Catholic Bishop, President of the IEC Commission for Ecumenism and Dialoge, Italy
Never like in this materialistic world, dominated by market laws, in which, every day, we instinctively follow the ups and downs of the spread and the stock markets controlled by speculation, we feel the lack of something essential, of a secure landing place that can change, not only the direction of the economy, but also that one of the entire mankind, making everybody at least more human. But, what is humanism? Of course we cannot deny that a form of humanism without God has existed and can exist, but, as believers, we are aware of how much man’s soul finds it hard to establish his or her real dimension out of God, out of a third presence, who asks men and women, with his own presence, the essential question necessary for living and living together: What is our destiny? What is our future? What is the answer to the Evil in general, and, above all, to the worst and invincible Evil that is death? Can convincing and real answers to these questions be given without seeking them in God? We come from a century in which strong atheistic ideologies, enveloped by a religious style, exalted man by making him the absolute landlord of history. But also, an atheistic humanism elevated man to the sole actor and creator of himself and his history. Joseph Ratzinger wrote a few days before being elected Pope: “The real opposition that characterizes today's world is not that between various religious cultures, but that between the radical emancipation of man from God, from the roots of life, on one hand, and from the great religious cultures on the other. If there were to be a clash of cultures, it would not be because of a clash of the great religions—which have always struggled against one another, but which, in the end, have also always known how to live with one another—but it will be because of the clash between this radical emancipation of man and the great historical cultures.” (Europe’s Crisis of Culture, Ratzinger).
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains - where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth”, a man sings in a psalm while he is going to Jerusalem along dark and unsure roads (Psalm 121:1-2). In this sense, God came to us through His word, for Christians fully represented by Jesus of Nazareth, to reveal us, not only His “being”, but also our relations with Him and therefore, to allow us to find Him, so that we can find again, and don’t lose, ourselves. Heschel writes: “The Bible is not the theology of God, but the anthropology of God, which pays more attention to man and of what he asks, than of God’s nature”. God reveals himself as He is in His relationship with man and in his care for us. Today, the glorification of person is deeply changing the structure of the man itself, who means being related to each others, able to measure oneself with the others and to live together. One self’s fulfilment can’t take place neither without the others nor against the others. The ancient Biblical narration of the first chapters of the Genesis describes how a world, in which human being wants to elevate himself as the sole landlord of his own destiny, creates only separation and violence and leads the creation to destruction. Reading with attention today’s history, with its wars, its increasing poverty, its continuous destruction of nature, its widespread violence, its injustice, aren’t we forcing the Creation to reject man’s work and his will of domination? The original pride, that belongs to man’s heart and shows itself beginning with the refusal to listen to God, becomes a source of inhumanity and the beginning of a process of destruction. Cain and Abel’s tale is only the beginning of the history of men who don’t know how to accept living with who is different, other than themselves, because they refused to make place in their lives for the humanity of that God who wanted their good, after desiring their lives.
The seeking of God has its origin in one self’s humble consciousness, not a proud and self sufficient one, the one of a woman and a man who recognize their own limits, and therefore can be amazed by the world and other people; who learn to read history not starting from a lonely “I” which defines itself without other people, and, sometimes, against other people. The first chapters of Bible are a smart reflection that tries to put on its feet a humanity which, little by little, lost their sense of God and consequently their sense of others, because human beings “elevated” themselves by thinking that could be like God. The choice of refusing God leads us to the elimination of the brother, a gesture that gives birth to a violence under control…. Just at the beginning of the tale of the Flood it is God himself who verifies how violence was dominating the earth.
The Creation Story of the Genesis 1:1-2:3 (4a) proposes, indeed, an idea of the Universe typical of the sapiential reflection: Creation, not only means origin of the animate and inanimate beings in the Cosmos, but it consists, above all, in their arrangement. It exists a precise order in the Cosmos which is part of the Creation as an ongoing process. It is presented as arrangement of opposing elements introduced in the Cosmos by separation. Light is separated from Darkness; the day from the night (1st and 4th day); superior waters from inferior ones through the Firmament (2nd day). The separation, which generated the cosmic order, is one of the mainstays of the creation process. It is repeated during the 4th day, strangely in the middle of the 7-days-structure, because the Creation takes place precisely in the recognition of God (it is the Jewish Sabba and the Christians Sunday). To the cosmic order, it corresponds an order within human beings, according to which Man has to dominate animals, and an ethical order in the relationship between Man and God and that one among men. The Flood is nothing more than the cosmic onset of a disorder that is, above all, ethical: “When the LORD saw how wicked everyone on earth was and how evil their thoughts were all the time” (6:5; see also 6:11-13). God decision is a statement rather than a punishment: “I have decided to put an end to all people. I will destroy them completely, because the world is full of their violent deeds” (6:13). The ethical disorder provokes the cosmic disorder: superior waters converge with the inferior ones producing the end of men lives, a fate already established by theirs behaviour. It is called Anti-creation. The Flood is nothing more than the cosmic onset of an anti-creative process at an ethical level. The opposing elements are mixed together and they overwhelm life.
“God was sorry that he made man” – God reaction to men’s wickedness is expressed through a feeling (“Repentance”) and a decision (“I will blot out man”). Does a desire of Evil against man and the cosmos belong to God? Pictures of a violent God are common in the Old Testament. Here, facing the Evil, God “is sorry” that he made man and allowed the beginning of a history with devastating consequences on the ethical plan. In front of Evil, God reacts. Sometimes, God reaction is expressed with anger, defined by Heschel “the end of indifference”. The Repentance of God for an action that led to the Evil, together with his anger, are, above all, the manifestation of God’s deep dissociation from the Evil, that, in this case, has ruined the whole process of the Creation.
That leads God to decide to eliminate every living being. What God wants is to start again by going back to the original decision; it starts with an opposition to the Evil present within the creation. However, the question remains open: Is it perhaps a divine punishment? I would say that God’s decision shows the anti-creative process started by man, to which God oppose himself trying to build again the cosmic order.
God’s will is clear with the choice of Noah, “who found favour in the eyes of Yhwh” because he was a right man, the only who distanced himself from men’s “wickedness”. With the Flood, we come back to the primordial chaos, originated by the ethic chaos of a world without God. God intervenes by renewing the blessing had started the human history (“be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”; Gen 8:17; see also Gen 1:22.28; 9:1-9), in order to re-establish the order of the Creation. The blessing in chapter 9, that marks a new beginning in the human history, includes an ethic norm that protects man’s life from going back to the Chaos. The text insists on the idea of man made in God’s image (9:6), basis of a mankind who cannot claim the right to kill. The text seems to consider this norm as an essential condition in order to maintain the cosmic order and peace, and see in Abel’s murder the beginning of the cosmic chaos. Life is in God’s hands, because man is made in his image. No-one can eliminate his equals. Only in the protection of this norm, the divine blessing expressed in the order “be fruitful and multiply” is realized. The human history is realized not only in the generation, but also in the protection of life.
The agreement between God and Noah ratifies the new order of the Creation and it is a promise of peace for men and the world. For the first time in the Genesis, it shows up the term be rit (6:18). The agreement assumes here the status of an unilateral and eternal promise expressed by God. It is a guarantee of the new cosmic and ethical order; it marks a new path in mankind’s history. This agreement has some characteristics:
a) the agreement is stipulated with Noah, with all mankind and with the others animate beings. God commits himself to save mankind;
b) this agreement includes the decision of not destroying humanity again (vv.11.15);
c) This agreement has a symbol: “the rainbow” (vv.13-16). A weapon, the bow, used as a symbol of peace. The divine alliance eliminates, or better it transforms a symbol of war into a symbol of peace. This is God’s will about the world and the history. This is, we could say, the human aspect of God, which reveals himself to Israel and mankind. For these reasons, a man is able to find himself only if he seeks God.