If reading the Bible in a year involves reading a few chapters a day, some are more full of incident than others. This is definitely one of the ‘more’ – two accounts of creation and one of how it all went wrong.
Creation and Creationism
I wonder if God deliberately tried to put us off reading the Bible ‘literally’ by so often giving us more than one account of the same thing – four gospels, two complete stories of the history of Israel and Judah etc. Like here, I know we can wrestle them into consistency, but I can’t help feeling that we miss the point if we do.
I get really frustrated when so much of the attention given to these chapters is about mechanisms rather than meaning. I don’t think either of these creation stories is meant to be a literal historical/biological/cosmological account. They’re about the more important questions of what it means to live in a created world, not about the exact details of how we got to where we are now.
God is beyond us and with us
Genesis 1:1-2:3 shows us God as majestic creator, who brings the whole of everything into being simply by saying ‘Let there be…’ This is God working at the grand scale, as concerned about the nebulae and black holes of deep space as about the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, but immeasurably greater than any of them.
Then Genesis 2:4-25 shows us another side of God’s creative work. Here he’s the hands-on artist, shaping humanity from the dust. He deals with a single human and then with two, and shapes the animals one by one to fill the world. He walks in the garden he has made, with those he has put there to look after it.
Only when we stop trying to make these chapters tell a single story can we really read them as they are – two very different pictures of God which are both true and inspiring. God is at the same time majestic, mighty and frankly overwhelming and he is intimate, loving and longing to walk with us in the garden. He’s both way beyond our imagining and right beside us.
His image in us
Then there’s the bit about us being made in his image – ‘us’ being plural, male and female. Or in chapter 2 it’s God breathing his life into us that marks us out from the rest of creation.
So there’s something in us that’s a bit like God – and perhaps that’s where we meet him when we seek him. But maybe Genesis 3 shows us what happens when we forget that the image isn’t exactly the reality (after all, stamps and money have the Queen’s image on them, but that doesn’t make them the Queen) – and when we try to be God the whole ‘it was very good’ gets messed up.
In the meantime there’s something that is clear from these chapters, and that’s about how we’re meant to live – serving God, loving each other and caring for God’s world as his gardeners.
So what does it mean that I’m made in God’s image? Where can I see him in myself – or in you? That’ll keep me wondering for a bit.
Well, that ended up longer than I intended, and I could write much more on these chapters – but I’ll stop there. If you’ve been reading, thank you!