Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Genesis 2 (2004)

Here are some of my 2004 thoughts on Genesis 2, along with my current reflections:

1. "God made us and loves us, so he knows what we need. We see his care in not just creating man but forming him with meticulous attention, his blessing man not only with food but with food that is tasty and pleasurable to the eyes, and his concern for man's loneliness. The things we are supposed to do are not only commands but coincide with our created nature, and thus make us happy: work, marriage, etc. (While we should still do some of these things, they have been corrupted by the fall, when we became alienated from God, ourselves, other people, and creation.)"

I still agree that Genesis 2 demonstrates God's love. My impression is that a number of scholars read Genesis 2 in light of ancient Near Eastern tales, in which a deity creates humans as slaves---so that the gods don't have to work. And, indeed, God does put Adam in his garden (which could be a royal pleasure garden) to keep and to tend it. And yet, for the reasons that I enumerated in 2004, I believe that God in Genesis 2 shows concern for human beings.

As far as God's commands coinciding with our created nature is concerned, sure, that may be true at times. In my experience, however, it isn't always the case. Christians often say that God created us for community, for example, and, while I have felt happy when I have loved and been loved, I feel more comfortable by myself. Reaching out to others is not natural for me, and I feel awkward and alienated in communities. That may have been why I mentioned the Fall: I could identify with the alienation that it supposedly brought.

Nowadays, I'm not sure if I believe in a Fall and blame all of evil on it. The sciences offer us alternative ideas about human origins and development, and they do not entail our ancestors being perfect at some stage, and then falling from that perfection. Death has existed for millions of years, as fossils demonstrate, plus, as a friend of mine has stated, entropy (disorder) has been built into the cosmos from the very beginning---and it plays a role in the order that exists in our pocket of the universe. So I guess my view now is that we have always been imperfect beings, in a world that falls short of some people's standards of perfection. Does God want to restore us to an idyllic past? Maybe God wants us to grow so that the past that we idealize can become our future---in the sense that we become united with God and with our fellow human beings. (I'm not advocating nudism here!)

2. "Nahum Sarna says that the Tree of Knowledge gave people the ability to make independent judgments about human welfare. Matthew Henry says the Tree of Life was a visible symbol to Adam and Eve of their dependence on God for life, whereas the Tree of Knowledge itself gave Adam and Eve knowledge of good and evil (without them eating the fruit) in that its presence put Adam and Eve in the position of making a moral choice: obey God, or disobey and choose death."

I wrote this because I wondered what many have asked: What was so bad about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Isn't it good to know good and evil? I think that Sarna may be on to something when he says that the Tree was about us making independent judgments about our own well-being, rather than depending on God. In wisdom literature, that essentially is what knowledge about good and evil is: making moral judgments (only wisdom literature wants us to seek divine guidance). But I disagree with my statement above that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was called that because its existence placed a moral choice before Adam and Eve. Rather, I think that the tree was called that because eating its fruit would enable Adam and Eve to know good and evil, as God did. We see explicit statements about that in Genesis 3.

I've not arrived at a satisfactory answer about what is so bad about knowing good and evil. I'm fairly comfortable with something an Adventist once told me: that God wanted us to know only good, and not evil. But, in Genesis 3, for some reason, knowing good and evil entailed Adam and Eve realizing that they were naked, and covering themselves. What was so evil about that? Well, some have said that they started having impure thoughts after eating the fruit, but an anti-sex attitude doesn't make much sense to me. Should we see sex as a gift, or as a curse? Even before the Fall, Adam and Eve were to be one flesh.

On the whole issue of making independent judgments about my own well-being, I like that concept. The only thing is that I should evaluate the consequences of my actions, and I should take care not to hurt others. Depending on God in the process of decision-making is good, but I'm not sure how to discern God's voice. I can say that, nowadays, beating me over the head with a "Thus saith the LORD" does not have much of an effect on me. "God commands you to be an extrovert!" Maybe, but he did not equip me to be that, so I'll work with who I am rather than trying to be something I'm not, thank you very much. "God says that people who don't believe in Christ will burn in hell for all eternity, and so you should witness!" But God has not equipped me with the will or the passion to witness---plus, that doctrine about hell strikes me as rather psychotic.

3. "Matthew Henry had some good things about how Genesis 2 relates to salvation. We are dry earth, yet God sends the rain that causes fruit to sprout. Sometimes, he can send a cool mist to refresh us and those around us. The God who can create can also recreate. Christ is the Tree of Life (Revelation 2:7; 22:2) and will be the source of life-giving rivers (Revelation 22:1). Adam never complained because God was with him---whereas a sinner will complain about paradise. For Jews, the Tree of Life is the Torah, and Proverbs 3:18 calls wisdom a tree of life to all who hold fast to her and all her supporters are happy."

Does God water us? I'd like to think so. I remember one lady at a church who said that God was looking out for her, and that, whenever she despairs, somebody calls her to see how she is doing---whether it be her pastor, or a friend. I'd like to think that God rescues me from despair---that he arranges for me to hear an encouraging word that will re-orient my thoughts in a positive direction. But does God do this all of the time, and for everyone? If so, why are there suicides?

God Recreates: I come back to what Matthew Henry said about Genesis 1: that God creates and recreates in stages. That speaks to me more than the notion that, somehow, I became a new man after I made a decision for Christ, or was baptized. I still feel that there's a lot of old man in me, to tell you the truth!

Complaining. I complain a lot, but, nowadays, I count my blessings a lot more. But I don't count them because I bind myself under a rule to count them: that was how I operated when I was religious. Rather, I am thankful for my blessings because I realize that I cannot take them for granted. What is gained can be easily lost.

4. In the margin, I have a note: "Also, God made men from ordinary dust. He did so outside of the garden (for Adam) so he would see it not as his by right but as a gift of grace."

Ordinary dust: I liked this concept because it showed that God could use ordinary people to do his work. I was always ordinary---I was never really the popular type, if you know what I mean. But I hoped that God would use me in a position of prominence. Nowadays, I don't worry about whether or not God will use me. If he wants to do so, then I'm right here, but I prefer to enjoy each day rather than to worry about being "used." Plus, I no longer have the agenda of converting people to evangelical Christianity, so what would God use me for? I guess I can help others, but why can't I just help others, without interpreting it within a dramatic context of God "using" me?

Gift of grace: As I said above, I've learned not to take my blessings for granted. But I now reject the Attila the Hun image of God which I was conveying in my 2004 statement. I'm not saying that I should walk around with a sense of entitlement---though, come to think of it, I actually do think that every human being should be entitled to love and at least the opportunity to make a good life for himself or herself. But I'm not big on evangelical statements that I used to hear, which said that I should be grateful that God keeps me alive, since he can easily snuff me out. What is God? A mafia boss? Why can't I just accept God's love for me, without feeling that I'm putting God out by receiving his gifts?

But I liked that little nuance about God making man outside of the Garden because it's fun to see new things in Scripture, rather than just seeing the same details over and over again.

5. "In marriage, man leaves his parents---the closest people to him naturally---to be one with his wife, showing that marriage is valuable and serious. I Corinthians 6:16 uses Genesis 2 to say men should not sleep with prostitutes."

I guess. Back then, I thought I'd one day get married. Seven years later, I wonder if that's even the case! I Corinthians 6:6 does treat sex as a very serious manner, though, as an act of intimacy. I believe that I should see it that way.

6. "Gender hierarchy: I Corinthians 11:3, 8-10; I Timothy 2:13. Interdependence: I Corinthians 11:11-12. Plus Eve is a helper, a term applied to God."

I was interested in the academic issues of Genesis 2 and sexism. I saw that Paul used Genesis 2 to promote patriarchy, but that he also tried to show that men and women were interdependent---that the woman came from man, and yet, the man came from woman, and both were created for each other.

Nowadays, I don't care if Paul promoted patriarchy. That doesn't mean that I have to believe in patriarchy, does it? Consequently, I don't get bogged down in the complementarian-egalitarian debate---though I guess I can understand why those who view Scripture as authoritative would take such a debate seriously. Personally, I try to go with love and compassion for human beings, and, whenever the Bible encourages that, I'm with it.

7. I'm superstitious about writing posts with only six items---especially after I have expressed some pretty unorthodox thoughts!

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