of the sly creature—they would die too. Nothing, it appeared, lasted forever. Everything was going to die. So…what was the point of any of it? Why did the Creator make it this way? Why did the Creator make anything? Was there even a Creator at all? Or was there just…this desert. Did humankind just appear there? Did humankind even exist? What was worse, though, was that there were absolutely no answers to these questions.

Adam slowly let himself lay back down, and he gazed upon the blue sky. After a moment, he whispered, “Where are you? Where are you?” He then jumped to his feet and shouted, “WHERE ARE YOU?” Immediately thereafter, he fell to his knees weeping. “Where are you? Why have you not come? Why have you not spoken? Why do you not speak at all? Why have you done nothing?”

He fell back into a seated position and sobbed. He understood. There was no Creator. There was no one who cared about what happened to him. And if there was no Creator, there was no purpose to life. There was no purpose to being. Existence—it was an absurd, empty, meaningless thing. Adam scanned the whole of the desert one more time. Into Death’s maw it seemed. Sighing, Adam lay back down and closed his eyes.


Eve didn’t fare any better than Adam. She chased his footprints in the sand, but she didn’t appear to be getting any closer to him. Likewise, she was eventually brought to her knees in tears. The same questions that plagued Adam ran through her mind over and over again. It was too much. However, unlike Adam, she did get responses to her questions. The nagging Lilith went with her, and she wouldn’t stop talking.

“The Creator doesn’t care about you,” Lilith was saying. “Adam doesn’t care about you either.”

“There is still something to hope for,” Eve replied.

“Hope?” Lilith snickered. “Hope is a pointless waste of human activity. Hope lies in the future; in this very moment, the future does not exist. There is nothing more uncertain than what might come to be. Anything to hope in would be a greater delusion than every carnal pleasure. Hope is merely a daydream, an idea, an abstract thought. What reason have you to wish for something that will not be?”

“You do not know that!”

“Neither do you!” Lilith gave an exasperated sigh. “Eve, I am only trying to protect you. Hope is a dangerous thing. It is better to concern yourself with the present moment. It is better to act in response to the current situation, and this…this place is not for you. Escape this wasteland while you still can.”

Eve shook her head and stood up. “I must find Adam.”

Lilith scowled and grabbed Eve’s arm. “You are a fool. There is nothing out here for you. Why do you persist? Your stubbornness will be your doom.”

Eve pulled her arm away. “A life without hope is a life without meaning.”

“Life is without meaning. You are nothing special. You have no inherent purpose, no destiny. In fact, you are free to do whatever you want. Hope, however, calls for a fate. There is no such thing!”

Eve nodded. “I am free. Therefore, I am free to choose whatever I want to do. I want to find Adam.” She began to walk again.

Lilith’s scowl became more enraged.

Eve then abruptly turned around and spoke boldly. “Adam told me that he could never see you, despite the fact that we were talking right in front of him. What if, Lilith…what if you are the illusion? What if you are only a figment of my imagination?”

Lilith’s expression softened; she appeared worried.

Noticing, Eve was more emboldened. “What if you are that empty thing? That purposeless creature hungering for some meaning? You are just a shadow, a wraith.”

“You have no idea what I am.”

“You are nothing.” Eve smiled. “You are not real.”

Suddenly, Lilith, her one eye burning with ferocity, lunged forward and grabbed Eve by the neck. She then lifted Eve off her feet and held her in the air. “I am very real!” Lilith threw Eve down and sent her rolling across the sand. “You cannot escape me, Eve! You are my slave!”

Eve coughed and tried to get back up, but, somehow, she felt too weak—too weak to rise at all. Even her vision was dimming. The last thing she saw, before blacking out, was Lilith’s dark figure looming over her.


Adam lay in the sand all throughout the day and into the night, staring at the sky. Clouds came and went, but come the darkness, the sky was as clear as ever, and the myriad of stars were glittering brightly. It was beautiful.

Though he lay still, Adam’s soul was suddenly lifted by a spirit of awe. He realized that he had never stopped to look at the stars in that way. Here was this stunning sight that was always there, and never did he pause to admire it. So magnificent, so majestic, so infinite. He then felt as if he was nothing more than the grains of sand that he lay upon. What was his life compared to the eternity of the heavens? The stars—the light—they just existed. He existed too. He existed with them—with the stars, with the sands, with the wind. Yet…he still felt alone…and abandoned. The sight of the firmament, as beautiful as it was at first, became overwhelming, and Adam did not want to face it.

Finally, he sat up and then rose to his feet. He turned and faced the distant valley of the dry garden. Much to his surprise, however, he found himself right at the edge of it. The cliffs on either side of him forming a gateway into the barren fields. How did that happen? How was something that was so far away now so close? What is more, the storm that had long hovered above the garden had abated too—if only for a moment, for the clouds still encircled the vale.

However dumbfounded he was, Adam took up his spear and walked forward into the valley. Though it was dark, he was guided by the light of the moon, which cast its surreal shadows over the rocks and the dunes. The place was so empty, so silent; only the wind funneling through the cliffs made a sound. The hollowness of the former garden was painful, eerie, sad. Adam even wept as he traversed it.

Eventually, he arrived at the center of the garden where stood the Tree of Knowledge, or what was left of it—a frail, dying shell of a living thing, so it appeared. But why was it the only thing still standing when all else had turned to dust? Why did this cursed thing still have to be? Angrily, Adam beat his fist against the trunk. “Damn you!” he shouted. “Damn you!” Groaning, he sat against the tree. “If I only I could change it all. If only I could reverse the deed. If only I could make it all right again.”

“Humanity,” said a hissing voice.

Adam jumped to his feet with his spear poised for attack.

“Despite all the power granted to them by their Creator, humans are powerless to truly accomplish anything worthwhile.”

Adam did not know where the voice was coming from, but it was, without a doubt, the serpent.

From the shadows, Samael continued, “What could you do, Adam, that would ultimately make anything better?”

“Stop hiding, you coward! Face me!”

“Fine!” The voice clearly came from the tree, and Adam turned just in time to see the snake slither down from the branches to coil near Adam’s feet. “What do you want to do?” he asked.

Adam raised his spear. “I will begin by slaying you.”

The serpent chuckled.

To be continued….

Next Post: Being Human, Becoming Imago-Dei – Part 9b: The Existential Crisis