Friday, December 5, 2008

Toward a Biblical Cosmology, Part II

In the last note, we looked at the first creation story from Genesis 1:1-2:4. The second creation story begins with the latter half of Genesis 2:4 and it is somewhat different. In the first story, we see God as the one who speaks and creation happens. In the second story we get, as a friend recently put it, "God with dirty fingernails." Dirt- that's a key in the second creation story. The story begins with dirt, the ground on which there was not yet any vegetation. And why not? The storyteller offers 2 reasons: It had not yet rained (although there was a spring to water the ground); and there was nobody there to till the earth. So the story starts with dirt and out of that dirt God forms a human being. The close relationship between the Hebrew word for the ground "Adamah" and for the human "Adam" is why the Old Testament Professor Bill Brown refers to the man in this story as the "groundling."

So, in this story, there's dirt and God scratches a groundling out of that dirt and breathes life into him. He is now an 'inspired groundling', since the Hebrew word for 'breath' and 'spirit' is the same. Then God plants a garden for that inspired groundling to till and keep and enjoy its beauty and bounty. Then God creates animals of all kinds out of the dirt, to see if any of them is a suitable partner for the groundling. But none of them is, so God puts Adam to sleep and slices him open and creates Eve, a creature of similar bone and flesh. And the two inspired groundlings ran naked throughout the garden, tilling and eating and enjoying its beauty.

That's pretty much how the second creation story goes. It is quite different from the first one, both in tone, language, and even the orders of what comes first. In the first story, we saw the inherent goodness of creation, how God calls various stages of creation “good” before humans were in the picture and, after humans were created, the whole wad was “indeed, very good.” As I said in the last note, the first creation story has a cosmology that the earth has inherent value; it does not just have ‘instrumental value’ insofar as it serves human purposes. In the second story, the emphases are different. Let me name two:

1. God is not stepping back and calling things ‘good.’ In fact, during this story, God steps back, shakes his dirt-coated finger and says, “That’s a no good!” (Yes, God is Italian. Didn’t you know that?) ‘What’s a no good?’ we ask. The thing that’s a no good is that the inspired groundling is alone. So, God makes animals (“That’s a no good” the groundling says over and over), then God makes woman (“Ahh,” says the groundling, “that’s a very good.”)

2. The humans in this story are not fashioned in the image and likeness of God. They are described with respect to their inherent connection to the earth. Out of the earth they have come, and into the earth they will go, according to ancient funeral rites.

While there are many things that can be said about this second creation story, I want to keep focused on what it says about the world- its cosmology. As I said previously, in most Left Behind Theology scenarios, the earth is simply the backdrop, the passive scene on which the real drama between God and humanity takes place. But this second creation story displays a very different notion of the earth- namely, its inherent connection with humanity. Rather, I should say, this story shows humanity’s inherent connection with the earth, because in this story, the earth- dirt- comes first. Everything else arises out of that first substance of dirt.

Next time we’ll continue looking at the biblical conceptions of the earth as we inch our way toward a better cosmology than the ‘doomed earth’ fatalism of Left Behind Theology. For Left Behind cosmology, I can only say, ‘That’s a no good.’

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you want to leave a comment using only your name, please click the name/url option. I don't believe you have to sign in or anything like that by using that option. You may also use the 'anonymous' option if you want. Just be nice.

Blog Archive