August 14, 2018

Genesis: Where It All Begins (6)

Genesis: Where It All Begins (6)

What have we seen thus far in this study?

  • Lesson One: Genesis 1 is an ancient liturgical text, contrasting the good Creator God with the false gods of Babylon, and assuring the Hebrew people that the Creator brings order out of chaos.
  • Lesson Two: The early chapters of Genesis introduce us to an ancient book that tells the story of Israel, designed to help the exiled Jewish people understand why the Exile happened and what they should hope for in the future.
  • Lesson Three: Genesis 1 teaches us that the creation God made is good. Despite the sins of human beings that corrupt the world, the creation remains good and able to provide what the world’s creatures need to flourish.
  • Lesson Four: God’s original mandate for humans was not for us to secure our place in a perfect world, but that we should be God’s priests and live within his blessing so that we might overcome the evil already present in the world.
  • Lesson Five: The story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2-3) is just that — a story. Many Christians have been led ever since St. Augustine to read the story in a certain way, but that may not be the best way to read it. It is certainly not the only way.

As we prepare to set forth our next point, keep in mind something I wrote earlier:

The story that begins in Genesis 1 is told as the first installment of the Story of Israel in the pages of what Christians call the Old Testament. A careful reading of Genesis 1-11 shows a distinct Babylonian flavor in the material as well as many emphases that would have been instructive to that community of exiles.

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is, before anything else, a story about Israel. Specifically, it is a story about Israel in the light of the Babylonian Captivity. See if this sounds familiar:

  • God creates a people and places them in a good land.
  • God gives them commandments to follow.
  • Through the commandments, God provides a way for them that leads to life.
  • God warns them that failing to keep the commandments will lead to death.
  • They listen to the inhabitants of the land instead of God and transgress God’s commandments.
  • In judgment, God exiles them from the good land to the east of that land.
  • Even in their exile, God provided for them to cover their nakedness and shame.

The Adam and Eve story (which actually includes ch. 4 about Cain and Abel as well) is a microcosm of the narrative of the entire Hebrew Bible, the story of Israel from Exodus to Exile. Adam and Eve failed to live up to the vocation God had given them and forfeited life in the good land. Their children, who also failed to heed God’s warnings, migrated to lands east of Eden and became city dwellers.

The early chapters of Genesis form the introduction to the first portion of the Bible as well as to the whole Bible. The Torah — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy — is a “book” within the larger book. Many have noted that the Torah ends with a call to Israel that mirrors the story of Adam and Eve.

When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, if you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the Lord your God has scattered you. Even if you are exiled to the ends of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will bring you back. The Lord your God will bring you into the land that your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.

…See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

from Deuteronomy 30

It’s all here. The good land. The exile. The path to life. The way of death. Choosing good and evil. Obedience or disobedience. The blessing: “You shall live and multiply.” The curse: “Today you will surely die (perish).” This text literally spells out the moral of the story of Adam and Eve for Israel. What Genesis 2-4 tells in narrative form is recapitulated here in sermonic instruction, promise and warning, witnessed by “the heavens and the earth.”

The story of Israel.

Some Peaceful Landscapes for Monday

Some Peaceful Landscapes for Monday
A Photo Gallery: Chicago Botanic Garden

Please enjoy these images, taken over the weekend on our visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden. May the God of beauty enhance your peace of mind and spirit today.

(Click on each picture for larger image)

Sunday with Ron Rolheiser: Christ and Nature

Chicago Botanic Garden 2018

Sunday with Ron Rolheiser
Christ and Nature

Christ, himself, is vitally bound-up with nature and his reasons for coming to earth also include the intention of redeeming the physical universe. What’s implied here?

Let me begin with an anecdote which captures, in essence, what’s at stake: The scientist-theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, in conversation with a Vatican official who was confused by his writings and doctrinally-suspicious of them, was once asked: “What are you trying to do in your writings?” Teilhard’s response: “I am trying to write a Christology that is wide enough to incorporate the full Christ because Christ is not just an anthropological event but he is also a cosmic phenomenon.” Simply translated, he is saying that Christ didn’t just come to save people, he came for that yes, but he also came to save the planet, of which people are only one part.

In saying that, Teilhard has solid scriptural backing. Looking at the scriptures we find that they affirm that Christ didn’t just come to save people, he came to save the world. For example, the Epistle to the Colossians (1, 15-20) records an ancient Christian hymn which affirms both that Christ was already a vital force inside the original creation (“that all things were made through him”) and that Christ is also the end point to of all history, human and cosmic. The Epistle to the Ephesians, also recording an ancient Christian hymn, (1, 3-10) makes the same point; while the Epistle to the Romans (8,19-22) is even more explicit in affirming that physical creation, mother-earth and our physical universe, are “groaning” as they too wait for redemption by Christ. Among other things, these texts affirm that the physical world is part of God’s plan for eventual heavenly life.

What’s contained in that, if we tease out its implications? A number of very clear principles: First, nature, not just humanity, is being redeemed by Christ. The world is not just a stage upon which human history plays out; it has intrinsic meaning and value beyond what it means for us as humans. Physical nature is, in effect, brother and sister with us in the journey towards the divinely-intended end of history. Christ also came to redeem the earth, not just those of us who are living on it. Physical creation too will enter in the final synthesis of history, that is, heaven.

Second, this means that nature has intrinsic rights, not just the rights we find convenient to accord it. What this means is that defacing or abusing nature is not just a legal and environmental issue, it’s a moral issue. We are violating someone’s (something’s) intrinsic rights. Thus when we, mindlessly, throw a coke-can into a ditch we are not just breaking a law we are also, at some deep level, defacing Christ. We need to respect nature, not, first of all, so that it doesn’t recoil on us and give us back our own asphyxiating pollution, but because it, akin to humanity, has its own rights. A teaching too rarely affirmed.

Finally, not least, what is implied in understanding the cosmic dimension of Christ and what that means in terms of our relationship to mother-earth and the universe is the non-negotiable fact that the quest for community and consummation within God’s Kingdom (our journey towards heaven) is a quest that calls us not just to a proper relationship with God and with each other, but also to a proper relationship with physical creation.

We are humans with bodies living on the earth, not disembodied angels living in heaven, and Christ came to save our bodies along with our souls; and he came, as well, to save the physical ground upon which we walk since he was the very pattern upon which and through which the physical world was created.

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