Thursday, August 29, 2013

Play a Different Game

The world tells a story about how things work in our world that is accepted as true.  This story has been told for millennia, and is part of the worldview of many different cultures.  It asserts that to defeat a bad guy with an army you need a good guy with an army.  In ancient days, in which human events were tied to the actions of the good, the story is understood this way: to defeat a bad god with an army you need a good god with an army.  But you always need an army.  A bad god with an army is better than a good god without one.  Recently we have heard it put this way: the way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.  This is just accepted truth, and it is reflected in comic books, movies (Star Wars), Westerns, and even fairy tales and fables.  But it’s an old, old story that goes back to the days of the Babylonian Empire and beyond.  The Babylonians had a creation story that reflected this belief.  In it, the world is created by an act of violence, and that says it all: the world is by nature a violent place, and to defeat evil good people must be willing to be as violent if not more than the bad people.  That’s the way the game is played.
Genesis 1 tells a different story of creation.  It asserts that there is actually a different way to play the game, which is not to play in the first place.  Genesis 1 asserts that there is a different kind of God who created a different kind of world and plays a different kind of game.
Genesis 1 asserts that there is a good God, but he doesn’t need an army.
The Genesis creation story starts with an assertion that it is God—Elohim, not the Babylonian god Marduk—who created the world.  When he started, the earth was a dark, formless mass, covered with water and a wind whipping about uncontrolled.  Some claim to see a place of chaos, of violence even, but I'm not so sure.  It’s just uninhabitable.  Nothing in creation can be used for life.
Then God begins to form the earth.  There is no battle, no fight, no struggle against a mighty foe.  He speaks, he separates, he forms—all words lacking in strife.  He places the stars in the heavens.  At the end of each day, as the sun goes down, he declares that it is good.
Not perfect, mind you.  Often people think that the condition of the world at creation was flawless perfection, but that is a concept imposed on the text from our heritage of Greek philosophy.  It’s not a Hebrew concept.  The problem with perfection is that there is no place to go but down.  If there is any change it is a change from perfection to imperfection.  And there is change in God’s creation, reflected in the fact that after each day he declares that it is good, and then at the end of the sixth day he declares that it is very good.  There is change, but it’s change for the good, and that, Genesis declares, is how the world is—ever changing, with perhaps an infinite capacity to get better.  Or worse.  But neither is inevitable.
You can have a perfect world, or you can have a world that changes, but you can’t have both.  In a perfect world, the Fall is inevitable.
God created a good world that became very good and has the potential to become very, very good.
The Genesis creation story asserts that the world is fundamentally a good place, a place of peace, a place where life flourishes.  It is a place where violence and death are intrusions.  They are out of place in this world.  They don’t fit.
To underscore this, in Genesis 1 there is no eating of meat.
God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.  And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so.  (Genesis 1:29-30, NRSV)
Every created thing is a vegetarian.  Can you imagine a vegetarian lion?  Genesis 1 can.  In other words, nothing has to die in order for something else to live. There is absolutely no violence in creation.  This is the world God created.
What kind of God creates a world without violence?  What kind of God creates a world of peace, a world that makes room for life, a world of seemingly endless potential?  It’s obvious: this creator God is a God of peace, a God who makes room for life, a God with an infinite capacity for good.  The world God creates is a reflection of the God who created it, as are humans who are created in His image.  We are to be people of peace who refuse to play the game the world insists we play.  To do otherwise is to deny God’s image in us.

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