This Sunday, we will be looking at the story of creation from Genesis 1. Here are Five Things to help you prepare your heart for worship:
1) Video Clips from The Bible Project
This week’s text is from the beginning of Genesis- where it all starts. Read the story for yourself here, and then watch this video to see how it fits in the larger narrative of Genesis:
In this story, humans were created to be the image of God in creation. Friends often reference this doctrine as part of our testimony of Equality: each one of us bears the image of God, or as we tend to phrase it, there is that of God in every person.
What does it mean, though, to be created in the image of God? Here’s a short animated look at what that phrase would have meant in ancient Mesopotamia:
2) Likeness (Bereshit)
Understand, we created
because we yearned to be known
being everything is tiresome
no conversation, no surprises
so we made a being from clay
and breathed life into its nose
immediately it set to naming:
sumac, lemur, condor
but we had fashioned it
in our image, after our likeness
which meant it was lonely too
moping around the garden disconsolate
as it slept we shaped a companion
from its side, an equal, a stranger
our daughter inherited curiosity
our son, surprised, stayed silent
mouth full and eyes opened
yet he blamed her for change
every loving parent knows
it hurts to watch them fall
but the miracle of them walking
still takes our breath away
Bereshit is the Hebrew word for “in the beginning,” which is the first word in Genesis. In synagogues, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (the Torah, or the Pentateuch) are divided into weekly readings so that all of the five books are read aloud in worship over the course of a year. If you would like to explore Rabbi Rachel’s writings further, you can check out her archive of prose and poetry organized around the Jewish liturgical year.
3) Creation as the Temple of God
If we propose to take this passage as an abstract or metaphorical story about the world and our place in it, rather than as a concrete description of a six-day creation event, then we will need to consider what the metaphor is about. One potential option is to see the first creation story as the construction of the world of a temple for Yahweh.
If this is an idea that interests you, here are two links to explore:
J. Richard Middleton:
Genesis 1 goes beyond the common ancient Near Eastern picture of the cosmos as a temple. In contrast to the polytheism of Israel’s neighbors, this opening account of creation affirms that there is only one God, who is sovereign creator of all.
Not only does Genesis 1 challenge Israel’s temptation (and ours too) to trust in false gods, but this creation account portrays each stage of the creative process as “good,” the result of God generously calling into being a variety of creatures and blessing both animals and plants with fertility. That God deems this finite, contingent cosmos “very good” (Gen. 1:31) stands in contrast to other ancient accounts that portray creation as the outcome of a violent battle between vengeful deities.
Genesis 1 also emphasizes the dignity and high calling of human beings, to be God’s very own image in the world (the topic of my next blog post). This is in contrast to creation accounts that portray humans made from clay mixed with the blood of a demon god, destined to be slaves of the high gods and of the empire that controlled religion and temples in the ancient world.
John Walton points out that often in the Ancient Near East, a temple dedication ceremony would take place over seven days’ time; for six days, the temple would be furnished and the priests would take up their posts, and finally on the seventh day the deity would come in to take residence and begin to exercise his/her authority. Walton argues that when the Hebrews heard the priests read the creation week of Genesis 1 to them, they would probably not have taken it (primarily, anyway) as a treatise on history or a scientific origins account but as a comosgony framed in terms of an analogy with the construction and resulting importance of the temple as God’s headquarters for the universe.
Walton refers to Genesis 1 as a “temple text”: it is a literary form of analogy to the establishment of the sanctuary. His “rest” was not about sleep, but about settling in at the control booth and taking command of the cosmos He had set in place.
4) The Best of All Beginnings
Where do I come from? Here’s what I’ve discovered so far:
I come from a God who sees. Seven times in the creation narrative, God pauses to reflect on his handiwork. “And God saw.” Well before his work is done, he steps back to behold all that is taking shape before his eyes. Like a musician who thrills at a swelling harmony, like a poet who gasps at a beautiful turn of phrase, God lingers over his creation — every leaf, every wing, every stream, every child. He’s not in a hurry, and his interest in the world is far from utilitarian. God’s is the gaze of the artist, keen, perceptive, and patient. He observes. He attends. He notices. I come from a God who pays delighted attention. He sees.
I come from a world that is good. Before there was evil, there was goodness. Before there was Original Sin, there was Original Blessing. Often in our rush to get our theologies properly balanced and our egos properly squashed, we forget that Genesis 1 is a chapter brimming with goodness and blessing. In fact, God pronounces blessing on the created order three times. He calls creation “good” and “very good” seven times. As New Testament scholar Marcus Borg puts it, the creation story is “strikingly world-affirming.” “Against all world-denying theologies and philosophies,” he writes, “Genesis affirms the world as the good creation of the good God. All that is, is good.”
What would it mean to believe this in a culture increasingly numb to violence, war, corruption, and greed? Would my eyes stop glazing over, would my heart be more pierced, if I really believed that the world’s default setting — my default setting — is not evil, but radical, world-altering good? What would it be like to bless God’s world without reservation, stinginess, or fear? What would it be like to incarnate the goodness that is my heritage? “God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
5) Genesis 1 and a Babylonian Creation Story
One of the main questions Israelites asked was how their God ranked among the dozens of gods in the ancient world—namely, what made him worthy of devotion rather than the gods of the superpowers like Babylon and Egypt. Reading Genesis as ancient literature highlights this polemical dimension.
Genesis 1 is a bold declaration that the God of a tiny nation with a troubled past is the one responsible for what you see. The gods of the superpowers didn’t do it, Yahweh did. In the ancient world, those are fighting words.
Pete delves further into how understanding the creation stories of the surrounding nations can help us understand the Genesis 1 narrative here.