Blog di FORMAZIONE PERMANENTE MISSIONARIA – Uno sguardo missionario sulla Vita, il Mondo e la Chiesa MISSIONARY ONGOING FORMATION – A missionary look on the life of the world and the church
The Tree of Life /2
Reflections on the Book of Genesis by Luigino Bruni
“I took its ancient words and my old questions and compared them with the vicissitudes of history, culture and customs. In short, I used my Judeo-Christian faith as a key, and I was confirmed in the belief that in our days it is the only possible key to use.” (Sergio Quinzio).
In the beginning there is no Cain. There’s something ‘good and beautiful‘ instead, that, on the sixth day, with Adam became ‘very good and beautiful‘ (cf.: Genesis 1:31). It is the blessing that hovers over the created world. The bereshit, the beginning of the earth, the living beings and humans is goodness and beauty, which tells us what is the deepest and truest vocation of the earth, the living, man and woman.
It also tells us that the earth is alive because it is located within a relationship of love and mutuality. For the mountains, rocks and rivers are also living things, otherwise those other beings we call the living would be surrounded by death, and the little life that would be left would be just too sad (as it probably appears to the one who does not know how to see this life). The first chapter of Genesis is but a sublime hymn to life and creation, with Adam, the human being as its climax. And all these creatures are good, very good, beautiful and blessed because they were called to life by an overflow of love.
Yet, human history of that time (VI -Vth century BC), and of our own, was and is still the scene of fights, murders and death. The first aspect of greatness in this text that I find amazing is its ability not to dedicate the first words to the everyday human relations that the authors of sacred texts saw happening before their own eyes. Instead they had the strength and inspiration to dedicate the first words to harmony, goodness and beauty, to the blessings of the creatures and to the most beautiful and best of all creatures: Adam. We do not find this anthropological (and ontological) positivism in the creation stories from the Near East or India that are contemporaries or more ancient than Genesis. In these, in fact, the world is born out of violence, from war between the gods, by decadence and degeneration. However, the first word on man in biblical humanism is goodness-and-beauty (tov). Evil can be tremendous and crazy, but the good is deeper and stronger than any large and devastating evil.
Many of these early passages of Genesis were written during the Babylonian exile, or when its memory was still very much alive and painful. Exiles do not end unless there is faith and hope that the good is greater and deeper than the ills of the present.
In that good and beautiful setting Cain and Lamech, Joseph‘s brothers who sold him, Sodoma’s inhabitants, the golden calf and the Benjamites of Gibea were all already there. But we were there, too, with the concentration camps, the foibe killings, the gulag and the massacres of innocent people, merchants of the poor and gambling, wars of religion, 9/11 and the young people killed in Kiev, and all the evils and mass killings we are committing now, and, in all likelihood, will commit tomorrow, too. But first, first of all, there was this very beautiful and very good thing, made “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8): there was a blessing that was given for all times and that cannot be cancelled by all our sins. This very beautiful and very good thing may get ill and it may degenerate, but no illness of soul and body is strong enough to wipe out this beauty and cancel this primordial goodness. It takes a lot of pain and a lot of agape to continue to believe in this bereshit, but this tenacious and stubborn faith is the only way to save us from those diseases and from succumbing to cynicism and nihilism that are always lurking in our civilization, especially in times of crisis and exile.
Life does not die, we cannot be put out inside until – despite having to watch the story from the perspective of Cain and his sons – we do not forget that before Cain there is Adam. And if he is there first, he may be there later, too because the darkness of the eighth day fails to dim out the auroral light of the sixth – this is the main message and the greatest act of love that comes from Genesis and the Alliance. The hope that is not in vain lies in never letting the first chapter of Genesis be just a comforting myth, a paradise lost forever, theological smoke in the eyes of the people, a bed-time story for children or the first fiction.
To believe in this first word about the world and man, however, means not to believe the legions of cynics, the many friends of Job who want to convince us that the first and last word about humans is that of Cain. It is on this radical anthropological pessimism that we have built social contracts and Leviathans, criminal law and the courts, tax designs and tax collection, the banks, the monetary fund and euthanasia for children.
However, an economy that were to proceed on the primacy of Adam over Cain and Lamech would take the ethics of virtues as its foundation that has its real roots in the supremacy of good over evil, and it would not let itself be colonized by the subspecies of utilitarianism that are commanding it right now. And then it would see workers like people capable of good and beautiful things first, and it would design organizations where gifts and beauty could grow and not just cynicism and opportunism produced by visions and theories that do nothing but multiply the children of Cain. Then we would use more awards (the motivational tools of Adam) and less incentives (born from the Cain-like anthropology). The real man is a mix between Cain and Adam, but the Bible’s humanism tells us that Adam is the first. If the first and last word on us was that of Cain, no forgiveness and no restart would be real.
Those who take that first word on the human seriously, or receive it as a gift will have their soul’s eyes changed. They will be able to see that the world is full of beautiful and good things. They can marvel at sunsets, stars and snow-capped mountains but they also see very good and very beautiful things when they look at their colleagues, neighbours, old people dying, the terminally ill, the many people warped by poverty or by too much wealth, the grandmother who has returned to be a little girl playing with dolls again, Dimitry who is drunk and smelly in the metro, Lucia who has not woken up from a coma, Cain who continues to shock us. No Amazon rainforest, no Alpine mountain peak can ever reach the beauty and goodness of Mary, the homeless woman at Termini Station in Rome. Just a few of these ‘glances’ may be enough for us make us rise up every morning, to raise us from every crisis. That we are still alive is because these glances have been and continue to be taken, and we were not ‘destroyed’ because there was at least one of them in our city. They were taken by eyes that maybe looked at us unnoticed, starting with the first glimpse of the woman who greeted us when we came to this world. The charismas are above all the gift of these different glances to the world, that by looking at us and saying our name turn us into what we already are. With their being there they saved Adam from the murderous hand of Cain.
These Maieutic looks have been and are still there in firms and markets. I have come across them many times: in a contractor who placed his confidence again in a worker after a serious betrayal, in a worker who forgave a colleague after a deception, or in a hug between partners after years of deep and reciprocal woundedness. And they are there even in times of exile and crisis when these acts of imprudence cost and are worth much. Glances that are agapically imprudent, never naive, always true and saving, capable of miracles when crossing other glances of the same type of eyes. “And he saw that it was very good and very beautiful“.
by Luigino Bruni
published in Avvenire on February 23, 2014
Translated by Eszter Kató