The Bible Project, Pt 3: Enter Humanity (or, “I knew you were trouble when you walked in…”)

 Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.”

God created humanity

In God’s own image,

  in the divine image

      God created them,

      male and female

        God created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

So God has this creation.

Day after day the rhythm is repeated: God creates, then sits back and enjoys it, and then evaluates it…

And it’s goooood. 

But, somehow, not good enough.

So after the world is complete, God decides to do one more masterfully creative thing…

He makes humanity.

This is no small thing.

With this moment of creation, the first glimpses of our biblical “spine” start to come into view.

Or, to put it another way, this God is up to something.

Broadly speaking, there are three things that we learn about humanity in the creation story. They’re not complicated, but these three things have profound significance for the rest of our story, so it’s important that we understand them.

One: Image

As verses say, we bear the imprint of God’s image on us. At this point in our story, what do we know about this god’s “image”?

  • He creates things
  • He enjoys His creation
  • He even creates human beings, and when He does it, He says it’s very good… 

So whatever human beings are, or whatever they become, one of the ingredients of our spine is that we are marked with the image of this creating, singing, celebrating God. We are called to measure our lives by our likeness to Him.

Two: Work 

In verse 28 of chapter one, God tells Adam (from the Hebrew ‘adam, which is not a proper noun, but rather a generic name for humanity; see Robert Alter’s book on the Pentateuch for more discussion), “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” In Genesis 2, we are told that God puts humanity in a garden (v8).

Here’s the thing about gardens: they take work. 

So God gives humanity work to do: they farm and keep the land (v8 and v15), and they name the animals (2:19-20).

So here’s another little piece of our spine that is beginning to take shape: this God invites—even expects—His creation to co-labor with Him. Whatever work there is to do, God allows humanity to be a part of it.

Work is a part of the divine plan. The garden isn’t all about sitting around, sipping lemonade and listening to lame angels’ songs.

It’s about making sure God’s creation is in balance…

… Oh, and also: don’t forget about the image thing. When we work, we have to work in God’s image. We have to do things the way He would do it (this becomes increasingly important).

Three: Freedom

“In the fertile land, the LORD God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2v9)

“The LORD God commanded the human, ‘Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!” (2v16-17)

So God creates a planet that He loves. He creates a creature to co-labor and create and steward this world. Then He tells the human to not eat of a certain tree…

… Then God retreats, and lets the human choose.

(… The outcome isn’t so good.)

This God gives us the freedom to choose, even when the results can be disastrous. 

Why?

I think it’s because of love.

After creating an entire universe and world, it would be a pretty small thing to put, say, a really tall hedge around the two trees. A fence. Anything.

But this God wants humanity to be able to choose.

Because you can’t love without a choice.

I think that if all God wanted was creatures to do His bidding, He could’ve easily eliminated choice or chance. But this God wants more. He wants community. He wants love.

Freely given.

And you can’t freely give something if you don’t have the option to not give. 

So here we stand, and in a way it’s quite simple:

  1. There’s a God.
  2. He created a something: a world.
  3. That world matters to Him. A lot. 
  4. He created someone. 
  5. That someone matters to Him an awful lot, but… 
  6. God is going to let that someone choose to be in relationship with Him.

And that’s going to cause an awful lot of trouble.

Next up: Genesis 3v1-4v16

Oh yeah… and of course I had to include this…

The Bible Project, Pt 2: Genesis A

William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When God began to create the heavens and the earth—the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters—God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night. 

There was evening and there was morning: the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)

… And so our Story begins.

And with it, the controversy: how long did it take God to form the Earth? How old is our planet? In North America, there are whole museums dedicated to proving that creation closely follows the Genesis account, and that the Earth is significantly younger than most geologists would claim (10,000 years vs roughly 4.5 billion). The debate goes on and on (if you want to read a poignant account of it, check out A.J. Jacobs’ Year of Living Biblically).

But the troubles with Genesis don’t end there.

Over the years, scholars have become aware of other ancient near eastern “creation stories” that bare troubling similarities to Genesis, and these similarities have given rise to troubling questions:

* What do these other stories do to the claim of the Bible’s uniqueness? 

* Is Genesis plagiarized?

… And so on.

Without getting into too many details, there are multiple stories that have remarkable similarities to Genesis, including the same sequence of days in creation, the same association and rhythm of light and darkness, etc; there are other stories of floods (not to mention Hammurabi’s Code, which has a lot of similarities to the 10 Commandments).

Broadly speaking there are two extreme responses to these facts: either you throw the Bible (and in particular, Genesis) as myth and irrelevant, or you try to intellectually justify and “conquer” the other myths as somehow inferior or “stolen” from Genesis.

As a person of faith, I can’t do the former; as a thinking human, I can’t do the latter. Bluntly, it’s difficult to be intellectually honest and say that those other stories ripped off Genesis (and not vice-versa).

So where does that leave me?

But what if there was another way to look at Genesis? A way that “liberates” the text from having to be utterly unique? 

What if this approach to Genesis is also intrinsically related to what Genesis may actually be trying to tell us?

Hint: It’s all about YHWH. 

The best way to understand things at this point is to understand that Genesis isn’t written in a vacuum: it’s written (and still read) in a culture where everyone has an origin story…

Who started this whole thing off? Zeus? Marduk? Geology? It’s almost like a “my dad can beat up your dad situation”, and into the mix comes this people (the Jews) with a story that says, “Well we have a God too—in fact just one—but that’s all we’re going to need.” They seem to look at the cultures around them and say, “We agree with you on the basics of the story: stuff surely got created and put here, but what we are disagreeing with is simply the who behind the what.” 

What’s more, the folks who wrote Genesis weren’t newspaper people, historians, or journalists.

They were God-people.

Priests, prophets, spiritual leaders.

They were consumed with this God—this YHWH—they’d encountered, and they wanted to explain the world in terms of who He was/is.

Some people say that in God’s eyes there’s really only ever one sin, and it’s idolatry (we’ll here more about this in Exodus), and Genesis seems to start the story off in a similar way. Genesis is saying, in a sense, you have to get this one thing right: there’s God… Just. One. God. He’s the One who did all this. 

Now this is saying plenty.

Genesis may not be so much interested in the details of creation, but it’s highly interested in the author. Indeed, a lot of the details in Genesis can be found in other origin stories of the ancient near east, except for one small detail:

God. 

Can we solve the debate of the age of the earth? Did Adam have a belly button? Was there a serpent?

Ultimately, I don’t know, but I know there was a God…

And somehow He is a creator, and He made a planet that was good, and then He made human beings… 

And they were VERY good…

(Well, mostly…)

Next up: Genesis B (or the Great Challenge of Humanity)