Genesis 1:1-2:2a, “The Building Blocks of Faith”
S. LeAnn Hodges, Saint Mark Presbyterian Church
April 22, 2012
Have you ever been involved in the laying of a brick wall? If so, you are well aware of how critical it is to get the foundation row precisely level and straight. Even the slightest variance in that first row can reap disastrous results down the line.
A sound foundation is critical when it comes to construction, and it is critical when it comes to the building blocks of faith. The story of creation is one of those biblical building blocks that defines the foundation of our faith, and the final product will differ greatly depending upon how we understand what the creation stories teach us about God and our place in the order of things.
This is a story that anyone who has attended Sunday School as a child, even briefly, would have at least a passing understanding of. And if you were to ask someone outside of the Christian faith to recount a biblical story, there are good odds that they might recall this one, given all the controversy over the creation stories over the years, especially as they relate to modern science. The perhaps slight variations in the interpretation of this story of creation have resulted in many divisions within the greater body of Christian faith, and I dare say is at the root of a good bit of questionable and at times destructive theology.
Just this past week my husband Ray was telling me about a conversation 3 of his high school freshmen students were having about the creation stories, and I must say, he was not at all impressed. The conversation took place among 3 boys, one of whom had no knowledge of the Judeo-Christian traditions. The other two had experienced at least some time within a Christian faith community, but apparently had not paid a whole lot of attention.
The two boys “in the know” were explaining to their friend what the Bible says about how the world was created. The first fallacy (which is a common one) was to merge the 2 stories into one. (They really are two different stories with more than a few internal contradictions, most likely to have originated by two different sources, intended for two different communities!) This is somewhat understandable, but then they continued to recount that first off God created Adam and Lilith, the first woman, but she didn’t work out so well and later God took one of Adam’s kidneys and created Eve, who was much more acceptable. That is why men only have one kidney now… Apparently Sunday School isn’t the only class where these young men failed to pay attention! Ray did offer them a corrective account and suggested that perhaps they go read it for themselves, and that maybe they would do better to focus on the assignment at hand!
While either theologically shaky or down right inaccurate, claims have been made with respect to this passage that have caused a world of confusion and at times damage to our human community and our relationship with the natural world.
Lynn White wrote an infamous paper back in the late 60’s that held the Judeo-Christian tradition to blame for escalating the crisis of the environment, centering his argument on these two creation stories from Genesis, which he suggested created a scenario of an absent God and a human-centered faith that views all of creation as existing merely for our use and pleasure. He said…
God created Adam, and, as an afterthought, Eve to keep man from being lonely and gave them dominance over all the animals. God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit to rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes. Especially in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen. Christianity not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.
While I disagree with much of White’s assessment of my faith, and would counter that much of this dualistic mindset of Western influence could more accurately be dated back to the early Greek philosophers and the Gnostics than to holy scripture, I can see where one might come to this conclusion when observing our banter and general behavior within the greater context of Christianity, especially as it plays out in the public arena.
From this one Genesis passage, White is correct that there has been an historic tendency to justify an anthropocentric view of creation with MAN being created in God’s image, thereby implying a masculine gender to God from the get-go, and setting up the foundational building blocks for a hierarchical system of domination that begins with God on top, then man a little lower, then woman below that, and the rest of creation below that. When played out this becomes the heart of the justification for generations of the subjugation of women and the abuse of creation.
Rather, I would challenge that in these early creation narratives, God created a more egalitarian system of shared power. God named our role as stewards of creation, intending for us to live in this world as a reflection of the divine image. God chooses to share power, to invite us into partnership, to grant us the gift of free-will, even though we have time and again proven that we are not up to the task.
If we understand God as a domineering, controlling manipulative divine force, it would make sense that we, then, would play that out in the world, in our relationships with each other, and in our relationship with creation. But that is NOT the predominant testimony of scripture. Scripture portrays a God of great compassion, mercy and restraint. Slow to anger, abiding in steadfast love.
What would change if we let go of the foundational building blocks that affirm a human-centered creation, and let go of the construct of an absent or domineering God? What building blocks might we put in their place?
What if we understood creation in the context of the sacraments? Creation as an outward sign of God’s inward acts of beauty, grace, and mercy? Jesus used common elements from creation – bread made from wheat, wine made from fruit – took them to represent the sanctifying mystery of Christ’s body and blood. When we lift this up on the Eucharist, the feast of Thanksgiving, we claim that God is at work in, through, and with created matter. The bread and the wine could be understood as a microcosm of how we are to relate to all of creation – with reverent praise, offering both the fruits of creation and our very selves as a holy and living sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to our extravagant, generous Creator.
In affirming this view of creation, we can more easily comprehend God as present within creation, which is therefore to be treated with reverence, respect, and gratitude. Creation becomes a web of inter-dependent relationships bound together in the Covenant which God, the Holy Trinity, has established with the whole earth and every living creature.
God in the flesh, in Jesus, scripture tells us, came to us out of love not just for us but for all of the world… the cosmos… ALL of creation. And through Christ, God draws all things to God’s self, reconciling all things through Christ.
Thinking about how throughout the Gospels Jesus sought out the most persecuted and powerless, restoring them to the fullness of life; recognizing the practices of the early church in the Book of Acts, where they worked to diminish the importance of the individual’s wealth by requiring the needs of all in the community to be met, and all goods shared equally; recalling the numerous times when Jesus’ very disciples argued among themselves about who the greatest among them would be and Jesus repeatedly reminded them that it was not about who was in the winner’s circle, but rather who was in a position of service that mattered; this all stacks up nicely upon the foundational building blocks of a created order intended for the good of ALL creation, not just humanity, not just a specific gender, not just one specific race, not just the one who currently has the most toys… a created order intended for the good of ALL of creation.
When THIS is our foundation, it is easier to live as though the church were called to strive for the good of all, modeling love for God and neighbor, plant and animal. As a community of faith, we are challenged to find the strength and vision to look beyond ourselves to see the reflection of the divine in all things, and respond with reverent praise and thanksgiving to God our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer.
In the beginning, God created. And God saw that it was good. And it was good. That seems to be a solid foundation upon which to build our faith.