A Theology of Creation
July 23, 2017 Pastor: Larry Gaylord
Topic: Creation Scripture: Genesis 1:1–1:5, Genesis 1:26–1:31
Our vacation in Montana the past couple of weeks was better than I expected. That’s because the weather forecast had been calling for temperatures in the hundreds the whole time we were there. So I was expecting hot, hot, hot. As it turned out, it was mostly in the low 80’s during the day, and nights were downright chilly. Ashley Lake, with its tropical-seeming blue water, was magnificent as always. Even being cooped up with in-laws, in a small cabin for 10 days, wasn’t as bad as anticipated. Sometimes things go better than you think they will.The Bible begins at the beginning. Genesis offers some perspectives on how creation came to be. Here in Chapter One, we find an orderly and majestic progress, day by day, as God brings into existence the major features of the world, starting with light itself.
At each step of the project, God sees that it is good. There is no feeling that the Creator is bragging or egotistical. This is not like Disney’s Maui character, who boastfully points out “You’re welcome!” for the islands, trees, skies, and oceans that he, Maui, has so masterfully made. With the God of the Bible, we simply have an appreciation and affirmation of the wonder and beauty of what is being born. God is the artist who maintains a certain detachment from the canvas as it takes shape, and who likes what he sees. On the sixth day comes a new being, one who is similar to the Creator, made in God’s image, and possessing abilities and powers that no other creature has. Three times the text repeats the awesome thought, God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God, did God create.
Part of our God-likeness is having dominion over all things. It’s an old-fashioned word that isn’t used much anymore. Many in history have used it as an excuse to control and enslave other people and to cause mayhem among animals and the environment. Such a twisted view fails to reflect the character of the One in whose image we are made. God’s form of dominion is not a ruthless dictatorship, but it’s opposite: self-giving love. God’s governance of the world is open to new possibilities. It is generous, allowing life to develop. It’s not hierarchical or domineering. God’s envisioned future is of harmony and equality among all.
We can’t help but notice in our verses 29-31 there seems to be a vegetarian ideal, in which all partake of the fruits, vegetables, and grains provided. No meat. This doesn’t sound like paradise to some of us. God says, I have given food to all people and all animals. Much later, the prophets would envision the world restored to this original intent. Swords are transformed into plowshares, predators and prey snuggle up together, and the military-industrial complex is retro-fitted for purposes of peace. When Jesus came, he taught the true shape of dominion. Whoever wants to be first will give of herself or himself for the sake of others. He walked that walk, and it led him up a hill one Friday afternoon. Giving up control: it doesn’t seem like the normal path to power. Yet it is written into the fabric of creation.
My wife from time to time lets me know when I’m overly-controlling, especially toward our children and grandchild. She has a signal to inform me: she waves her arm over her head like the blade of a helicopter rotor. Dominion in the biblical context means guidance, nurture, and willingness to let life unfold. In the creation narrative, God seems to stand in awe of creation.
I think the text challenges us with a question. If we are created in God’s image, and we share dominion with God, how shall we exercise that dominion in our lives? If dominion means allowing life to happen, is there someone or some circumstance or outcome I’m trying to control? Where do I need to let go? On the other hand, is there something I can do to foster, nurture, care for creation or even just one other life? What is a faith-filled response to this existential moment in the long life of our planet? Can our prayers and our hopes as a church and as a nation make the world a little better? Mentoring a child, planting a garden, writing a letter to the editor, exploring alternative energies such as solar, making that visit, supporting a mission with time or money: such activities express the Creator’s gentle dominion.
We drove home along the northern route (Highway 2) in Montana, then dropped down to Interstate 94 through North Dakota and Minnesota. Along the way, there were four big billboards, stark in their simplicity. Someone had paid real money to put them up. The first, in bold letters on a white background, read, “Be Polite.” The next, same format, said, “Be Kind.” Much farther on was one that said, “Smile.” The last in this stretched-out series, “Have a Great Day!” It seemed a very Minnesotan phenomenon. Whoever placed the signs was highlighting the theology of Genesis in the light of Jesus Christ. They were affirming God’s good gift of life, even in a world of sadness, loss, and environmental risk, where illness happens, and war devastates, and marriages fail, and kids go wrong. That’s our calling too. To be Christ’s own community, people of hope, who know that sometimes things turn out better than you think. As the poet Wallace Stevens wrote, “After the final No, comes a Yes, and on that Yes, the future world depends.”