TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR A
Genesis 1:1 – 2:3
If a non-Christian friend asked you, “What is the Christian creation story?” what would you tell them? I’d bet that for most of us the answer would be the story of Adam and Eve, the serpent and sin. Isn’t a story with a villain or two much more interesting than one without?
Actually, there are two different and distinct creation stories in Genesis. The first story is the one we read today. It’s followed by the more familiar Adam and Eve story.
As you know, many hands created the Bible over a long period of time. Modern biblical scholars don’t attempt to identify individual authors, but they can identify several kinds of source material. They do this by looking at the Hebrew text for style, word usage, emphasis, and point of view.
Today’s creation story comes from the P source, the priestly writer, which means it was written sometime during the exile or the restoration of the kingdom – around 550 – 500 BC. The Adam and Eve story was written by the J source, the Yawist writer, at a much earlier date, during the tribal confederacy, between 1200 and 1020 BC. Because the Adam and Eve story has some similarities to the Babylonian creation myths, it’s fairly certain that it was based on a long-standing oral tradition.
The P story, which is written in elegant simplicity and may have been used in Temple liturgies, carries a whole lot of theology within it. Let’s look at just a few of the crucial points.
One key point is that God created all things, heaven earth, and all that dwell therein. He did not shape materials that were already at hand. He created them from nothing.
Second, the sequence of creation is different in the two accounts. Humans were the last thing created in this story.
Third, in this story God created male and female at the same time. Neither one is put in charge of the other. God blesses the male and female, who have obviously been created as sexual beings, because he also tells them to be fruitful and multiply. Therefore sexuality, per se, is not connected to sin and shame. (Wouldn’t that be a relief?)
I’m sure you noticed the constant refrain in this story – “and God saw that it was good.” The whole creation was good – stars and rocks, fish and spiders, moose and bear, men and women – even snakes are good. At the end of the 6th day “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.”
So why haven’t we heard more about this creation story? In the early years of Christianity several prevalent philosophies, which were popular in the Mediterranean world, taught a view of the world that we now call dualisitic. This means that all existing things are divided into two opposing camps. Good and evil; black and white.
The material world is in one camp, the spiritual world is in the other. The material world was considered of no account, if not actually evil. The spiritual world was good. So the spiritual life consisted of attempts to leave the body and disconnect from other worldly things. In Manichaeism, there were even two gods, one good and one evil. The followers of Plato were more sophisticated but still dualistic in that they strove to leave the material behind in order to reach union with the One.
Centuries after the death of Jesus, St. Augustine formulated his interpretation of the Adam and Eve story, which became the doctrine of Original Sin, with which most of us are familiar. During his lifetime, a huge battle erupted between Augustine and Pelagius, both bishops of the church. To oversimplify the debate, Augustine believed human nature is corrupt because of Adam and Eve’s sin. Pelagius believed that sin is the result of our actions or choices, not our nature. Augustine won the battle, and his view has dominated the western church ever since.
I believe that this event was a pivotal moment when the subjugation of women became an integral part of the church. Remember how the Medieval church dealt with witches? They threw suspected witches in deep water. If the woman drowned, it proved that she was not a witch, but unfortunately she was still dead. If the woman did not drown, it proved she was a witch, so they pulled her out and burned her at the stake. Talk about a Catch-22! I doubt anyone could have lived through last year’s political events without noticing that the desire to subjugate women is still alive and well in our culture.
In 1983 Matthew Fox published a book called Original Blessing. He was a Catholic priest and theologian who got in very big trouble for his views. The church silenced him, meaning he could not preach or teach. He accepted this for a year, but when the church would not lift the order of silence, he became an Episcopalian.
In Original Blessing Fox points to today’s creation story and to the many threads and movements in church history that support a view different from Augustine’s. He calls the Augustinian view the fall/redemption model of theology. He calls his view the creation-centered model of theology.
Here’s how I ended my sermon on this lesson 18 years ago:
[quote]“So, we have two creation stories, centuries of theological debate, and we’re left wondering what it means to us. It’s downright frustrating that the Bible doesn’t just give us simple answers. So often it does just what it’s done with the creation stories – it lays one tradition down right next to a different one and asks you to somehow live with both.
My own take on it goes something like this: I acknowledge the reality of sin and evil and suffering in the world – who could doubt it? I believe that humans cause terrible harm and trouble by their actions and by their failure to act; sometimes this is intentional, sometimes it’s not.
But when I look out my window, or trail my hand in the cool waters of Rainy Lake, or catch my breath as the northern lights leap to the top of the sky, or watch an eagle wheeling above the river, or see a child at play, or when I stand here on Sunday morning looking at all your faces, I know God created it all – and indeed, it is very, very good.”
[Unquote] Now I want to add this: I have chosen to base my life and faith on this first story of creation and to reject the Adam and Eve story, or rather to reject the doctrine of original sin and the atonement theory of Jesus’ death that flows from it. They didn’t make sense to me when I was a young person and make even less sense to me now. I have another understanding of what the story of Adam and Eve means that does make sense to me, — but that’s a sermon for another day.
If God is love, then God wants the best for each of us, values each of us, and calls all of us to live in his Kingdom – in this life and the next. AMEN