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 aesthetics? 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)