Note from CM: I am reading a wonderful book about the Genesis 1 creation account by Michael Lefebvre, a local minister here in Indiana, called The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context. I hope to share more about it next week. His study yields remarkable insights about how the first creation story joins with other important stories in the Torah in functioning as a “calendar narrative.”
I want to propose in this book that the Genesis 1:1–2:3 creation week is most fruitfully read as a “calendar narrative.” It is a special kind of historical narrative in which historical events are given the dates of a festival observance (sabbath observance in the case of the creation week), without regard for the timing of the original occurrence.
Lefebvre goes on to say
…that the creation week narrative is, transparently, not a chronological account of the original creation event. Instead, it is a structured retelling of the creation around the pattern of a Model Farmer tending his fields and livestock each day of the week until the sabbath. This form was to serve as a practical guide for the lay Israelite in his or her weekly labors and sabbath worship, and it does not even attempt to answer the curiosities of modern science regarding the processes or timing of the original creation event.
Like the story of the Passover and others in the Torah, these stories from Israel’s past were primarily designed to instruct those who lived in a much later time. These narratives told them about their identity as God’s people and the practices that would enable them to flourish in later generations.
Before we get into this book more fully (I’m still finishing it), here’s a taste of the direction in which we’re going. This is a repeat of a post from 2018, from our “Genesis: Where It All Begins” series.
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God’s Good Creation
Many students of the Bible think that Genesis 1, with its intricate structure, repetition, and the heightened character of its language, may represent an ancient liturgy confessing faith in the Creator God. If it is, then the refrain, repeated seven times, is captured in these verses:
- And God saw that the light was good. (Gen 1:4)
- And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:10)
- And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:12)
- And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:18)
- And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:21)
- And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:25)
- God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. (Gen 1:31)
You simply cannot come away from reading and meditating on this text without concluding that this world and all that God made is a good creation. Here are a couple of thoughts focusing in on what that means in the context of Genesis 1.
One, the word “good” involves a word-play. It contrasts with the phrase in Gen 1:3, “The earth was formless and void.” In Hebrew, “formless and void” translates tohu wabohu, which is used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible to refer to a wilderness that is unsuitable for human habitation. “Good” is the Hebrew word tov, and represents the opposite of that. God took that which was tohu and made it tov.
Two, “good” indicates that which is beneficial for life to flourish. The word-play mentioned above contrasts that which is uninhabitable with that which can bring forth life and sustain the life of its creatures. It is not simply that God is evaluating his work and commenting on its quality. Rather, he is evaluating it according to its fertility and ability to provide abundantly for the life of the world. The Jews would have understood this contrast very well, having been brought through the wilderness (tohu wabohu) to the Promised Land (tov).
Three, the text indicates that this “good” creation is God’s provision. The word “saw” in the refrain “God saw that it was good” is not just saying that God looked at the world he brought to order as if to observe it. The word “saw” is a Hebrew verb that can have the idea of “God saw to it that it was good.” In the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, the patriarch named the place “The Lord will provide” (Yahweh yireh). That is the same word. “The Lord will see (to it).” So, in Genesis 1, when it affirms that God saw that it was good, it is saying that God provided what is good for his creation, that which promotes the flourishing of life and blessing.
Now, I want to make an assertion that I fully realize goes against the grain of a long tradition of Christian theology, at least the way it has been understood on a popular level.
God has never retracted his statement that “it is good.”
Most evangelical presentations of the gospel begin like this: In the beginning, God created a world that was good (meaning perfect, unsullied by any sin or evil, a paradise). But…
Then they go on to assert that Adam and Eve’s sin introduced human sin and death into the world, and the very nature of the world itself was changed. The world itself became “not good.” It was at that point that animals as well as humans began to die. It was at that point that all the things we consider “bad” became part of the very nature of the world.
The corollary to this in a lot of popular theology is that God’s goal therefore is to abandon this creation and put a new one in its place, rather than renewing and transforming the present one.
If you want to see a complete statement of the goodness of God’s creation, in all its facets, see Psalm 104, and go back and re-read my earlier post, “Creation Is a Many-Splendored Thing: Delighting in God’s Goodness.” As I write in the post:
This reinforces [my] perspective…that creation did not change in its nature, properties, or “laws” as a result of a “fall” or “curse” in Genesis 3. It was deemed “very good” by God in the beginning, and in this poem, the psalmist affirms that it remains “very good.” This does not change the fact that God acts in both judgment and salvation in the world. But God does that because of what we read at the very end of Psalm 104 [which blames the wickedness of humans], not because creation itself has been placed under a curse that transformed it from “good” to “not good.”
Obviously, humans have introduced and continue to spread sin, evil, and corruption throughout this good world. In addition, we must face the fact of “surd evil” — evil or, from our point of view, “tragedy” or that which seems to work against life and well being that is incapable of rational explanation on our part.
However, my friends, this is our Father’s world. It remains good, God’s provision to us so that our lives and creation itself might flourish in well being and blessing.
The danger this good world faces continually is that human beings will corrupt it by “corrupting their way upon the earth” (Genesis 6:12). Humankind, given stewardship over the world, is called to represent the God of Genesis 1 and Psalm 104 in all the earth. This is the God who sustains creation by his wisdom and by the joy he takes in it. In God’s image humanity is called to the wise care and use of this amazing planet. By taking delight in its wonders and never forgetting from Whom they came, we take our rightful place here among the manifold splendors of the cosmos, helping to fulfill God’s will on earth as in heaven.