For having made man by taking dust from the earth, and having honored him with Your own image, O God, You placed him in a garden of delight, promising him eternal life and the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the observance of Your commandments.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 25)
The God said, “Let us make man in our image after 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 earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female, He created them.
Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2: 7-9
After each step of creation—light, heaven and earth, plants, stars, fish, birds and land animals—God looked upon what He created and saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:4, 1:12, 1:18, 1:25) After God created all of these things, God decided to create a human being. This is described in two accounts in Genesis, each one giving a key insight to how and why God created us.
In Genesis 1:26-27, we read that God made man in His image and likeness. The word we translate as “image” is the Greek word “Eikona,” which we also translate as “icon.” Thus, God made mankind as an icon of Himself. We were created to reflect God. We were created to reflect God to one another. And imagine what kind of world we would have if we saw the face of God in each other. The Genesis 1 account of the creation of the human being says that after God created mankind, at this stage of the creation, He looked upon “everything that He had created, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Men and women were the crowning jewel in the creation, because only we were created as an icon of God. He didn’t create anything else in the world like He created us.
The second account of the creation of man comes from Genesis 2:7, where we read that “The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” What God breathed into the human being was a soul, and this is what makes us living beings. This is the other thing we share with God. Not only are we an icon of God, but we have an immortal soul. We were created for life, not death. Death is a result of the fall, and we will discuss that in the next reflection. We were created to live forever, just like God will live forever.
The icon of God on us, and the soul that God put in us, these things form our identity, the two things that differentiate us from all the other things that were created in the world. As an aside, our identity as living beings derives from the presence of a soul in us. The life of an animal is derived from breath. If they breathe, they are alive. For the human being, we are alive with the presence of a soul. When a baby is conceived, before it comes forth from the womb, we believe it is alive, because of the presence of a soul. On the other end of life, life ends with the absence of a soul. Because we are rational beings, comprised of body, mind and spirit, we believe that the spirit is tied more to the mind than to the body. Again, because we are rational human beings. Loss of our brain function would preclude us from conversion or repentance. Thus, when the mind has expired, the soul has gone. In other words, if someone if “brain dead” they are not “alive” and further support to sustain life should be discontinued. (Of course, pastorally, we might wait for a period of time, have a second brain scan done, etc., to ensure that a person has no cognitive function. However, once that has been established over a period of time, then the proper thing is for support to be discontinued.)
After creating mankind, God placed man, in the words of St. Basil, “in a garden delight, promising him eternal life and the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the observance of Your commandments.” Genesis 2:8-9 tells us that “God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”
There are two takeaways here. First, the location of the garden was in the “east.” Secondly, this garden was “paradise,” in the sense that it lacked for nothing. There was every tree that is pleasant to look at and good for food. Mankind lacked nothing in the garden. This is also one of the reasons why Orthodox Churches are built facing east, and why we face east when we are praying. We are facing the direction of paradise, as described in Genesis 2. It was God’s intention that human beings would live forever in paradise. It was not His intention for us to die or suffer in any way.
God, however, in both His wisdom and mercy, gave us the gift of free will. He was not going to compel us to obedience. We are supposed to obey out of love. This is called being a servant. When we comply only because of coercion, this is abuse, slavery. God gave us free will, a gift that He will never take away. The test was to refrain from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Genesis 2:16-17, we read, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall die.” Had humanity chose to lovingly obey the one condition God set, the fall from Paradise would not have happened. There would have been eternal life and everlasting blessings. But that’s not what happened. . .