I’ll not be attempting to follow a conventional outline of Orthodox thought. Not exactly. In fact, I’ll toss some very non-Orthodox ideas in as we go, because my goal isn’t to teach lessons Orthodoxy. I just want to figure out what the Bible teaches about the Creation and what it means for us today.
Therefore, I may skip some areas of Orthodoxy that I don’t agree with — such as their exalted view of Mary — and not bother to critique their views, because that’s not really my purpose here.
But I’ll be borrowing heavily from the Orthodox teachings. After all, most of us already know the Western church’s perspectives. In an effort to gain some objectivity, we have to look at the scriptures through unfamiliar eyes.
I take as my source The Orthodox Faith by Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. It’s available at the website for the Orthodox Church in America, which strikes me as an Orthodox branch that understands the gospel better than some others.
And we start, of course, with the Creation. Where else? And it seems that the Orthodox agree somewhat with my earlier posts in this series dealing with the “powers” —
In addition to the created spiritual powers who do the will of God, there are, according to the Orthodox faith, those who rebel against Him and do evil. These are the demons or devils (which means literally those who “pull apart” and destroy) who are also known both in the Old and New Testaments as well as in the lives of the saints of the Church. …
The ultimate victory belongs to God and to those with Him. Satan and his hosts are finally destroyed. Without this recognition—and still more—the experience of this reality of the cosmic spiritual struggle (God and Satan, the good angels and the evil angels), one cannot truly be called an Orthodox Christian who sees and lives according to the deepest realities of life.
Most Protestants wouldn’t greatly argue with this point of view, but few would see the Bible’s teachings on demons and the devil as particularly important.
Man is God’s special creature. He is the only one “created in the image and likeness of God” (Gen 1:26). He is created by God from the dust at the end of the process of creation (the “sixth day”) and by the special will of God. He is made to breathe “the breath of life” (Gen 2:7), to know God, to have dominion over all that God has made.
This idea is common to Catholicism and Protestantism as well. However, most Western teaching makes little of the fact that man is to have dominion (or to rule or reign over) the Creation.
This is, however, a key part of the thinking of the Orthodox as well as that of N. T. Wright in his recently published Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. (We’ll return to this topic.)
As the image of God, ruler over creation and co-creator with the Uncreated Maker, man has the task to “reflect” God in creation; to make His presence, His will and His powers spread throughout the universe; to transform all that exists into the paradise of God.
Really? Is man a “co-creator” with God himself? Not a co-creator of the Creation, of course, but rather does man participate with God in continuing to create?
And if so, is it truly man’s purpose to transform the universe back into Eden?
It is the Orthodox doctrine that one can understand and appreciate what it means to be human only in the light of the full revelation of Jesus Christ. Being the Divine Word and Son of God in human flesh, Jesus reveals the real meaning of manhood. As the Perfect Man and the Last Adam, the “man from heaven,” Jesus gives us the proper interpretation of the story of creation given in the book of Genesis. For as the Apostle Paul has written, Adam finds his significance as “the type (or figure) of the one who was to come,” namely Jesus Christ (Rom 5:14).
Now, this is unfamiliar thinking but surely right. Jesus is the ultimate Example of who man was always meant to be. He is, after all, the very Image of God — which is what man was created to be. It fits.
According to Orthodox theology, to bear the image of God is to be like Christ, the uncreated Image of God, and to share in all of the spiritual attributes of divinity. It is, in the words of the holy fathers, to become by divine grace all that God Himself is by nature.
Amen. Again, it’s unfamiliar teaching in most Western churches, but it’s a doctrine we’re finding more and more of via narrative hermeneutics. The Orthodox go quite far with it —
If God is a free, spiritual, personal Being, so human beings, male and female, are to be the same. If God is so powerful and creative, having dominion over all creation, so human creatures, made in His image and according to His likeness, are also to exercise dominion in the world. If God exercises dominion and authority not by tyranny and oppression, but by loving kindness and service, so are His creatures to do likewise. If God Himself is love, mercy, compassion and care in all things, so must His creatures, made to be like Him, also be the same. And finally, if God lives forever in eternal life, never dying, but always existing in perfectly joyful and harmonious beauty and happiness with all of creation, so too are human beings made for everlasting life in joyful and harmonious communion with God and the whole of creation.
Human nature, therefore, is created by God to grow and develop through participation in the nature of God for all eternity. Man is made to become ever more Godlike forever, even in the Kingdom of God at the end of this age, when Christ will come again in glory to raise the dead and give life to those who love Him.
Hmm … To participate “in the nature of God” is not to be all-powerful so much as to take on the personality and character of God himself — it seems.