The Creator or Creation?

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The world of educated people rejects Genesis. It is that simple. Sometimes that rejection is not in the open, particularly among those of the Christian tradition. For most of us in that tradition, the rejection shows up as a simple ignoring or an artful avoidance of Genesis. By and large, the educated class is polite and avoids confrontation about what we see as unpleasant subjects, with Genesis certainly constituting an unpleasant subject in our eyes. Those of us in the educated class view discussing the latest Deprok Chopra book over lunch at our workplace as a visible proof of our deep spirituality, but Genesis brings only embarrassed silence. In fact, Genesis has become of such little relevance that the subject hardly ever comes up anymore.

The entertainment industry, often simply spoken of as Hollywood, sees us with crystal clarity. After all that is how they make their money. Hollywood provides a mirror clearly showing our culture’s beliefs and values. When Hollywood presents someone on screen that verbally affirms one of the Genesis stories, typically creation or the flood, we instantly know that this person is not educated. Of course belief in Genesis also implies that the character will be a bigot, bigotry being a synonym for uneducated. That is the purpose of a stereotype. It provides a quick way to establish a character. When we see that the Genesis believer acts in a naïve, bigoted or ignorant manner, we are not surprised, because that what we expect from the character onscreen.

Many Christians use this unflattering image to talk of Hollywood as an ungodly place to be shunned and either cursed or prayed for. While we are blessed if we pray for another, this image of Hollywood is no less a stereotype than the Genesis believer portrayed on screen. It being no accident an invocation of Hollywood is particularly useful for those raising money in political causes of a certain type. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that Hollywood is no more evil or sinful than we ourselves are. Hollywood simply reflects our own character and values back to us. The stereotype of the Genesis believer being ignorant and bigoted is useful because it is recognizable and believable.

Is it true? Is any stereotype true? A stereotype that was at odds with the common perception of the people using it would have little value. We can’t deny the fact that Hollywood shows us an uncomfortable image of ourselves. After all, 75% of the people in the United States identify themselves as Christians. Hollywood is simply showing us that we, the educated class in the Western world, Christians and non-Christians alike, do not believe that Genesis is to be taken seriously. Hollywood is in the business of entertaining customers and thereby making money. It is not luring us into decadence and sin. We are doing a fine job of getting there without any help, thank you all the same.

One definition of culture is that which educated people believe to be the right way to live, their common sense if you will. This has been true through recorded history, i.e. since there has existed an educated class. Roman culture was defined by Cicero and Virgil; not by Brutus the baker’s son. Greek culture was a function of what Aristotle and Plato thought, not the slaves toiling in the Athenian silver mines. Even when we oppose the common sense of our betters, we cannot help but be defined by it. We cannot escape the water that we live in.

So Genesis is out of fashion. Actually the entire Old Testament, with the exception of some nice verses in Psalms and handy adages in Proverbs, is out of fashion. The Old Testament is hard to understand, God does a lot of things that don’t play well in modern culture, it is not inclusive; there are just so many reasons why we really would rather not deal with it. It may not be stretching the point too far to say that the modern Church believes the Old Testament to be a Jewish thing, and with little to say about or to the modern world.

The New Testament is what lights our present day evangelical fire. It is the person of Jesus that excites us and that we want to show the world. Sermons about the love of Jesus and the message of his Salvation fill our churches. Sermons on just about anything in the Old Testament, not so much.

There is nothing wrong with this emphasis. The message about Jesus and Salvation needs to be presented. That very message is the central theme of the Bible. The Bible tells us that God is reaching out to us, through his Son, to offer us an intimate and eternal relationship with himself. Jesus, himself, gave us those marching orders at the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew among many other places.

But in a culture that is without Genesis, without the Old Testament, why do we want or need Jesus? He loves us, that is true. But my Mother loves me as well. She even loves me unconditionally. But Buddha offers me bliss and world peace. If I become a Mormon, it will help some of my business relationships. Our experience with love is that it is sporadic and involves a lot of personal commitment to make it work. It’s a good word and a nice concept but. . .

We know the answer to that question. We need Jesus because He saves us from our sin. What sin? I am a good person. I don’t cheat on my wife, murder people or steal from them either. I go on 5k walks every year to support the local pet adoption agency. Given all that, how can I not be a good person?

Not to put too fine a point on our culture’s perception of themselves, but ask your neighbor the following question. “Are most people basically good or bad?” What do you think the answer will be? Ask yourself the same question. Do you really think any differently?

And there we are. Adrift in a world that knows no sin. We talk about Jesus to a world that is complacent in its goodness. To be sure, both Jesus and Paul condemn adulterers, murderers, thieves and liars. But those are pretty heavy bad deeds. I don’t see myself as one of those people. I haven’t murdered anybody.  Anyway, Paul is the one doing the really heavy condemnation of bad behaviors in the New Testament.  And it happens that Paul is on the same slippery slope that the Old Testament was on in the past. A lot of what he says is pretty non-inclusive and discriminatory.

As we have lost the testimony of Genesis, sin is what we have lost. Jesus is important because of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is important because of Genesis. If we do not believe in or defend the authenticity of Genesis we have no case for Jesus himself. Without Genesis, Jesus is just another pivotal world figure that created our modern world, no different than Mohammed, Julius Caesar or Charlemagne. Without sin, what is unique about Jesus?

One of the great scenes in the New Testament is Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. He addresses the great mass of people assembled in Jerusalem because of the Passover. Thousands of those listening become Christians based on the power of his speech. But his speech is not new material unfamiliar to the listening Jews, but a simple retelling of the Old Testament. He speaks of how it foretold this Jesus whom they have just executed. The listening Jews were struck with despair by the great evil that they had done and fell on their knees begging for God’s forgiveness of their sinful behavior. Without that cultural grounding by his audience in the Old Testament, his words would have fallen on deaf ears and had no effect because the message would have made no sense to those hearing his speech.

The Old Testament is the foundation upon which the New Testament and modern Christianity rest. Genesis is the foundation upon which the Old Testament rests. Without Genesis, we are on a raft in an ocean of thoughts and behaviors, traveling wherever the wind and current take us. Jesus demonstrated this to us through his words to us in the New Testament. Everything he said and taught is solidly grounded in the Old Testament. Jesus is recorded as quoting the Old Testament 45 separate times, including Genesis.

Genesis tells us that God created us, as well as the entire physical Universe that we see and experience. He created us, just as He created the plants and the animals. But He created Man differently than he created those plants and animals. He created us in his image. It is not explained to us in greater detail, but in some way, we are different than the rest of creation. It seems that for one thing, we have the opportunity to choose how we will live in this creation. We have free will.

Free Will. An amorphous concept, ill-defined and contentious. But each of us recognizes the essential truth of our ability to choose the path we will follow. We cannon define free will, but we know it is there. As Genesis shows, at its most basic, free will appears to be the choice to accept God as our Lord and Creator, or to go a different way.

In Genesis, God gives us a background on our nature as human beings and how we came to be that way. He points out to us that we were created with the need and the desire to worship. He shows us the serious nature of our worship choices and the fatal consequences of choosing something other than the true god. The Old Testament can be seen as the story of God creating a people that worship him, rather than other gods. We see again and again, that all people will worship something.

If there is a basic value among the educated class in the West today, it is the exaltation of the individual. We see ourselves as individuals who deserve the right to be all we can be. Even the US Army, that most conservative institution, knows this and uses it in their advertising. Any impediment to that right, irrespective of race, gender, abling, is seen as anathema. As a culture, I think it is safe to say that we have raised the rights of the individual to our highest good. Indeed we worship at the altar of the individual.

We believe that an educated individual can and should make choices from an unlimited menu of lifestyles and options. The thought that we would choose to worship a false god, or idol, brings a smile to our lips. After all, we are rational, educated people. If pressed we might say that we choose whether to worship or not to worship. Not everyone has evolved beyond the need of religion. The idea that we might give allegiance, or actually give worship, to something or someone is not how we see ourselves. Even Christians talk about belief, rather than worship.

There is essential truth in the distinction between belief and worship. Worship implies an acceptance that the worshipper is in the power and subordinate to that being worshipped. Worship implies that we bend our knee in the presence of that more powerful than we. What was a natural and everyday occurrence to the serf in medieval Europe is something that we cannot imagine. But we do believe, in things both seen and unseen. Every time we accept pieces of green paper or the numbers printed on a small piece of plastic for something of value, we demonstrate our belief in things unseen.

When does belief become worship? I think it true that belief, of any kind, makes demands upon us to perform certain tasks. As we perform those tasks demanded by our beliefs, the distinctions between belief and worship become smaller and smaller. If we fail to act in a way consistent with our beliefs, of what value is our belief? Are actions consistent with a belief system different than worship?

God tells us in the opening chapter of Genesis that He created everything. All of nature is his creation. When we combine the first chapters of both Genesis and John, we learn that He simply spoke it into existence. As is all of God’s revelation to us, i.e. the Bible, these words are incredibly rich in meaning, both said and unsaid.

What is said is that God created all that we see and experience. What is unsaid is that God created Nature. Unsaid is God’s knowledge that we are prone to worship Nature. Unsaid is his question to us; “Are we going to worship the Creation or the Creator?”

In 21st Century Western Civilization, we are cocooned and insulated from the disease, hunger and fear that were the common and everyday lot of our ancestors. It is sometimes hard for us to understand the power that nature has over us. The depths of a brutal winter cause us to vacation in Cabo San Lucas rather than watch our children die from hunger and malnutrition. We can see this in our changing views of Nature.

Over my lifetime I have seen our image of Nature change radically. When I was a young man, Nature was seen in our culture as something to be fought and to be conquered. She was Nature, red in tooth and claw, and we were at war with her.  But then came Rachel Carson and Silent Spring. Truly it was a watershed moment. It opened our eyes to the fact that there were consequences to our actions in the world. It was obvious but we had not seen it or considered it in our actions before. We now saw that in our war with Nature it was possible for us to suffer from “friendly fire”.

We have seen our culture’s image of Nature swing like a pendulum from the brutal war with and exploitation of Nature, to where we are today. Now we see Nature as our mother, fragile and nurturing. At least in the West, we have usurped any power external to ourselves and taken the role of preservers and caretakers of all life and landscape on the planet. It is as if our mother has grown old and feeble requiring us to take over her affairs and see her placed in a pleasant nursing home, no longer able to care for her children.

But in both cases, we have imagined a relationship with the physical world, with Nature. In earlier times, Nature had been a harsh enemy with whom we either waged war or to whom we sacrificed to appease her anger. Today, we have recast her as a warm and tender mother that desires harmony, but whose power has been superseded by our own. In many respects this belief about Nature parallels a common view of God in the Church today, desiring peace and harmony, but ineffectual before the power of Man.

But we have always imagined a relationship with Nature, with Creation, that does not exist. From the earliest cultures to that of today, we have had beliefs about Nature. But in either case, whether it is an adversarial or maternal relationship that we imagine, it is not in accord with what God tells us at the beginning of Genesis. In Genesis, God gives us these facts:

  • God created Nature.
  • Nature is not a living being and does not have any higher purpose.
  • God created Nature to be productive and filled with life.
  • Man has been created apart from Nature and is somehow unique.
  • Man has been given a purpose, a task regarding Nature. Man is given the task to:
    • Fill Nature
    • Subdue Nature
    • Rule over Nature

As in anything that God tells us, it is wise for us to listen and obey. If we meditate on the reasons for God’s words to us we will find it fruitful and time well spent. The facts and concepts contained in God’s message to us are both understandable and fit with our world as we live in it.

Could it be that God understands us? Did He know that when faced with the reality of experience, we create theories or stories? Did God know that when faced with complex realities beyond our comprehension; we create personality; we anthropomorphize? In other words, we give a face and a personality to inanimate objects or simply to ideas. Did He know that when faced with that greater or more powerful than ourselves, we either fawn before it to curry favor or fight to test our power?

Is it fair to say that while we fill libraries and data banks with our knowledge of the physical Universe, that Universe is more mysterious with less certainty about it than before our modern scientific age? Do we know more and more about less and less, with no end in sight? Do you disbelieve that many speak of our planet as Gaia and wonder whether a planet can be a living and thinking organism? Do you disbelieve that the welfare of plants and animals carry weight in the balance of decision about human life and death?

God knew us. He designed us and created us. He understood who we are. He knew that we would be tempted to worship creation, to worship Nature. In Genesis, He tells us that Nature is simply a something made, something made with no life or intrinsic value of its own. In case we missed the message in Genesis, He tells us again in the first chapter of John’s Gospel:

“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.”  John 1:3-4 NIV

Genesis tells us that Mankind is not just another form of life, kindred to the bunnies and whales. Genesis lets us know that mankind is a creation of God, in the image of God, to fulfill a unique purpose in the Universe that was also created by God. God gave us free will, the ability to make a choice. He tells us in Genesis that we must choose to worship either Creation or the Creator.

 

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