Creation Genesis 1:26-31 :
Today we begin a new series that focuses on creation and our place in the world. We cannot escape the changes that have taken place in the climate – not least because of the storms that we have been experiencing. There are island nations whose very existence is under threat because of rising sea levels and I’m sure we have seen pictures of glaciers melting and polar bears struggling to find ice on which to live. Whether or not we agree with the protests that took place last year, there is no doubt that the climate situation is at the forefront of people’s minds. Our current crisis is not dissociated from the way we live and our insistence on being free to travel by plane wherever we want. It is interesting that the enforced isolation we are experiencing has reduced pollution levels significantly – and not just in the UK.
As we explore this creation theme together, can I encourage you to visit ‘Operation Noah’https://operationnoah.org/ and find out more for yourself. Get thinking about how we as individual households and as a church can take our responsibility seriously in the stewardship and care of creation. If you have looked at the programme that was sent out, you will see that the last session is about what we can do as a church. Be prepared to share your ideas – and help put them into action.
We are going to be looking in depth at the fact that
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.
Where better to begin than Genesis 1.
How do we read the opening chapters of Genesis? Far greater minds than mine have reflected, pondered, discussed and argued about the interpretation of this ancient text. Some Christians are prepared to write off others if the words are not taken literally. Or, some Christians will write off those as fundamentalist who do take the words literally. This morning is not the time to go into all the issues. My position is this:
• Genesis 1 is not a scientific statement about the creation of the world.
• Neither is it an historical statement that needs to be defended at all costs against those secularists who would undermine our faith.
• It is a theological statement about God and God’s creative act.
The writer establishes straight away where the world started – with God. God is the starting point of everything. The writer is proclaiming God’s decisive act is in creation: this is a faith statement and was a significant faith statement. The commentators point to the fact Genesis was probably written at the time of the Babylonian exile, when Israel was questioning its place as the chosen people; when all around were the pagan gods and rituals and practices; when there was the temptation to become ‘Babylonian’ and follow these other gods; when it seemed that these other gods had actually won, because the people of Israel, God’s chosen people had been defeated and taken into exile. The writer is saying, ‘No! This is what we believe, who we are and this is the God who created us and is over all. Look for other reasons for defeat, but it is not because God is no longer all powerful.’ As the story of Adam and Eve and the chapters following unfold, we begin to see those other reasons for defeat.
So what do we learn from this faith statement about God and creation? First of all, the world only exists because of the will of God. It was when God spoke that the world came into being. It is in the words, ‘Let there be…and it was so’ that we see God ‘s creative action. There is no moulding, no gathering together of materials, just a spoken word and things happen. We see structure and order, with everything having its place. We see the development of creation happening at the express command of God and it is recognised as being good at each stage. There is a sense of purpose, sense of love, a sense of care. This world has positive value that comes from and is given by its creator. Purpose and direction comes from God and can only be found in God.
Through creation the grace of God is expressed through the freedom given to be fruitful, multiply, increase. As God creates, freedom is given and control is given away. But at the same time creation belongs to God and cannot exist without God. Creator and creature are in relationship – a covenantal relationship that gives freely and loves freely, even to the point of allowing the creatures of creation to take their own path if they insist on so doing. This is not a relationship of coercion but one of gracious commitment; it is a relationship of closeness in that creation depends upon God, but distance in that it is allowed the freedom to be what God intended it to be.
Then we come to the second part of the chapter. The greater part of this faith statement relates to the pinnacle of creation – us. And here the language changes. This aspect is special because the creature is going to be in the image of God. Notice there is a plurality: ‘Let us make…’ What are we to make of this? Of course as Christians we immediately think that this is God in trinity, contemplating the creation of people. But remember that the writer was a Hebrew who would have no concept of a triune God. Yet there is a recognition here that God is plural, not in the sense of many gods, but within the godhead. If God is in relationship – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – then we have a model for how we are to live with God and one another. It is not a case of us and them, but relationship. This is at the centre of our life with God and should be the centre of our life with each other.
We need to pick up on the language used when God says,
‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’
I don’t think God is creating a hierarchy here and it doesn’t mean that God is male or that men have superiority over women. This is made clear in v.27 when it tells us that
‘in the image of God he made them,
male and female he created them.’
The church has a sad history of oppression as a result of a false understanding of these verses and men making God in their own image. Even the fall, which has been used as a reason to subjugate women, does not change this innate equality established in creation. God’s image is reflected in male and female. One isn’t more in the image of God than another. But what else does it mean to be in the image of God? Is it physical? If that were the case, who exactly is it that God looks like? Does God look like a man or a woman; a European, African or Asian? Does God have blonde hair and blue eyes? Is God short and thin or tall and fat? To talk in these terms is ridiculous.
I think we begin to understand what this might mean when we look at what God said to his creatures: ‘Be fruitful…’ First of all we see freedom. God is giving his creatures the freedom to live and fill the earth; the freedom to enjoy the created order and explore. In this we see something of God’s nature. We don’t see a God of coercion and rules and restriction, not even in the one prohibition given concerning the Tree of Knowledge. In the expression of this prohibition there is love and concern for his creatures, and we live with the consequences of not abiding by it. If we think about that reflected in the life of Jesus, he talked about life in all its fullness and challenged the rules and regulations placed on the ordinary people that killed their relationship with God and made life a burden. We talk about the gospel bringing freedom, but often the way we live doesn’t show that, and people tend to think of being a Christian meaning you are restricted in the things you can do. There is freedom in God’s command; there is a sense of enjoyment and fulfilment; it comes from being in relationship with our creator and reflecting God’s image.
To be in the image of God also means to have authority. That is what he gave to Adam and Eve whom he created in his image. Well we see the evidence of one interpretation of rule and subdue through the exploitation of people, animals, resources and the way we treat the planet. We use the resources of the world and the ingenuity of humankind to develop more effective ways of dominating or destroying through our technology. Is this what God meant when he told Adam and Eve to subdue creation? In Cern the hadron collider resides – a huge machine used to attempt to understand the origins of the universe. Is this what God meant about ruling the earth, trying to solve questions about creation, but failing to solve basic issues of poverty and justice? It doesn’t seem likely.
With authority comes responsibility, so we cannot disregard the world and treat it as disposable. We cannot ignore issues of oppression and injustice and this includes those related to climate change, because God has given humankind the authority of stewardship
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You gave them charge of everything you made,
putting all things under their authority—
Our model of authority has to come from God incarnate – the Lord Jesus Christ. He came in love and humility, but firmly pointed out the injustice of rules that would have prevented, for example, good being done on the Sabbath and a man healed, and revealed the hypocrisy of religious leaders. God created the world and made living beings in his image to rule the world in relationship with him – a covenant relationship, not one of despot and subject. God sent a servant king to show us how we should relate to each other and God, and so fulfill his command to subdue and rule the earth.
Tenants of the King. We learn a lot about God and our relationship to God from Genesis 1, if we are prepared to read it as a statement about God as the source of all creation. We learn a lot about our responsibility as those put in authority over creation and should be awed and humbled that God would entrust his creation to us. If you go to the Operation Noah website, a statement on climate change says this:
‘According to the witness of our Scriptures, everything that we have, life and the means of life, comes to us as gift. This is the ground of our worship. The beauty and harmony of God’s creation is for all cultures a source of human wellbeing, spiritual nourishment and joy. Christians understand God’s relation to creation in three ways.
All reality comes from God the Father; the flourishing of the earth and its future are foundational to the mission of God (and therefore to the Church’s mission). God embraces material reality in Jesus in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). God the Spirit gives life to all reality at all times and in all places. ‘The love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 5:5) overflows in our love and care for all God’s creatures.’
We are going to be exploring these things further over the coming weeks.