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Christian Orthodox Icon–The Creation of the World

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…”  And the Lord God formed man of the mud of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being…and He put them in Paradise.  God said, “It is very good.”

Genesis 1:26, 31; 2:7-8

There is a story that is told of a visitor to an Orthodox monastery on the famous Mt. Athos in Greece.  Out for a walk, the visitor encounters a monk. Wanting to be friendly, the man says, “Hi, my name is Joe.  I’m visiting from America.”  Stopping, the monk raises his eyes, and, looking at the visitor, replies, “My name is Sin.  I come from mud.”  The visitor is left with his mouth agape.

Mud.  We rarely give it much thought unless we get it on ourselves, our clothes, or our shoes.  Mud comes in various types…some is as slippery as grease, another is as sticky as glue.  Mud isn’t good for much.  Kids make pies with it, play in it, and throw it at each other.  Once we outgrow childhood, we find mud has some limited use; however, mostly we try to avoid it.  By and large, mud is only a nuisance.

Where we see nuisance, God saw the possibility of sharing Himself.

God brought a pile of mud to life; He gave “non-being” mud the gift of “being.”

It is hard to imagine why God would animate a pile of mud by breathing the life into it.  What’s more, He gave the mud not just simple life, but He breathed the life of His Spirit into it.  He made the mud into His image and likeness by giving the mud the ability to create unimaginable beauty, the capability of engaging in complex reasoning, and the desire for selfless love and sacrifice for other lumps of mud.  He gave the mud the ability to contemplate and love God Himself, to become one with God as lovers do.  And He put the mud in a Garden and walked with the mud.

There is another group to whom God gave the gift of being: the angels.  We are never told whether they, too, came from mud, from something else, or were made out of nothing.  Despite being in the presence of God and enjoying the gifts of God, some angels wanted more.  But, surely they must have known they could never overthrow God.  Perhaps they thought they could get at God another way: by throwing mud at Him. 

These demon-angels were able to convince the animated mud that it could have “being” on its own, without God.  So encouraged, the mud seemed eager to strike out on its own, beholding to no other being, to stand on its own two feet, to pull itself up by its own bootstraps, to become its own man or woman.  So, the mud turned away from God, and God allowed mud to act as mud.

Throughout the centuries, the mud has made remarkable progress.  The mud has advanced from existing as hunter-gathering mud to gaining the knowledge and ability to put mud on the moon.

However, the rebellion against God came at a cost to the mud. 

Everything became harder for the mud.  It was harder for the mud to survive; the earth, of which the mud was once a part, did not yield its fruits and grains easily to the mud.  In fact, the earth itself often rebels against the mud as the mud tries to subdue it.  And, mud throws mud at mud, sometimes causing mass destruction of other mud.  What began as a paradise for the mud became, well, a muddy mess.  You see, when the mud decided to go it alone, without God, the mud turned its back to God.  This gives great pleasure to the demon-angels who continue to whisper to the mud, “You don’t need God.”

But, the mud has never really been apart from God.  What the mud doesn’t know is that even in rebellion against God, it is God that sustains the mud, preventing it from returning to inanimate mud, to “non-being.”

Something else the mud does not know: there can be no status quo.  Over the centuries the consequences of the rebellion are slowly hardening into stone the hearts of the mud; the mud is slowly returning to its original non-being existence.  With no intervention, the mud will once again become just mud.  But because God so loved the mud, He has refused to allow that to happen.  Something had to be done to restore the relationship between God and the mud.  And it can only be done by God.

So, like a comic book superhero, God came to the mud’s rescue, swooping in to offer the mud a way to be saved.

Here is what the Church tells us about the rebellion: God knows that the mud’s rebellion was inaugurated by a trick of the demon-angels.  He knows it was not a rebellion perpetrated and sustained by mud law-breakers.  Further, God knows that the mud was and remains badly wounded by the rebellion and continue to live in a world deeply scarred by the rebellion.  Therefore, God knows that the mud does not need a lawyer but a physician.

So, God sent us a physician.  His Son.  Who became mud.  The God-mud.  the God-mud lived among the mud and told the mud why He came:

[My Father] has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

Jesus, Luke 4:18-19

But, sending His son, the Great Physician, came at a cost, a sacrifice, to God.

No, God’s sacrifice was not a sacrifice where God substituted Himself (His son) and took the punishment due the mud because of the mud’s rebellious act.  The mud’s rebellion wasn’t an act that required the punishment of someone, either the mud or God’s Son.  Remember, the mud are not law-breaking criminals.

And, no, neither has God viewed the mud’s rebellion as an insult to His honor requiring “satisfaction” like the olden days in which people dueled over matters of honor.  The God-mud Jesus was not sent to substitute for the mud to give God “satisfaction” and restore God’s honor by dying on the cross.  Remember, God is humble.

In fact, Jesus’ sacrifice was not something required of the mud by God but a gift to the mud from God.

God’s sacrifice was the sacrifice of a lover for the beloved, for without sacrifice between lovers there can be no love at all.  Jesus, the God-mud, showed God’s True Love for the mud.

The God-mud gave up the prerogatives of being God and came to live in the mud and among the mud, experiencing heat and cold, love and hate, joy and sadness, pain and delight…all that mud experiences.  And then the God-mud died as mud dies.  In fact, the God-mud so loved the mud He allowed the mud to kill Him so that the mud might know the depth of God’s True Love.

And then…

After three days the God-mud returned to life.  Death, which has held the mud captive was defeated.

This is the sacrifice of Jesus (to paraphrase St. Athanasius, from over 1700 years ago): God became mud so that by His grace the mud could become like God.  Jesus was born as mud, lived, died, and resurrected in order to defeat the mud’s greatest enemy: death.  Jesus freed all mud-kind to enter into a loving relationship with Him.  This is God’s great gift to all mud-kind.  Jesus the God-man is the prototype and the “telos” of all mud.

Curiously, though, when Jesus’ closest mud companions first saw Him again, they scarcely recognized Him.  He looked somehow…different.  It seems that although the mud was originally made in God’s image, when the mud first rebelled against God all those years ago the mud’s appearance changed, the mud began to look more mud-like than God-like.  The companions struggled to recognize the God-mud because when the God-mud returned to life He was no longer the God-mud; no, He is now the God-man.  The God-mud, now God-man,  is now the first “fully human” being: a human properly joined in oneness with God.  And that is how the mud was always meant to be.

The glory of God is a human being fully alive!

—St Irenaeus, c. 1st century

A fully human being is a being whom will one day emerge from the mud.  In this life all we can do is strive toward the fullness of being human; however, we remain mud, but  infused with God’s Spirt, who striving moment-by-moment to love God, to be one with Him and with other human beings.

Our hope is that one day we will be resurrected as fully human beings.  And this is eternal life in  Paradise, which is not so much a location but a state of relationship, of being one with God and other fully humans beings.

It is an easy transition from being mud to becoming a fully human being, but one that will be the hardest thing you have ever done.  You will spend the rest of your life wallowing in and battling your muddy nature as you cooperate with God Whom will transform your mud into the fullness of humanity.

If you want to start, just say to God, “I no longer want to be mud.  Make me a fully human.”  Then, hold on…God will say to you, “Let us make a human, it is very good.”