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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Genesis 1

 Yesterday I shared about my frustration with "Rational" people who make fun of the bible but generally pick-and-choose and misrepresent what the Bible says. I am also distessed by much of the "Christian" response to such arguments. Often times the Christian caricature is based on the silliness of actual Christians. Is it possible to be seriously minded and a Christian? YES! I leave it for others to judge if I am able to demonstrate it myself.

There are two accounts of creation in Genesis. In the first chapter the language is majestic. It is very structured and repetitive. There is a seven day week. Each day God says something and then we are told how it unfolds. Each day God "saw it was good." Each day ends with "there was evening, there was morning," and the day of the week is numbered. The high point of creation is the sixth day, the creation of men and women. The point of creation is the seventh day of rest, the Sabbath. If this were an academic blog then there could literally be hundreds of pages written. Comparisons would be made to similar creation accounts belonging to the ancient neighbors of the Jews. (I always assume that a primary purpose of every Jewish writing is to, in part, refute the competing beliefs of their pagan neighbors, something modern people rarely if ever consider). We would also study the language to see patterns and significant vocabulary which has additional connotations. We would reflect on the numerical issues (all Hebrew letters serve as numbers) and the roots of the words (each word is part of a family with a host of deeper meanings) and overt and covert symbolism. We would look for puns and clever plays on words (the authors love to do that and in the English translations this is lost). There are other exercises in which we would also engage. But I am no scholar and I do not write for scholars. That sort of work is beyond my scope. My point is this, anyone who reads Genesis 1 and disdains it as prescientific silliness better be ready to display more in depth analysis than that. This is a piece of literature worthy of respect regardless of whether or not one is a believer.

Instead I offer these reflections on Genesis 1. (It might be a good idea to read it.) The message of order is emphasized. The entire creation proceeds in an orderly fashion. The story reflects a belief in an ancient, chaotic body of water. Emptiness, void, chaos, darkness. These are evocative images (and not a scientific theory). It is a judgment on the world without God. Things tend to disintegrate (that is a scientifc theory). The word of God is spoken and it conveys the power of order. (The truth of that is a debate found in philosophy but not in the world of science.) God orders through speaking not acting. In other ancient myths of creation, the world is a result of great battles between gods. The debris of the battle is the stuff of creation and our world. In Genesis, the story is mythic, but ut is not a myth. What do I mean by that? It is mythic in the sense that it conveys a mystery too big for our langauge. Creation is not explained and described; it is declared! The details of the unfolding process are really left out. In myths we get the details (e.g., the exploding body of a dead god become stars in teh sky) but the story while sounding historical is clearly not historical. Here in Genesis, we are told the meaning of the world around us.

Creation is good, by God's own judgment. Humans are in the image and likeness of God. This speaks highly of t he value of every human life and the potential vocation of each human being. (Now remember in the ten commandment it says that we should make no image of God. That is important. God is the one who makes the image. This is also important later because of the claim in the NT that Jesus is The Image of the invisible God.) Lastly, the Sabbath, a center piece of Jewish faith and practice, is the culmination of the process. We need to understand what the message is here. God saw everything that He had made and it was very good. we share in the task of co-creators with God. Our task is to be fruitful and multiply. Our task is to govern the world. Take a breath and relax. Rest. Know that God is the source of all creation.

Tomorrow I will say something very controversial, but for now, rest and reflection on God's creative acts!

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