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Genesis 1:1-2:4a

On this Sunday when we recall our Christian understanding of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Genesis 1 reminds us of God as creator, a role we might normally assign to God the Father. However, a simple division of tasks among the Trinity misunderstands both the concept itself and what texts such as Genesis 1 have to say.

Genesis 1 begins as other accounts of creation do in the ancient Near East, with a time clause (‘when God created …’, v. 1) and a description of a rather chaotic situation (v. 2). Creation stories in the ancient world were not so much contemplations of how things were made out of nothing at the very beginning, as how some life-giving order was brought to a chaotic, death dealing world. This one is no exception. The ordering of the chaotic ‘mess’ into something life-giving, takes place by dividing or separating things: light from dark, waters above from those below, water from land, day from night (vv. 3-19). As the division proceeds it becomes concerned not with just separating what is death dealing from what is life-giving, but with the separation of things within creation which will contribute in their diversity to creation’s welfare. We should note however, that in the end what is chaotic is not completely removed. It now sits at the edges of creation (vv. 4, 7) controlled by God’s authoritative word. It is that chaos that is allowed to break back into creation in the flood story (Genesis 6-9).

The account is broken into six days. Each day is marked by one act of creation, except for days 3 (vv. 9-13) and 6 (vv. 24-31) when two things are created. The creation of the world follows a logical pattern (land/sky/sea; plants; creatures; and finally humans) but the emphasis is not on ‘evolutionary processes’ in which we might be interested today, but on a ‘hierarchy’ of life within the created order. There is correspondence between the days: days 1 and 4 (light, day/night); days 2 and 5 (waters, air and sea creatures); days 3 and 6 (land/sea and vegetation, animals and humans). Each day is marked by evening and morning, and the work of the day is said to be ‘good’. On day 6, however, God sees everything as ‘very good’, not as an expression of the level of self-satisfaction God has achieved, but as a statement that everything is ‘complete’. If creation is, in the writer’s mind, understood as the ordering of chaos into a life-giving world, then the complex and intricate structuring of this great piece of literature embodies that ordering process in its very form.
However, some differences should be noted between this account of creation and other ancient Near Eastern accounts. First, other accounts often proceed by way of a battle between the creator god and a (sea) monster which represents the forces of chaos. The creator god makes the world out of the carcass of the vanquished monster. Scholars debate whether some battle motif lies behind the image in Gen 1:2. It is clear, however, that Israel’s God creates by word alone. If there is any remnant of the battle motif it is well and truly subordinate. Even the sea monsters have become mere creatures which God sees as good (v. 21). Everything speaks of the sovereignty of God over creation.

Secondly, the same point is made in the account of the 7th day (Gen 2:1-3). Other creation stories end with the creator god ascending his throne in his heavenly temple. At the end of the Genesis account, however, Israel’s God rests, not as some reward for a job well done or after a hard week on the job, but as a sign of God’s sovereignty over all. Nothing will challenge this God’s authority. God has established order and nothing else can threaten that. Human observance of Sabbath, modelled on God’s own Sabbath, is a sign of God’s sovereignty over creation – a sovereignty over destructive forces in the world, over other sources of ‘chaos’ and death in all its forms, and even over the hubris of humans who would seek through oppression, technology, business, military might, position in society, or even their own work to control all things around them, without and within. A celebration of creation is an invitation to see ourselves as creatures of a God who creates all things ‘good’ and in whom all things are held together.

We ought not to be misled and think that the 7th day is a day like others. There is no evening and morning, nor any other statement that makes it the same as other days. This 7th day in Genesis 2 is really a time beyond our time, a time toward which we look, when all creation will recognise the authority of the one who creates it, and rest in God’s care.

The blessing of the animals (Gen 1:23) and then the humans (v. 28) is a blessing of fertility. The charge to all humankind, with male and female together constituting the image of God, sets humanity up collectively as God’s ‘co-regent’ over creation. In these verses there is a clear indication that creation is not thought of as something that happened back then, at the beginning of things. Creation in this account is an ongoing process, which will only be complete when God is clearly recognised as the source and giver of life, and creatures find their rest from chaos and death in God – what Christians call the Kingdom of God or Heaven in its fullness.
In this context we can see that what is described in Genesis 1 is not something clearly demarcated as the work of God the Father, which has somehow failed to live up to the hope placed in it and now has to be fixed by the Son’s work of redemption, followed by the life-giving and community making activity of the Spirit. Rather the work of creation goes on and we can only see how God’s sovereignty is established fully in the work of the Son and Spirit. In Matt 28:18, part of the Gospel this week, we are told that all authority is granted to the risen Christ who sends his disciples out to baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. The Godly work of creation continues. In the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and in the mission guiding activity of the Spirit, the gift of whom we celebrate at Pentecost, creation moves toward its ‘seventh day’. Trinity Sunday celebrates the unity of the work of God in the world – a creating, redeeming and life-giving work in which we are called to participate.

Psalm 8

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