God Created the Earth in One Day

There are two creation stories. Sometimes they get mashed together in our minds but they really are distinct. They tell us different things about God and the people who created the stories.

“By allowing these contrasting views of creation to coexist . . .  the Bible makes it clear from the very beginning that it will not give neat, tidy answers. . . . We cannot treat the Bible as a Holy encyclopedia where we can look up information about the divine, because we are likely to find contradictory information in the very next chapter.”[1]  In approaching scripture with questions about life and death, our purpose and meaning and morality, scripture almost always gives us several answers. As we spend time in the Hebrew Scriptures over the next few weeks I invite you to be open to thinking about the contradictions. The Bible doesn’t give us a neat package with all the answers. Sometimes it gives us more questions.

The first story of the whole Bible begins: In the beginning God created….this creation happens in 7 days and at the end of each day, God declares the creation good. In the first story, men and women are created at the same time and are the last of the creatures to be formed. The first story makes no reference to the garden of Eden. This version of the story was written in the 6th century BCE and comes from the priestly tradition which is concerned with a creation that is neatly structured and certain. God created. God saw that it was good. God instituted the Sabbath and everything was as it should be.

Much earlier, the second story was written around the 10th century BCE. In this version, creation happens in one day. Think of God as the potter working the clay. Adam is formed first, from the dust. Then the plants and trees grow. Into this garden God places two trees:  tree of life and tree of knowledge. God puts Adam in the middle of the garden, tells him not to eat of the tree of knowledge and then parades all the creatures by as they are being created. Adam has the privilege of naming each one as he seeks a helper. No helper is found and so Adam falls asleep, God takes a rib out of him and creates Eve. This is the Yahwist version written as folklore.

This version doesn’t end neat and tidy. It doesn’t leave God in charge of the earth. By the end of this passage, Adam and Eve have been left in charge. You might know the next part of the story which describes how Adam and Eve came to eat from the tree of knowledge and be expelled from the garden.

This passage can be troublesome for women because it has been used to suggest that because men were created first and Eve is linked with the initial action of eating the forbidden fruit, men are superior. Because it comes from a culture in which men were socially superior to women the story’s view makes sense.

But Karen Armstrong writes, “The women of Genesis are certainly no helpmates, obediently subservient to their husbands. They are often forceful characters . . .  and sometimes display more insight thein their menfolk.” The image of women as subservient to men is not grounded in the creation story.

In this creation story, there’s a sense that whatever happens next is up to the humans. They have been given instructions but in order to be successful in tilling and caring for the earth, they must work together. God isn’t going to do it for them.

The other reason for a helper is that it “is not good to be alone.” From the beginning of creation, relationships are central. We need to be reminded that we don’t have to do everything on our own and that we need help. It’s OK to ask for help when we need it. It’s OK when we’ve done what we can to allow others to take over and finish what we started.

How Adam and Eve moved forward in life was up to them. They had instructions which they could choose to follow or not. They had each other to help make decisions. I was at a gathering of theological students where we were discussing the creation story. Someone suggested that because God had given the creation to Adam and Eve, humans were free to do whatever they wish with the creation. There was no responsibility beyond taking whatever the earth provided.

This passage makes it clear that while the earth is a gift, there is responsibility and there are limits to what we can take from the earth. Walter Brueggemann describes three themes that run from this story throughout the Hebrew scriptures: Vocation, permission and prohibition.[2]

Vocation: Care of the creation is a central vocation given to all of us. The specifics of how we live out that vocation are unique to our gifts and skills. Some people might be really good at environmental education. Someone else might be called have a giant compost heap in their back yard that they share with all the neighbours. Others are gardeners and farmers. Some are very careful about living simply to minimize their impact on the earth. Some are scientists and inventors who are able to create new ideas to help us care for the earth. Doctors and vets care for creatures.

Permission: Eat freely of everything—the creation is there to support and nurture life. The creation is a gift.  We need to recognize the gift that the creation is and all the ways the earth supports all the life within its being.

Prohibition:  In this case, the limit is the tree of knowledge. There isn’t endless consumption. There are things that are allowed and things that are not allowed. One reason Christianity, and particularly the Hebrew Scriptures gets bad rap is that there is often a focus on the limits, the rules about what is not to be done. As a reaction to the limits imposed by Christianity we live in culture which often perceives very few limits. We don’t always hear the voice of God telling us the limits. We need each other to help determine where the limits are. God is no longer responsible for the creation—we are.

Brueggemann suggests that the primary task for humans is always to be seeking the balance. We need balance between vocation, permission and prohibition in order to be healthy as individuals, to be healthy in our relationships with each other and the creation and to be healthy in our relationship with God.

As we prepare for another election, you might want to see which policies or candidates offer environmental views that fit with your own. Is there a sense that we need to care for the creation? Is there a sense that the earth is a gift to all creation? Is there a sense that we have limits?

The people who brought us the creation stories were seeking to make sense of the world they lived in. They needed to understand their role and their relationship to God. The first story makes it clear that God is in control. The second story leaves humans in charge leaves the ending of the story up to us? What kind of a world will you seek?

[1] Karen Armstrong, In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), 21.

[2] Walter Brueggemann,  Genesis, Interpretation (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982), 46.

 

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