September 30, 2008

In the Hands of the Potter

In Genesis 1-2:3, the writer describes God's creation of the world as a verbal activity. God creates by speaking things into being. God said, "Let there be light," and there was light! His word is a creative force that brings something into existence from nothing. (Ex nihilo is the Latin phrase used in theological circles to indicate creation "from nothing.")

Genesis 2, however, changes things a little. In Genesis 1 God is the transcendent (completely other, beyond us) Creator bringing things into existence by His Word. In Genesis 2 God is the imminent (close, among us), loving Creator who gets His hands dirty in the process of creating. God is planting a garden. God is forming a man. God is building a woman (anyone remember Weird Science?). God is actively and personally involved in His creation.

The Hebraic words for God also change to reflect this difference. Genesis 1 uses "Elohim" as the word for God. Elohim is the general word for God; by using it to reference God the writer is referring to the general concept of God. He is starting with the general, philosophical understanding of God. In Genesis 2, however, the words referencing God shifts to Yahweh Elohim. Yahweh is the personal name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Combining Yahweh with Elohim makes a bold statement that the transcendent God of Creation in Genesis 1 is the imminent God of Creation in Genesis 2 and, ultimately, the God of Israel!

God's creation of the human being in Genesis 2 is the primary example of this difference. It is an intimate moment. The God of the Universe kneels down in the dirt, scoops the dust together, forms it into the shape of a human being, and leans close to breathe life into him. God is getting his hands dirty, and investing himself personally into this new creature. God is now in a personal relationship with His most treasured creation.

Scientific discoveries over the past few hundred years have illuminated our knowledge of the universe. At one point humans believed that earth was the center of the universe and everything rotated around it...now we know better. Astronomy reveals that our universe is large and becoming larger every moment.

These discoveries can make humans feel smaller and smaller, but they shouldn't.

Genesis affirms the unique place of human beings in God's created order. No matter how vast the universe, we are the pinnacle of God's creation, and He has invested himself in us. Unlike any other creature in all of creation, we were created to live in a personal relationship with God, and His desire is for a personal relationship with each one of us.

In Jeremiah 1:5 God says to Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; appointed you as a prophet to the nations." As God knows Jeremiah so God knows us. His loving care for us is not an arbitrary, utilitarian thing...He formed us and loves us as a father loves his children. We are not disposable...we are not unimportant or worthless...we are valued and loved by the Creator God, and that should change how we view ourselves and how we allow others to view us.

If you would like to read some of the previous entries on Genesis go here, here, and here.

September 29, 2008

In the Image of God

Biologically speaking humans and animals are not all that different. Humans have a large degree of similarity of DNA structures with chimpanzees. We are not that different biologically or anatomically. Evolutionary scientists see this as a “blow” against creationism, demonstrating the reality of our evolutionary connection to a simian ancestor. With this much similarity, they reason, we must have a common ancestor.

Genesis, however, does not attach our difference from the animal kingdom to our genetic structuring. In fact, Genesis 2:7 uses the same word (living being) to describe humans as it used to describe the animals. So our difference, our uniqueness in God’s eyes, must be based on something else.

Genesis 1:26-27 provides the answer…we are unique amid the animal kingdom because we alone have been created in the image and likeness of God!

To be made in the image and likeness of God means several things. First, we are created with a similarity or likeness to God. Genesis is very careful not to give a bodily form or description to God, but seems to indicate that humans are similar. Second, we share certain mental and spiritual characteristics with our creator. We are capable of thought, choice, a spiritual connection, personality, and intelligence. Spiritually we are capable of communicating and having a relationship with God. Third, we are given responsibility and rule over the earth. Just as God rules over the entire universe, we are to rule over the earth. This rule, unlike God’s, brings responsibility. We are answerable to God for our actions. Fourth, we are God’s representative on earth. Kings and conquerors often left statues of themselves (like the one of Lenin) and a royal ruler over a conquered area. We are God’s representative to the earth He created.

Based on the arrangement of the biblical text man and woman are put forward as the pinnacle of God’s creation. They are unique because they are created in the image of God. They are given intelligence, responsibility, and a personal connection with God.

Adam and Eve’s sin damaged this image. It severed the relationship between God and mankind, and corrupted the very nature that God had created “good.” While damaged by sin the image of God remains on each and every human being. The book of James reminds us that we are not to speak evil about our fellow human beings because each of us is made in the image of God.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Father Paisii tells Alexei Karamazov,

“Secular science, which has grown into a great force, has investigated, particularly during the past century, everything that has been handed down to us in the sacred books. That is something you must always remember, young man. After their thorough, merciless analysis, there was nothing sacred left in the hands of those secular scholars. That was because they analyzed only the parts and failed to study the whole, showing thereby a truly astonishing blindness. And the whole still stands today, firm and unassailable before their eyes, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Hasn’t it survived nineteen centuries and isn’t its existence apparent today in the spiritual emotions experienced equally by individual men and by masses of people? And in the hearts of the very atheists who are trying to destroy everything, that spiritual emotions lives on to this day. This is so because even those who renounce Christianity, even those who rebel against it—even they, in their essence, were created in the image of Christ and have remained in His image.”

No matter how sinful or far away from God we are or try to be…we have His image stamped upon our lives.

St. Augustine referred to a “God-shaped hole” inside of each man and woman that could only be filled by God. As long as we are separated from God we remain unfulfilled and incomplete; only God can fill that hole through the work of Jesus Christ. You might say that salvation and the Holy Spirit’s work of leading us deeper is a recapturing of those aspects of the image which have been lost. As you and I grow in grace the fullness of that image is restored in our lives. Our spiritual growth is a restoration process…God is restoring us to the fullness of His image.

To see the other posts in this series on Genesis go here and here.

September 28, 2008

The Breath of God

Genesis 1:2 describes a world in chaos, disorder, and utter despair and blackness. It is a wasteland much like the desert where men would get lost, wander, and die. It is a hopeless place until God gets begins His work.

The process of change begins with God's ruach hovering over the surface of the deep. Ruach is the transliteration of the Hebrew word for wind/spirit/breath. Many scholars have discussed the ins and outs of which word would be the appropriate word for the translation...most come down on the side of spirit. I also tend to like the word breath...the breath of God hovering over the surface of the deep...it seems to also tie this in with the creation of the human being later when God blows the breath of life into him. Either way, God's breath or spirit is about to change the very nature of this place.

In theological terms this description of a dark and chaotic world is the exact opposite of God's nature. In fact, Genesis 1 shows God's first act of creation as bringing light into the dark place and then bringing order to the chaos. Where once chaos and darkness ruled, now, through God's creative act and the presence of His spirit, everything is changed.

When I planted the church in the Missouri we had the opportunity to rent a storefront facility. My wife and I went with a couple of people to look it over and see if it would fit our needs. By the end of our visit we were divided into two groups: those who thought it was a great space with wonderful opportunities and those who felt like it would be a big mistake. The difference between the two opinions was the difference in being able to see the future possibilities over and against what the place looked like in actuality.

If we were able to look at the world pre-creation (without the knowledge of what God was about to do) we would have thought that nothing good could ever come from that dark, chaotic place. In our estimation it would be hopeless.

There are many people whom we would consider hopeless, living desolate lives. They have destroyed their lives with the sinful choices they have made, and many are may seem beyond the possibility of change.At times is seems that nothing will ever reach them.

It is amazing, though, how things change when God begins to breath into a situation, when His Spirit begins to move in the human situation. Usually we can't even see what he is doing, but the wind begins to move and God's spirit transforms the heart. He reaches down into that dark, desolate life and breaths new life into it.

I have seen the power of God to transform a life through the work of His Holy Spirit. They really do become a new creation. No one is beyond the reach of God's powerful, life-giving Spirit.

September 24, 2008

Getting Creative

Visit any creative worship arts or communications conference and pretty soon the concept of God's creativity surfaces. Everyone wants to encourage churches to be more creative and to try new things. Inevitably you will hear someone say, "God is creative. Therefore, we must be creative. Just look at Genesis 1!"

While I agree with the need for churches to be more creative in their presentations, their programs, and in their worship services...it is not possible to get that from this verse. They have to twist Scripture and the theological intent of that passage to get that meaning. We are meant to be creative...we just can pull it from this particular passage without twisting Scripture.

Why?

Because we are simply reading a translated Hebrew word, and we miss what is behind it. We have place our own meaning on the word "create" and failed to see the underlying Hebrew word and its intent.

Genesis 1 says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The word we translate as create is ברא; pronounced bara. To bara is to do something new...to create from nothing (ex nihilo).

Here is the interesting thing...in the Old Testament, God is the only subject to bara. Humans never bara! Humans are never the subject of this form of the verb that we translate as "create." They are not capable of creating in the sense the author of Genesis is using it in this text.

There is another word pronounced aseh which means to make or form...this verb both God and humanity does. It carries with it the imagery of a potter or artisan forming or making something with some raw materials. Genesis 2 shows God forming man from the dust of the earth much like a potter would mold clay. In this sense, we can be like God in the creative (using our modern understanding of the word) process.

Only God bara's...God and Man can both aseh. It is amazing how consistent the Old Testament is theologically. God is capable of creating in a way that we could never dream of doing. Human beings are able to take something and form it, but only God creates from nothing; with no raw materials.

The same word used of God's creative work at the beginning of the world is the same word used to describe the work that God wants to do inside each one of us.

Isaiah's promise of a Messiah and the work he would do indicates that God will make the dessert wasteland into a land flowing with streams and lushness. God is going to bara a new thing! This is a grand promise to those who live in a dessert region and know the scarcity of rain.

But this bara of a something new is also what happens in our lives. God takes the wasteland and sinfulness of our lives and puts in its place a lush land with flowing streams. In the words of Paul, we become a new creation!

If you are like me, you know the power of God's bara in your life. You can look back and see where you came from, and how far God has brought you. God has recreated you, and you are a new creation...as dramatically a new creation as moving from no earth to a fully inhabited earth! With that in mind, I realize that I cannot create. I can only form and shape, and I am content to have that in common with God.

September 23, 2008

Blogging Enthusiasm

Lately I have been in a writing slump. I don’t know if you are supposed to admit that on a blog that you want people to visit and read, but there it is. I have fought it off for awhile, but over the past few weeks it has become quite obvious as can be seen in the posting frequency. It is very strange to have absolutely no desire to do something that at one time provided you such enjoyment. Blogging and writing were a passion for me, and I couldn’t wait to sit down and write. I still enjoy writing and blogging, but I just seem to go blank and lack the energy to go through with the posts when I get started.

Over the past month, I have been teaching a class on the Pentateuch. It has been exciting, challenging, and refreshing all at the same time. I took classes on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) for my master’s degree, but find that I am learning (re-learning?) a lot of stuff I either didn’t notice or didn’t catch the first time through.

So I thought maybe my blogging and my class could come together. I could use the passion from one to reignite the passion in the other. So I am going to share some stuff that I am learning as I prepare for the class, write the sessions, study God’s Word, and reflect on what God is teaching me as I teach the class.

September 11, 2008

I Can Finally Watch Cycling Again!

Lance Armstrong, seven time winner of the grueling Tour De France, has announced his return to cycling after a three year absence.

I couldn't be happier. I consider Lance Armstrong an inspiration and one of my heroes. It will be nice to watch a Tour De France again with a champion that knows how to win. And, whether or not he does win, he will certainly make the race more exciting.