Saturday, April 21, 2012

Retelling Genesis 1-3

I wondered recently if one could retell the story of Genesis 1-3 compellingly and Christianly by beginning with "Once upon a time." This was the result.

Once upon a time, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the whole earth was full of chaos and terror. But, God put his hand to the plow and began to shape it. He took it in his hands like a potter grabs the lump of clay, and he moulded it. Over the course of time, God brought something good out of the chaos, opening up the world into higher and higher levels of order and peace, until one day, he brought out, from the dust of the ground as it were, the first man and the first woman.

He put them in a tilled and kept place, an oasis of peace and harmony in the midst of the chaotic world. It was a time of innocence. A time of peace. God gave them a task: keep the Garden. Expand it. Bring order and peace to the whole chaotic and terror-filled world. And, he said, don't eat of the tree in the center of the Garden, the tree that will let you know the difference between good and evil. You're not ready for that yet. You'll have time to learn that later.

But, just like all of us, Adam and Eve were curious. It didn't help that one of the creatures from outside the Garden had slithered in and was intent on bringing inside the outer chaos, of disrupting the human being's work before it could even begin. The serpent suggested that God was withholding the difference between right and wrong unfairly, that of course the humans were ready for it right now. The woman ate first. The man ate after her. And God, walking through the Garden that evening, seeing that the disorder from outside the Garden had already taken root in the ones who were to spread his order and peace to the whole chaotic world, saw that things would not work out the way he'd planned.

So, he told them what this new disorder meant: things were broken. The relationship between the man and the woman was broken. The relationship between the humans and the earth was broken. Most wretched of all, the relationship between the humans and God was broken. Sin, disorder, had crept in. Nothing could be the same.

The humans had been ashamed, noticing for the first time that they were naked. But, God would not let them stay naked. He gave them their first set of clothes, a perpetual sign that order must cover chaos, that the work of setting things right has to start with the humans themselves. And he gave them a promise that one day one of the first woman's children would stand up to the serpent. But this time, the human would win. By winning, that human being would give the world a fresh start.

Christians say we know that human's name: Jesus of Nazareth. But what happened between the promise to the first humans and the birth of Jesus is a whole ream of other stories, stories of faithfulness and rebellion, stories of order and chaos, stories of peace and war. Those stories we will have to save for later.

**Picture by kay82


Matthew Frost said...

Very nice. I like the fact that the "fable" conceit in your telling of the story brings out the fact that God is a God who shapes chaos into goodness. If in the very beginning, how not today?

But too regularly we have forgotten this and emphasized a creation ex nihil, which conspires with natural theologies of law to speak of a world whose basic order is and remains original. We forget about the watery chaos, much as we forget that the story of the fall accounts for the present order of the world.

I feel like the story of a God who is, from the very beginning, turning chaos into goodness recaptures some of the basic hope of the apocalyptic of the text.

More briefly, "nicely done!" I heard the text better this time than the last time I read it. :)

Unknown said...

Thanks for the compliment, Matthew! I'm glad to hear that it resonated with you.

I would still defend an ex nihil theology of creation in so far as what comes out of nothing is the formless void and the chaotic waters that God then shapes into the world we see and know. Would you agree?

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