Friday, December 5, 2008

Reconsidering Genesis

The creation story in Genesis is perhaps the most criticized part of the Bible, but I love it most of all.

It is not a scientifically accurate account of the creation of the universe, the earth, and the life upon it, but knowing what it is not allows me to sit back and listen to the story for what it is.

While other cultures populate their myths with gods who are very human and nearly human and some even have the audacity to believe their political leaders were gods themselves, the Jews instead recognize a very basic truth of life: we are alone.

There are no demi-gods in this story, and no golden age. We're not shadows of greater beings or slaves to a master. We are simply creations, like all the other creations, and we're given no clear reason or purpose for our existence other than knowing God wanted us to be.

In Genesis, God is inscrutable. There is no mention of his existence before the moment he creates light and he remains a mystery throughout the story. We're given no clue why God creates us or what he wants from us. The same is true even today. We may believe in God, but we have no idea of what he is or what his purposes are.

He creates us, protected in his perfect garden. We are alone and naked and unaware, but in some way we cannot understand we are like him and he favors us and has a purpose for us.

God is merciful and recognizes our isolation and creates for us a companion so that in this life we'll at least have each other. The point is not that they were male and female, or who came first, but that in this life we have only each other to cling to, and how valuable we are to each other.

God creates the forbidden tree and calls it "the tree of knowledge of good and evil". Now, anyone who's ever spent any time with human beings knows that before the end of the story, we're going to eat of that tree. It's our very nature to do so.

We're told that it's disobedient, and perhaps God creates the device that separates us from all the other creatures with some sadness, but he must have known that we would seek out this knowledge, why else would he create the tree?

Had we not eaten of the tree, then the whole of history would never have happened. We would have remained innocent and ignorant in the garden forever. God created us with the capacity to fill the earth, and even cross the boundry of the sky to walk on the moon, but none of it would have happened had we not eaten of the tree.

The loss of innocence comes from knowing the difference between what is innocent and what is not. The capacity for that knowledge is what separated us from the other animals and we were made to follow that path.

God isn't surprised by our choice. He knows that our fate, and our highest purpose lies outside the garden. It's told as if it's a punishment, but it's not because God doesn't abandon us outside the garden. He stays with us and appears to us to guide us and help us several more times after that.

There's no Prometheus to give us fire in this story, no Dianna to help us hunt and no she-wolf to suckle us. We go into the world naked, with nothing but our wits to help us endure and the knowledge that God is with us.

It's so easy for us to dismiss this story and assume the people who wrote it were ignorant and uneducated on the true history of creation, but I think they understood a lot more than we give them credit for. Perhaps they didn't understand the mechanics of cells and gravity and such things, but if you give the story a chance you'll see that they understood a great deal about the condition and nature of man and the situation we find ourselves in, even today.

The story of creation isn't about an event thousands of years ago, it's about this moment, today, and the situation we find ourselves in every day. We are born no different from Adam and Eve leaving the garden. We have only our wits, each other, and God to help us survive.