Sunday, February 05, 2012

How It's Made (Genesis 1:1; 26-31; 2:15-17)

Our creation stories have a lot to work with for people who want to explore them for faith development. But we know that much of the focus of the discussion falls on the methods God used to create the universe and life.

Accept the literal account of creation as its found in Genesis or you are rejecting the Bible and rejecting God's truth, some say. Even folks who don't accept those stories as scientifically and historically true accept the premise and so they reject Christianity. People who accept the version of events given to us by modern cosmology and biology say that their story doesn't have any room for God, so they reject belief in him. And others who don't buy their idea of creation accept the premise that the scientific story erases God from the picture, so they reject the scientific story.

Even though I accept most of what those scientific observations and deductions tell us about the world around us and some of the most likely ways it came to be what it was, I don't think that leaves God out of the picture. Nor do I think that someone who chooses to accept the Genesis accounts as literally true is 100 percent wrong -- as long as they see what the true center of the story and the true center of creation is: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Hebrew verbs are tricky; that sentence can also read, "When God began to make the heavens and the earth..." But either way, to my way of thinking it shows what the people who brought us our modern-day book of Genesis figured as the most important thing about that story: God is the author of creation. If we look at their story of how the world came to be -- waters overhead and underneath, earth dividing seas from other seas, humans made from the dust of the ground -- we see many similarities. Did someone copy from someone else? No more than any two scientists who have different understandings of star formation copied from each other if they both start with the big bang. Just as each scientist describes the big bang in terms that led to his or her theory about how stars form but both use the big bang as the start, so do the Genesis writers use the best observational knowledge of their day as their start and show how creation looks different when God is at the center.

Take the creation of people. In the Babylonian myth, Marduk the king-god makes human beings from the dust of the ground and breathes life into them. Sounds familiar. Genesis does say that the woman was fashioned from the man's rib, but she's still made from the dust of the ground since he was.

But Marduk made human beings because the gods were bored and wanted something to make fun of and run errands for them. God made human beings to be in relationship with him and gave them a purpose of their own -- to take care of his creation. Without God, human beings are the playthings of forces beyond their control, but with God human beings are valuable for who they are.

The creation story ends with the fall, and that's where we see the results of what happens when we move God from the center of our lives and try to be our own gods. You know how it runs: The man and the woman are told they can eat any fruit of any tree they want, except for one. The serpent tempts them to eat that very fruit, telling the woman that if they do, they can be like God themselves. They need not listen to God tell them how to live because they can do it just fine on their own.

Again, sometimes the fuss over whether or not there was ever a literal Adam and a literal Eve who ate of the fruit can obscure a much more important point: That you and I are tempted every day and give in. Maybe some days we do better than others and maybe we've grown so that we recognize the temptations and allow God to help us past them, but we still give in. If we don't see that, then whether or not Adam and Eve ever really lived is not all that relevant.

As Christians, we say that Jesus came not only to direct us to turn back to lives with God at the center and to show us what that might look like, but also to enable that to happen. Our choices, represented by Adam and Eve's choice to eat the fruit, move God out of the center but we find that we are unable to move him back by ourselves. Only God can return himself to his rightful place, and he does that through the work of Jesus.

Whether you believe the story was literal or figurative, the choice of the first man and first woman in response to the serpent's invitation to take and eat represents the misery of sin that human beings have caused themselves and each other over and over again. That invitation still exists, and we all too often take it.

But many years later, another invitation to take and eat was made, this from the man who would be our Savior and who was also the Son of God. His invitation remains as well, good news for all who would accept it and dine at his heavenly banquet.

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