We all ask the “Big Questions” from time to time. You know the ones. Is there a God? Why are we here? What’s my purpose?
Believe it or not, the way we answer these questions has significant implications for how we live our lives. It not only affects our decisions and actions, but it also frames our understandings of right and wrong, life and death, and wholeness and emptiness.
In my last blog, I began a reflection based on a current seminary course wherein I’m looking at the story of the Bible. Last week focused on Genesis 1. Today we continue by looking at the story in Genesis 2.
As much as the creation stories are interesting, they’re actually trying to do a profound work. They’re answering the Big Questions, and by extension, they’re helping shape our worldview by telling us who God is and who we are in this world. The stories of creation, garden living, and shalom (wholistic peace), that we find in Genesis 1-2 were passed down orally from generations of ancient Israelites in order to show the character of God and how the world should function.
As we move to Genesis 2, we come to what we might call a second (or complementary) creation story to Genesis 1. Whereas Genesis 1 focuses on God and the creation of the world, Genesis 2 centres on the creation of humans and their role in the garden.
God, the creator, plants a garden and places humanity within it. The image we get is that of a beautiful paradise, filled with vegetation and food. In the same way that God created the world to be good, this garden is also good. Humanity is given a role, or as we might say, a calling. It’s not just a job, but a vocation - namely, to tend the garden that God created.
But God goes one step further. Not only are Humans to be stewards of the garden, but God gives Adam the role of naming the animals. And whatever Adam decides to call them, that was their name. With this vocation, humans are invited to parter with God as co-creators in His world. Adam was asked to use his creativity and follow God’s lead of naming things into being. The obvious difference of course is that humans cannot create out of nothing; only God can do that. But we have the amazing capacity to create and re-create that which God has already made.
This role of being co-creators with God is something that’s continued since the garden. All throughout Scripture, God intentionally partners with people (often the most unlikely) in order to do His work in the world. He never had to; God doesn’t need us. But for whatever reason, God wants to be in relationship with us and to see us use the gifts we have been given. Just think about all the amazing things that people have invented and discovered. God blesses our innovation, even though we know that that same innovation can sometimes lead to more evil than good (but we’ll keep that for the next blog).
Something interesting happens, though, with Adam in the garden. According to this creation story, one of the reasons God created the animals was to find a suitable helper for Adam. Even though Adam accepts his vocation, he finds no good fit among the animals. This, God concludes, is not good. And so God does an amazing thing. He takes a piece of Adam and makes Eve, a suitable companion for the tending of the garden.
There are many ways that this passage has been interpreted in the past, one of them being that females are destined to be helpers of males because they originally came from a man. But let’s not forget that “Adam" is actually the word for humanity in Hebrew, not men specifically. The message of Genesis 2 has much more to do with equality than we may have interpreted in the past.
When God takes a piece of Adam to make Eve, God is making two out of one. They may be separate genders, but this story emphasizes that all of humanity is of the same flesh. It makes little sense for Adam to be more important that Eve since she’s made of the same fabric as Adam. And why did God need to make them from the same flesh or substance? Because out of all the other animals, no other creature was suitable to be an equal companion.
When Adam sees Eve for the first time he declares, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” And when the two come back together in marriage, they once again become “one flesh.” Not only does this signify the importance of human relationship and community, but it also shows that relationships and intimacy are things that God created for us.
Now, imagine yourself asking some of the Big Questions in light of Genesis 2. Why are we here? What is our purpose? How might this story guide our understanding of vocation and community?
Well, first of all, we know that we are indeed created for a purpose. We are not accidents because flourishing and multiplying is what God commanded. God wants to see growth and life, and creates the parameters on Earth for that to happen. We also know that humanity is given a special place in God’s created order.
We are to have dominion over the earth, which doesn’t mean being abusive, but caring, as a gardener cares for the garden. We are to use it to survive, but we must also steward it for the one to whom it truly belongs. God has given humanity the ability to be creative and co-create together with Him. We shouldn’t be afraid of innovation, as long as it’s not wrapped up in our own sin. Also, we must realize that God created more than one human for the sake of one another. We were made for community and relationships, and in some sense we struggle to figure out our vocation when we do it all on our own.
But the story of the garden isn’t over. Another important aspect is that humanity is given the choice to follow God or not. And when they choose not to, a whole other challenge begins. That story (from Genesis 3) is the topic for next week’s blog.