Bishop Todd Townshend’s Video on the Book of Genesis (Week 2) – July 11, 2020
The Lord be with you,
I’m Todd Townshend, Bishop of Huron.
By this Sunday, July 12, those following the lectionary readings will have come all the way to Genesis chapter 25, where we hear about the twins, Esau and Jacob. Their grandparents, Abraham and Sarah, the ones who originally embraced the call of God, have both died. Abraham left two lines of descendants, the descendants of Ishmael, and of Isaac. Isaac has married Rebekah, who gave birth to these twins who struggled together within her, even before they were born. This story begins a long section in which we see the struggle and conflict that can arise when trying to follow the call of God.
However, I’m still back in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, collecting the meaningful images of when God began creating and promising a future to the creatures. These eleven chapters are among the most important in the whole bible. We’ll catch up to those twins Esau and Jacob before too long, but there is a lot of ground to cover before then. We need to see how we got from the goodness of the garden to the new promise of God embraced in Abraham.
In all of this, we’re looking for God in, and sometimes hidden behind, the story. What is God up to here? What kind of God is revealed in these stories? We are seeing that “the ultimate meaning of creation is to be found in the heart and purpose of the creator . . .” (Genesis, W. Brueggemann, 12,13). In other words, we’ve got to figure out the Creator’s purpose in order to figure out how to live freely and faithfully as human beings.
So far, in chapters one and two, we’ve seen that when God summons something into being, it comes with a promise. Genesis is the beginning of God’s creative activity – creating something out of nothingness—combining emptiness, and dryness, and “dust” . . . with water . . . in order to breathe life into the creatures. These creatures are good. They are given partnership, and companionship, and they have a good relationship with God—they are promised something good in their living. Everything is alive, and free, and good, in the garden . . . called Eden. We notice something else, too. The human creatures are put in the centre of the story. This may be a result of the fact that the stories are told to human beings—not to the rest of creation. But notice that in Genesis 1, humans are placed into a world of creatures that already exists. The waters, the vegetation, the living creatures of the water and the sky and the land, were already there. God saw that they were good and blessed them. It was into this world that humans came, made in the image of God, to have dominion over the others. A lot of trouble has come from that phrase. This is a point that we cannot overlook, that we humans are to order and care for the other creatures, as God would do, to maximize God’s mission—not the profitability of our human-made empires. We have in so many ways plundered God’s creation and soiled it permanently. Which is a sin. Which is why we need to move on to chapter 3, of Genesis.
Here we come to what is sometimes called “the fall”, in chapter 3. Somehow, in this beautiful, free, blessed, joyous creation, the creature feels the need to resist. It is strange. It is a very strange thing, in the whole cosmos I assume, that a tension exists—on the one hand, between this God who creates, blesses, promises, and then insists on staying in relationship with the creatures—and on the other hand, the creatures who receive and enjoy the gifts of creation but then begin to resist the Creator. Let us right now thank God for persisting with us in spite of our resistance! This tension is important to remember as we think about “the fall”. “God and God’s creation are bound together in a distinctive and delicate way.” (Brueggemann, 22)
It could be that human beings are both the glory of the earthly creation and the central problem of creation. The central challenge to us is that, according to these traditions, the destiny of the human creature is to live in God’s world, not in a world of our own making. We are to live in God’s world, alongside God’s other creatures, and we are to tend to it, we are to till it. This, if we could do it, would be our joy and delight. But, and here is a big, big, but . . . we are to live on God’s terms, not our own.
If we cannot do that, we create our own alienation.
When we are thinking about what we read in Genesis chapter 3, alongside Genesis chapter 2, we have two of the most important chapters in the bible. So important because they speak—profoundly—to the origin and destiny of the human beings who are set on this earth. They may, also, be two of the most abused and misunderstood chapters in the bible.
First misunderstanding – I’m going to try to avoid referring to this incident in the garden of Eden as “The Fall”. Often, the whole Adam/Eve/Serpent thing is used abstractly to speak of how sin, death, and evil came into the world. Doing this objectifies these things—it makes them things in themselves—and they are separated from the whole of life as a human being. It separates them as something that isn’t really part of human life. When it comes down to it, we don’t know anything about the origin of evil, just that it exists. And we know that God continues to summon us. God keeps coming close to us. God keeps blessing us and promising us a future. Sin, death, and evil remain in the mix, but they are never enough to separate us from God.
You may want to go to the prophets Hosea, or Jeremiah, or Ezekiel if you want to see an accurate view of the failings and sin of humankind, but this story in Eden is not really interested in that. It’s not an explanation for how evil came into the world. We can’t blame Eve. We can’t blame Adam. We can’t blame the serpent. Adam, Eve, and the serpent are just showing us something that’s real in every one of us. We see, in them, what we’re like. It’s helpful to know. These stories reveal something about our origins but they are still more interested in showing us what God is like. This story shows us something difficult to see about ourselves, but it doesn’t explain much about evil. It reveals the human desire, a deep desire, to run our own show. To look out for #1. To try to do away with our dependence on God. Right from the beginning, we thought we could try that tree over there. “Maybe God is keeping something from us!” “Maybe God is being selfish and keeping God-like powers to himself.” They were right. God was. Because you cannot be a creature and the Creator at the same time. Too difficult, too heavy, it’s beyond the expectations . . . for being human.
The serpent tempted them. They ate of the fruit because they wanted to be “like God”, they wanted to be god of their own lives, live on their own terms. It only leads to alienation. And distance from God. Any yet, God accompanies them out of the garden, clothes them, and sends them to a new place.
Here, God begins the mission of trying to bring them back into that garden-like-state . . . a mission we see play out in the rest of the scriptures.
Let’s take a week to mull over these two chapters, and next week we’ll cover the ground leading to Chapter 12 and the call of Abraham.
Blessings on you all, in the name of God. Amen.