what does "good" mean?

Working from some thoughts in a recent sermon, this is the second post in a series asking the question, "So what if creation is good?" (You can listen here, but sorry for the buzz)

Post #1 - So what if creation is good?

In this post, I'd like to explore the meaning of "good" in Genesis 1.

God's repeated statement, "it was good," can easily be misunderstood. Does good simply refer to aesthetic
s? It all looks really, really nice. God has created a masterpiece from which he can now step aside and admire. Or perhaps good means some sort of static perfection, where our imaginations picture an idyllic unchanging reality in the garden - the perfect world. While the Bible is quite clear on the beauty of God's creation, aesthetics alone provide an incomplete picture. In fact it's this type of absentee-god story that Genesis is explicitly countering in the face of alternative creation myths. And perfection, well, Genesis never says anything about creation's perfection. It just says, "good." As I heard John Stackhouse question in a lecture, "if it was perfect, why the mandate to cultivate?" He suggests, instead, that "it is created good in the sense that a seed is created good, but meant to grow into a tree."

A better way to understand God's statement
, "it was good," focuses specifically on God's view on what was made: good = approval. You could almost say, "God saw it was as it should it be.I like how OT theologian Elmer Martens puts it: "Indeed, God’s pronouncement following his act of creation that ‘it is very good’ declares that his expectation has been met and his intention fulfilled. In this initial and ideal depiction of persons, nature and God, the accent is on God’s continued activity of blessing…wholeness exists" (God's Design).

The world starts good - as it should be - because, as Martens' continues, "The initial scene depicted in the garden is one of harmony." This description of life in the garden can be characterized by one Hebrew word: "shalom." So much more than its literal translation, "peace," shalom refers to the relational wholeness present in God's creation - harmony between the Creator God, creation, and humanity. God walks with Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 2) and creation itself reflects God's glory (Ps. 8). Humans, created in God's image, are "active co-operators in God's blessing," participating as God's "gardeners" so to speak to ensure the continued presence of shalom in the world (Stackhouse). The "image of God," then, is less a vague stamp of divine DNA and more a divinely appointed role humans play as shalom-makers in the world they inhabit.

Along these lines, the Genesis account is fundamentally about God as the source of all things and the harmony of relationships among all things. And the special role humans were given in this creation cannot be understated.
Contrary to the mythical view that humans had no power to influence the world – only gods did that – the Genesis description of harmony in the garden highlights the significant role humans have in participating with God in his creation.

Now, if it wasn't for the Fall... (next post)


Darren said...

Dave ...
Looking forward to reading the rest of this series - very interesting topic. It's interesting to consider what God meant when he declared his creation good - especially considering mankind as part of that creation. This leads to ideas on the doctrine of original sin and our nature as humans. An intriguing read, if you are interested in that topic can be found at Richard Beck's excellent blog ... http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2009/01/original-sin-human-biodegradability-in.html

David Warkentin said...

Hey Darren, original sin is a perplexing theological concept related to what I've described as "good" in Genesis 1. I read through Beck's first post on original sin - interesting stuff. I've also wrestled with the doctrine as Beck describes it: "some sort of intrinsic defect within the human creature,a stain as it were." I think Beck's onto to something, especially with this quote regarding Orthodox theology:

"To say that humans are 'conceived in sin' does not mean that some guilt or evil inclination is passed on to them in the act of their conception, but that what they inherit is a mortal human nature, which became mortal as a result of sin."

One question I have, and maybe Beck addresses it later, is if there is any culpability on the side of humanity for sin? Do we simply absorb the effects of sin - or "mortality" - or do we have some sort of responsibility for that sin in the world?

My next post may address some of this...

Darren said...

Well ... in a way he does. He goes on to say, basically, that sin is in some ways a result of death, as much as the reciprocal is true. That the spectre of death causes fear, competition, and selfishness.

David Warkentin said...

Thanks for clarifying that a bit Darren. I guess mortality as Beck describes is the main component to what I've described as the disruption of creation in the fall. Everything in creation, including humans, live in the reality of mortality, and thus find ways (often harmful - "sin") to overcome our mortality.

In terms of original sin ideas, in this line of thinking the word "broken" is more accurate to describe our sinfulness then the word "guilty." When we think of God's judgment in terms of "making things right," salvation is understood as a restoration of all brokenness, including our own. Forgiveness isn't just a verdict from an impartial judge. We have to remember that as Christians our judge is also our redeemer.

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