Monday, January 01, 2007

Co-Rulers with God?

Some months ago, my wife brought home a copy of "Adventures in Missing the Point" by Campolo and McLaren. The authors talk about how Christians typically study the Bible, how we might look at repeated phrases, try to discern meanings of words based on how they're used elsewhere, and so on. One thing we typically don't do is compare the Bible with other literature of its period. This has gotten many of us into trouble when reading the creation story in Genesis 1, which is part of today's Old Testament reading.

We took a class on Genesis a few years ago, where we did compare the creation story with other literature of the period. It was very enlightening. One of the things that we learned is that Genesis 1 is poetry. Another thing is that other creation stories of the period involved war among the gods, and mankind as slaves. Here's a little picture we looked at, illustrating the first point:

The earth was formless...and empty...
1st day: "Let there be light" ... 4th day: sun, moon, stars
2nd day: sky; waters below sky 5th day: birds, fish
3rd day: dry land 6th day: land animals and man
Apparently, the form of the Hebrew text would tell an intelligent reader of the period that this was poetry, as would the layout of the poem: the earth is formless and empty, and the story tells us that God creates forms (to address the formlessness) in the first three "days". In the last three "days" he fills the forms (to address the emptiness). Thus light, then sun/moon/stars; sky and waters, then birds/fish; dry land, then land animals.

The other major creation story of the day described a conflict among many gods in the heavens. Some gods (the losers) were forced to do all the work for the winners, and they complained because there was too much work. So one of the loser gods was killed, and his blood was mixed with mud to form a race of slaves (i.e., humankind). What a lovely, ennobling creation myth!

The story in Genesis 1 contradicts and refutes this dominant myth at just about every point. First, God is one, not many. Second, he speaks the universe, including man, into being; there is not war and death and blood. Third, considering the dominant creation myth of the day, try to imagine what this must have sounded like to someone from the ancient near East:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
Genesis 1.26
Mankind created in God's image? And created to rule with him? Not to be a slave?

This, that man was created by God to rule with him, not to be a slave -- this is the revolutionary, radical truth that Genesis 1 was written to communicate. Some people think Genesis 1 was written to communicate that God, not unguided chance, is behind the Origin of Species, to coin a phrase. I used to think that way myself. But the form of the text, and the comparison with other literature of the period, both say no. It's that one God spoke the world into being and created man to rule with him -- and specifically that man was not created as a race of slaves, was not the result of a war among rival factions of gods -- that's what Genesis 1 is about.

And what that means for you and me today is this: We were created by God to rule over the earth -- to take care of it and order it. We are not slaves, but regents of the master of the universe.

Now there's a thought to take into the new year: co-rulers with God!

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