Creation Is To Be Lived In

 Genesis 1:1-2:3

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (NIV)

Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus the Christ, our redeemer and friend and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide. 

Oh how people have argued over this text! 

How long are the days? Are they 24 hour days or are they epoch length days? I tell you, I, for one, don’t care. They argue over whether the dinosaurs are included in this list of beings created or not. I don’t think that is argument worthy—of course they were. They were among the “the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds” made on the 6th day. That’s definitely not argument worthy. I could go on, but the arguments over creation are tiresome and I don’t want to bore you to tears.

But the creation story IS discussion worthy. There is a lot to talk about in this passage. It is a wonderful story poem that is a gift of the ancients to us that is not at all about HOW God created the world but why. And that is an altogether interesting conversation. 

There are three things in particular that I want to bring up today… 

  1. That the ancients had a pretty good sense of the natural world.
  2. That good is better than perfect and
  3. That we are created in God’s image.

All three of these have implications for how we live our lives today.

I really liked biology when I was in school. I have always been amazed how this creation story shows that the ancient story tellers had a really good sense of the world around them.  They paid attention to their surroundings. I love that the story as they tell it starts with the structure and goes to the light and then goes to the plants and animals and people. They could see that the land and the waters are intimately connected. They are not separate worlds but a continuation of the same world. They knew it would make no sense to create plants and creatures with no place for them to be. They knew there had to be light before the created beings could grow and thrive. 

I love how it goes from the simplest life forms to the most complex.  They noticed how things were related to one another. They realized that light had to be first, and then plants had to be second so there would be food. Then and only then could the fish and birds and land animals be created. They noticed how some things were similar and other things completely different, and lots of gradations in between. They had sorted out already the difference between livestock and wild animals. They had figured out the timing of the moon and the seven day week and the value of a day and the sequence of the years.

We have been removed from nature by our civilization and technology.  We don’t often have to brave the elements and when we do, we are well protected. Sometimes that gets us into trouble because we don’t respect the power of nature. We trust too much in our human abilities without knowing or valuing the details of our surroundings. I think of how often someone gets stranded, and even killed as they drive their car into a flooded street somewhere not realizing the power of flowing water and not being aware enough of the surroundings to realize how deep the water will be. That is just one example. Together we could come up with many more. Human arrogance in the face of nature and trusting our own creations over the power of our earthly surroundings could make me laugh at the prospect of human wisdom! Humans can be so foolish, plain and simple. 

We would do well to spend more time in nature. Hiking in the woods or walking along the shore or sitting in the park listening to the birds and animals is good for the soul. Breathing deeply of fresh air that has been cleansed by the breath of the trees is good for the body. Even taking a walk around the neighborhood can clear your head when there is a problem befuddling you. We would do well to watch the sunsets often enough to know where the sun sets in the winter and how that is different from where it sets in the summer. Our ancestors knew that. We would do well to notice from which direction the breezes blow. We would do well to watch the waves on the coast enough to see the weather forecast in the waves. Any of those would connect us to our creator more closely and we would be awed over and over again by the intricate details of this world God made.  

Secondly, in this poem we call Genesis 1, we hear the repeated refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” Over and over again, “God saw that it was good.” In this case, good is better than perfect. Perfect can never change. If something is perfect, it can only deteriorate. Anything other than perfect is less than perfect. There isn’t anything better than perfect. If something is perfect it cannot move. Creation has to be lived in. It cannot be perfect and still be lived in. A good creation can evolve and still be good. I think that is why the Garden of Eden couldn’t last. Perfect cannot endure. I also think that is why the Garden of Eden story isn’t first. Good is better than perfect. That is true of us as well. We are actually MEANT to change as we grow older. We would be horrified if any of you acted like a 16 year old. I’m not saying what any of you should act like at your age, but we know we should be more mature than a 16 year old. (There were no teenagers present.) Sixteen year olds WILL act like 16 year olds and they will have to learn from their mistakes, as there are some typical mistakes 16 year olds make. On that same thought, however, there are also some mistakes people in their senior years tend to make as well. No age group has a corner on the market of making mistakes. People in their older years tend to want things to stay the way they have been. Familiar is equated with good. That’s not always the case however. Familiar is sometimes a millstone around our necks. 

Finally, we are created in God’s image. What does that mean? There is lots of discussion about that. First of all, let me be very clear, being created in God’s image is NOT that we are male and female. That is added on because it is separate from God’s image. It is a good part of who we are, but God’s image is not our physical bodies. God’s image is deeper than that. Those who would argue that gender is part of God’s image is reading into the Bible something that is not there. 

So what IS God’s image in us? That we are creative. God has just created this vast intricate and powerful world that is wonderfully balanced in all its parts. God’s creative powers have been placed in us; not that we are going to create new planets, but that creativity is necessary for living in this world and bearing the responsibility of stewards exercising dominion over any part of it. God’s image in us is also that we are in relationship. The creation story writer knew this instinctively as it is written:  “Then God said, “Let us(emphasis mine) make mankind…” God is one but God is also in each us. God is always relationship. We call it the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit or Creator, Redeemer and Guide or Breath, Spirit, Wind or any of a number of other ways we refer to this Singular Plural we call God.

And finally, God’s image in us is that we bear responsibility. In the NIV that we are using now, it is translated as ‘to rule’. “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over  (emphasis mine) the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” In other translations it is ‘have dominion” (NRSV, KJV), ‘be responsible’ (The Message), “take charge’ (CEB) ‘have complete authority’ (AMP). In fact, in The Amplified Bible (AMP) there are added notes of explanation. That is part of its appeal. Where there are unfamiliar words or concepts, they add some explanatory comments. Genesis 1:26 starts off: Then God said, “Let Us (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) make man in Our image, according to Our likeness [not physical, but a spiritual personality and moral likeness]…” (AMP) So whichever translation you choose, the key to this portion is to remember that like any governor, king or president bearing the responsibility for the welfare of the state, the economy and thus the welfare of the people; so humans are responsible for the welfare of God’s created world. 

In some ways we have lived up to the calling. In creating protected wilderness areas, passing laws protecting endangered species, establishing hunting and fishing regulations, and so forth, we have borne our calling well, but the fact that some species are endangered calls us out. Our excessive use of plastic and the amount of trash that pollutes our oceans and hillsides calls us out. We have run willy-nilly over creation taking what we want and disregarding the effects on others. Industry has had to be forced to clean up its act because left to their own devices, they have used the land as its dumping ground. The more crop land we take over to build suburban sprawl, spreading out our burgeoning population rather than building up is a trend we continue at our peril. We can grow enough crops to feed the world, but not if we put big box stores on every acre. We can do better. We need to use our collective creativity to do better. 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a good mantra. It reduces the demand pressure on our natural resources and ecosystems. Recycling is an industry in itself. But in recent years we have discovered that our trash is being “recycled” by shipping it overseas. That’s not very helpful. We, as consumers, and people of God, can to pressure our trash companies to develop recycling processes here. We can pressure manufacturers to reduce the amount of packaging their products are shipped in. There is a balance somewhere between protecting the item in shipping and reducing waste in our landfills. There is a balance somewhere between the products we need and the products we think we need. 

So we know God created the world so God could enjoy it. God put us in charge that we might care for it. God made all the parts to be in beautiful balance. The fact that we get to enjoy it too is a wonderful thing. It is a gift. It is a gift we would be wise not to squander.

Asking God to help us rightsize our desires is a place to start. Asking God to help us be aware of the wonders of creation. Praying for attentiveness to our effect on the created order. Praying for the willingness to tend to creation… these are all things to which I invite your reflection in these moments of silence.

(silence)

Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

New International Version (NIV)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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