God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:5-7

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:3-4 (b)

Genesis 9:5 For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. 6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image. 7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it.”

“…I will surely require a reckoning…”    Though God’s heart was grief stricken by seeing the wickedness in humans, God had not before the flood laid down many laws for the humans to follow.   If He hoped they would use their free will solely for the good of one another, the humans had totally disappointed Him.  But when God was totally distraught with the humans, He suddenly brought judgment on them and wiped out all by His chosen remnant.  In this text God clearly lays down that there are rules to be followed, and that humans will be held accountable for their behavior.  If the humans before this law were held accountable for what they did, now God clearly warns of consequences for human behavior – His judgment.  “All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.  For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:12-13).

“…of every man’s brother I will require the life of man…”   The prohibition of killing one’s brother comes too late to save Abel.  It also is the first suggestion that brotherhood means responsibility for one’s brother, and that all men are brothers.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed…”    This is the first retributive justice law prescribing the death penalty for those who commit murder.  Was murder in fact a common form of violence that God so hated before the flood?   Is it possible that God realizing that the human heart is full of evil concludes that murderers must be stopped or they themselves will wipe out humanity even though God has decided never to wipe out the human race again?  God sees the need for greater restraints on humans – more laws, more severe punishments.  God respects human free will, but imposes more consequences for the choices humans make.  God rejects Lamech’s 77 fold law of vengeance (Genesis 4:24) and imposes only one death for each murder committed.   Because this law is given long before there was the 10 Commandments, some commentators feel this is a universal law established by God, and not the Law of Moses which is obligatory only for Jews.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed..”    It is up to humans to cleanse themselves of murderers.   God’s command shows that we do share a common humanity and are social beings.   Whatever happens to any one individual is the concern of all humans; we are social beings and have social responsibilities.  Humans must enforce this law and execute the killers.  We each have a responsibility for and to all other humans – to protect life, to maintain the peace, to enforce order.  We are not simply individuals – we have a relationship to and responsibility for all other humans and for human civility.   We have a responsibility to establish and enforce justice.  We have a responsibility to rid ourselves of violent evil.   Humans must police themselves to maintain order and to punish killers.  The commandments of God at this point regarding murder are punishment more than deterrant.  (Is God at this point recognizing the reality of His free-willed humans – they can’t be stopped from doing evil but can only be allowed to experience the consequences of their choices?)   God’s commandments do impose on humans a social order for the common good.  In Genesis discerning right and wrong arises not from democracy but from revelation.  

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.”    The rationale for the death penalty somehow is related to our being in God’s image and likeness.  “… for God made man in his own image…”   The rationale for not killing other humans is an issue of human dignity – each of us is made in the image of God.  We are not to deface the image of God on earth.   There is an intrinsic value in every human being.  The prohibition on killing is not only a matter of self restraint; it is a matter of recognizing the God-established value that each human possesses.  Genesis rejects a purely utilitarian evaluation of humans.  The value of a human is not determined by his or her net worth, nor by how much he or she contributes to society, nor by what value society attributes to them.  Each human conceived has value because each is in God’s image and likeness. 

What does justice require?

St. Isaac the Syrian  (d. ca. 700 AD) said that Christians cannot come to understand the teachings of Christ “through the discipline of the justice of the Law.  In the latter there is ‘an eye for an eye” and “a stripe for a stripe’, and so forth.  But the grace of Christ commands, ‘Overcome evil with good,’ that is, ‘whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also…”   For Christians Christ’s commands and teachings of love supersede the legal demands of justice of the Old Testament.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed..”     There is a logical problem in this statement.  If we are to take the statement absolutely literally without imposing a rational interpretation on it, wouldn’t this lead to the ultimate extinction of everyone?  Every executioner who sheds blood would also have to be executed by another human who in turn would be guilty of bloodshed.   This is another lesson in learning that a literal reading of the text is an interpretation of the text.  The text itself does not tell us to be reasonable; it simply gives us the Law.  We need to interpret the text in order to understand it.

“And you, be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it.”    Though the verses preceding this one focus a great deal on capital punishment for murderers, here God turns to what seems to be His real concern – that humans be fruitful and multiply.   Despite setting strict laws for dealing with murderers, God’s main focus is not on setting (arbitrary) rules for humans.  God is mostly concerned with the humans having abundant life – being life giving and life protecting.  As the Lord Jesus Christ said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Next:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:8-17 (a)

The 1st Episcopal Assembly: An End for the Beginning?

The inaugural Episcopal Assembly of the canonical Orthodox bishops in North America met this past week in New York.  This is a new effort initiated by the Patriarch of Constantinople to bring canonical order and unity to North America (and other regions of the world where no canonical unity has been established). 

The Episcopal Assembly issued an end statement which you can read.    It gives a brief summary of what they believed they accomplished. 

The opening address was given by Archbiship Demetrios of the Greek Archdiocese, and outlined what the official hope and opinion of the Constantinople Patriarchate was regarding the Episcopal Assembly.  Archbishop Demetrios was the Chair of the Episcopal Assembly.

A rousing speech defending the legitimacy in America of the Orthodox Church was given by Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Archdiocese, and one of two Vice Chairs of the event.  Metropolitan Philip rejected the notion that the Orthodox in America are “diaspora” from the old world and defended the Church in America as legitimate and established and asked the old world patriarchates to recognize this as fact.

The Episcopal Assembly acknowledged that there is doctrinal and liturgical unity among the Orthodox, but what is lacking is Episcopal unity (thus ecclesiaastical unity) in the geographical region of North America.  It is the lack of Episcopal unity that the Assembly was most directly addressing.  The bishops acknowledged that there has existed some inter-jurisdictional cooperation especially on the local level and through SCOBA (the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America).  They are trying to solve the canonical issue of Episcopal unity.

Their first work is going to be to create a registry of the canonical bishops, priests and local communities.  They also plan to form committees to work on the issues of concern of the Episcopal Assembly including liturgical, pastoral, financial, educational, ecumenical and legal.   The Episcopal Assembly did acknowledge the work of SCOBA for the past 50 years and sees themselves as the successors to this work.  The bishops decided that Canada should be treated as a separate Episcopal Assembly from the United States, and Mexico will be moved to join the Episcopal Assembly of South America for cultural and linguistic reasons. 

Finally the bishops wrote:

We call upon our clergy and faithful to join us in these efforts “to safeguard and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church of the region in its theological, ecclesiological, canonical, spiritual, philanthropic, educational and missionary obligations” (Article 5.1) …

This invitation to join the bishops in this important work of the church should be considered seriously by clergy and laity alike.  The Church as the Body of Christ consists of all of its members, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, we can work together to accomplish the Great Commission which our Lord Jesus Christ has laid upon us (Matthew 28:19-20). 

Christ, the true Head of the Church

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

The spread of Orthodoxy to America is supposed to be part of the work of the Orthodox Church, not just the result of the blowing winds of history which have scattered seeds to our continent.   We are not diaspora but disciples.  Let us hope that the Episcopal Assembly takes up that truth as they move forward.   Perhaps this will represent the end of the beginning of Orthodoxy in America, and now we will be able to behave as Church, not as diaspora or daughter Church, but as the fullness of the faith which the local church always is in Orthodoxy.