This week’s commentary comes from Good Word out of the School of Theology at Walla Walla University. The audio of this conversation can be found on the Good Word website here.
Host: David Thomas
Guests: Brant Berglin and Jenniffer Ogden
Texts for this Lesson: Genesis 1, Gen. 8:22, Ps. 90:10, Job 1:13–19, Acts 9:1–22, Phil. 1:6, Rom. 8:1.
Memory Text: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NKJV).
Opening Question: Does the Genesis story of origins have anything to tell us in the current era?
From the perspective of the Bible, life, including human life, begins at the creation event laid out in Genesis 1. This is a well-known story that is, in our time unfortunately all caught up in a debate over creation vs. evolution. This is unfortunate because the story has a whole lot more to teach us beyond this never-ending debate. Truth is, this is a story that is not only descriptive but is also normative in that it sets the parameters for life on this planet. Let us notice several things from the Genesis 1 story:
First, the story in Genesis 1 is a story of an Almighty God making something orderly and beautiful out of something chaotic. It is a story from chaos to order, a story that gives us a picture of reality. Certainly, we did not ask to join the reality we are part of, nor do we fully understand it. In fact, given how small our planet is in comparison to how vast the universe is, we have very little hope of figuring out the larger reality we participate in. Agnostics and atheists tend to use this fact as reason to abandon theism saying belief in deity of some kind is merely opinion as we can’t possibly hope to make sense of our larger reality enough to be sure of the existence of a God. Theists, on the other hand, rejoice because of the evidences of revelation from God are abundant, clues left in the universe that give us some believable reference points for life. It is in this arena that Genesis 1 shines for it makes it very clear that we are part of a two-dimensioned reality, a beautiful and well-ordered natural world overseen by a supernatural world. Or, to put this another way, there is a realm of the Creator and a realm of the creature. These two realms are not at odds, at least they were not at odds at the beginning. Furthermore, the created realm, made up of material substances, is good, declare to be very good even. This stands in marked contrast to some other concepts of the material realm such as that held by the Greeks who saw material substance as very much diminished, even evil, in inherent conflict with the realm of the spirit.
Secondly, the Genesis 1 story reveals that the world we are part of operates in an orderly fashion. There are cycles and systems that function routinely to make life here possible. The heavenly bodies – sun, moon, and stars – have a function as the systems were set in place to allow for the propagation of the various life-forms on planet earth. It is significant that these systems were set up by God to operate without direct divine intervention. They have within themselves the ability to continue and to propagate. In this limited sense, the world operates on its own according to the “laws” set up by the Creator. It can therefore be said that not everything that happens on earth is directly or immediately caused by God. It also means that some things can happen on earth that are not the will of God. (Those who doubt this might want to ponder the question, “How many times in a given day do you think the will of God is NOT done?”). This eventuality has significant meaning for humans as far as volition and responsibility go. We have enough latitude for decision-making to be responsible for our actions.
A third item – and this is one that is particularly germane to our lessons – is that the Genesis story (we should say the Genesis stories for we now need to include also Genesis 2) sets the parameters for family. God, having made other creatures, came back to Adam with the observation that it would not be good for him to be alone. So, God made Eve. And when God brought Eve to Adam, he understood exactly what God was doing and he was quite charmed. In modern language his response was, “Wow!” He fully understood the gift of love and companionship that he and Eve would now share. So begins the human story.
One of the main but obvious points to be drawn from these stories in the beginning of Genesis is that the human experience is in a very foundational way relational. We are born into families that provide us with relationships automatically, all things being as they should. Within these relationships we thrive. Without them, we suffer. Families make relationships and they thrive with the maintenance of relationships. It is within these relationships that we pass through all kinds of events and transitions in life.
Those who know the Bible story are well aware that the pristine nature of human existence changed radically on account of the Genesis 3 story, the one where sin came in and upset the whole of creation, human life in particular. This story is downplayed today, or even ignored but it is a very important story for it explains the human situation to us. We are noble creatures made in the image of God, but now damaged by something called sin. Further, there is no part of our lives or persons that has not been damaged by sin. That includes even the planet we live on, the natural systems themselves. From the point of the entrance of sin, the rhythms and transitions of life have been radically altered. Perhaps the hardest reality is that we now live temporarily. Our lives have both a beginning and an end. In between our lives are fraught with good and bad things, characterized by vulnerability. Clearly, in the original providence of God, we were to experience only good and that endlessly. So, we are not well constituted to face bad things, and we are certainly not well constituted to face endings, death in particular. When death comes, even when its approach is anticipated, it always strikes us as something inherently wrong for humans. We are not made to experience it except with great sorrow and even anger. We are reminded that something is drastically wrong with life now. One consolation is that, even when faced with the adversity of death, family and good relationships can provide a measure of comfort and sustenance.
We close this lesson by focusing on the reflections of the wise king Solomon who penned what is arguably one of the best reflections on the human experience:
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to gain, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace (Eccles. 3:1–8, NKJV).
Talk about some of the life-changing experiences that you have been through, and talk about the lessons you learned and, if applicable, the lessons you should have learned but didn’t.
Talk about how family relationships have helped you in the experiences and transitions you have passed through in life.
Was there anything in this lesson that was new to you?
David Thomas is Professor of Practical Theology & Apologetics. He has been a member of the faculty at WWU since the summer of 2001. He served as Dean of the School of Theology for seventeen years (2001-2018). He is now focused on full-time teaching and writing.
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