The Book of Genesis provides us with a variety of wonderful stories regarding the foundation of the world and of the people who will become known as the Israelites. In the coming weeks, we are going to journey through the Book of Genesis to discover some truths and insights that may be hiding in plain sight.
When we read the first account of creation in Genesis 1, we immediately recognize God’s activity as one who creates. God systematically and logically ordered the world we now know. Upon a closer look, though, we can also say that God, through his ordering, also created separation: night from day, land from water, vegetables from fruits, animals that dwell on the land from those that fly in the air, and finally the creation of humans, both male and female.
The universe swirled in chaos that God then ordered, but the act of separating out the various aspects of creation divided the chaos from itself. This separation is felt in humanity from the moment we are born, begging the question, “Does the separation within creation extend beyond what we see to what we cannot see? Does this separation naturally separate that which was created from that which created it?”
Is this a significant enough idea to play with? Theologically, separation at creation has huge implications for those who follow Augustine’s thoughts about the “fall of man” and the inherent sinful nature of humanity. By recognizing the separation built into creation, one must decide whether the separation, as orchestrated by God, was by design. We can certainly look at this passage and see the separation, but is there another option—not as unified or separated, but interconnected?
In Karen Armstrong’s book In the Beginning, she relates the separation created by God as a theme that evolves over time in the ancient world. She states:
Nearly all cultures have evolved a myth of a golden age at the dawn of time when men and women lived in close intimacy with the gods. Human beings, it was said, were in complete harmony with their environment, with one another, and with the divine. There was no sickness, no death, no discord. The myth represents a near-universal conviction that life was not meant to be so painful and fragmented. Much of the religious quest has been an attempt to recover this lost wholeness and integration.
The idea that at one time humanity communed with the gods, interacted with the gods on a daily basis, is widely written into our earliest literature. Over time, though, the gods become less involved with human activity. Throughout the history of the Hebrew people, we see God interacting with the in a variety of ways. What may not be obvious, though, is that God’s relationship with the Hebrew people, just like the gods and their interactions with other cultures, changes dramatically over time to include much of the same distancing and separation.
For those of us reading Genesis in the 21st century, we take the little we know about the writers of Genesis and extrapolate potential expectations of God from their writings. In truth, we have no idea how close God was to that which God created. All the written and oral accounts of creation from vast cultures around the glob were all considered myths used by those cultures to derive meaning and purpose for being created in the first place. It is only in the present era that we see folks attempting to use Chapter 1 of Genesis as actual recorded history. This was not true of the Hebrew, however, that first penned these pages.
For the writers of Genesis 1, creation had to begin at some point in history. Lacking all scientific knowledge, they wrote how they imagined God set about creating based on their visual observations of sky, land, water, animals of all kinds, plants and trees of all kinds, and human beings of all colors and cultures. The writers imagined a creator so deft at calling things into being, that God only had to say the word and it was so. But the writers of chapter 1 of Genesis also needed God to be bigger than and outside of creation. They set God at a distance from creation and made God to be a strategic planner who set things out in an orderly fashion. This actually says more about the individuals who wrote Genesis 1 than it does about God.
Still, there is something about the necessity of separation that speaks to me, especially as we continue to long for unity and to be reconnected with our creator. Brene’ Brown frequently speaks of being born “hardwired for connection.” On some level we believe this is true, but then we must ask the more difficult question, “Why are some folks so broken and disconnected?”
Many religious scholars would say that the fall of Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world, which is what caused our separation from God. This sin is then passed on to generation upon generation. This would seem like a plausible idea except that we’ve already shown that God introduced separation into the world before Adam and Eve were created (at least in Chapter 1). This creates a dilemma for us as humans in that we cannot understand where evil comes from and why we do the things that only cause more separation. I would argue that it is precisely the struggle against right and wrong or good and evil as a result of inherent separation that makes us human, by God’s design.
In Genesis 2, we are struck by the change in focus and how God is characterized. This is no longer the God of Chapter 1 of Genesis; this God is not systemic or orderly about creation as a whole but is more concerned about the relationship between the divine and the created. We see man being created first, not last, and then moving on to the rest of creation, but not in the same creative order as in Chapter 1. Little care is taken by the authors to maintain symmetry or to be cohesive between the two stories.
There are so many divergent points in the text that we now believe that Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 were written by different sets of authors. We even see the use of place names and river names that were written into the account in Genesis 2 that did not exist at the time of its creation. Many of these myths and stories were penned when Israel was held in captivity in Babylon in the 5th century BCE. Still, there is an important distinction to be made between the God of Chapter 1 and the God of Chapter 2.
One huge distinction between the two; God in chapter 1 creates both male and female at the same time, and they are created in the image of their creator. In Chapter 2, they are made from the dust of the ground. This imagery will come into play repeated throughout the Old Testament and be resonant in how the Hebrew people view themselves in relation to God, “from the dust you were made, and to the dust you shall return.” This doesn’t promise an afterlife or eternal life, simply a beginning and an end. The theological supposition in being created from the earth is that we are and always have been separate and apart from the divine. There is little or no connection between the two worlds. And yet, it is in the Garden of Eden, this supposed paradise, where God will commune with Adam and Adam will feel the closeness of God.
We also see the institution of coupling in Chapter 2, which is not present in Chapter 1. God feels the need to ensure that Adam has a helpmate. What is so startling, though, is how quickly God forgets the kind of creature that Adam is, even though Adam was created unique among all other living things. God first creates all the animals of the field, bird of the air, and fish of the sea. Each is paraded in front of Adam to determine if any would be suitable as a helpmate, but none could be found.
It is important to note that God is also giving Adam some creative license by allowing Adam to name all the animals. This co-creator position is unique to Chapter 2 where God relinquishes some of his own need to do it all and to allow Adam to help with the overall process.
When no helpmate is found, Adam is put to sleep and a woman is formed from Adam. The creation of woman places another form of distance between all parties: God creates Adam; God creates woman from Adam. This distancing only furthers the idea of separation and brings the act of creation under more scrutiny. There is no way for God to create with also creating separation. The very act itself must allow for the molding of distinct things that can be known as distinct things; giving credence to our 20th century motto: unity through diversity.
As the story continues, we’ll see how that which God created quickly spirals out of control and takes on new meanings of who God is and how God shows up in the world. As we dig further into the Book of Genesis, we will see that separation is only one aspect of God that comes into sharper focus. The God that reveals himself in the early chapters of Genesis is a God that demands further examination. And, with any luck, we’ll be able to reconcile some of our discomfort with the God of Genesis as we navigate the difficult beginnings of a people in search of a God of promise and covenant.