God gets dirty hands from forming humanity. Go figure. God communicates with what God created. Plants a garden and offers companionship and sustenance. Later we hear of God enjoying the evening breezes walking in the garden. How thoughtful; our scriptures give us different understandings of God. In the two versions of creation’s story I prefer this more ‘humaney’ God. It gives me hope.
Each year, about this time, the Narrative Lectionary restarts telling the story of God’s relationship to humanity. It’s not hard to guess where that starts Biblically. This year starts with the story of Creation but with the second creation story in Genesis. The first story, Genesis 1:1-2:4a has been described as the great liturgy of the seven days of creation. In broad, sweeping strokes, beginning with light, then heaven and earth and then all else that was created – God is the one who like a breeze speaks creation into existence from the darkness of before anything.
But Genesis 2:4b is quite different. It’s focus, after an agonizingly long context setting preface, is on the creation of humanity. And I say that to be quite clear. The first human creature is not gendered. The Hebrew described the person as “earth creature” literally consisting of “dust from the ground”. And one more step, the creator doesn’t speak the human into existence, it says the creator formed the creature like a potter would form a bowl. James Weldon Johnson in his classic funeral meditation, Go Down Death, describes God as kneeling down in the mud and creating the first person. This is a hands on God. Into this lifeless dust bunny God breathes his own breath of life and creature becomes a living being, with nephesh – a living soul.
Now before you get too taken with your place in creation’s pecking order you might need to know that animals have nephesh as well. To know this should make the animal lovers among us happy.
Unlike the previous creation version God creates a garden after humanity as a place to put this now living and breathing dust bunny. Everything there is for human consumption – everything except one special tree in the center of the garden – before we get to the end of the story is will take center stage. We are told that death would be the result should the creature eat from it. And when they did eat, they didn’t die. There are abundant theories but we really don’t understand the existence and function of this tree in an otherwise good creation. Some would say it eludes to separation between the creature and the Creator.
In describing the garden the narrator speaks of four rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates which we all know about from taking world history and then Gihon and the Pishon about neither of which do we have a clue. But for our narrator it was a detail in masterpiece of our world. Small water sources are as essential to human community as are large rivers for human commerce.
Next on the agenda, God creates a helper for the earth creature, an ‘ezer’ to be partner and companion.
During the summers when I was in college I worked in a oil refinery on the Houston ship channel. It was a big place with several large distillation units. In each of them crude oil was pumped through a series of heat exchangers and once at the top it flowed into large chamber where the molecules broke apart in a free fall and an extraordinary thing happened, at different levels on the still petroleum products from the lightest petrochemicals used for making plastics to the heaviest residuals used for making highways were drawn off. For each of this large distillation units there was a large control room full of tell tale devices that informed the Stillman of what was happening. By controlling the heat at various places and controlling when and which products were pulled off he could manage the still in a way to produce more of what ever product was in greatest need. Winter he could increase the amount of heating oil. Summer more gasoline or diesel or JP4, which is used by jet engines. In control room there were people watching the gauges and reporting to the Stillman but outside was a person called the ‘outside helper’. The Stillman needed someone to go out and verify what all the gauges were telling him. One job was a doing a boil away. Butane, one of the products, would be dawn off into a measured tube and a thermometer would be place into the still liquid and the simple result was how long it took and at what final temperature when all the butane had evaporated. How simple, an outside helper.
That’s how we usually think of a helper and it has been particularly destructive in constructing gender roles in society and the church. President Carter said that this notion has led to the number one human rights abuse in the world, that of how women are mistreated. Someone who does things of lesser consequence. Just a helper. So our narrator throws us a curve. Psalm 54:4 actually calls God ‘our helper’. “God is my helper, the Lord is the upholder of my life“. Now that doesn’t sound insigificant to me. The first earth person has a helper. Wonderful. That doesn’t make the person formed from the rib of the first any less important. One person pointed out that it wasn’t from the head that God took the piece of the first created or from the foot but from the side to insure equality. Dignity not inferiority characterizes the second earth person.
When you stop and think about it, we are of the same stuff of which the earth consists. As God took the rib of the person made first, so God formed us from the dirt. I guess you could say that we are “well grounded” but more importantly this earth we talk about is us. Creation care is simply living responsibly and enjoying that with which God has gifted us.
But, of course, as the story continues, a snake enters the picture and plants seeds of distrust and, as wedges do, it splits things. Never before were human beings ashamed but now they hide from God. Never before were they embarrassed by their nakedness, but now they are. Once the people spoke of each other as ‘bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh’ and now they turn on each other with accusation and blame. The relationship with other human beings is broken. And they learn that their relationship with nature is broken too.
From a Christian perspective we look to Jesus as the one sent by God to bring reconciliation to a world of broken relationships. We treated him as an alien. He brought to mind the ancient stories of gardens and seeds, birds of the air, lilies and harvests. Yet, ironically as it seems, we arrested him in a garden and buried his lifeless body in a garden. Our hope is for a new creation. A new garden with a new tree that bears different fruit for each season. A tree whose leaves bring healing. That’s hard for us to imagine. We bury guns in our gardens. We bulldoze ancient orchards. Ice caps melt. Honey bees die. We think that without cost we can ignore, abuse, oppress and kill one another.
Is it too late for earth? Is it too late for us?
God gets dirty hands from forming humanity. Go figure. God communicates with what God created. Plants a garden and offers companionship and sustenance. Later we hear of God enjoying the evening breezes walking in the garden. How thoughtful; our scriptures give us different understandings of God. In the two versions of creation’s story I prefer this more ‘humaney’ God. It gives me hope. I hope you can enjoy this hands on God, our world and our place in it.