This Sunday, at the Columbia Church of Christ, Columbia, MD, I will begin a new sermon series from Genesis 1-11. This series is titled In the Beginning: The Story of God and Us.
In this series I want the church to hear how our story really begins. All people are living out of a story, the question is which story. The story which Genesis tells us places God as the beginning of the story but just as God is the subject of the story, humanity is the object of the story (Brueggemann, Genesis, 17). In fact, the story begins by reminding us that the two, God and humanity, are not meant to be separated but belong together. It is, as the story will remind us, only when humanity seeks to separate itself from God by becoming it’s own god that things go wrong…very wrong.
It seems though that in our contemporary circumstances, it is difficult for some people to hear the story as it wishes to be told for two reasons. In one camp are those who want to insists that Genesis 1-11, particularly the creation narrative itself, be read as a literal-historical account of how creation began, turning the story into a text addressing matters of science. On the opposite end are those who want to dismiss Genesis 1-11 as having anything to do with human history, thereby relegating the story as nothing but a fairytale offering moral/spiritual wisdom.
The literalist approach falls short, in my judgment, when one pauses long enough read what the text says. For instance, if the literalist account is true then we must account for where the light from the first day of creation (1.3) came from since the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the fourth day of creation (1.14ff). Such approach must also when explain why the Hebrew word YoM (day), a word heavily used throughout the Bible, must be limited in it’s meaning to a specific twenty-four hour time period when it’s meaning can also imply an unspecified period of time. Lastly, and perhaps most difficult, is the challenge of such approach to try and explain why the narrative (particularly, Genesis 1-2) should be read in a literal sense offering answers to questions of a scientific nature when the story originated in a pre-scientific era. In other words, if the purpose of the text is to serve as an apologetic against modern scientific theories then the text was hardly a word for the Israelites who first heard the story since they lived well before modern science.
Although, in my ministry experience, I have rarely encountered people who wish to take the fairytale approach, I need to say a word as to why this approach is flawed too. Those who want to dismiss the text as offering nothing of a historical account of human origin seem to assume the text must be read in its entirety as literal matter-of-fact account of history and then dismiss such plausibility because certain details of the story seem implausible to the Western worldview and cannot be historically verified with the same certainty with which we verify details of the late 18th century French Revolution. The flaw is, in my judgment, in the assumption made about the text of Genesis.
From my studies, it seems as though Genesis 1-11 is much more interested in theology than history. It is interested in history from the standpoint of reminding the hearers of the text that their origin is from God but it’s primary purpose is theology, in trying to demonstrate how life is to be viewed and lived in light of God, the Creator. The text also takes events from history to demonstrate what happens when creation turns from her Creator. Thus we have a text in which, as one of my favorite Old Testament Scholars puts it, there is a:
single sentence, “Creator creates creation,” which is decisive for everything. It is not subject to inversion. The sentence asserts that God does something and continues to care about what he does. The pathos and involvement of God is implicit in all these texts… (Brueggemann, Genesis, 17).
So in my estimation, while our texts speaks of historical events, it’s purpose is not to render us a historical account but to offer us a theological assessment in order to change our worldview so that we live life from the story of God and us.
That is, Genesis 1-11 is a text that calls us to live the true story in which God is the subject and we are the object rather than the all too familiar flawed story of humanism where we are both subject and object. It is a story which calls us back to the original intent of creation, of our existence. That means first, that our creation in the image and likeness of God (1.26-27; 5.1) we are meant to live in fellowship with both God and one another. That is, we are meant to be a community with God and neighbor. Additionally, we are to live as God’s stewards of the world, endowing all of creation with blessing just as God, our Creator, does and like he does. Or to put it another way, we are to “mirror for the sake of creation the nature of the creator” (Grenz, Created for Community, 75).
The ball is now in our court. The choice is ours. What will it be? Will we live the story God is calling us to become participants of? Or will we continue asserting ourselves as both subject and object? Genesis 1-11 will help us see why such choice is so critical and paramount.