We’re starting at the beginning! The first story of creation. It is one of 2 creation stories in the Bible. There are two stories because even in the beginning there wasn’t consensus on how things happened. Our Bible is very good at holding multiple viewpoints and multiple stories in tension. When we read scripture, we need to remember this important concept. There isn’t one version of the story. The Bible does not have one perspective but rather gathers multiple responses to God into a collection of writings. When we read the Bible, we need to listen for all these voices and then figure out how we make sense of them for our time and place.
We start at the beginning. There is a formless void and darkness. Some translations use the word chaos. But in the center of this chaos is God. God isn’t out there at a distance but at the center. And from this central place in the chaos, God creates. God sweeps over the waters. In this story, God has the ability to act and to speak. It is God’s action that creates. God said, “let there be light.” And God saw that it was good. Day and night are created. Then God separates the sky from the water. Then God separates the water and the land and God saw that it was good. Then God created all sorts of plants and trees and God saw that it was good. Day and night and seasons are created next–sun, moon, stars. And God saw that it was good. Then there are creatures–birds, fish, land animals—every animal you can imagine.
And then God made people. The Inclusive translation reads: “let us make humankind in our image, to be like us. . . . Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them.” In Hebrew, the original language of the Bible, God is actually a plural word. It could mean that the original authors were imagining God with an angelic court or, as was common at the time, that there were actually many gods involved in the creation. It also means that when God is creating humans, there are many images of God being reflected. In this version, men and women are created together and that God is reflected in a community of people.
God offers a blessing to the humans: “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” We need to think carefully about what these words mean. I attended a Canadian Theological Schools conference when I was a student. I remember talking about these words with other students. One of the people involved in this conversation, said that God gave the earth to humans to subdue and have dominion over. Therefore we can do whatever we want with it. It was a gift to be used however we see fit. I was shocked and horrified. I have always understood this passage as having an implicit message of care for creation. In light of climate change and degradation of the earth’s resources, where we start with our reading of scripture matters. This first story sets to the tone for everything that comes after.
If we see this story with humans at the center with the God given right to use the earth without concern, to rule over the earth, it sets us on a path that depletes the earth’s resources, and creates havoc with the earth’s natural systems. We need to rethink this original story. We need to understand that it is God—not humans—at the center of everything that is. It is God—not humans—who calls creation into being and forms life from chaos.
The inclusive translation puts the blessing this way: “bear fruit, increase your numbers, and fill the earth—and be responsible for it! Watch over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things on earth” (Gen 1:28) I like this translation because it is explicit in naming our responsibility as humans. Caring for the earth is no longer optional. It is part of the creation story—an expectation given to us at the very beginning. When hear about climate change and other natural disasters, we need to ask ourselves whether we are being responsible stewards of the earth we’ve been given. Are we using our voices and our power to protect and sustain the earth or are we using our power to destroy the earth?
Christianity has done much to destroy the earth because we have misread this original story and skewed our role in the story. Many other spiritual paths have stayed much closer to this original story. First Nations traditions have been close to the land. Through colonization much of the knowledge and understanding that Indigenous people have about what it means to steward and care for the earth was lost. The video we saw a few minutes ago, show one program that helps Indigenous and non- indigenous people relearn that knowledge.
The story gives hope. As God creates, the writers repeat a mantra making clear God’s intention: And God saw that it was good. God continues to see that creation is good. God continues to see good in humans because we are created in God’s image. One of the central themes of scripture and of the Christian story is that of repentance—meaning to change direction. The work being done through the Paris accord requires us to repent, to change direction. To follow through on changing our lifestyles and our actions is actually faithful living because it reminds us and the creation that we are created in God’s image and God sees that it is good.