A year or so ago, I did a wedding for some friends in Texas. In order for their wedding to be inclusive of the many faith perspectives and the sexual identities of those attending the wedding, Maegan and Jonathan were careful to choose a Scripture reading that would not offend, but challenge those who shared their day with them.
I wrote this interpretive adaptation of the creation stories for them:
In the beginning of time, the story goes,
“Let us make human beings in our image,
make them reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.
And so God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
And God blessed them.[i]
These are verses from the creation story preserved in the first chapter of Genesis. In the second chapter another story is told that is believed by Biblical scholars to be considerably older than the first. In this story, God is more personal and intimate. Man and woman are created not from the cosmic boom of the voice of creation, but by the hands of God himself.
The first person, we’re told, is “hand made,” uniquely inspired, shaped, and formed from the earth. adamah.[ii] God names the personality after “adamah”, a lump of earth. The first human being is named “Dust” or “Red” or “Clay.” Yes, God created the first human being with a name … with personality, ego, conscience, self-awareness, and the same longing for companionship that God, himself, had suffered. And, although this being is given life and soul by the very breath of God, Clay is alone.
“It is not good for the human to be alone.” And, so, God seeks to design a suitable companion for Clay. God creates every species of animal on earth and presents them one by one to the human. One by one Clay accepts them and labels them, but none of them fill the longing in the heart for a friend, a sympathizer and a partner in life.
So God puts Clay to sleep … and takes a piece of flesh, not another lump of earth, but the very flesh and blood of “Clay” … and from that first piece of humanity, God fashions another being … separate, distinct, unique, yet born of the same essence … the same spirit and flesh. And God introduces this one to Clay.
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
And so it is, that we grow independent of the parents who raised us, and embrace our life[iii]partner … wife, husband, companion, friend, lover … two people, one flesh.
[ii] Hebrew word upon which the proper noun Adam is based.
[iii] In Genesis 3, the second person is named “Eve,” which is a Hebraic allusion to the word for “living”; if I were to name “Eve” in my story, I would choose “Zoe,” the Greek word for Life.
I wrote this to give light to my own understanding of these verses, but also to challenge some of the assumptions we make as we read these stories. Comments?
I created this video a couple of years ago … thought I’d share it now as we finish the chapter on the Beginning …
It’s a reading of Genesis 1 (The Message) with piano accompaniment and google images
If you have comments or thoughts on chapter 1 of The Story, but they don’t fit in any of the other posts that have been started, then feel free to comment here. We’ll have an open post like this for each chapter, where we can all share our ideas freely (as long as it’s also respectfully)
When God was giving instructions to Adam in the garden, he said
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 from it you will surely die.
Later, the serpent says
You will not certainly die. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.
We know the rest of the story, of course. Eve and Adam eat from the tree, and their eyes are opened. So, at least on the surface, it looks like the serpent is telling the truth, and that God is lying! How are we to make sense of this?
The “standard” explanation that I’ve heard uses the model of a parent and children. We as parents know that some things are dangerous, but it’s beyond the comprehension of young children to process the nature of the danger, so we simplify. We make what seem to be arbitrary rules, because we have superior knowledge and wisdom that is simply not possible for children. In the same way, God knows the consequence of the knowledge of good and evil, and wishes to protect his children from that. So God didn’t lie, according to this explanation. He just simplified things in terms Adam and Eve could understand.
While I think that there is value in that metaphor, I think the reality of the story goes beyond it. I think that, in a very real sense, Adam and Eve DID die when they ate that fruit. Not a physical death, but a death of the spirit of innocence and unity with God. After all, one of the first things that happened after they ate was that they hid themselves from God. There is now separation (death) where once there was unity (life).
On the surface, it appears that God lied and the serpent told the truth. But on a deeper, more meaningful level, it was God who was truthful and loving, while the serpent was the one who deceived, by telling a seeming truth.
I’m curious what other people think about this.
The other day a pastor came into the office and shared the story of going fishing with his grandson. He spoke about how many fish they caught, how he enjoyed the time together, how the young one was already talking about the size of his catch in real fisherman-speak, and how the grandson wanted to stay with his fish from from ocean to supper. The pastor had been fishing for decades. It was a spiritual discipline. It was relaxation and restfulness. It was refreshment and re-creation. “It’s something we can do together that helps him calm and focus.” What was most impressive to me, was the way he shared the attentiveness of the young boy as he filleted the fish and prepared dinner. How the child watched with pride and how the grandfather taught responsibility. “We never take a fish we don’t eat, there is always respect for the life it gave.” The love and pride of this grandfather filled the room as he spoke.
The reading this week, Chapter 1, “Creation: The Beginning of Life as We Know It”, strikes me as a story of relationship and responsibility.
If you hang around me much, you’ll hear me say over and over and over again, “It’s all about relationship.” Whether I’m talking about conflict in a church, the structure of the presbytery, the newest war in the middle east, or the growth of the Christian faith, I will always stress the impact of our relationship with one another and our relationship to God. The creation story is just that … a story of relationship. It is not a story of “how” so much as a story of “who?” “why?” and “for what purpose?”
“In the beginning God created.” This is the point of it all, isn’t it? That God is the one who calls the world, the whole universe, humankind, and you and me into being. And in all that, creation is begun with relationship: light and dark, heavens and earth, land and water, night and day, plant and animal, male and female, God and Human. Our very existence is one based on togetherness and connectivity. Our chief purpose is to glorify God, to receive the gift of creation, to grow in partnership — that is, to be fruitful and multiply, and we are given responsibility for “everything that has the breath of life in it.” Relationship and Responsibility.
The story of Adam and Eve is the core of our relationship … God creates Adam and gives him all of creation; but God sees that it is not enough, so God creates Eve … companionship, partnership … “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” We are not meant to be alone. At this point, though, God puts a limit on us … out of love, out of caring. We were created with an innocence, an ignorance of how the world can be. Ahhhhh, like any parent or grandparent, how we long to keep our children from danger — from pain, shame, guilt, failure, consequence, evil. Don’t we all want to shield our children from the pain of the nightly news? Don’t we want to protect them from war, floods, fire and abuse? In the beginning, God protects our innocence, by offering one rule.
We were, however, created in the image of God, with the very breath of God and constantly desire to be like God. So when the Serpent tells us that IF we eat the fruit of knowledge, we will KNOW as God knows … we are consumed with desire, curiosity, and self-confidence. It’s hard for me to see this as much different than the natural, human desire of a child to be like Mommy or Daddy. We want to be a grown-up; we see more, and we want more … often more than we are ready for. And so, Adam and Eve, eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And they become aware of more than they ever dreamed … the nakedness, the guilt, the pain, the horror, the banishment, the longing, the work, the brokenness of life.
I don’t think God punishes Adam and Eve for mis-behaving. I think God is genuinely disappointed that his prized creation now has to experience what God already knows … that evil exists, that there is a pain in “knowing”. God continues to protect his children by sending them from the garden where life in this new knowledge would be unbearable for their human spirit. God guards the entrance to this place of immortality and gifts the woman and the man with a way to protect their new vulnerability … clothes to cover them and strengthen them in the new world.
With knowledge comes responsibility. There is a crazy comfort in ignorance, I suppose. But while God created us as innocents, we weren’t created to be ignorant. As we care for each other, we learn. As we learn, we grow. As we grow, we realize how limited we really are; fear, jealousy, anger, greed, and hostility develop. We also forget … that our primal and continual relationship is with God … that we are created to glorify God and to live in God’s goodness. So we have the stories of Cain and Abel (and the Tower of Babel, though it’s not included in The Story) … leading us to God’s utter disgrace at what his creatures have become … so disconnected from him, so disconnected from each other.
Even in God’s disgrace, though, love and care win out. God is moved by Noah and his family. God enters into a Covenant … The footnote defines covenant as a “… promise between two parties” that is “intended to be unbreakable.” After the flood, the destruction, and the salvation of Noah and his family, God promises, “never again.” And the relationship between God and humanity grows to one of even greater mutuality, even greater responsibility … as we’ll see in the next chapters.
- What stood out to you in this first chapter?
- I have an intentional “Grace-filled” bias in my re-telling of the story. Others see more of the “fear” of God or the “wrath” of God. What is your understanding of the nature of God?
- What do you think when you hear that God has gifted us with responsibility for creation and for our relationships with each other?