By Aian Macpherson
Genesis 1 is a poetic text full of patterns and repetitions, but it is not a poem, and it is not uniform or bound by its patterns.
Day one light, which starts time off, pairs with day four: sun, moon, and stars, to give light and measure time.
Day two, sky and waters below, pairs with day five, creatures of the deep, and birds to fill the sky and seas.
Day three, dry ground, plants and trees pairs with day six, animals to fill the land.
In this text God repeatedly ‘said’ and what was said happens.
God makes, separates, and gathers, – God does not just make but rather ‘Elohim Bara’ – meaning God is creating and recreating and founding the whole way of the world: wild into ordered.
God calls, that is, names creation. A name gives significance.
God sees, that is, God comprehends.
God celebrates, ‘it is good’.
God gives. Life and even power are handed over. All the plants and animals are blessed by God and given the ability to make more things of their own kind so they can increase and fill and be fruitful.
Q and A:
Q. Why does the author of Genesis 1 leave the sun and moon until day four and call them the great light and the lesser light? What did the people around Israel believe the sun and moon to be?
A. The sun and moon were worshiped as gods: in Babylon, down in Egypt, all around. By leaving them until day four and not even giving them names the writer is putting the sun and moon in their proper place, an important place in the middle, an important job to serve as measures of time, but as part of the creation, not as gods themselves.
Genesis 1 is about worshiping the creator.
Q. Who did other kingdoms believe was in the image of the gods?
A. The king. The king of Egypt, the king of Babylon, and even centuries later the Cesar of Rome.
Q. Who does God say that he made in his image?
A. Everyone, male and female, all the ‘earthmen’, made in God’s image. This is a challenging and subversive text that gives value to all people.
Q. What might God’s image mean for our collective human identity?
Well what do we know of God? God speaks and the word God says has effects and God has a wind or spirit. Jesus, the Word, and the Holy Spirit are with the Father, the one God who is the trinity and a community of persons. Even if we confine ourselves to the Genesis 1, if we knew nothing of Jesus, we would still know God is creating within community because God say’s ‘let us make, in our image’.
God calls. When God names something it is giving it a value, not economic value but significance through attention: God cherishes creation.
God enables life. God invites plants, birds and creatures of land and sea to make more creatures to fill the world.
God makes, separates, and gathers – God does not just make but rather God Bara is creating and recreating and founding, wild into tamed, and waste into cultivation; empty to full.
God sees, that is God understands and knows.
God celebrates, ‘it is good’.
God is a God of community, who cherishes to creation, enables life, sets up the order and functioning of creation, comprehends all that is made and all the ways of it, and celebrates all this as good.
A. Then God invites humans to be like a god to creation, to continue God’s work. Being in God’s image is to be invited into keep creating creation.
Therefore the invitation to subdue and rule must be part of being in the image of God, but must also be understood in that context. To subdue the ground is to cultivate it. To rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground is to name and cherish, enable and steward, create and recreate in order to make life abundant and fruitful. Ruling is not to do as we please but is to show God to the earth, birds, fish, and animals.
In the image of God as we see it here it should not surprise us that we are not given meat but fruit to eat. The animals in the plan of God are herbivores not hunters.
In science –part of the work of understanding- we are still learning to understand the ‘laws’ of the universe. Johannes Kepler, a 17th C scientist and mathematician said “those laws are within the grasp of the human mind. God wanted us to recognise them by creating us after his own image so we could share in his own thoughts.”
One of the things we now understand is that all the order at the big level of atoms up to galaxies is intricately connected to a chaotic realm of quantum physics. Bara – ordered creation, out of tohu wabohu – the wild.
Being in God’s image is, in part, fulfilled by continuing the work of creating. Our human vocation is to join in with the work of ordering, cherishing, understanding, and celebrating all things. Wow!
P.S. (Work is not the end of the story.) There is a seventh day in the pattern of this creation story: a day of rest.
Work and rest. Order and uncontained abundance. Like the poetic but ununiformed patterns of the text itself, all the moving energy of the chaotic tohu wabohu (formless and empty, wild and waste) waters and darkness becomes a part of the ordered pattern of the life-filled abundant world.
The day of rest is not a day of doing nothing. Rest is the play and celebration that remind us that God’s founding for the world is very good. In Genesis chapter 3 we find that our vocation to work has been bent and warped – it becomes cursed, and rest becomes hard to find. But God founded rhythms of grace: of work and rest, order and freedom, from the beginning. Our work – cherishing, understanding, cultivating, and continuing to create – goes with our rest which is the play and celebration that remind us of the good ways of God’s creation. It is in our rest as well as our work that we show God’s image to the world.
All Photos courtesy of Pixels