In the Genesis creation narrative we learn that humanity is made in the image and likeness of God and given dominion over the rest of creation (Gen 1.26-28). Furthermore, this is something which God regards as “very good” (Gen 1.31). This is a bold claim being made about our created nature and purpose as human-beings. In our times, I don’t think we always appreciate how radical this claim is.
If you are God and you have 1) liberated Israel from their Egyptian bondage with 2) the intention of calling them into a covenant relationship that will 3) demonstrate the greatness of God before the world (Duet 4.5-8), where do you begin?
We know that Israel was held in brutal slavery for 430 years (Ex 12.40). 430 years is a long time. Besides the brutal treatment, living in Egyptian captivity was a life filled alternative stories of creation. One of the most popular alternative stories was the Babylonian Enuma Elish. The plot of this story is a war between the gods of Marduk and Tiamat. Marduk wins this war, slicing Tiamat in half, using half of his body to form the heavens and the other half to form the world.
The Babylonian account of creation is a story of polytheism and violence in which neither god is sovereign by nature nor is there a concern for the welfare of creation, including people. That is quite different from the claims made in Genesis which include monotheism, peace, an all-powerful God, and a genuine love and concern for the welfare of creation as well as a special purpose and calling for humanity. This special purpose and calling is, I believe, to live in community with God and each other as his co-participants in creation who bear his image in likeness. Over the next several posts, I’d like to flesh this purpose and calling out a bit more by looking closer at what it means to bear God’s image in his likeness, in community, and as participants in creation with this background information in mind.
From my studies, what seem important as we read the Genesis creation narrative is to know first, that it was given first to a people living in a pre-scientific era of history. That means that even though this account may provide us with some answers to questions we have regarding creation, its purpose is not to answer the questions of when and how in a scientific sense but rather who and why in a theological sense. The Genesis creation narrative is, I believe, intended as theology rather than science.
Second, though the Genesis creation account speaks about what happened “in the beginning” (Gen 1.1), it was not given as a generic account in a historical vacuum. Rather it was given to the people of Israel at a time when sin and evil already existed. Thus, this account is an alternative story about who Israel is…an alternative story to what other gods have said. Subsequently, it is an alternative story about who we are and what others have said about us.