Before Marriage: Solitude and Communion With God
The Bible begins with Original Design, not Original Sin; it begins with Genesis 1-2 and the creation of man and woman in God’s image and not the defacing of that image in Sin as recorded in Genesis 3. Thus, Original Humanity is not the same reality as Fallen Humanity. The first and last Adam (and Eve) are the only true humans that have ever lived. The Biblical order, as explained earlier, is important. In order to understand what was lost or damaged, we first begin with what was made in God’s image.
Because we are made in God’s image, Catholic anthropology says as much about God as it does humans. In Genesis 1 the name for God is “Elohim.” Elohim is the high God, the Creator of the universe and the God of Israel’s ancestors (some scholars ascribe this particular use of the divine name to the Northern Kingdom or a Priestly school of editors, as does St. John Paul II).
At the beginning of Genesis 2 a new name for God is introduced: “Yahweh”. Yahweh is the personal God of Israel, the one who revealed his name to Moses in the burning bush: “The LORD, the God of your ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has sent you” (Genesis 3:15-16). In Genesis 2:4 these two names are joined in a compound noun: “In the day the LORD God made heavens and the earth.” Thus, Genesis invites us to read these two divine actors together: the Ultimate Creator God of the Universe and Israel’s ancestors is ALSO the Intimate Personal God of Israel who communes with Adam and Eve in the garden. This one verse (actually, one compound noun) thrusts us into the heart of Israel’s theology: Israel’s covenant God is also the God of the universe. Though much more will need to be understood about monotheism, this is the first thrust in that direction.
So God is both ultimate and intimate; both Creator and Redeemer. In Genesis 2 we see this other side of God’s nature, and it also reveals something about us humans insofar as we are made in His image. We too, share in the depths and desires of God. Thus, Catholics are “anthropological maximalists” not “minimalists.” We are made for a depth of union with God and one another, and marriage is a particular sacramental expression of that union. The journey of salvation is one of deepening and virtue through our ongoing relationship with the Ultimate and Intimate God.
St John Paul II has illuminated the depths and desires in our original experience brilliantly in his Theology of the Body.
These original experiences have perennial significance, coloring all other experiences. In a nutshell they are:
- Original solitude – points to the uniqueness of humans as the only divine image bearers in Creation
- Original unity – points to human relatedness and communion, which is inscribed in the body as male and female
- Original nakedness – this is the key to understanding a biblical anthropology fully and will be discussed in relationship to the experience of shame.
We begin our discussion of Original Solitude with this framing quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“The first person is alone. Christ also was alone; we also are alone. But everyone is alone in his or her own way. Adam is alone in anticipation of the other person, of community. Christ is alone because he alone loves the other person, because Christ is the way by which the human race has returned to its Creator. We are alone because we have pushed other people away from us, because we have hated them. Adam was alone in hope.”
Creation and Fall, p. 96. Bonhoeffer
One of man’s original experiences is the experience of being “alone” (Genesis 2:18), the first observation of all creation that God says is “not good.” This solitude is multifaceted and each aspect has a bodily component. Man is alone and utterly unique in relationship to the rest of creation, in relationship to himself as a body/soul complex, and in relationship to God with whom he is uniquely related. We will explore each of these aspects of original solitude.
What is man’s solitude as related to the created world?
Man sees that he is different from the rest of the created order. His relationship with the earth is one of caring for and cultivating the earth, a task unique to man, a body among bodies, but one uniquely qualified to do it. Man alone is in a covenant relationship with God, tasked by God to care for Creation. In addition, man is aware of being different from the animals he names. He has a body as they do, but there is more. And man sees that among all the animals “there was not found a helper fit [corresponding to] him” (Gen 2:20).
What is man’s solitude before God?
St. John Paul II says that as “a partner of the Absolute, man is in a unique, exclusive and unrepeatable relationship with God himself” (TOB, 151). It is a mark of man’s uniqueness that God created him in a different way: God “formed [him] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 2:7). Man was aware of an inner life, an interior space that houses both consciousness and self-determination. He is able to be God’s representative on earth.
Thus we see two kinds of solitude: Adam is without Eve. Yes, but something of solitude remains even after Eve is created. It is a metaphysical solitude, the capacity of the human being to feel alone. If man feels alone, it is because only God can fulfill him. It refers to the transcendence and the infinity of God. Man is not made for isolation. Man is made for relationship with God.
Solitude is not simply to be alone. Solitude is the other side of the call to be in communion with God. Solitude is not the lack of relationship, but it is the experience of a relationship with one whose face I cannot see. I experience relationship with God as though something is lacking. I’ve been called to live with him. Man is himself only because he’s in relationship with God—only man can give a response to God’s creation of him.
Note also that God gives man the freedom to live outside of this relationship, but at a cost: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). These words speak of death, which is foreign to man’s experience. JPII says these words “appeared on the horizon of man’s consciousness without his ever having experienced the reality . . . a radical antithesis of all the man had been endowed with” (TOB, 155).
So this too is part of man’s “original solitude”: he can receive a message from God outside of his experience, and he is invited to believe it and to act upon it. The alternative between death and immortality is also part of his original experience.
So our original humanity is stamped with original solitude. This invites some of the following reflections:
- Adam discovers his solitude in and through his body. Adam’s work of tilling the ground and his creative task of naming the animals present him with encounters that reveal his solitude. His solitude was not discovered in isolation, but in an encounter with the world.
- Think of a time when an encounter with someone or something outside of yourself led to a feeling of being alone. For example, have you had the experience of being with other people—even dearly loved ones—and feeling alone? Have you ever contemplated a starry night, and felt an inner solitude?
- Consider: what was God’s response to Adam’s original solitude? What is God’s response to our sense of solitude today? What does the Bonhoeffer quote above suggest about solitude – our aloneness?
- Have you ever felt God telling you something, or asking you to do something, that was foreign to your experience? What are possible responses we can make to God in this situation? What role does trust play in our relationship with God?
P.S. The Matt Damon film, We Bought a Zoo, touches on many of these themes. If you have seen the movie, reflect on how the themes of original solitude are woven throughout the movie. (Fun homework: watch the movie!)