“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
It’s the most simply elegant opening I can think of for what is anything but a simple book.
When I think of what follows this one simple sentence, I think of my lifelong journey that has been more like an evolving relationship than a straightforward accumulation of information. I wrote allegorically about that relationship here last year in a brief expression that was composed to be shared with my faith community aloud. Another time I might share more about what the Bible as a whole means to me and how I relate with it. For now, to the beginning!
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5 NRSV).
This history is about God and creation. About all people and life and presence. About words and light and life from God, about God, being God.
It’s the way the story begins, and it’s the way the story ends.
Here’s how I tell the story:
The breath (Spirit) of God was present over the waters, and God breathed, and light shone in the darkness. And the chaos and deathliness of the sea were held back to make room for life. And then God breathed and filled creation with life, plants and animals of all kinds and gave them self-creating power to multiply.
Then God breathed in a new way. The-One-Who-Is breathed life into the stuff of creation and designated one of the living things with a purpose, a vocation. God made an idol (image) in the temple of creation, the Garden, the Holy of Holies, and set up that idol to represent the Creator to all of creation.
Both male and female were made with that vocation as the image. The representation would come with responsibility to reflect accurately the Creator’s character, the Creator’s passion for life and presence. For care and stewardship over the rest of creation in the name of the Creator. The idol was filled with the Spirit of the Creator to bring to reality all what was needed for such a calling.
And God was present in the temple with the image. Present with the life the Spirit created and sustained. Present with the idol that was made to live the message, to be the Word of God to creation. And life grew like a tree bearing good fruit and flowed like clear water.
And it was good. And Creator and creation rested together in the light of life. And it was very good.
For a while.
Light and life and presence. Intertwined motifs that cannot be overlooked. They remain throughout the Bible, and sometimes we hear more of one or more of another, but everything is about these things in one way or another.
It makes me really sad, and I can’t help but think that beautiful, life-giving, creating Spirit revealed in the beginning of the Bible is grieved as well, when I think of the battleground and weapon and litmus test this story has become. Rather than life, it is used and manipulated to bring only spiritual and relational death, the darkening and abandonment of our vocation as image-bearers.
Genesis 1 is meant to orient us toward purpose and character, toward valuing life and light, to seeing the Creator’s purposes and presence in creation and in ourselves and in each other.
I can’t help but read it and see meaning in all the world around me. I see intention and craftsmanship. I see nothing to use as a weapon to prove I’m right about this theory or that theological doctrine. Definitely, I think there are true ways of reading and teaching and living it and ways that are only darkness.
One of the ways of living its truth is to remind myself of my vocation, my calling to reflect God’s character always. Another is to fulfill that call by being a caretaker of creation. I am kind to nature and the earth. I don’t abuse what God has trusted into my care for personal gain and certainly not for mere convenience. It is a gift, yes, but also a responsibility. I would be horrified if I gave my children expensive gifts only to have them destroy them simply because there were “theirs.”
Another way to live this truth is to love my fellow image bearers like the Creator does. As the Creator’s image, I myself am worthy of love, dignity, and respect, and I try to treat myself accordingly. This guides everything. If I am God’s image, and you are God’s image, and the worst person I can think of is God’s image, then I must both act in a way that represents God well, and I must treat everyone as if they were God’s representatives (because they are).
Of course, not everyone lives and experiences life with the same degree of divine reflection. But that’s not up to me to judge and choose who I am going to treat well and who I can dismiss. I am responsible for myself, not for them. Except to love and respect them. To live toward them with creativity, light, presence, and whatever engenders more life.
More life, and seeking presence, being light. These are our calling from the beginning forward. Simple but not simplistic. Beautiful, but challenging to look at. It’s much easier to package it in something so powerless and safe as a way to prove atheists wrong. That asks much less of me. It’s much easier to dismiss it as mythological poetry meant to explain the incomprehensible for a primitive culture. That requires no response.
What does this speak to you? What do you see that I didn’t touch? How do you see these ideas played out in life? What questions do you have or challenges for me or yourself?