September 21, 2018

Sundays in Easter: The Very Good Gospel (2)

Onion Bottom Wetlands. Photo by David Cornwell

This is the promise of Genesis 1. The darkness is limited by the light. Suffering is not in perpetuity. The light may take generations to come, but it will come. There is always hope.

• Lisa Sharon Harper

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On Sundays in Easter, we are hearing from Lisa Sharon Harper about The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right. Her book is about the fullness of the good news that Jesus lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven to give us. Harper tells us that this good news is about shalom, the opposite of our often “thin” understanding of the gospel.

In chapter two, Lisa Harper gives us an extended meditation on Genesis 1, to help us see God’s relationship to creation, the boundaries he placed upon chaos, the role of human beings as those created in his image and called to be stewards of creation, and the goodness of what God has made. Here is what she has to say about God pronouncing his creation and the relationships within creation “good,” indeed, “very good” or “forcefully good.”

At the end of the sixth day, the writers declare, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good [tov me’od]. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Genesis 1: 31).

Tov is the Hebrew word for “good,” but the word does not refer only to the goodness of the object itself; it also refers to the ties between things. In the Hebrew conception of the world, all of creation is connected. The well-being of the whole depends on the well-being of each individual part. The Hebrews’ conception of goodness was different than the Greeks’. The Greeks located perfection within the object itself. A thing or a person strove toward perfection. But the Hebrews understood goodness to be located between things. As a result, the original hearers would have understood tov to refer to the goodness of the ties and relationships between things in creation.

Me’od is an adjective that means “forceful” or “vehement.” Biblical scholar Terry McGonigal has added to that definition: “abundant, flourishing, overflowing, and never ending.” McGonigal also explained that tov appears six times previously in this text. Here, the seventh time it is used, the word describes God’s creation, and the writers add the emphatic adjective me’od. In Hebrew culture, the numbers seven and ten symbolize perfection. The fact that the writers add me’od on the seventh occurrence of the word is significant. McGonigal holds that this usage indicates the writers are communicating the completeness and perfect interconnectedness of the web of creation. It is tov me’od because all the relationships between things overflow with goodness!

The original hearers and readers of Genesis 1 would have understood that the writers were not merely saying that each part of God’s creation was very good but rather that God’s mighty web of interconnected relationships was forcefully good, vehemently good, abundantly good!

The relationship between humanity and God was forcefully good.

Humanity’s relationship with self was forcefully good.

The relationship between humanity and the rest of creation was forcefully good.

The relationship between men and women was forcefully good.

The relationship within the first community— the community of creation (God, humanity, and the rest of creation)— was forcefully good.

The relationship between humanity and the systems that govern (the way things worked) was forcefully good. And the relationship between humanity and life itself was forcefully good.

It is forcefully good that God is supreme and distinct from humanity. It is forcefully good that the darkness has the boundary of the light.

It is forcefully good that the sun, moon, and stars help people know when to sleep and when to wake, when to sow and when to reap.

It is abundantly good that the fear-inducing surging waters are limited by the land. And it is utterly good that the sea monsters drive humanity back into God’s caring arms. It is vehemently good that humanity is made in the image of God, each soul carrying inherent dignity and the call and capacity to steward the rest of creation. It is beautifully good that Elohim provided for the needs of all creation, including humans and beasts and everything with breath that was given vegetables for food.

In the end, we see that God’s governance has transformed the world from a cesspool of overwhelming darkness, despair, sorrow, misery, destruction, and death into a world where darkness is limited by the light. Where Elohim is supreme over the waters and all that live in them. Where goodness springs forth from the commands of God. And where the relationships between all things are tov me’od!

Comments

  1. Ronald Avra says:

    Definitely belongs in the category: “substance of things hoped for; evidence of things not seen.”

  2. Dana Ames says:

    The Hebrew mindset of which the author speaks carried over into the Orthodoxy. Everything is connected to Christ (who brings all things to their fulfillment) and therefore to everything else.

    Dana