Yr C ~ Creation 4 ~ Genesis 1:24-31a
If you’re a person who has always had trouble reconciling Genesis chapter 1 with how you understand the world “really” works scientifically, I’d like to suggest to you that you may have been reading it with the wrong lens.
The creation story in Genesis was never, ever intended to be an actual explanation of how things began. At the time it was written such explanations were utterly beyond the writers’ intention or comprehension – and if you think you actually understand it all even now you’re kidding yourself. The origins of the universe and our planet remain in many ways a profound mystery. We know a lot of scientific facts and theories, but it should be humbling to us that every couple of decades new facts and theories come along that blow the current ones out of the water.
But Genesis never pretended to be about facts and theories – that was something that we tried to lay on it over the past few hundred years because we decided that if you can’t rationally and factually explain something it wasn’t true. Thankfully, that concept has come to be seen as ridiculous lately and even in science they are much more at home with mystery, wonder, and nuance.
Simply put, Genesis doesn’t care one bit HOW the world began – it is solely concerned with communicating the theological assertion that however it may have scientifically happened that the Holy Mystery we have named God was and is fundamentally and inextricably at the centre of it. And more than that, they’re saying that not only is God at the very centre of it all but also that God is indistinguishable from it all.
The language of Genesis 1 is absolutely clear about this but we’ve tended to misread it. I don’t have time to go through the whole chapter today but I will point out a couple of key things and you can go back on your own and read through it a few times to see if it rings true for you.
Rather than the facts of creation Genesis wants to have you feel the rhythm of creativity.
I’ve said many times before that one of my favourite ways to describe God is as the fundamental vibration at the heart of the universe – a vibration, a wave, maybe even like music.
As I sing a note for you what you are actually hearing is a sound wave created by the vibration in my throat. (demonstration). I vibrated, a sound happened, and you all saw that it was good!
That’s the rhythm of creativity: God said > And it was so > And God saw that it was good. When Genesis says that God “spoke” it’s saying that a vibration happened – that’s what happens when you speak. A vibration happened.
Isn’t that exactly how science thinks the universe began?
Isn’t that what science says is at the very heart of all matter and energy in the universe?
God spoke (there is a fundamental vibration), and it was so, and it was good.
And look more carefully at the language.
Genesis 1:24 And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so.
Did you hear that? God said “Let the earth bring forth…”
Isn’t that exactly what happened?
Isn’t that what evolution is all about?
There was a vibration (God said), and the earth brought forth all kinds of stuff. It doesn’t say that God took out a chemistry set and a magic wand and did it all, it says that God spoke and it happened.
It’s poetry. It’s beautiful!
Verse 24 says that God spoke and said “let the earth bring forth animals” and then verse 25 says that “God made the wild animals” and whatnot.
Is that a contradiction?
Not if you read the Hebrew words carefully!
The word that is translated as made means not so much that God fashioned something but that through God this thing was accomplished. Everywhere you see the word made in Genesis 1 you could substitute the word accomplished.
Taken as a pair verses 24 and 25 say that evolution was accomplished through God’s fundamental vibration. That is a pretty remarkable scientific insight for a primitive people entirely unschooled in science! And they weren’t even attempting to do science – they were doing theology!
God said, and it was so, and it was good.
Now we get to the incredibly important, and widely misunderstood, verse 26, which has two absolutely crucial concepts in it.
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So much great stuff here. First, the whole plural thing – “Let us make humankind in our image” – is unexplainable. The most accomplished Old Testament scholar of our time, Walter Brueggemann, after writing a whole book on Genesis said that in the end this just has to remain a mystery. So be it!
But the “made in our image” part we can certainly tackle. The Hebrew word for image is tselem, which is the same word as idols. Everywhere else this is used in the Hebrew Scriptures it’s used negatively.
Idols are bad. But they’re bad because they’re lifeless representations of a god.
The imagery here is saying that we are living, moving, creative “idols” of God because God has breathed life into us.
It’s saying that we are little examples of God – little chunks of God walking around in the world – like an idol, but alive.
Maybe you prefer the word incarnation. Same thing!
But now think this through.
If you and I are made in God’s image – if we’re little chunks of God walking around – then what benefits and responsibilities does this bring?
While you’re thinking about that consider the rest of verse 26.
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
Verse 28 says a very similar thing:
God blessed [humankind], and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’
You and I have dominion over all the earth. Dominion. We’ve tended to prefer the word stewardship to describe our relationship to the earth. It’s softer, sounds more spiritual. Dominion has some stronger connotations.
In the best sense of the word it means stewardship plus. The root of dominion is the Latin word domus which means house, so to have dominion over something is to equate it with being part of your household or family.
It means the thing is your responsibility.
The bible suggests that God has given us dominion over the earth, which means that we are charged with caring for it like it was part of our household.
Well…how are we doing?
Can you imagine what your own property or family would be like if you treated them like we treat the earth?
To have dominion over the earth is to be her caretaker, so why do we try to be her controller?
Why do we exploit and destroy that which we are supposed to take care of and stand up for?
Dominion is a word that suggests power, rule, authority. These are all good things. What we need to remember though is what that great philosopher Spiderman taught us: with great power comes great responsibility!
(Well, it was Voltaire actually, but we’ll go with Spidey!)
The problem is that we don’t seem to be able to maintain the best sense of the word dominion – instead it seems like we slip into domination. I’m not sure if it’s human nature, or what the bible calls our fallen-ness, or laziness, or whatever – but it almost seems like domination is inevitable. I don’t think we intend for it to happen when we start something (ok, some do) and yet it happens again and again.
We’re told to “fill the earth and subdue it” as we express our dominion over it. But fill in this sentence actually means to replenish.
I find that really helpful.
I think the writers of Genesis were brilliant.
They understood the tension that living on this planet creates. We have all this stuff under our dominion to use and abuse as we wish, or to protect and replenish as we wish.
And that tension is what we’re really here to talk about today.
How do we ensure that our dominion will be less like domination and more like defending, like stewardship?
If everything is a precious gift to us how can we make sure we treat it as precious?
We talked about this a bit last week, and today we’re going to say more. Our great challenge is balance. We can see it really clearly if we look at one simple example.
How did you all get here today?
I bet just about every one of us came in a car. Immediately, that lays bare our tension – because we want to protect the environment but we need to get from point A to point B.
We say “no, no, no” to pipelines, and we tend to cluck in disgust at oil sands production, but we want our gas (and we want it cheap).
We are addicted to oil, even though we know it is literally killing us (maybe not directly today but certainly in the long run).
The sad but inescapable truth is that we know the right answers but when it comes right down to it we are reluctant to pay the cost. No reasonable person denies that we should be switching to renewable and sustainable energy sources like wind and solar, but nobody seems to want the wind turbines in their backyard, and we complain about the high prices being paid to those who are doing the solar thing. Some other countries are doing much better at standing up for the earth than we are.
Iceland gets 100% of its power from renewable sources – primarily geothermal and hydroelectric.
Paraguay is 90% renewables – Albania is 85%.
Canada is at 60% hydroelectric and 3% wind, solar, etc. – so 63%.
Norway is interesting. It’s at about 98% renewables, but…they sell ¾ of it to neighbouring countries so their own actual usage is only at about 25% renewables.
Think about that for a second.
That’s the nub of the problem right there.
It comes down to economics.
They have the capacity to be virtually 100% clean and renewable – to be excellent stewards of God’s gifts and defend the earth in the most loving of ways, but they need the cash.
But here’s the good news. We’re learning. We’re making the adjustment.
Every auto manufacturing company is either currently offering or is about to offer an electric car. Hybrids are already quite common. We’re learning.
Many of us car pool every time it is even remotely possible. We recycle. We compost. We’re learning.
The United Church got laughed at years ago for passing a resolution against bottled water and now the rest of the country is catching up to us. They’re learning!
We consciously choose local food products when we can, and we advocate for pesticide-free and GMO-free products. We’re learning.
But as a whole, as a society, you’d have to say that we are slow learners.
The simple fact of the matter is that in order to live ethically, in order to faithfully exercise the dominion and stewardship we are called to have over the earth, it is going to cost us.
It’s going to cost us more money.
It’s going to cost us in inconvenience.
It’s going to cost us in reputation as people who don’t understand that this is all a gift and don’t see themselves as stewards of the earth laugh at what they think is our naiveté and dismiss us.
But that’s ok. We don’t need the world’s affirmation to do what’s right.
Why should we stand up for the earth?
Because we are made in the image of God.
Because we have received so much, and we’re grateful.
Because with those blessings come responsibilities to live as God’s people – whatever the cost.
That’s easy to say and hard to do.
But that is our task as stewards of this wondrous, bountiful planet.
We can’t sit this one out.
We are called to stand up.
And it isn’t a matter of conscience or willpower – it’s a matter of Spirit, a matter of faith, a matter of gratitude.
Genesis affirms that God is at the centre of creation, and that God is at the centre of us.
Knowing that changes us.
It isn’t a scientific fact – it’s much deeper, and much truer.
So in the end it comes down to this: God said, and it was so, and it was good.
And it’s up to us to keep it that way.