A Brief Catechesis for Children of Eden

A Brief Catechesis for <em>Children of Eden</em>

The following series of Q&A is a collaboration with Pius X High School as they prepare to perform Children of Eden, a musical production based on the biblical texts of Genesis 1–9. This brief catechesis aims to clarify certain issues that are raised in the show in dialogue with our Catholic faith. The Emmaus faculty are pleased to partner with Pius X as “fellow workers” in God’s kingdom (cf. 1 Cor 3:9) to bring light to the gospel and to reclaim the arts for Christ. 

Children of Eden will run from March 21–24, 2024. Find tickets here

 

A BRIEF CATECHESIS FOR CHILDREN OF EDEN  

1) Father sings, “I wasn’t lonely anymore” when creating the world and his children. Did God experience loneliness before creating the world?  

The very first paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church begins with these words: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life” (CCC §1). 

Our faith teaches that God exists in a perfect communion of three Divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has no deficiencies at all, no need to rely on anything outside himself to experience perfect fulfillment. 

As an artistic production, the show takes dramatic liberty in Father’s expressing a loneliness before creating the world and us humans. In reality, God did not create us because he was suffering pangs of isolation. God created us out of “sheer goodness” so that we could be partakers of his divine life (cf. 2 Pet 1:4). It might be better for us to think in terms of God’s longing for humans to “share in his own blessed life” than to imagine that God had to create us to solve his loneliness.  

Here is a beautiful summary from the Catechism

We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom [cf. Wis 9:9]. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance. We believe that it proceeds from God’s free will; he wanted to make his creatures share in his being, wisdom, and goodness: “For you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” [Rev 4:11]. Therefore the Psalmist exclaims: “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all”; and “The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made” [Ps 104:24; 145:9] (§295). 

2) Father sings, “I woke up from a curious dream.” Does God sleep or dream? 

In the biblical tradition of our faith, it is common to attribute human characteristics to God’s essence and actions in order to make him more understandable. (The technical term for this is anthropomorphism.) For example, in the Bible we read that God saved Israel with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deut 4:34). We know, of course, that God is pure spirit. He did not save Israel with a literal arm reaching down out of heaven. God’s saving action is described in human language, as a literary tool, to depict God’s might in terms that we can understand from the limitations of our experience. 

Therefore, before creating the world, God had no need of sleep and no cause to dream in the literal sense. As the Psalmist says, “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Pss 121:4), which means as well that he never literally wakes up. Once Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, took on human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary, he became “like us in all things except sin” (Gaudium et spes §22; cf. Heb 4:15). Therefore, in his earthly life, Jesus would have slept and dreamt as all humans do. The Father and Holy Spirit remain pure spirit, without the capacity or need for bodily sleep and dreaming. 

To say that Father “woke up from a curious dream,” as it is depicted in the show, is simply an anthropomorphic way of highlighting God’s renewed desire and plan for his creation.  

3) The playwrights deliberately call it the “Tree of Knowledge” instead of the “Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.” 

Sometimes we use shortened forms to represent the whole of something (for example, “the United States” for “the United States of America,” or “the Diocese” for “the Diocese of Lincoln” or “the Huskers” for “the Cornhuskers”). 

The “Tree of Knowledge” is an abbreviated reference to the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” as it is named in Genesis 2. It is important to understand that the Tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden does not represent a test over knowledge in general or a means of gaining knowledge. The Tree has a specific name for a specific reason. God placed this Tree in the Garden as a test of our first parents, Adam and Eve: Will they choose to live in God’s world on God’s terms, submitting to his decisions about what is good and evil, or will they determine to make those decisions themselves, thereby seeking to be like God on their own terms? 

The history of humanity tells the story of which decision they made—what we call “original sin”—and of how well that has turned out. The Catechism says of this: “In [the act of original] sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him” (CCC §398).

4) Father’s song “Father’s Day” is a humanized perspective of Fatherhood. He sings lines such as, “They will keep me company, they will keep me young” and “I never knew that I could feel a love so deep.” 

Since God is “infinitely perfect and blessed in himself,” and since God exists in a perfect communion of three Divine Persons, without any deficiencies at all (see #1 and #2 above), he is not lonely and in need of our company; he does not age and grow old as we do; and he does not discover or get in touch with feelings of love that he never knew he had.  All of these imply changes in God, but Scripture is clear:  

“[The heavens] will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (Pss 102:26-27). 

“For I the LORD do not change” (Mal 3:6).  

“. . . the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas 1:17).

Once again, the show is using dramatic license to describe God in anthropomorphic language (see #2 above). It is not that God needs our company and is lonely without it; but as a personal and relational God and Father, he does desire a personal relationship with each of us as his divinely adopted children, with whom he continues to share his amazing love. 

5) Father sings, “Where there is choice, there is pain” and “Choose not to eat this fruit and you will never have to make a choice again.” 

Where there is choice there is the possibility of pain. Often it is the case that choices do lead to pain. One reason is that people do not always make good and right choices, and so they suffer the painful consequences of their decisions. For example, Adam and Eve chose to eat from the forbidden Tree in the Garden, and it resulted in physical and spiritual death.

In a different way, Jesus made a choice and suffered pain, not because it was a bad decision, but because he chose to suffer death on the Cross to redeem us from our sinful choices: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

Once again, the forbidden Tree in the Garden represents a test of whether humans will live in God’s world on God’s terms or on theirs (see #3 above). Had Adam and Eve chosen to obey and to submit to God alone as the decider of good and evil, then sin and pain would not have entered the world. It’s not that humans thereafter would never have to make any choices at all, but their choice would always be to trust and to obey what God says is good or not good. It would be a different world if that were the case, a world without suffering, pain, and death. 

6) Did Eve sin before Adam?

Although the production displays Eve eating the fruit—and therefore committing sin—before Adam, in reality Adam and Eve willingly sinned together, at the same moment: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen 3:6, emphasis added).

This is important to note because God had given the command not to eat of the forbidden Tree uniquely to Adam, before Eve was even created. It was Adam’s implicit responsibility, therefore, to inform Eve of God’s command and to protect her from the serpent’s deception; and it was Eve’s implicit responsibility to depend on Adam as the designated representative of God’s word. Both of them failed, simultaneously.

In Children of Eden, we can understand scenes such as Adam’s “A World Without You” as the dramatic interpretation of man’s intense struggle between good and evil, and between obedience and disobedience.

7) Did God really destroy Eden?

In the production, Father destroys the Garden of Eden as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. In the biblical story, after the Fall of our first parents, we read that “[The LORD God] drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:24). Instead of destroying Eden, God stationed angels there to prevent Adam and Eve from re-entering.

Why did God banish Adam and Eve from the Garden in the first place? While their exile from Eden was partly punitive, as a just punishment for their disobedience, Genesis reveals a much more merciful reason for God’s disallowing Adam and Eve to remain in the Garden after they had sinned. According to Genesis 3:22, God evicted man from the Garden “lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” If Adam and Eve had been permitted to eat of the Tree of Life in a fallen state, they would have been immortalized, by ingesting the fruit of eternal life, while in a state of separation from God. So, in “a plan of sheer goodness,” God stirs into motion his saving mission to redeem humanity. Admission to eternal life will be made possible by means of a “second Adam,” associated with a “tree” in the distant future, by whose “fruit” we may live in full communion with God once again.

Whenever we partake of the Eucharist at each Mass, we consume the fruit of the Tree of Life—the fruit of the Cross, the Tree on which our Lord offered his life for the salvation of the world. Of this Eucharistic bread, our Lord himself says, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). The flesh of Christ, given to us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, restores us to grace and communion with God, reversing what had been lost in Eden.

8) In the show, the mark of Cain is to identify those who have separated themselves from God.  What was the mark of Cain and what was its purpose?

We read about the mysterious mark of Cain in Genesis 4:15. The original Hebrew of that verse does not actually say that God placed a mark on Cain, but that God “set a sign for Cain.” It was a sign of God’s mercy and protection. Although Cain had sinned grievously by murdering his brother Abel, for which he must wander aimlessly on the earth, as in exile, God was gracious in providing a sign of protection for him against any would-be attackers. 

So what exactly is this ‘sign’? Many guesses have been offered, but most of them mistakenly assume that it was a visible mark placed on Cain (such as a distinguishing tattoo). A more likely proposal is that God gave him a city in which to hide, a place of escape and protection, perhaps as a precursor to the cities of refuge which we read about later in the Bible (Num 35 and Deut 19). That makes the most sense in the context of Genesis 4, where city-building is introduced in the immediately following verses. 

The story of Cain, then, is a two-sided story of guilt and grace—guilt for the crime he had committed and for which he paid dearly, but the gift of divine grace extended to him in the form of safety and protection. 

 

This piece was co-authored by Dr. Vern Steiner and Joshua Burks