Monday, June 5, 2017

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

The Narrative Lectionary begins the Year 4 cycle with this lesson.  The Revised Common Lectionary includes it for Holy Trinity Sunday (Year A); it is also in the Easter Vigil
Summary:  I'd like to offer in Genesis 1 order is not a bad thing.  The enemy seems to be a lack of structure, authority and clarity.  To be brought into God's creative task, namely, to be reestablished in his image, is to be brought into the task of organizing creation.  It seems like much of the creative task of today's world, if not today's church, is the breaking free of authority.  But fragmented or autonomous living is not the intention of God's creation.  I do not argue, nor do I think Genesis 1 justifies, huge systems that simply promote uniformity if not excessive consumption of resources.  Yet, I think Genesis 1 does speak against our universal, but particularly 21st century American, notion of autonomy as the goal of the human, if not even the spiritual human.

Key Words/Concepts:
ברה (b-r-h, "create", Genesis 1:1, 1:27, 2:3)  The Bible uses many words to describe God's creative activity in Genesis 1.  Surprisingly, many of the words are common verbs that Adam, other humans and the rest of creation do:  speak, name, divide and bring forth.  This is not the case with "barah."  Only God can create, not just in Genesis, but throughout Scripture.  The use of verbs throughout chapter 1 suggests there is something co-creative about creation, but yet God's creative capacity as the creator stands beyond any other entity in creation.

As a side note, in Psalm 51, when David prays for a new heart, the verb is "barah", suggesting that a new heart is only possible from God.

רףה (r-ph-h, "bear fruit", Gen. 1:22, 28).  I like this verb because it reminds me of Jesus' injunction to "bear fruit."  But in this particular story, I find it helpful to remember that just as God tells humans to be fruitful, he also commands the birds and fish the same way.  Creation is not simply our domain!

צלמ (ts-l-m, "image", Gen 1:26,27).  The NET captures discussions about this topic very well, crouching its discussion within the confines of the book of Genesis:  The "image of God" would be the God-given mental and spiritual capacities that enable people to relate to God and to serve him by ruling over the created order as his earthly vice-regents.

משל (m-sh-l, Gen 1:18 as verb; 1:16 as noun).  There are a whole series of words relating to power and authority in these verses.  Many of these words are poured over and often critiqued in a post-colonialism world.  I appreciate what the TWOT (Bible works) gives a helpful insight on this verb: "There is no specific theology to be drawn from the meaning of the word. Yet the passages cited and the seventy or so others not cited demonstrate the importance of the principle of authority, the absolute moral necessity of respect for proper authority, the value of it for orderly society and happy living and the origin of all authority in God, himself. Authority is of many degrees and kinds. It has various theoretical bases. It originates in God. Man has no authority at all as man but simply as God's vice regent."
While our society today may be very afraid of power in the hands of super governments and super corporations, there is an instinct in the OT, certainly in Genesis, that anarchy is not a good thing.  Indeed, creation is a story of God providing order over chaos.  Of course ancient man needed to subdue creation.  "It was a jungle out there."  But of course too, the total destruction of habitat for countless animals was also not desired either.

"Us" - Let us create mankind in our image.  There are a number of ways to think about this verse.  One possibility is that the "us" reflects the Trinity; another is that the "us" is the "royal we"; another is that the "us" reflects angels, ie, the heavenly court.  I don't think we will ever solve this linguistic and theological conundrum.  However, I offer another idea and that is that God is saying to the rest of creation, let's create out of you something in my image.  Given that humanity comes from genetically and is dependent biologically on the rest of creation and that creation has already been involved in creation itself, I think this makes sense.

נתנ (n-t-n, Gen 1:17, 1:29) The final statement of God about creation is that it is a gift!

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