Once again, it seems like we have reached a conclusion. It’s tempting to say that now we understand what Christ meant when he referred to the beginning. But let’s take another look at the second chapter of Genesis, pondering man’s original solitude.

In the second creation story, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). It is significant that this account describes the creation of the first man and the first woman separately.

It is also significant that the first man, “formed from the dust of the ground” (Gen. 2:7), is called a “male” only after the creation of the first woman. “Woman,” we read, means “taken out of man” (Gen. 2:23) Masculinity and femininity can only be defined in relation to each other.

So when God, before he creates Eve, says “it is not good for the man to be alone,” his statement applies to all mankind. God is speaking of the solitude of “man” (male and female), not just the solitude of the male.

Viewed in this light, “original solitude” has two meanings. The first has to do with human nature: among the living creatures of the earth, human beings are unique and alone. The second has to do with the male/female relationship: without a suitable companion, Adam is alone.

The problem of solitude arises only in the second creation story. The first account doesn’t mention a time when man was alone. There, we read only that God created man in his own image, “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). In the second account, the problem of man’s solitude is raised before his division into male and female.

The second story tells us that, first and foremost, man was responsible for working the ground (Gen. 2:5). This corresponds to man’s vocation to exercise stewardship over the earth (Gen. 1:28). The second story goes on to tell how man was placed in the Garden of Eden, where he lived in happiness amidst “trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). Then, God makes a covenant with man: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16–17).

This covenant emphasizes man’s subjectivity. Man isn’t an impersonal object, but a subject capable of rational thought and communion with God. Man has free will—he can freely choose to keep the covenant, or break it.

Man’s dignity as a subject is given more emphasis when God gives him the responsibility of naming the animals: “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name” (Gen. 2:19).

When Adam names the animals, he discovers the first meaning of his solitude. He realizes that he is in a class by himself, set apart from all the other animals. He is alone. “So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found” (Gen. 2:20).

This passage is leading up to the creation of woman, but it possesses its own meaning, even apart from Eve’s creation. Right from the moment of his creation, man is in search of himself. As we would put it today, he is in search of his own identity. By naming every other living creature, Adam discovers what he is not—but he still wonders what he is.

Here is the first clue to man’s identity: he cannot identify completely with the physical world. The philosopher Aristotle defined man as a “rational animal.” He is an animal, yes, but he is distinguished from the other animals by his rationality. Only man possesses language and a moral sense—and these things cannot be explained in terms of the physical world alone.

By exploring the world around him, Adam grew in self-knowledge. By naming the animals, he learned that he was peculiar among all living creatures. And because he was essentially different from the rest of visible world, he was alone.

For the first time, Adam became aware that he was a person.

Originally posted 2019-05-21 12:22:48.