The Sustenance of Life

Ain Soph – The Unknown God

Chapter 14

Fred Mayers

The Sixth Day

Genesis I, v. 29 to 31.

v.29: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb-yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat

v.30: “And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth,

-wherein there is life . . . . every green herb for meat: and it was so.

v.31: “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (English R.V.)

These verses. as we read them. appear to be quite simple and clear; yet. curiously enough, the more closely we consider them. the more difficulties and side-issues we find we have to deal with. It is not well to try to avoid or pass over either -difficulties or side issues ; they may prove to be both interesting and instructive in very unexpected ways. To deal with these difficulties and side issues will necessitate some “rambling”; but the rambling will be by no means aimless, and will serve to bring into harmony things which, only up to a certain point, have been dealt with in past chapters. –

In the first place, we notice that in these verses there is no mention whatever of the swarming life of the “waters in the seas.” If the writer of the narrative was really dealing literally with the question of material food for material living creatures in general, it seems strange that he should have nothing to say about the sustenance of such a large proportion of the world’s animated creatures. They had to live, just as much as men. animals, and birds.

“ Then the provision of “every herb yielding seed” and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed” for man; and every green herb for meat” for “every beast of the earth.” “every fowl of the air, and everything that creepeth upon the earth,” in itself raises a variety of questions. One would think that is must have occurred to the narrator that animals of the “lion” kind, for instance, would hardly appreciate the tender grass of the meadows as their daily diet. It might suit the cow, the sheep, or the rabbit. very well-but the lion! Surely his teeth were not designed for nibbling grass; nor was his disposition such as would incline him to sit down after dinner to “chew the cud” in dreamy inaction. And again: when he tells us that to man was given “every herb yielding seed,” and “every tree in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed,” and to animals and birds “every green herb” for “meat,” it naturally suggests the question whether “every” (the Hebrew word is “col,” a word which the greatest Hebraists tell us means “all,” without exception), includes the large number that are poisonous. Does he infer that, originally, all plants and fruits were edible and harmless? As far as the present writer is aware, there is no evidence existing to that effect. As far as we know. all species of plants have always had the same essential characteristics that they have now. Edible plants were always edible and poisonous plants always poisonous. We remember the story (II Kings IV. v. 40) of the gathering of some “wild gourds” and the consternation caused when they were eaten :”Oh, Man of God, there is death in the pot.” What looked somewhat like “gourds” or “melons” were probably “colocynths.” If we should suggest. as a reply, that God protected animals from poisonous foods by instinctive knowledge which He gave them, and that the same applied also to men in their primitive state, in which they too were guided by instinct, we only, raise the further question: “Why have used the word “every at all?”

The omission of any reference to creatures of the water rather tends to make us think about them all the more. It sets us thinking what they do live on; and that brings up questions we would like to have answered. The fact appears to be that the vast majority of them (and also many land creatures and birds) just feed upon other living creatures; the big and the strong on the smaller and weaker. That may be an explanation of the provision of such prodigious numbers of living creatures, especially in the lower forms of marine life; but it is not at all a pleasant thought.

Without being at all super-sensitive we cannot avoid being pained at the idea that countless small creatures must perish daily in order that others, in higher forms of life, may survive. Inevitably. we find ourselves asking: “Can it really be, that God, whose very nature we believe to be Love, and whose love extends from the very highest to the very lowest and meanest of all the creatures that He has created, can have so ordered the laws of Nature, as to make life for some dependent on the sacrifice of others?” Is there not something inherent in every awakened soul that makes us feel that the very idea of one life-form living on others is repulsive? Surely our poor little human souls cannot really be more loving and godlike than the God who created us and all Nature’s laws? When we read the verses we are now considering, just as they appear, literally. in English, do we not feel that. in giving to man, beast, bird and “everything that creeps upon the earth,” the produce of that kingdom of Nature which is without conscious sensation, for their sustenance, God appears to share, and confirm that judgement of our souls. If so, why do we find in Nature this “law” of life depending on the sacrifice of life? For it is a law of Nature; and what is more, it is a universal law. It is not the law of the creatures of the waters only. by any means. Even if man and the whole animal creation were to become “strict vegetarians” the law would still hold, because plants also have life. The sacrifice of plant life which is non-sentient does not shock us to so great a degree as the sacrifice of sentient beings. It is the idea of suffering which really repels us. But the sacrifice, even of plant life, is a sacrifice of life. When the present writer sees a bowl of beautiful flowers on his study table, fading and dying, he is only too painfully conscious that their life has been sacrificed to feed his pleasure in having their beauty before him for a few days. He may try to argue with himself that, if they had been left to live out their life in the garden, they would have died almost as quickly; but that does not remove the painful feeling that they died for his pleasure. They have done something for him which he cannot repay. How much else there is, in the experience of every one, that can never be repaid!

We cannot, however, in any way, escape from the fact that there is, universally, this law that life feeds upon life-and that the God of all Wisdom and Love has ordained it so to be. There is a great mystery hidden in that fact, and if we can unravel that mystery, we shall have solved the mystery of all the suffering-the sin-of all the ages. Even the salvation of a human soul involved the sacrifice of life.

But, is there not another aspect to this question of the sacrifice of sentient life? God permits it as a universal law of Nature-but only because it is a necessity. As we said in our first chapter, everything must have a strictly “relevant” -cause: Bodies must be formed from material elements; minds must be built up of thought-elements; characters must be developed out of characters; and life can only come from life. God never desires suffering for any creature. Even Jesus, although He said it “behoved Him to suffer,” did not desire suffering for suffering’s sake; far from it :– “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Nevertheless. He accepted it, but He spent the busiest part of His earthly life in relieving suffering. and God always mitigates suffering as far as possible. He has so ordained things that there are not only infinite grades of “life-forms,” but also infinite degrees of sentience in those life-forms. When we, in our imaginative thought “put ourselves in the place of” lower beings. we are apt to lose sight of that fact. The capability for suffering bodily pain, in man, for instance, increases in proportion as he becomes more highly developed; his nerves become more sensitive; his constitution becomes more refined; and above all, his imagination becomes more intense. He can also feel pain in anticipation. and anticipation of suffering may be even worse than the actual suffering when it comes. Animals, at least, are always spared that, as they cannot anticipate. They feel pain only in the moment of suffering it; and the lower they are in the scale of life. the lower is their sensitiveness to pain. Exactly the same principle works in spiritual life: Conscience does not greatly trouble a low type of man when he does wrong. It is the saint whose conscience torments him over the most trifling “peccadillo”-and even over quite imaginary faults. For that reason it is certain that the physical, mental, and spiritual sufferings of Jesus on Calvary would be infinitely greater than anything that the thieves beside Him were capable of feeling. If we suffer, God at least suffers with us; and in proportion as His consciousness is infinitely more extended than ours, and His “sensitivity” to all that is harmful. painful, out of harmony with the “good Law,” erroneous. or sinful, is infinitely more intense than ours. it is obvious that His suffering is infinitely greater than ours, also. Yet He chose-from the beginning-to take a path that He well knew would be a path of self-sacrifice; a path full of suffering to His own soul. Was not the Redeemer of humanity “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”? Could He not have said, as Jeremiah did: “See if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow”? with even greater reason.

The whole Universe began in the sad longing of Eternal Love for objects to love and be loved by. Every act of creation was a “giving” of something of His own Self. Self-sacrifice began. continued, and will finally complete and perfect His “kingly work.”*

God has suffered because He loved; we suffer in order to grow into His likeness. There is, and can be, no way to the

*The word, baldly translated “his work” in Gen. II, V. 2 = “melachto,” is based on the word “melec,” i.e., “king” or “angel.”

Highest except through suffering. But suffering is only the way -not the goal. either for God or Man.

Do we really think in our souls that suffering is a bad thing; something God should not have allowed? Most certainly not always. at any rate. How often during the last half dozen years have our souls felt the “glory” of some act of self-sacrifice, suffering and even death willingly accepted in the cause of honour or duty! Is there anything that can touch our souls more deeply?- “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” He knew suffering could be “worth while.” Those who have experienced sorrow and pain deeply are most able to sympathise with, and help others.

There is one more “side-issue” we may notice here. It is the question of what man owes most directly to the animal kingdom. All the components of our being. following the law which we have seen at work throughout Creation, have to be developed from mere “potentialities” through all the stages of creative work. For instance, in the mineral realm, every form of matter has to be developed from a state of undifferentiatedness in the primal element. The white chalk cliffs, the sandstones, the marbles, the granites, the coal beds, metallic ore beds, amber, precious gems, etc., all alike are the products of vast numbers of processes that have been at work for immeasurable ages. In some processes the vegetable kingdom has played a part. In others the animal kingdom has also played a part. These latter processes have been chiefly concerned with the production of that most valuable of all form of matter-good agricultural and garden soil suited for the growth of human foodstuffs. If we take the trouble to think the matter out carefully we shall see that things like “thought.” our “desire nature” and emotions, also “character,” have all been developed through long series of processes. “Man,” as he is to-day, is the product of all the past ages. There are infinite varieties of “characters” even in the plant world, but in that realm they are only expressed in “form” and “growth” and “manner of propagation.” In the animal world “characters” assume forms that approach what we mean by “characters” in human beings. Every animal expresses something which shows nature, disposition, or feelings. What we find expressed in animals, we can also find expressed in human beings, and so animals become representatives of human qualities. Most creatures in the animal world provide us-in their very names-with adjectives which vividly describe various human characters: for example, “lion” suggests courage, dignity, majesty, dominance, etc.; “tiger” suggests cruelty. spite, savage anger, etc.; “tortoise” suggests slowness; hare-swiftness ; “fox” -cunning; “rabbit”-timidity; “pig”-a creature wallowing in filth; “sheep” suggest the harmless, useful, unititiative, “follow-the-crowd” type; “viper” or “snake,” a silent, subtle, dangerous type; “bee”-industry; “butterfly’ ‘-pretty, vain, inconstant; “hawk” and “shark” -creatures preying on their fellows, and so on, ad lib. It is quite easy to recognise all these types of human beings-but with one conspicuous difference -In the animal world, none of the qualities mentioned is in a moral sense either “good” or “bad”; they are simply “natural,” as the animal is not possessed of any moral sense. But when the same characteristics appear in human beings. we instantly perceive that they have become qualities to be judged as “good” or “evil” in a moral sense. Man is given reason, deductive thought. and conscience” by which to judge qualities according to their relationship to God’s ideal of manhood. (The author of Genesis deals with this matter in Chapter II. verses 19 and 20) which “ideal,” whether we are conscious of the fact or not, is inherent in every man’s spiritual being; whether he is wise or simple, “good” or “bad.” Even the spirit of evil knows, quite well, “good” or “evil” when he meets them. In man these characteristics are a link with the animal world; they form his “animal nature”; but man has also the “human” qualities by which he can exercise “dominion” over all that is sub-human. The evolution of characters in the animal world was obviously the work of the Adamic spiritual forces, and it was preparatory to the “formation” of “human nature.”

Keeping in mind the matters just discussed, we may now be able to get at the real meaning of these (29-31) verses.

The Vegetable Kingdom represents all that grows out of the “earth”; figuratively, it represents man’s daily life with all the experiences it provides for him. Everything that can happen to man on earth, plays some part in building up his

“soul” and unfolding the powers of his “spirit.” It is all “food” for his soul and spiritual nature. Now we can see the meaning of the emphasis on that word “every.” Nothing that can happen to man is either “good” or “bad” for the soul and spirit-except as we ourselves, by the right or wrong exercise of our “human” qualities make them “good” or “bad.” Joy or sorrow, “good fortune” or “misfortune,” in themselves, are neither good nor bad for man’s essential being; but he can himself make them either good or bad. For instance: trouble, pain, or sorrow may come to us. We have a choice how we shall react to them ; we may meet them with impatience, resentment, irritation, anger, complaints, and rebellion against “the good power of heaven.” Every one of those things destroys something in the soul, and makes the spirit weaker and poorer. We have done injury to our inmost being; we have dissipated peace, lowered the level of our manhood; we have done ourselves a wrong that nothing outside ourselves could have done us.

But suppose we take another course; suppose we possess our souls in patience; meet our troubles calmly and with a brave heart; with an “active” resignation that is yet resolved to “make the best of things”; refusing to fall into despondency; keep a quiet confidence that God has some good purpose in all He permits. All these things are active forces for good. They are veritable “cherubim”(the word means: “those who build up’) they build up the soul, and strengthen the spirit. They make us masters of the ills that befall us, instead of their slaves; they develop faith and its mysterious power. In every way they leave us better men and women than we were before. “All good things, brother” (to quote Borrow). Yes; it is absolutely and literally true that no one, and nothing, except our own actions, or reactions, can do any harm to the human soul and spirit. That is the meaning of such sayings as: “All things work together for good to them that love God”; or “Fear not them that kill the body, and have no more that they can do”; but fear him ……. that hath power to destroy both soul and body……” The “him” referred to in that verse is the subtle enemy within every human being – that tendency which, because it is centred in our lower “self” and is “self-seeking,” is capable of destroying our true, immortal being. (He is “Nahash” – the “serpent” of Gen. III, v. 1.)

We will not forestall any further here what will need to be said in a later chapter.

The “green grass and herb” symbolise what is simple, harmless, useful and free from “sin.” Nothing below the human stage of life – least of all the plant world – can sin. This, perhaps, is why the plant world is chosen to represent the true “food” of the human soul and spirit

We notice that to the animal world are allotted the simplest means of sustenance; and to man something of a higher nature – something that is in itself both fruitful and the seed of fruit.

But before we close this chapter, there is just one word that should receive a special note. It is the word translated “meat” or “food” – “achelah.” That the word means “meat,” “food” or “sustenance” is universally admitted ; but it also has another meaning which is often lost sight of; and this fuller meaning furnishes us with the very thing that we need to complete all we have been trying to say. It is worth while to study it in detail.

The root of the word is “col.” This happens to be, itself. the very word “every”‘ which we have been talking about. It is composed of the two signs, “caph” and “lamed.” The “caph” is known as the “assimilative” sign. The hieroglyphic origin of the character is a hand in the act of closing on some-thing. Figuratively. it suggests “grasping” or “taking in hand” some object or the management of something; of assimilating something to our purposes or use. The “lamed” denotes extension, reaching out, etc. As a “word,” “col” means “all.” “every,” “the whole,” “completeness.” As a “root” it conveys a variety of associated ideas: taking hold of; seizing; containing; assimilation; chylification; consuming; consummating; completing; achieving; perfecting. These meanings can be checked by reference to words formed on the root, which can be found in any Hebrew dictionary. In this case the meanings that concern us most are that of “consuming,” “eating,” “feeding” on one hand, and that of “consummating,” completing.” “perfecting,” etc., on the other.

As we look back upon the whole story of the creative “plan” which we have endeavoured to unfold from the old text, does it not now commence to stand out as a closely connected logical Unity; one Great Idea. We have not yet come to the fuller story of the carrying of the plan on to its complete realisation. but we have a fairly sufficient outline of its character and purpose. We have seen “chaos” developing into a wonderful. ordered universe; the laying of the foundations on which life might be manifested; the conception of the vegetable kingdom, then of the animal kingdom, and finally that of the human kingdom in which God could realise his manifold likeness.

Every stage has been a necessary step towards the next higher, and the last step. when completed. ends where all began-in God. These verses which complete the story of the six “days” work just tell us that everything has been leading up to “man,” and that man himself has to give everything its complete and perfected meaning. Man is the ultimate product of all that has preceded him. All that exists is the material for his sustenance and complete development.

The characteristics of plants and vegetable “life” arose through their unconscious reactions to outer physical conditions. The characteristics of the animals arose from sentient reactions to the conditions and events of their daily life. Man contains within himself the essence of all the past. By his human spiritual qualities of thought. reason, and will, he has to carry everything to the fulfilment of its purpose, and its perfection in himself.

God, considering all that He had done, was satisfied that everything was so ordered that His purpose would, in the fullness of time, be realised. He pronounced it “Tob mod” = good to the utmost.” The “Creative” work was ended.

At this point the first chapter of Genesis quite logically ends. The first three verses of Chapter II are very commonly considered as part of the “creation” narrative, but they are really the introductory link with the “formation” narrative which we have to consider in later chapters.

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