Some reflections since I was up early this morning.
I’ve really been struck this year by how much of our understanding of God seems to hing on Genesis 1-3. It is striking how much of scripture has these three chapters in mind, with Revelation itself essentially retelling the narrative in a contextualized fashion.
And really narrowing in on these three chapters I think can help us make sense of our own context. Consider the following:
In Chapter 1 we are given a cosmic view of creation that essentially establishes the 3 tier view of the ancient world- the land, the waters out of which the land is formed, and the heavens.
The heavenly and earthly realm are interconnected in the view of ancient Judaism, indicating that the whole is God’s abode.
We then come to the interesting relationship between the two creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2. What’s interesting to note is how we move from Genesis 2, a cosmic perspective with the use of both the plural elohim (a term that denotes the spiritual beings who occupy the divine realm) and the plural adam (humankind… which follows the creation of the multitudes of creatures that occupy both earth and sky) and the vast expanse of both heaven and earth to the singular Yahweh-Elohim and the singular Adam and Eve and a particular use of “land” as a locale in chapter 2.
In Genesis 1 we find God calling the cosmos (heaven and earth, and all that is in them) into form. Then in the rest of Genesis (beginning in Genesis 2) we have the account of what came of (or developed out of) God’s initial creation, how humans responded to God’s call to be his image in the world.
This prepares us to move into Genesis 3. Notice that when we are introduced to the serpent and the serpent is convincing “the woman” to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil we have a use of “elohim” ( You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God) that is commenting on this use of plural and singular. By using the plural in this instance, what becomes established are two things:
1. The pattern in relationship of service, or being “in service to” rather than have power over. We find this image in this move from the plural elohim (divine beings) to the singular (Yahweh, which renders elohim over elohim… the source of life)
2. In a world where both the divine and earthly realm were seen as interconnected and coexisting realities, to be like god meant to subvert this notion of “in service to” towards having “power over”, with the emphasis moving in two directions- in service to creation and one another and in service to God as his image bearers to creation.
The emphasis then on wisdom (and Genesis is considered wisdom literature), which in 3:6 says is the root of the woman’s desire, is one of being like god, or a member of the divine realm. Later in Genesis 6:2 we see this same contrast with the “descendants of Adam and the sons of Noah” in chapter 5 being set in relationship to the “sons of god”, which again is the inference of the plural elohim in indicating the sons of “divine council” or the divine realm, or those who saw themselves as descendents of the gods/the divine realm. This is the cosmic-earthly context in relationship.
What follows Chapter 6 is the story of the flood, which basically reverses the picture towards a deconstructing or de-creation process, literally ending with a naked human being. A return to Adam, with the land once pulled from the waters meeting with the collapsing of the three tiered universe where the waters once protected both below and above reflecting humanities desire to have power over rather than being in service to.
Before we arrive at this deconstruction/decreation process though, what we have is the story that binds creation and decreation together into a promise of recreation. A way of connecting Genesis 1 and 2 with Genesis 6. In the Garden, in this specific piece of land, we have two trees, one indicating the source of life and the other indicating the source of death, which is captured throughout scripture in terms of this duality of blessings and curses, life and death, two kingdom realities. It also sets in play the three central agencies at play in this biblical narrative- Yaheweh, the Powers (of Sin and Death, the evil one, the principalities), and Humanity.
Now notice the central pattern set in play in Genesis 3 in terms of the role of the second agency (the Powers)- the serpent accuses God of lying which leads the man to accuse the woman which leads the woman to accuse the serpent.
The serpent personified as lies and falsehoods which is embodied in “accusation”, a pattern which subverts the “in service to” in exchange for being in power over another.
The curse that results in this choosing of life and death then has a double result- the personified image of the divine beings is made into a serpent which is made the lowest of all creatures, the man set in power over the woman, and the land power over the man. This becomes the reality of this inversion of our created purpose to be “in service to” creation, one another and God, the choosing of death over life.
Consider the two trees as well in the book’s temple context- the tree of life is the tabernacle or temple, which is where God’s presence is seen to dwell, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the Law, which is said to reveal the Powers of Sin and Death.
This subversion then becomes realized in the first expression of this new reality, accusation which leads to jealousy in Cain and Abel, which leads to death- the building blocks of civilization.
Which begs the question, what comes of this? Are we simply stuck in this pattern of subversion, exchanging service to for power over? A constant ebb and flow between oppressed and oppressor? This is where chapter 3 give us an important image that alludes to the promise of recreation or restoration. Speaking of the serpent, it says
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
The woman, which is later made singular as “the mother of all living”, will bring an offspring that will “strike your head”. But this comes with a cost. The serpent will strike the offspring’s “heel”. This sets up the image of the seed which will bring new creation, which flows through the covenant with Noah, Abraham, and Moses on the mountain meeting with God (which in ancient Jewish tradition actually functioned as the original “fall” narrative… Moses on the mountain with the people making an image of Yahweh down below, the embodiment of these two trees). Notice as you work through the biblical narrative how we have this pattern as well- individual (Abraham) to family (Jacob) to nation (Israel) to family (David) to individual (Jesus), with the foundation of the covenant being a promise to bless “all” the nations of the earth.
What’s important about all of these patterns is how they allow us to connect our reality, which is what the Genesis narrative was intended to do, to an origins story or working mythology (that is, a story that connects present reality-history-mythic origins) that can help us understand where we are today (which for the present audience of Genesis would have been wilderness and then exile). As it reads, “He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.”
In the larger patterns we get two working images here- this exchanging of a given reality with a chosen reality (life and death, service for power), and this developing image of restoration and recreation that begins with Abraham and culminates with Jesus as the means for entering our chosen reality in order to give us a new reality. In this sense the guarding of the way to the tree of life is both the protecting of this divine-earthly intereconnected relationship which sets creation in service to rather than in power over, and the guarding of the way back to this interconnected relationship where the source of life, the Elohim of elohims dwells in the whole of the created order, land, water and heavens.
The grand truth of Genesis 1-3 is that all is Yahweh’s domain. When we exchange the truth for the lie, when we take on the role of the accuser, what happens is we then end up standing in judgment over creation, over one another, and even ourselves. When we do this, when we function in this way, we then place ourselves, our systems, our desires, our motives, both individually and collectively, in power over the other. If we are to apply that to today, we see this in the long history of patriarchal systems and structures, where the male figure has positioned itself in power over the woman. We see this is racial structures, in the colonizing realities where races have positioned themselves in power over other races. We see this in global developments where nations have set themselves in power over other nations. This is a reflection of the Powers, the lie of the accuser, the embodiment of our desire. When we miss this aspect of the Genesis narrative, we miss how this plays into the rest of scripture as we see Yahweh being distinguished as the Elohim above Elohim’s, the “I am who I am” or the “I will be who I will be”, constantly working to subvert the measure of these desires to look to subvert in service to, or in relationship to, for notions of in power over. We see this in the ways women are elevated, slavery is reconstructed, empire is dismantled, patriarchy is criticized, and power structures are judged. To choose this reality of the lies of the accusation is to inherit a corrupted order. We feed the Powers which hold this world in its present state, in bondage to a reality that is different than Genesis 1, and that plays through Genesis 2. Notice how in Genesis 2 we get this interesting twist on Genesis 1 which moves from “good” to the final declaration “very good”. In Chapter 2 Yahweh-Elohim looks at man and says “It is NOT GOOD that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” This was the vision for life- togetherness, the call to live “in service to” one another, community. In our diversity we embody the divine image when we recognize this truth. As image bearers (In the ancient world the idol, the image of the divine being, was the final thing to be placed in the temple. In ancient Israel we are the idol, the image bearers) we are intended to reflect this reality back out to the whole of creation. When we don’t we end up with civilization built on power, systems that hold power over one another.
And yet the grand image, the hopeful image that we find in the Judeo-Christian narrative is that this picture of the serpent being crushed and the serpent biting the heel is one of a demonstrably different way, a way that is ultimately revealed in Jesus, who demonstrated himself by lowering himself so as to raise up his creation and show us how it is God’s Kingdom, this cosmic-earthly reality in which we live, was intended to operate. We are called in scripture to follow Jesus to the Cross, to follow in way of the Cross, setting ourselves in service to creation and one another and to God. When we forget what this looks like, look to the Cross. This is what it means to participate in communion as a central part of our common liturgy.
And it is at the table that our liturgy then moves us to the resurrection promise. The very image of recreation. But what the communion table does is invite us into those few chapters that connect Genesis 1-2 (creation) to Genesis 6 (decreation), which is the central pattern of deconstruction and reconstruction, a pattern we are called to participate in daily and faithfully. It is when we do this that we can then gain a vision of that Abrahamic promise, that grand movement that brings us from individual (ourselves) to family (church) to nation (collective), all for the sake of the world, the world that remains and is and always will be God’s true domain, the domain we have been called to occupy as Yahweh’s image bearers.