IN OUR FIRST ISSUE, we looked at the grand narrative of scripture, because stories shape the way that we view reality. It’s important to get the overall story right, because “if you get the story of the world wrong—if, for example, you see life here as mainly about self-actualization and self-fulfillment rather than the love of God—you will get your life response wrong.”2
Genesis is the beginning of our story. The Hebrew title for Genesis, berashit, literally means “in the beginning.” It comes from the first phrase of the book itself. The first two chapters lay the foundation for all that is about to happen. As in all good stories, there will be a terrible wrong that needs to be set right, but before we get there, we need to meet the characters, understand their roles, and enter into their world. With this foundation in place, we will be able to dig deeper into the story and better understand our place in it.
The central theme in these first two chapters of Genesis is that God created everything and commissioned human beings as His representatives to fill the earth and govern His creatures.
THE MAIN CHARACTER: GOD AS AN ARTISTIC CREATOR
Genesis opens with these words: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It is significant that God is introduced to us first as a creator—###i/i### Creator. The phrase “heavens and earth” covers literally everything, or as the Nicene Creed says, “all things visible and invisible.” As the story unfolds, the beauty and artistry of our Creator’s work begins to be revealed. David Atkinson comments on the formless void on which God begins to work. He cites the inscription on an unfinished Michelangelo statue in Florence that describes “how the sculptor is about to cut away the stone from around the figure that he has perceived inside the marble block. So here creation, shapeless and formless, awaits the artistic creativity and ordering of the Creator’s hand.”3 Atkinson wants to ensure that the beauty and majesty of creation lead us to worship the Creator, and he points us to C.S. Lewis’ account of the founding of Narnia to help us see this more clearly:
In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.4
The first and most fundamental thing we see in Genesis 1 is that God is an artistic Creator who is concerned with forming and filling, but Atkinson is also very concerned with the placing Genesis in the context of the whole of scripture:
The God who makes things is the God who also makes things new. The God who we see in Genesis 1 is the Creator of all, we learn from a broader biblical picture is also the Redeemer, Sustainer, Re-creator, and the One who brings all things to completion. God’s creative activity in history is not only the preservation of what He has made; it is a continuous, creative engagement with His world, leading it forward to its future glory.5
Creation, as depicted in Genesis, is a symphony amidst a grand story, and it informs the rest of the narrative.
SECONDARY CHARACTERS: AN INTRODUCTION
The repetitive nature of the narrative, which describes God’s forming of the heavens and the earth during the first three days of creation and filling them on the next three, has been well documented. The rhythmic cycle of the text breaks as God fills the earth with His masterpiece.
26Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen 1:26-27)
We are the pinnacle of creation. This cannot be emphasized enough. We are the secondary characters, and God makes us in His image. St. Basil the Great helps us think through the implications of these verses in his sermon, “On That Which Is According to the Image.” Basil highlights both our rational and creative capacities:
And in giving us the power to become like God, he let us be artisans of the likeness to God, so that the reward for the work would be ours. Thus we would not be like images made by a painter, lying inertly, lest our likeness should bring praise to another. For when you see an image exactly shaped like the prototype, you do not praise the image, but you marvel at the painter. Accordingly, so that the marvel may become mine and not another’s, he has left it to me to become according to the likeness of God. For I have that which is according to the image in being a rational being, but I become according to the likeness in becoming Christian.6
Paul Goebel builds on Basil’s teaching by directly connecting the likeness of God in us to our work. If God is revealed to us in the context of working for six days and then resting, then work is a central component of our being made in His image. Goebel insightfully points out that “the supreme occupation of the Christian is to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to bear in our work.”7 In other words, it is the responsibility of Christians to bring the good news of the Kingdom to our daily tasks in all its artistic creativity and redemptive reconciliation.
Nancy Pearcey builds off of Goebel’s discussion of dualism as she seeks to help Christians unify their fragmented lives. She walks us though steps for crafting a full-orbed Christian worldview, and she directs us to our first job description: “Be fruitful and multiply.” In the end she challenges us to think through the meaning of redemption:
Redemption is not just about being saved from sin, it is also about being saved to something—to resume the task for which we were originally created… The term does not refer only to a one-time conversion event. It means entering upon a lifelong quest to devote our skills and talents to building things that are beautiful and useful, while fighting the forces of evil and sin that oppress and distort the creation.8
Salvation depends on the message of justification, but Pearcey reminds us that we are born to grow up.
SECONDARY CHARACTERS: A PURPOSE
One of the most remarkable things about God’s creation is that He allows His creatures to carry on his work. As a teacher, I have found that it’s much safer to give a lecture than lead a discussion. In a lecture, the conversation flows only in one direction, and I can control where it goes. It is much more dangerous to open the floor for discussion because I lose direct control over the conversation. I might still set the parameters, but the discussion always takes on a different shape from class to class and year to year. In a loosely analogous way, God allows His image-bearers room to enter the conversation. Andy Crouch explains:
What is happening is, in fact, central to the whole of Genesis 2, which depicts God making room for his image-bearers to begin to grow into the vast cosmic purpose that was disclosed in Genesis 1. God is perfectly capable of naming every animal and giving Adam a dictionary—but he does not. He makes room for Adam’s creativity—not just waiting for Adam to give a preexisting right answer to a quiz but genuinely allowing Adam to be the one who speaks something out of nothing, a name where there had been none, and allowing that name to have its own being. To be sure, God has provided the raw material—the garden, the animals themselves and Adam’s very breath. But now the Creator graciously steps back just enough to allow humankind to begin to discover what it means to be a creator. Adam, like his Maker, will be both gardener and poet, both creator and cultivator. The Creator simply watches and listens, and it is good.9
Crouch believes that we are all called to be culture makers, and he roots this calling in a careful reading of Genesis 1 and 2. After all, God, in His majestic creation, made a world with gold and other precious minerals buried in the ground to be discovered and fashioned into beautiful things: “The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there” (Gen 2:11-12).
WORK BECOMES WORSHIP
One of the most frequently cited verses in conversations about integrating the truths of the Gospel into every aspect our lives is Gen 2:15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Most modern English translations use some version of work or cultivate, but as John Currid points out, the “it” (a pronoun ending attached as a suffix to verbs in Hebrew) is feminine, and the garden (the assumed modifier) is masculine, which means the verbs are not meant to be read with pronoun suffixes. Thus, as he argues “It is better, therefore, to understand the two verbs as infinitives without endings, which would give the reading: ‘to serve and to obey.’”10 It is not the garden we are to work and keep, but working and keeping—which can also be translated as “serving and obeying”—are to be our general states of being. We are to serve God and keep His word. Currid continues: “When the two words appear together in the Torah, they reflect the worship of God.”11
The ancient Hebrews had a deep understanding of how faith should be integrated into all aspects of life and work. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that they used the same word for work and worship (avodah). In Moses’ second book, this dual use of avodah becomes clear:
“Six days you shall work (avodah).” – Ex 34:21
“Thus says the LORD, 'Let my people go, that they may worship (avodah) me'”—Ex 8:1 (NIV)
God’s original design and desire was for our whole lives to be united to worship in a seamless way of living.
As we gain a better understanding of the beginning of the story, we will be better at finding our place in it. Crouch ends his book with a beautiful summary of what we should all strive for: “When we are fully able to bear the beauty of God resting upon us, when our work and worship are one, we will live in the eternal now of creators made in the Creator’s image. And, once more, it will be very good.”12
1 Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 41.
2 Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor (New York: Dutton, 2012), 156.
3 David Atkinson, The Message of Genesis (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1990), 24.
4C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 85.
5David Atkinson, The Message of Genesis (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1990), 22.
6St Basil the Great, On the Human Condition (Yonkers: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 2005), 44.
7 Paul Goebel, “The Image of God in Work” in Cultivate No. 2, 2015.
8 Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 47-49.
9 Andy Crouch, Culture Making (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2008), 109-110.
10 John Currid, Genesis Vol 1 (Welwyn Garden City: Evangelical Press, 2003), 106.
12 Andy Crouch, Culture Making (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2008), 268.