Sunday with Walter Brueggemann
The counterexperience of creation in worship
One other peculiar practice in Israel’s worship life bears on our theme. It is evident in Gen 1:1–2:4a that creation and its gift of blessing are understood to be accomplished through (a) utterance, (b) separation of day from night and the waters from the waters, and (c) in the culminating practice of Sabbath.
It is widely held that creation became a crucial claim of Israel’s faith in exile, when Gen 1:1–2:4a is commonly dated. This setting for creation faith suggests that affirmation of creation as an ordered, reliable arena of generosity is a treasured alternative to the disordered experience of chaos in exile. If this critical judgment is accepted, creation then is an “enactment,” done in worship, in order to resist the negation of the world of exile. As a consequence, creation is not to be understood as a theory or as an intellectual, speculative notion, but as a concrete life-or-death discipline and practice, whereby the peculiar claims of YHWH were mediated in and to Israel.
This assumption has led a series of scholars to notice that the Priestly construct of the tabernacle in Exodus 25–31 has an odd and seemingly intentional parallel to the creation liturgy of Gen 1:1–2:4a.15 The instructions for the making of the tabernacle, given by YHWH to Moses, consist in seven speeches, matching the seven days of creation, and culminating, like Gen 2:1–4a, in the provision for the Sabbath (Exod 31:12–17).16 Moreover, the assertion that the tabernacle is finally “finished” (Exod 39:32; 40:33) corresponds to the “finish” of creation in Gen 2:1–2.1.
This parallelism suggests that while creation may be an experience of the world, in a context where the world is experienced as not good, orderly, or generative, Israel has recourse to the counterexperience of creation in worship. Such an exercise, we may suspect, permitted Israelites who gave themselves fully over to the drama and claims of the creation liturgy to live responsible, caring, secure, generative, and (above all) sane lives, even in circumstances that severely discouraged such resolved living. Thus creation, in such a context, has concrete and immediate pastoral implication.
• An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible (pp. 142-143)