12 Weeks with Genesis - Reflections on Genesis 1:1-2:4a
by Dr. John Holbert on Tuesday, May 30, 2023
Watch Those Omissions!
Because this is Year A in the lectionary cycle, we are embarking on a three-month journey through the book of Genesis which will not end until August 20. Such long looks at one book only occur during what used to be known as “ordinary time.” Still, for those of us who love the Bible’s first book, and I surely do, it is a feast of texts beyond compare. Of course, I am no fool; many members of your congregation may tire of Genesis long before the 12 weeks run out, but nevertheless, whenever you decide to dip your exegetical toe into these ancient waters, I will be there with you, offering whatever help I can.
We begin on Trinity Sunday, a day when the Christian community celebrates that mystical, and mystifying, theological doctrine of the Trinity, where God appears, it is said, in three indivisible guises: God, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of these figures is both God and somehow not God, but is its own person, namely Son, and Spirit. I have made it plain on numerous occasions that this doctrine is not high on my list of theological necessities. I believe that God is God, Jesus is the human son of God, and the Spirit is God’s nickname, representing the ways that God operates in the world you and I know. I am, I suppose you might say, a strict monotheist, not wishing to obfuscate the one God by talk of a divine son and a divine spirit apart from God. I can lustily recite Deut.6:4: “Hear, Israel, YHWH is our God, YHWH alone (or “YHWH is one.”). That may be far different than your perception of the matter of the Trinity, but that is fine with me; if you think that somehow makes me less of a Christian, that is your right. I disagree, but that is a long discussion for another time.
I want to make one thing very clear concerning the choice of Gen.1 for Trinity Sunday: I hope against hope that the lectionary collectors were not influenced by the traditional and yet fanciful imagination surrounding the use of the 1st person plural pronouns in Gen.1:26. Numerous early Christian commentators ascribed these plurals to the trinitarian nature of God. In other words, they thought that when God said, “Let us make ‘adam in our image, according to our likeness,” that God was in fact conversing with the other two members of the Trinity! I find that bizarre, but not altogether unlikely, given those commentators’ propensity to discover their theological beliefs under every rock and tree of the Hebrew Bible. A 14th century rabbi, whose name has been forgotten, determined that in reality God was speaking to the animals in vs.26, just created in Gen.1:25, and urging them to join God in the creation of these humans. In that way, the rabbi claimed, we humans are a mixture of both God and beast, a notion I rather like. That, as they say, will preach!
There is so much packed into the first chapter of Genesis, or more accurately, the first creation story of the Bible, including 2:1-4a, that any attempt to provide more than a cursory look at a few parts of it would be laughable. Let me offer only two observations that you might or might not find helpful to you.
First, God makes all things good (Gen.1:4, 10, 12, 18, 25, 31—“very good”). It is easy to overlook this very simple claim, repeated six times during the acts of creation. The fact that the world we know, as well as the world that the ancient Hebrews knew, is not and was not “good,” ought to remind us that God had something very different in mind for the world that we have created, with our hatreds, and chaos, and inclinations toward vast destruction of the world and one another. It is plain that any of us who dares announce that the world we see is in any sense the world God had in mind for creation is fulminating emptiness, full to the brim with hot air. THIS world is not God’s imagined world. The world God wanted can only be the result of the prophetic demands for justice and righteousness for all things.
Second, every last one of us, male and female, was created directly in the “image” and “likeness” of God. These two Hebrew words are nearly always used to describe physical imagery. Hence, according to Gen.1:26, we all look like God, quite literally! Both females and males are made in the spittin’ image of God. Thus, let there be no more talk of women as second-class people in the world God had in mind. Female Roman Catholic priests? Of course! Female clergy in every church? Obviously! Female leaders in every field of endeavor? Naturally! And, if Gen.1:26 is taken with utmost seriousness, the unhoused man, wandering the blocks of many of our cities, is also made in the very image and likeness of God. If I can see that, it might well be that I can receive that man as a full member of God’s community, and not merely a troublesome eyesore on our streets.
There are myriad other talking points to be made from a careful reading of Gen.1, but these will have to do for today. Well, maybe one more. What do you make of the obvious vegetarianism of the first creatures, both human and animal (Gen.1:29-30)? Humans are not given meat to eat in Gen.9:3, after the flood. Is meat-eating a sign of human dominance over the world of animals, that dominance promised in Gen.1:26-28, or is it, along with Noah’s drunken dissolution of his family (Gen.9:20-27), a sign that the flood did not in reality cleanse the world of evil after all, as God may have hoped? That is worth some hard reflection. There is so much more, but I must stop for today. May your preaching of Genesis be fruitful, and may it multiply the thought of your congregation in myriad ways.