Thursday, September 6, 2012

Meditation on This Sunday's Narrative Lectionary: Creation

The Narrative Lectionary Readings for Sept. 9, 2012:

Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8

Optional:  Luke 11:4

This creation story is not my favorite.  I much prefer the first creation story that Genesis gives us.

Two creation stories?  Two ways to begin?  You were not aware that Genesis contains at least 2 variations of the same story?

The earlier version shows God as a creator making things and declaring them "Good" and "Very good."  The Narrative Lectionary will give us this creation story in later years.

The creation story for this Sunday gives us the more familiar story:  God creates a human out of dust and puts him in the garden of Eden with strict instructions not to eat of one particular tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The rest of the story is familiar even to people who rarely go to church or temple.The snake convinces the woman to eat the fruit, she convinces the man, and they're aware of their nakedness and feel shame.  It's a story that has left us with centuries of interpretation.

Many Bible scholars think that the second creation story was written during the time of the Babylonian exile (587 B.C.E.), and it's interesting to compare this Judeo-Christian creation story to the much more violent creation story of the Babylonians, where many gods battle, and the heavens and the earth are formed out of the dessecrated body of the defeated goddess Tiamat.  In the Genesis story, we see a kinder God, with humans who are given freedom and choices.

One of the central questions that I've often gotten about this creation story revolves around free will.  Why would God put this object, this tree of the knowledge of good and evil, into the Garden of Eden in the first place?  If we believe in an omniscient God, the question becomes thornier:  if God knows that the humans will eat the fruit, why set them up?

The simple answer:  God wants humans, not pets.  The Scriptures show us time and time again that God wants relationship with us, but God wants it to be a non-coercive relationship.  God has created a universe based on free will, with humans (and perhaps animals and perhaps even quantuum particles) making a variety of choices, some of them disastrous.  It's the best answer that I can give to that eternal question:  "Why does God allow such bad stuff to happen?"

Again and again in these Biblical narratives, we'll see humans making trust-breaking decisions.  We'll see both humans and God wrestling with how to handle these disappointments.  We'll see humans deciding to look out for themselves, or deciding that they know better than God, or deciding that they'd like to be God, and we'll see the consequences of those actions.

It makes sense to begin with such a story as we have for today.  We may find it tempting, as the ancients did, to impose strict moral lessons onto the story.  One of the reasons that this passage makes me queasy is that it's been one of the primary texts used as a justification for the oppression of women.  All of our sinful consequences get laid at the feet of this first woman who ate the fruit and convinced the man to do the same.

We've got the signature text for the doctrine of original sin. And that doctrine has been used in so many destructive ways.

Later Biblical scholars have argued that the Bible is primarily about God, not about us.  When we turn this text into a set of orders to follow, we've lost our way.

In the coming weeks, we'll see an interesting assortment of people, many of whom we wouldn't choose, if we were putting together a dream team of people who will fulfill God's covenant.  For me, that's one of the most important lessons of the Bible:  God can use us where we are, even with all the ways we are imperfect.

In fact, we could make the argument that God uses those very imperfections to get us all closer to a redeemed creation, a reformed Garden, a world that's closer to finished draft than the rough draft of a world that we see in the creation stories in Genesis.


Robert Hagedorn said...

The Tree? Google First Scandal. When you get there, go to the top of the page and click on "Can you explain..." Please note: this website you reach will be deleted on November 1, 2012.

rbarenblat said...

In recent years I have come to love the reality that Genesis is full of imperfect characters. The Patriarchs and Matriarchs had some dysfunctional family dynamics for sure! And that's part of what makes them wonderful for me. In them, I recognize myself and my world -- and I know that if they could walk beside God, then so can we.

Kristin said...

Thanks, Rachel. The next few months of this narrative lectionary take us through the Old Testament, not my area of expertise! I'm trying to feel up to the challenge and not like I'm trespassing. You've got a unique (and educated!) viewpoint--any resources I should be sure to investigate? Your own writings, perhaps? I'm grateful for any suggestions you have.