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Adam’s Dream

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May 19, 2012 Tags: Human Origins
Adam’s Dream

Today's entry was written by Mark Sprinkle. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: In his recent conversation with William Dembski, Darrel Falk suggested that humanity's bearing the Image of God is first and foremost about relationship, rather than biology. While we'll be looking at different aspects of the Imago Dei in the weeks to come, today we revisit a poem by Robert Siegel that also emphasizes interpersonal intimacy as the heart of what makes us distinctively human.

Discussion about Adam as the first divine "Image-bearer" often turns on the perceived conflict between scientific evidence contradicting belief in a single biological ancestor of all living human beings and Scriptural testimony that humans were made different from the rest of the creation: we have capacity to reflect the image of God.

Many posts on this Forum have suggested that the cosmological narrative in Genesis 1 is best read as being primarily about God’s identity and agency, rather than about the physical make-up or material history of the natural world. Similarly, we demonstrate our highest regard for Genesis 2’s account of the creation of Eve—the second fully human being—by looking to its meaning in terms of spiritual and interpersonal relationships, rather than genetic ones. While the specific “how” of our being made into the image of God will probably always remain a mystery, the Bible and creeds are clear on the “why” of our creation: we were made to worship the Lord, and be in relation with Him and each other. That intimate, conscious and deeply symbolic knowledge of our maker and fellow human beings is a profound difference that sets us apart from the other creatures.

I have frequently argued that poets are often the most clear on some of the important issues of our faith, including this one. Today we feature a work by Robert Siegel, who identifies the imagination as the faculty by which we recognize and name those spiritual relationships. As he says, “It's the imagination, hence language and art, that establishes the connections”; it is the imagination that allows us to conceive of and name the links between ourselves and creation, ourselves and each other, ourselves and the Creator God.

Though we often focus on Adam’s naming of the animals, and then even of Eve, Siegel helps us remember that it was in hearing his own name that Adam’s whole humanity came into being: he experienced the richness of being called by God to bear His likeness, but also of being called to by one that was profoundly “like him.” Put another way, we are speakers, but also equally hearers. May we, too, be awakened to ourselves and our image-bearing identity by a still, soft voice saying our name. May we, too, in gratitude and delight, call upon the name of the one, Jesus, who is both our God and our fellow man.

“Adam’s Dream”

by Robert Siegel

The Imagination may be compared to Adam's dream:
he awoke and found it truth
. --Keats

He saw the garden spreading past the trees
he'd been warned to avoid (yet keep a special eye on).
He'd learned by scents, transported by the breeze,
myriads of roses and how, by hand, the scion

of one to graft on another--and what was edible:
whole families of legumes, grasses, roots,
melons, peaches, apples, pears. Incredible,
the variety of tastes just from the fruits!

But it wasn't enough. Even the breathing animals
with friendly grunt or sigh, silken warm side,
and large affectionate eye were not able
to speak. When he named them, none replied:

His words fell dead on the air--though he said
them everywhere, walking or running to each place:
to the mountain, which echoed back the sounds he made,
or the still pool, returning his own gaze.

But no one answered him until one night in a dream
he woke and heard a soft voice speak his name.

“Adam’s Dream” first appeared in issue 3 of Stonework, the literary journal of Houghton College. © 2001 Robert Siegel

Robert Siegel is the author of nine books of poetry and fiction, most recently A Pentecost of Finches: New and Selected Poems. He has received prizes and awards from Poetry, Prairie Schooner, The Transatlantic Review, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and his poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. His fiction includes Alpha Centauri and the Whalesong trilogy, which received the Golden Archer and Matson awards. With degrees from Wheaton, Johns Hopkins, and Harvard, Siegel has taught at Dartmouth, Princeton, and Goethe University in Frankfurt, and for twenty-three years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he directed the graduate creative writing program and is currently professor emeritus of English. He is married to Ann Hill Siegel, a photographer, and lives on the coast of Maine.

Mark Sprinkle is an artist and cultural historian, and was formerly Senior Web Editor and Senior Fellow of Arts and Humanities for The BioLogos Foundation. A phi beta kappa graduate of Georgetown University, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, where he studied how artworks embody complex relationships in different cultural contexts. Since 1996 he has been an independent artist and frame-maker, also regularly writing and speaking on the role of creative practices in cultural mediation and renewal, especially in the area of science and Christian faith. Mark and his wife Beth home-schooled their three boys, and are active in the local home-school community in Richmond, Virginia.

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Bilbo - #70018

May 20th 2012

Hi Mark,

I was wondering about the print of Adam and Eve:  Who’s the artist?

Bilbo - #70019

May 20th 2012

Nevermind, I found it: Lucas Cranach the Elder-Adam and Eve 1533.

So at least since the early 16th century there was the idea that ideally, animals don’t eat animals.

Bilbo - #70020

May 20th 2012

Now I’m wondering how long the idea was around that there was no carnivorousness before the Fall, and whether the idea was universal, or just shared by some.

Bilbo - #70021

May 20th 2012

Strong Jewish tradition against humans eating animals prior to Noah:


Mark Sprinkle - #70029

May 21st 2012

Thanks, for these questions (and answers!) Bilbo.  Sounds like a research project in the making. . . 



Mark Sprinkle - #70030

May 21st 2012

Then again, I’m not sure the elk is that happy about the way the lion is looking at him.  Is the lion merely waiting for what’s about to come?  One of the “nice” things about both visual and poetic works like these is that they allow for that ambiguity and help us ask exactly those questions.  —Mark

Jon Garvey - #70063

May 23rd 2012

I can’t give a history of the doctrine of fallen creation, but it seems to have become populare only after the Patristic era. Space prevents quotes, but three from big players my be found at:

Irenaeus Adv Haer II.28.7

Athanasius On the Incarnation of the Word $3.3

Augustine Confessions VII [XII] 19

Penman, who knows a thing or two about church history, says the only people who believed the creation had become evil were the Gnostics. Luther seems to inherit that tradition when, replying to Erasmus, he says that the Bible says the Creation was good in God’s eyes, not necessarily ours.

Some things to suggest caution in interpreting the theology of the picture:

(a) Genesis 1 seems to imply vegetation for food on simple reading, so it may simply have represented that literally, without any moral connotation to later change

(b) It may allude to the Eden-like prophecies in Isaiah, symbolically hinting at the new Eden to come rather than the past

(c) In either case, it may represent Adam and Eve’s rulership and subduing of the animals, together with their own immortality and hence invulnerability. So the animals might well do their usual carnivorous thing in the outside world (as Mark maybe hints!), but are going to be on their best behaviour when attending the Royal court.

But a review of the late mediaeval/early modern doctrinal situation would help - where’s Penman??

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