The Still-Creating God
How many of you have a baby book? I’m looking at mine right now. I also have my HS scrapbook that my mom put together before my HS graduation party. The only reason that I have these in front of me is because my parents just recently moved to Colorado and thus emptied their Josh memorabilia in my lap. Honestly, I haven’t looked at my baby book before. As for my HS scrapbook, I thought it was pretty cool when I was 17. But a week after my HS graduation, I was prepping for college and never looked at it again. I haven’t seen it since. It’s fun to reminisce and look at pictures, isn’t it? At the time when we put together these memory collections, they seem to be a pretty accurate summary of our lives—where we’ve been, what we looked like, the specific dates and occasions. It’s a bit like the Facebook timeline, which provides a year by year, linear sequence of pictures and events, places we’ve lived and worked, people we’ve connected to. But I admit to you that as I look through these pictures and walk down this nostalgic path, I see a baby or boy or a teenager far removed from the person I know to be myself. Do these snapshots with actual dates written on them tell the story of our lives? Or is there more to the story that goes far beyond what we see or write down?
We are looking at the creation stories in the book of Genesis. As we do that, we also reflect on our own stories—discovering where and when God’s story intersects with ours. It’s like what one of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Conner wrote: The divine will works in and through the most ordinary human motivations and aspirations. Also, perhaps tonight and tomorrow you will hear the sound of a ram’s horn being blown, the shofar, because tonight begins the Jewish observance of Rosh Hashanah. It is indeed the Jewish New Year celebration to remember the creation of the world. So we, with our Jewish brothers and sisters, dig into the Genesis story, to reflect on the special relationship between God and humanity. Just as a reminder to all of us Christians–the book of Genesis is part of what we call the OT, but really it is part of the first 5 books of Moses, called the Torah or Pentateuch.
Also, a gentle reminder that the creation stories in Genesis are not black and white, scientific accounts of how all that we see came to be. These stories are not about proving something true or false. They are instead incredibly beautiful, creative, and mysterious narratives telling the story of the birth of the moon, sun, stars, land, water, plants, animals, and human beings. The Biblical accounts were never meant to be scientific proofs or history books. This was and is not their intent. Poetic writing, as Genesis clearly shows, is meant to draw out of us a playful and rich imagination. Genesis chapter one is part of the family of creation myths that exist around the world. Now for some reason, the word myth attached to Genesis can be troublesome for some. But let’s keep in mind what a myth actually is: a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation. For generations, sacred myth stories have sought to express what is unexplainable in our human experiences. Just because something is a myth does mean that it is not true. But the truth of a myth lies not in its scientific explanations or proofs, but in the story’s message. GK Chesterton, famed English writer, once wrote: [even] fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
Perhaps we are afraid of referring to the Genesis creation stories as myths or fairy tales because we think that by doing so we dishonor God. But I think this sort of understanding of scripture is quite narrow. If we really think about it, what is the purpose of Genesis? Is it to prove scientific facts? Is it even to promote a religion? Or is it to express a genuine context and perspective of people trying to make sense of their lives? Is the story deeper than what appears on the surface? Whenever we look at a Bible story, we must always ask: who are the people writing this? Where did they live? What were they experiencing? Why would they write it in such a way? What inspired them and challenged them? And in this case, what were they afraid of? Keep in mind that every story comes from a deep, human place. When was Genesis written? We don’t really know. Some say before the Israelites’ exile in Babylonia [sixth century b.c.e.]; others say afterwards, so post-exile. But let’s just say that for the moment, we can escape timeless debates about when Genesis was written. Let’s imagine for a moment that pre or post exile–the Israelite people [including the hero character Moses]–were a suffering people. They were driven from their homes. They got lost. They were anxious for things to change. They needed hope. They lived in uncertainty. This is true to the story—the deep place it comes from. Much of Israelite story-telling is about remembering where they’ve been, the struggles they encountered, the hope they found, and how these experiences made them who they are.
And Genesis is of course an ancient writing. The people of ancient times saw the world differently. The stars, the moon, the sun, the land, the waters—they were all part of a miraculous, mysterious world. They didn’t have GPS tracking devices, cell phones, atlases, Google Earth, TV meteorologists, or sonar. They read the stars as they were. They measured the sun’s rising and setting as it naturally appeared and disappeared. They had great respect and fear for all of creation. Their perspective could not have been more different than ours is today. The ancient Israelites were like the indigenous peoples of the Americas–the Mayans, Aztecs, Navajos and Lenape–those who first walked these lands, people of the earth, sea, and sky. They heard, saw, and felt nature’s great acts. And in nature, they saw, heard, and felt their Creator. Truth be told, you and I cannot see the world as they did. We are living in 2012. Many of us cannot even remember a time before cell phones or the internet. Many of us have never hunted and gathered for our food or navigated the stars in a boat we built or followed a river to its source or cultivated crops in a once-barren land or measured the hours of the day and night by only the sun and the moon.
So in order for us to experience the meaning of the Genesis myth, we have to read it through other people’s eyes. Joseph John Campbell, a mythologist, once said: Read myths. They teach you that you can turn inward, and you begin to get the message of the symbols. Read other people’s myths, not those of your own religion, because you tend to interpret your own religion in terms of facts — but if you read the other ones, you begin to get the message. I wonder, have you ever thought of the Genesis story as someone else’s story and not your own? What if we read Genesis as the story of the ancients, and stopped interpreting it according to our modern-day religion? How would that shift the meaning of the story for us?
Perhaps we would be more open to the imagination of it. Lights in the sky, signs, and seasons. Days are not 24 hours, but endless ages. Stars are more numerous than numbers can count. Sun sheds light generously—reminding us at the start of each day that whatever happened yesterday is over. Likewise, when the sun disappears on the horizon, we remember that the day is nearly done and all that we are stressing about because it’s incomplete can indeed wait; there is closure. The moon looms over us at night, lighting our path even when it’s dark. We remember that even when our lives seem aimless and full of doubt—light is still present, never leaving us. We are not alone. And then we just might hear the voice of the Creator, saying that it is good. Yes, the world is good. Even though it is full of wars, violence, and hate. Yes, it is good. Even though we struggle to forgive ourselves at times. It is good.
And the waters come rushing down the mountains forming great rivers that empty in the sea. If we hear them, we realize that water is a source of life. We could think about baptism; we could think about washing, cleansing, and making things new. The waters, of course, have their source in the ground and the sky—moisture forms in the ground and is lifted up into the clouds, which open up to rain down and the waters flow. It is nature’s great pilgrimage reminding us that we all have a common humanity, each one of us a common purpose. And then birds fly and fish swim; monkeys and squirrels climb and deer leap and buffalo run. So many species. So many varieties and yet so much harmony. They eat and drink what they need. They replenish the soil naturally. Their instincts lead them to symbiotic relationships with other animals and even with us, if we so choose. God sees them as good—not just mindless creatures. God sees them as good. And God speaks a blessing to them. Fill the waters and the trees and the lands. It’s meant to be. We are all connected. We are all good creations, in spite of how we destroy and neglect and forget to share the land, waters, and trees. It is still good, says God.
My hope for everyone is that the Genesis creation story ceases to be about religious or scientific debate. Instead, this story is about the Creator speaking, blessing, and giving life. And the story leads us to ask about our own stories: What is God speaking to us today? What is God creating today? How are we blessed today? Do we think of ourselves as good—along with trees, plants, animals, waters, sun, moon, and stars—all connected and purposeful?
We talk about a Still-Speaking God in the United Church of Christ. This phrase still-speaking and the phrase don’t place a period where God has placed a comma give testimony to a belief that God is not finished with us or with the world. The words written in this Bible are not frozen in time nor limited to traditional perspectives or church doctrines and dogmas. On the contrary, God is still speaking through the stories of the Bible. Getting caught up in human arguments that turn us into enemies is the wrong path to take. We are created to be grateful. We are made to offer our thanks and praise for life all around us–just as our ancient ancestors around the world did and still do.
Friends, God IS still speaking in your life–intending to create and bless you. Don’t let the darkness of life fool you—it’s part of good creation, too—and it also doesn’t last forever. Eventually, the night sky is it up by the sun. Eventually, the rains come and wash through us. We are created to realize that the Genesis story is a sacred myth—one with symbols and meaning and truth. It is a story. It’s not meant to be figured out; it’s meant to be enjoyed. And the story continues in our lives. For God is still speaking to you, still creating in you, still blessing you. Will you see and hear and feel this? Will you recognize that this is good? Will you see all others around you as good? The story is not finished. The Divine story mingles with our story. Participate in the creative, beautiful, good work of the Creator. See, hear, and feel where it takes you. Amen.