Genesis opens with a majestic, broad sweeping account of God inaugurating the functions of the cosmos to establish a beautiful, abundant creation in which He will rule and reign and dwell with humanity. Here, humanity is made to flourish as they image God and partner with Him to rule and reign and bring order and abundance to the whole of creation.
However, within just a few short steps past the opening scene of Genesis, where a world of possibility and partnership are presented to Adam and Eve, the story takes a dark turn. Too often, in our familiarity with the story, we lose the drama and disaster that took place as our minds imagine the cartoon snake of our children’s Bible. But, what is taking place is far more sinister than that. In a safe and secure sanctuary where the new humans are being trained to reign, a ‘chaos creature’ speaks words of scarcity that send human naivety and innocence spiraling.
Not only does the Genesis story tell us how sin and shame began in this world, but it also becomes a key for interpreting our world today. A world that continues to believe stories of scarcity rather than of God’s abundant goodness. A world that insists on self-reliance and individualism rather than on trust-filled communion with God and others. A world that is far more interested in something for what it can do for me and mine, than the inherent dignity and beauty it carries. A world that is writhing in shame and lashing out with contempt for others and ultimately for themselves as well.
And here is the thing, it is not just the world ‘out there’… it is the world inside us too.
Not one person is free from having ratified Adam and Eve’s mistake and not one person is free from the effects of shame and contempt. As Brene Brown has so perceptively said, the more you deny the presence of shame in your life, the more you have it.
In this series I want to highlight 4 aspects of this story that continue to impact us today as those seeking to grow as disciples of Jesus. We’ll focus on two of those below.
#1 Listening to Stories of Scarcity
In Genesis 2:16 God actually commands Adam to eat from ‘any’ tree in the garden but one. God places them in a garden of generosity and abundance. A whole garden to explore and eat your way through! But by Genesis 3:1 the serpent retells the story to Eve asking, ‘Did God really say you cannot eat from any tree?’. The serpent craftily re-narrates the story in a way that represents God as stingy and His provision as scarce. Eve, almost passing the test but not quite, corrects the serpent. However, she has entered his story of scarcity just enough to add a further rule that had not been in the original command.
She says “God did say that ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it‘”. Here, as Eve misremembers the command in the context of the scarcity story the serpent has told, she remembers God as giving a more severe rule than He actually gave.
We are those who are meant to be living in hope-filled trust for the provision of good things from our Father in Heaven.
- In what ways are we listening to competing stories in our world and in turn dwelling in a world filled with a sense of scarcity?
- Where might we have been attuned to hope for less out of a sense of bruised disappointment?
#2 Placing Function Before Beauty
In the world of scarcity narrated by the serpent voice of sin, we don’t have time for art or aesthetics – only survival.
In Genesis 2:9, as the trees in the garden are described, they are said to be “pleasing to the eye and good for food”. In the Hebrew language, word-order is a big deal. Whatever comes first is the thing of most importance, followed by the second, third and so on. What the early Hebrew commentators did not fail to point out in this verse was the priority of beauty. The trees were beautiful! Just stop and consider that for a moment. That’s why they were there, to be beautiful. They also happened to be good for food, but their main purpose was to be beautiful.
Broadly speaking, we have lost value for beauty in favour of value for function. We so often move through our lives asking the question, what does it do? Which more particularly often means, ‘What can it do for me?’. This is not just a question that we bring to our latest technology. No, this consumerist lens gets turned on our relationships as well. Towards churches, government institutions, friendships even romantic relationships devolve into a self-centred exercise in self-fulfilment. To fail to see the importance of beauty leaves us without the perception to see God and His presence in the world. If we fail to see beauty, we will be subtly trained only to see God for what He can do for us rather than the beauty of who He is.
So, we turn back to the Genesis story and we see in the moment of temptation for Eve, the narrator shows us how this disordered way of seeing creation emerges. The verse from chapter 2:9 is reversed and Eve sees that the fruit is ‘…good for food and pleasing to the eye’ Gen 3:6.
Valuing creation for what it can ‘do’ for us rather than its beauty makes us the centre of the universe. Taking time to appreciate beauty in creation, however, creates the type of wonder and awe that leads us to pay attention to the God who truly is the centre of the universe.
- In what ways can you recognise that your relationship to created things, including other people, has become disordered? How can you make a space to see beauty for its own sake this week?
This article was originally published as part of the Lectio Letter