Archive for November, 2013

image“This affirmation of human agency in Genesis 1 [namely, that human beings are created in the image of God and given rule and dominion over creation as God’s royal representatives in 1:26-28] gives new significance to the notion of divine rest in 2:1-3.  Thus, when the creator ceases work on the seventh day, it is not the abdication of a petty deity from a burdensome task, as in some Mesopotamian creation accounts.  Rather, God’s rest in Genesis 2 represents the delegation to humanity of the royal task of administering the world on his behalf.  Humans are entrusted with nothing less than God’s own proper work, as the creator’s authorized representatives on earth.  Whatever other meanings God’s rest has elsewhere in the Old Testament (for example, justification for the Sabbath, as in Exodus 20:11), in the context of the Genesis 1 creation story it appropriately symbolizes the beginning of the rule of the human race, their coming into their true power as makers of history, as representatives and emissaries of God, called to shape the world in imitation of the creator’s own primordial activity on the first six days of creation…

[We need to] take into account the structural relationship between [Genesis] 1:1-2:3 and what follows.  Whereas God grants humans the power of agency on the sixth day of creation, setting the stage, so to speak, for the drama of human history-making, the actual exercise of human agency does not begin until the paradise/fall story of Genesis 2-3.

There…[is a] highly significant absence of the concluding ‘evening and morning’ formula on the seventh day, an absence that Augustine noted sixteen centuries ago.  Each day of creation is concluded by the line ‘and there was evening and there was morning,’ day one, second day, third day, and so on, until the sixth day.  But when creation is complete and we would expect a final formula, ‘There was evening and there was morning, the seventh day,’ there is none, which leaves the attentive reader hanging and suggests that the seventh day is open-ended or unfinished.

In the literary structure of the book of Genesis, the seventh day has no conclusion since God continues to rest from creating, having entrusted care of the earth to human beings.  Thus the paradise/fall story of Genesis 2-3 takes place (as do all the events narrated in the book of Genesis and, by extension, in the rest of the Bible) on the seventh day, when God rests, having delegated postcreation rule of the earth to humanity.  God’s rest does not here mean cessation of all divine action, only that the initial conditions of a meaningful world are completed…As Henri Blocher comments: ‘God’s sabbath, which marks the end of creation, but does not tie God’s hands, is therefore coextensive with history’…

Reference to the Sabbath [of Israel’s later history] would not make sense in the present context.  Since the opening biblical creation story applies royal-priestly functions (originally derived from only one elite segment of the human population) to the entire human race, it would be strange if this same text limited God’s blessing and sanctification of time to only one segment of the human temporal continuum.  If the text universalizes or democratizes the imago Dei (and especially if it treats the entire created order as a cosmic sanctuary), it would stand to reason that the seventh day is not likely to refer to the exaltation of one particular day of the human week, but rather to God’s sanctification of the entirety of human history.  This would simply be in keeping with the universalistic thrust of the text…

It is because the text [of Genesis 1] sets up the normative conditions for creation–and not because it portrays God as having all power–that no human activity is reported in the Genesis 1 creation story.  This intepretation is corroborated by a notable asymmetry within Genesis 1 between God’s acts of separation (acts 1-3, on days 1-3) and filling (acts 4-8, on days 3-6), which further contributes to the text’s portrayal of God’s primal generosity.  The asymmetry consists in the intriguing detail that while God names the various realms or spaces that have been separated, God does not name any of the inhabitants of those realms.  Why does God refrain from naming these creatures?  Perhaps because the creator does not want to hoard his prerogative, but, on the contrary, wishes to give space for humanity to complete this privileged task.  However, humans do not name anything in Genesis 1.  We have to wait for Genesis 2, where the first human indeed names the animals, as an expression of human rule as the image of God.

Genesis 1:1-2:3 thus portrays God as taking the risk first of blessing human beings with fertility and entrusting them with power over the earth and the animals and then of stepping back, withdrawing, to allow humans to exercise this newly granted power, to see what develops…Genesis 1 depicts what is precisely a loving, parental exercise of power on God’s part.  Indeed, God in Genesis 1 is like no one so much as a mother, who gives life to her children, blesses them, enhances their power and agency, and then takes the parental risk of allowing her progeny to take their first steps, to attempt to use their power, to develop toward maturity.  That this maturity is radically different from the unlimited exploitation of the world that [Lynn] White and others are so worried about is indicated by the central fact staring us in the face: the text itself states that God’s action and rule are paradigmatic for human action…Given the portrayal or rendering of God’s power disclosed by a careful reading of Genesis 1, I suggest that the sort of power or rule that humans are to exercise is generous, loving power.  It is power used to nurture, enhance, and empower others, noncoercively, for their benefit, not for the self-aggrandizement of the one exercising power.” (J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1, pp. 212, 290-95)


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