In the Beginning God created a way of identifying Fundamentalists, Conservatives and Liberals.
Well you’d sometimes think so!
A lot of ink has been spilled over whether we are to take the six days of Creation literally, whether it is a fairly irrelevant borrowed myth from another Ancient Near Eastern culture, or whether it is a theological statement not intended to have any scientific veracity. Then there is a range of views between.
In most Christian circles we can agree on one thing: that God is the Creator, and perhaps that is where we should start – rather than our disagreements. The second thing we can glean from these two accounts of creation is the existence and almighty power of God. We notice that God creates humanity in his image, capable of relating to and understanding him, at least to an extent. I assume this also has to do with our moral character – our sense of right and wrong, good and bad, justice and mercy and so on. We may also note that God created everything “good” and that in completing the creation with humanity, God declared it, “very good”.
Chapter two, verse 4 then becomes more personal. It hones in on Adam and Eve. And what I see here is God’s desire to provide bountifully for humanity, to set boundaries for their protection and well-being and to give them the freedom of the garden, even to the extent of being free to step over the boundaries. After all a relationship without freedom is no real relationship at all!
Now there are probably some people thinking at this point, “What sort of freedom do we really have if rejecting God leads to judgement and ultimately, hell, the loss of Eternal Life? Isn’t God just holding a big stick over us all the time? Love me or else!”
But in fact that is why these opening chapters are so important. They tell us what God’s wants for us. We have Paradise, the opening bracket which will close with Paradise reclaimed in the final chapters of Revelation, at the other end of the Bible. Paradise is God’s intention for human beings enjoying the Tree of Life, the symbol of Eternal Life enriched by the presence and glory of God. In the intervening time God’s provision still exists for those who accept and those who reject his love toward them. The rain falls on the just and the unjust.
Imagine that one holiday you and your significant other arrive at a mountain retreat with a collection of chalets built into the hillside. The place is almost empty and the host is able to give you a choice of several places of accommodation. “You can stay in any one of them,” she says. “The first three, near to my own house, have superb views, and enjoy the best facilities, further down the mountain are pleasant but there is one that is quite unsafe and the foundations have been damaged by a boulder. It stands on the edge of a ravine. In the near future it will be demolished but in the meantime there are warnings around it and you must stay away for your own safety.”
You could exercise your freedom and sneak into the condemned chalet. So is the owner forcing you or warning you of the consequences.
When God talks about eating of the Tree, symbolising the knowledge of good and evil, it seems to me that he is warning about the consequences. And when evil is committed it would be a poor judge who did not administer justice. Just watch the news. People are outraged when the criminal receives too light a sentence for his or her crimes.
No, Genesis one and two paint a beautiful picture of all that humanity was meant to enjoy and the boundaries are significant but comparatively few.
But why should we believe these accounts anyway? Who was there to see it all? How can we know?
Traditionally the accounts have been ascribed to Moses, who is recorded as seeing God face to face and communicating with a transparency not seen anywhere else in the Hebrew Scriptures (In other words, God told him what happened). Others argue that the first five books of the Bible (The Pentateuch) were penned much later after Israel’s return from Exile, around four hundred years before Christ to re-establish Israel’s identity. Others would be happy to settle with Moses with later editorial alterations. There are arguments for various views, but in my experience the arguments themselves don’t provide fruitful insights.
It seems helpful to me to begin with the assumption that, whatever the date and however many human authors, these chapters are inspired by God to help us to understand some foundational truths about our existence – the most fundamental being that we are created to relate to our Creator as responsible and responsive human beings, made in his image. The truth within the chapters, lies not in the dating, or scientific argument, but in how it is borne out by the rest of Scripture and is consistent with what we know, principally about Jesus Christ. But that is for another blog.
Next: Genesis 3-11