Lesson 6: Nature as Creation

two hands cupped together painted to be the globeLet’s look further at what the Bible says about nature, beginning with the creation stories. Most people have been so confused by the absurd Fundamentalist controversies that they are not even aware there are more than one. The longer and most complete ones are Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Genesis 2:4b-3:24 , Psalm 104, and Job 38-41, but there are several other shorter depictions of creation.

The first thing to observe is none of these are really concerned with an account of the physical mechanics. Each one has completely different details. And they clearly are poetic expressions rather than scientific analyses.

All picture God acting like an artist creating a new work. He is an orator who speaks creation into existence, a potter molding a master piece, and an architect conceiving and executing a perfect building project. Nature is a creation from which God can step back to admire. The first story catches this in its repeated litany, “God said. It was so. He saw it was good.” Like any work of art, creation always has a special relationship with its creator. John’s Gospel describes this as the divine love that permeates all. Nature is benevolent even though we might not discern this.

It is, also, obvious that these stories are more concerned with human nature than our physical environment. Their purpose is to confront humanity’s alienation from God, sometimes presenting this as being estranged from nature, sometimes picturing the whole creation having lost its original harmony. The most familiar instance is placing two quite different stories right next to each other in the beginning of Genesis. The first proclaims the goodness of creation, the second explains humanity’s failure to live by it.

The first talks of the human being made in God’s image and given special responsibility to manage the rest. “Dominion” is not about doing anything you want. Jesus makes this clear when many of his parables picture God as the owner of the land and a human as the steward who is supposed to manage the property according to his wishes. The second story pictures the failure to fulfill that responsibility as humans disregard God’s will. Ann Coulter completely misinterprets the message when she shouts,”God gave you the earth! Use it! Rape it! It’s yours!”

In other words, the creation stories are the setting for the main plot of the biblical narrative that proclaims God’s salvation overcoming this alienation. Salvation redeems human nature. Indeed, Paul says it reconciles all things to God (I Corinthians 5:19). We begin to live as the Image of God, observing his will and managing the creation responsibly.

Finally, we should recognize these creation stories never picture God starting things off and then letting nature run by itself. Biblical creation is not deism. God continues to participate in his creation. Every one of his words and actions is creative. In the first chapter of his Gospel, John claims humans just do not recognize his presence. When the divine is manifested in the Incarnation, Jesus shows us what it is to live as the Image of God, our true human nature. The blind see and the lame walk.

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