Formed of the Earth

Creation is not just a dogma or an ‘ism.’ It includes but is more than even just the existence of the world around us. Rather, you and I and every other person and plant and animal and mountain and sea and plain and metal and chemical, all of it is the result of creation. Creation is intentionality. Creation is life and growth and care. Creation is personal and inherently inspirational. It makes something where it did not exist before, and it gives it shape and purpose, and it spreads, giving life to others (both biologically and spiritually) to create as well.

In my last post, I shared a bit of my big picture view of Creation, guided mostly by Genesis 1 but with the whole Bible in mind. There is much to uncover there, and a lot of that can also be found in Genesis 2. It gets more personal, more intimate, and it shines more light on the purposes at work.

Creation is meaningful in my own life. I love green places. I love big trees. Chrissy and I recently celebrated our ten-year anniversary, and we spent it exploring Yosemite National Park. So much there is just so BIG! Big rocks, big waterfalls, and big trees. The views are breathtaking. Standing in a grove of Giant Sequoias is moving in a way I can’t fully describe. I love them, not in the way I love ice cream and the pleasure of consuming it, but in a truer sense of the word. My heart reaches out to it in admiration and a connection that is in some sense reciprocal. I care for them. Reading the history of how they have been cut down for absolutely trivial reasons, knowing it takes thousands of years for them to grow to how they are now, deeply angers me. It brings me joy knowing that significant conservation efforts are underway in the Mariposa Grove. Creation speaks to us, and while it includes beauty, and appreciate of God’s handiwork and purposes, it includes much more. The stuff of creation was made to be in relation with us, to be cared for by us. Any divergence from that purpose is a perversion of God’s design. Scripture goes on in Genesis 2 to show us some of that. Paul also talks about it in Romans.

Continuing to focus on the personal nature of Genesis 2, one of the interesting differences between chapters 1 and 2 is the exclusive use of “God” (Elohim in Hebrew) in chapter 1 compared with chapter 2 and its focus on referring to God as “Yahweh,” which is used as God’s personal name throughout the rest of the Old Testament. In most English translations it’s obscured. Anywhere you see “LORD” in all caps, that’s where it’s not actually the Hebrew word for ‘lord’ but actually the Hebrew for Yahweh. It’s the third-person version of “I am” found in Exodus. The best translation besides just Yahweh, is “The One Who Is.” Just discussing all the meaning held in that phrase, especially as God’s self-declared name, is rich and long and beyond what I have space for here.

The main thing I take away from this shift is that Genesis 2 is intimate and personal. Yahweh, not just “The Creator” is acting and doing and being with humanity and creation.

Chapter 2 doesn’t just start over. It’s focused on that sixth day from Chapter 1, and more precisely, the creation of Eden and humanity. This is where it gets good, why it’s so special for learning about our purpose.

Yahweh made us out of the stuff of the earth. Of course, this is unquestionably true. Everything on Earth is made out of the stuff of the earth. Plants draw from the soil, and animals draw from plants, and we are formed from what we eat, both plant and animal. Everything is connected to the Earth that The-One-Who-Is entrusted to us. It’s part of us, and we’re part of it (quite literally). Even the name Adam is from the Hebrew word adamah, which means ‘earth.’ Adam was the ‘Of the earth’ being.

Then, after forming our bodies, Yahweh breathes the Spirit into us. In both Hebrew and Greek, the word translated into English as “breath” (ruach and pneuma respectively) is also at other times translated as “spirit” and others as “wind.” There is no difference in the original language. The same wind/spirit/breath of God that hovered over the waters and spoke, “Let there be light,” entered into the first humans and gave a special flavor of life, particular among living things based on its designated purpose and relation to the The-One-Who-Is-God.

Also, the word translated “soul” in some versions and “living being” in others is the same as is used for animals. That word, nephesh, denotes not an immortal part of us that is separate from the body, but that quality of living and vitality and connectedness with the Source of all life that we share with the rest of the living things in our world. What separates us is not an immortal soul but purpose.

“[The-One-Who-Is-God] took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it” (Genesis 2:15 NET). Adam was given a responsibility, a trust, to represent Yahweh to the created world of Eden. A trust that was a small piece of the human race’s responsibility to God for all of creation. Adam was given the task of naming all the animals, which in Hebrew culture had nothing to do with dominance or domestication or ownership.

Knowing and using the names of things communicates intimacy. Knowing someone so well as to give them a name communicates the deepest, most intimate possible connection and understanding of that person. Yahweh does that very thing with three others later in Genesis by changing their names: Abram (Abraham), Sarai (Sarah), and Jacob (Israel). Jesus does it with Simon (Peter). This task given to Adam shows what type of relationship Yahweh intended humans to have with the rest of creation: one of intimate connection and care.

The importance of mutuality and relational connection continues as Yahweh shares the judgement that Adam shouldn’t be alone, but a companion for Adam is essential to God’s purposes. So Yahweh does more creating and takes a piece of Adam himself to do it, his rib, something that is near his lungs, where the breath of life resides; near his heart, where the lifeblood is moved; and is part of protecting those intimate things, making him more vulnerable, in need of interdependence.

I’ll reserve a whole discussion for the male-female aspects of the first three chapters of Genesis. There’s too much there to try to just slip it in with the rest.

The life that was created, the light that was made, the purposes declared in chapter 1 are fleshed out (literally) in chapter 2. We see them begin to take shape in the man and the woman and the responsibilities given. Much changed in chapter three, but those things never change. They cannot change. Jesus shows us that and how we can live into them in his example. That’s the foundation Scripture provides in its first two chapters, and that’s the story throughout the whole Bible. It took a lot of study and lived experience and relationships for me to see it clearly, but it’s there. I invite you to see it too.

2 thoughts on “Formed of the Earth

  1. I also love nature, green places, and I feel an intimacy in the connection I feel with the universe. I am a tiny part of the eternal and boundless whole. I understand your feelings. I am, after all, your Dad and we share genetic tendencies. But it is interesting how very different, almost opposite, it takes our minds. Because to me, Yaweh did not create us out of the stuff of the universe but rather, we created Yaweh out of the stuff or our personal and collective cultural exerience of what is around us. Our imaginations created a father because we all were born of fathers. But I think the reality is that the real truth is best understood by not oversimplifying, but by grappling to view what is beyond easy perception.

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    1. Absolutely we envision a father because that’s what we know. I personally am reluctant to try to describe God’s nature, acknowledging that any description I use or characteristics I see are metaphors at best, and absurd and destructive at worst. Oversimplifying is a terrible and pervasive problem. I feel what I do is exactly grappling with what is being easy perception. I use the metaphors handed down to me that give a common language to the meaning and value of existence and people.

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