November 20, 2018

Genesis: Where It All Begins (4)

Evening Fields (2018)

What the Bible offers in the beginning is not a “works contract,” but a covenant of vocation. The vocation in question is that of being a genuine human being, with genuinely human tasks to perform as part of the Creator’s purpose for his world. The main task of this vocation is “image-bearing,” reflecting the Creator’s wise stewardship into the world and reflecting the praises of all creation back to its maker. Those who do so are the “royal priesthood,” the “kingdom of priests,” the people who are called to stand at the dangerous but exhilarating point where heaven and earth meet.

• N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began

• • •

Genesis: Where It All Begins (4)
Human Vocation: Undone and Restored

In the context of the biblical story, the Adam and Eve are not portrayed so much the first sinners as he is the first failed saviors.

What do I mean by that?

Here is my overview on how I have come to read the message about humans and God’s creation purposes for them in the book of Genesis.

  • Despite our common perception, the world we see in Genesis 1-2 is not a perfect world, devoid of sin and death. It is a good land, in contrast to a wasteland. It is ordered by God to provide for humankind and the other creatures so that they may flourish upon the earth and fulfill what God created them to be.
  • God created adam (humankind, broadly in Gen. 1; the adam (earthling) and the eve (the mother of all living, as portrayed in Gen. 2-3) to live as his image in the world, that is, his priestly representatives). This was and is the human vocation.
  • As his priestly representatives in the world, the adam was, within God’s blessing, to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Thus, the vocation involved not only flourishing upon the earth and taking care of creation as God’s stewards, but also actively engaging and overcoming evil.
  • From the beginning then, God chose humans, those who carry his “image” in the world, to repair the world (something like the Jewish concept of tikkun olam). The original mandate for humans is that we should represent God in the world and to live within his blessing so that we might rule over an unruly world and overcome evil and its effects on the world.
  • The Adam and Eve (and again, their names are highly symbolic), as presented in Genesis 2-3, were not the first humans, but they were the first representative humans to be called into this covenant vocation, that they might bring eternal life to the world (through the Tree of Life).
  • The story of the Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden shows humankind’s failure to do that. They failed to exercise dominion over the creatures and subdue evil (as represented in the wiles and lies of the serpent).
  • The Adam and Eve were thus exiled from Eden, thereby losing access to the Tree of Life for themselves and all their descendants, subjecting themselves and the world to the domination of sin, evil, and death. It is not that there was no death in the world before them, it is that they failed to subdue the elements of the unruly world that lead to death and bring life to the world.
  • This story was meant to teach Israel, to whom God had given this same vocation. This is, in microcosm, what the story of Israel and her leaders is about. Placed in God’s good land, and called to be a kingdom of priests and a light to the nations, Israel failed to keep God’s commandments and was ultimately cast into exile. Israel, like the Adam and Eve, failed to live up to her vocation of bringing God’s life to the world.
  • What the Adam and Eve could not do, what Israel and all her patriarchs, prophets, priests, and kings could not do, Jesus (the second Adam, the new Israel) did. Through his death, resurrection and ascension, he exercised dominion over the powers holding this world captive. He subdued evil, restoring access to the Tree of Life for the whole world. “If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).
  • Those who are “in Christ” now receive a foretaste of this life and are restored to participate with Christ in fulfilling humankind’s original vocation: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We read of the ultimate goal in John’s vision of the throne: you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth” (Revelation 5:10).

Behind all consideration of our specific “callings” as individual human beings to live in this world and care for it and each other by doing our work well and loving God and others, there is a “big picture” vocation from the story of creation that only Jesus the Messiah and Lord was able to accomplish and win back for us.

Now, in Christ, like the first humans, we are called again to live in God’s blessing and life because Jesus exercised dominion over the powers of this world and subdued evil through his death and resurrection. Our “big picture” vocation has been restored. In Christ we once more enter into God’s creation mandate as we announce its restoration to the world. Jesus has made it possible for humans to live in this world as fully formed human beings and to repair the world. This is the life-giving good news we announce: Jesus’ victory and recovery of our vocation. In Christ, we can once again live in God’s blessing and bring his life to the world.

It will not be perfectly experienced until God intervenes in the end to restore all things and consummate the the new creation. But through Jesus-shaped lives, we begin to taste of the age to come.

Jesus’s followers themselves were to be given a new kind of task. The Great Jailer had been overpowered; now someone had to go and unlock the prison doors. Forgiveness of sins had been accomplished, robbing the idols of their power; someone had to go and announce the amnesty to “sinners” far and wide. And this had to be done by means of the new sort of power: the cross-resurrection-Spirit kind of power. The power of suffering love.

• N.T. Wright

Comments

  1. Great article Chaplin Mike. I agree with your line of reasoning. But perhaps you can explain that if Adam and Eve were not the first humans who were the first and on what basis do you make that assumption ?

    • From strictly a biblical standpoint, here is my reasoning: In the story, the Adam and Eve are Israel. Like Israel, they are put in a special land, presumably set apart from the other peoples of the earth. When they are exiled east of Eden, as Israel was in Babylon, they and their children found themselves among the other peoples, so that, for example, Cain could take for himself a wife and begin to build cities (Gen 4).

      That, I think, is the logic of the story.

    • Michael Bell says:

      This question is answered in great detail (from both scientific and theological points of view) in the Adam and the Genome series: http://www.internetmonk.com/?s=Adam+and+the+Genome

      “So how did we go from zero (humans) to thousands” is that we didn’t. There was always a population of thousands. As the average characteristics of the ancestral population to humans and chimpanzees changed, the group of thousands that eventually became human became more human-like generation after generation. The change from one generation to the next would not be immediately recognizable as it would be a subtle shift in the AVERAGE characteristics of the population as a whole. It is a continuum over millions of years, and most people cannot imagine the time frame. There was NO one point where daddy and mommy were apes and the little baby was a human. – From Adam and Genome 3

      • Robert F says:

        God usually, almost always, works gradually. Even when there are dramatic shifts and changes, eons of gradual, imperceptible change have worked up to them, creating the conditions and environment that make them possible. Dramatic moments like the ones we see in many scripture stories are not the norm; they are the nodal points at which God’s tremendous patience and long-suffering reveal some of the important perceptible fruits of his slow creativity.

  2. Thanks Mike for the clarification

  3. Just finished Wright’s book. It meshes with much of what I’ve been reading (and we’ve been discussing here). It is such a liberating and joyful understanding of God’s plan and purpose, and our part in it. One of my theology professors once noted, in response to a question by someone who had done quite well financially before coming to seminary and was uncertain about how he should feel about that, that evangelicals don’t have a good ‘theology of creation’ – they don’t understand what to do with the ‘here and now’ since they are so focused on the ‘hereafter’ (though the Bible says very little about that). This perspective reminds us that the ‘here and now’ matter – this is God’s creation and we are NOT ‘just passing through’ as I sometimes hear someone say (and cringe, and heard often in my 30+ years in fundamentalist SBC churches). This world is God’s good (though never perfect) creation and we are stewards of it (despite the ‘let it burn’ attitude common among dispensationalists). We are to live here as ‘colonists’ (Phil. 3:20), the ‘advanced guard’ (another ‘Wrightism’) of the new creation as fully ‘human’ beings in Christ.

    “Behind all consideration of our specific “callings” as individual human beings to live in this world and care for it and each other by doing our work well and loving God and others, there is a “big picture” vocation from the story of creation that only Jesus the Messiah and Lord was able to accomplish and win back for us.”

    As you (and Wright) note, the ‘fall’ was not so much about ‘sin’ (and as Pete Enns has pointed out ‘original sin’ is an idea that finds its root more in Augustine than Paul) as failure to live out our vocation as God intended, something we (or at least I) still struggle with even after the ‘victory’ has been won.

    Thanks CM. Great post.

  4. Ronald Avra says:

    It is necessary for me to work continually in an effort to impartially consider alternatives to teaching that I was exposed to in young adulthood. Forgoing previous certainties has rarely been something that I embrace enthusiastically.

    • It took me *years* to process through it. And even now, while I don’t miss the specific doctrines, I do miss the *certainty* with which I held them. It’s much less stressful knowing you’re right…

  5. Robert F says:

    God’s plan to have human beings lead creation out of sin and death and toward completion seemed to have failed, but in the humanity of Jesus, human being fulfills its vocation, as intended by God. It takes the eyes of faith to see that dawning of God’s renewed creation in the life, death, cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ; it takes faith to trust that in his parousia, Jesus will manifest the presence of his realized Kingdom. This is the key: Jesus’ reign is the kingdom of forgiveness and reconciliation, and wherever these occur, we see the edge of his kingdom spreading into the world of sin and death.

    • Christiane says:

      “This is the key: Jesus’ reign is the kingdom of forgiveness and reconciliation, and wherever these occur, we see the edge of his kingdom spreading into the world of sin and death.”

      well-said, Robert

      • Robert F says:

        I again want to thank everyone for their prayers for my wife as she underwent surgery; I especially want to thank you, Christiane, for your kind words and continuing concern. The surgeon kept my wife in hospital overnight as a precaution, but I brought her home today, and she is resting in bed now. I ask for continued prayers for her full recovery.

        One day I know that one of us will not come home with, or to, the other; death will separate us, for the time being. And yet, I’m beginning for the first time to really understand and accept in my heart, without being able to explain it, how it is that God loves us in life, and in death, paradoxical as it may seem. For me to feel this way as my wife underwent a procedure the potential outcome of which really frightened me filled me with a sober kind wonder at how God works in my heart, despite my myriad failures and fears. I can only say, “Thank you, Lord.”

        • Dana Ames says:

          *hug*

          Dana

        • I’m so happy to hear that your wife is recovering at home, Robert. And thank you for sharing your thoughts.

        • Christiane says:

          I will continue to pray for your wife, Robert. Good to hear she is home now and resting.

          Something I’ve always remembered:
          was a sign in a hospital where I ward-clerked in college, this:
          ‘We bandage the wound. God heals it.’

          God Bless!

          • Robert F says:

            Thank you for your prayers. And please do continue to pray, as my wife developed a fever overnight, which is concerning, because she has a compromised immune system due to Lupus, and she already takes Tylenol around the clock for chronic pain, which should also be reducing fever. We will be seeking medical help for this issue today.

            • Christiane says:

              Hope she gets some good medical care today. Temperatures after surgery require medical supervision and treatment. Will continue to pray. Please let us know how she does.

  6. Dana Ames says:

    “And this had to be done by means of the new sort of power: the cross-resurrection-Spirit kind of power. The power of suffering love.”

    Yes. That suffering love is actual means by which *we* are to live out our vocation, not just the suffering love of Christ.

    It’s good to highlight tikkun ha olam; we should be about repairing what can be repaired in this life. And to be made in the image of God is to have the ability, now actualized by the Incarnation, teaching, death and resurrection of Christ and into which we are initiated at Baptism, to at least every once in a while live in the transcendent mode of kenotic suffering love. (Read Paul on Baptism; he seems to think it actually does something…) The potential has always been there – and it took the God in Whose Image we were made to deal the decisive blow to Death, which we could not do of ourselves, so that we can enter into that kind of life, free of the fear of death that impels us to act inhumanely, against our nature.

    Those who preach “health and wealth” or otherwise lead people to believe that acceptingChristasyourpersonalLordandSavior will remove all troubles from life are promoting something that does not mesh with reality. Even sincere folks who don’t know how to deal with suffering and so find a way to ignore it, or those who see the be-all-and-end-all of our life as eliminating suffering are taking a wrong path. Yes, we should ameliorate whatever suffering we can – but to expect life to be without suffering is unrealistic and short-circuits the very means by which we come into the way of blessing the world.

    Christ on the Cross is The Image of God.

    Wright has so much right!

    Dana

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It’s good to highlight tikkun ha olam; we should be about repairing what can be repaired in this life.

      “The Future: Some Assembly Required.”
      — JMS, Babylon-5

      At a bare minimum, it Tikkun ha-Olam counters “It’s All Gonna Burn”.

      Because if The World Ends Any Minute Now and It’s All Gonna Burn Anyway, why bother with anything? Just sit back and keep your nose squeeky-clean to pass the Rapture and Great White Throne Litmus Tests. “This World Is Not My Home; I’m Just Passin’ Thru…”

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      “to expect life to be without suffering is unrealistic”
      “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Revelation 21:4
      I can only agree that that sort of “health and wealth” preaching should have nothing to do with Christianity. However, in light of promises made in passages in the Bible like the Revelation quote, the unrealistic thing, I think, is to expect life to be without suffering *just for me* in a world that remains full of suffering for everyone else. The “be all and end all” of life, of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, and of the life of Christisans is indeed, I think, the elimination of all suffering and death, but of all suffering and death *for everyone*, not expecting to get special exemption because you are besties with God.
      (That sort of “I’m alright Jack” attitude is surely not only selfish but self-defeating: we cannot escape suffering and death while we are tainted with sin, and only the sinful would not continue to suffer whilst (and because) their neighbour was suffering too. We are all saved or none of us are.)

      • Dana Ames says:

        Of course it’s for everyone – that’s the point of the Incarnation! The whole “besties with God” thing is an abomination.

        I’m only saying that until Christ comes again, everyone will have to contend with suffering. And suffering self-giving love – God’s love shown us by Christ on the Cross – is the mode of life of Christ, and the mode of life which we were made for as human beings.

        Dana

        • Robert F says:

          This means that even those who have passed through death, as part of the communion of saints, also share in that suffering, self-giving love, until Christ comes again? That would seem to be the implication, and it would make sense. Death is not simply a ticket into eternal bliss for those who believe, even for those with the strongest faith: we are part of one another, in life and in death.