For you are a holy people to Yahweh your God. Yahweh your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession, above all peoples who are on the face of the earth. Yahweh didn’t set His love on you nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all peoples; but because Yahweh loves you, and because He desires to keep the oath which he swore to your fathers, Yahweh has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Know, therefore, that Yahweh your God Himself is God, the faithful God, who keeps covenant and loving kindness with them who love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations. Yahweh your God will keep with you the covenant and the loving kindness which He swore to your fathers. He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your body and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your livestock and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your fathers to give you. You will be blessed above all peoples. There won’t be male or female barren among you, nor among your livestock.
Deuteronomy 7:6-9, 12-14
This is an extraordinary statement of divine acceptance. God chose Abraham at random to be the recipient of God’s eternal blessing and covenant. Abraham had not yet demonstrated any virtue and would, over the course of the story, be a model of vice as much as virtue. Here again God states that He does not choose us because we have been particularly deserving or have stood out to Him at all. God goes on to say His covenant will survive anything and is practically irrevocable. He asserts that it would take at least a thousand generations of uninterrupted sin to rouse Him to the least indignation.
As Paul Tillich wrote:
You are accepted! You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted![i]
Image: The pale blue dot on the right is Earth taken by Voyager I twenty-five years ago from 3.7 billion miles away
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known. But now faith, hope, and love remain - these three. The greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13
Usually, plants sprout and grow spontaneously and organically. We don't really need to understand or even think about the processes that are going on to make it happen. But sometimes we need a plant to grow in an artificial environment. Then it is important to know how the process works naturally and what the component parts are so we can make it happen synthetically.
Usually, we find ways to sooth our stresses spontaneously and organically. We don't really need to understand or even think about the processes that are going on to make it happen. But now we are in isolation from one another facing a serious disease and an uncertain future. There is value in thinking about how we find consolation naturally so that maybe we can recreate it in our new, challenging circumstances.
It seems to me we find consolation in three ways: in solitude, in communion with God, and in community with each other.
Consolation in Solitude. This is the specialty of Buddhism and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. It also appears in Christian Scripture and tradition. It boils down to deliberately thinking in ways that reduce stress and, because the mind is influenced by the body, physically behaving in ways that do the same thing. Most Christians are familiar with the Serenity Prayer (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to accept the things I can and wisdom to know the difference”). In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus made the distinctly Buddhist statement, “therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”. And relatedly, “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin”. I know there is a great deal of allegiance to the idea that the content of The Lord’s Prayer is beautiful, but I really don’t agree. What makes it profoundly comforting is that it is easily memorized and recited at a moment of stress, and instantly places the speaker in the content of the divine and eternal. It pushes stressful, damaging thoughts aside. All these thoughts and actions tend to relieve stress.
Communion with God. A person of faith never feels alone. Perhaps the boldest assertion of faith is that if you have faith you will find a joy not accessible any other way and of exceptional power. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7) This is the great disconnect between atheists and agnostics on one hand and people of faith on the other. The former believes we are waiting for consolation from God through a miraculous change in circumstances or a turn in luck. We know our consolation lies in simply abiding with God.
Consolation in Community. Finally, there is consolation in community. The Harvard Study of Adult Development has concluded that close friendship is the best predictor of health. A good friend of mine who is a social worker for a metropolitan school system says that when he is presented with a deeply depressed student, he tries to reconnect them to their social group. This is the dynamic that caused the early Christian church to sweep the globe. In John’s retelling of the Last Supper, there is no mention of a Eucharistic liturgy and he offers no new theology. Instead, Jesus lays out how cultivating community will spread the Gospel. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
Consolation in isolation corresponds roughly to “hope”, consolation in communion with God corresponds roughly to “faith”, and consolation in community corresponds roughly to “love”. We would expect St. Paul to value faith – communion with God - over any other consolation. But he says the greatest of these is love. We are social beings. The isolation that has been imposed on us is very difficult to bear and deprives us of the most reliable and strongest means of consoling ourselves and each other
I don’t know how to overcome this new obstacle to community. The threat of COVID-19 is a dark cloud that is hard to shake in isolation. I appreciate the efforts of churches to provide remote services and sermons, but no mass-produced online content has successfully taken the place of physical proximity for me. Fortunately, the situation is unpleasant but not overwhelming so far. I am fortunate in that I am only in relative isolation and still have the community of family. I suppose the best we can do is to cultivate and rely on the other two forms of consolation and to be sensitive to the needs of those who are not in isolation with family members, or do not have access to the other two forms of consolation.
Photo: Rembrandt's St. Paul
My hero is Fred Rogers of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. What I find particularly compelling about him is that he crafted his way of living independently. He obviously took strong cues from his faith, but on that foundation, he built a beautifully lived life. Any one of us could imitate how he behaved. It would be exceptionally hard, but doable. But how many of us could invent a genuinely beautiful life from whole cloth as he did? In one of his biographies, he told a story about his mother. When young Fred saw scary things on the news, his mother would say to him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Well, there are scary things on the news. What is truly extraordinary is that we are all helpers. Every one of us has risk of a worst-case scenario, but in all likelihood for the vast majority of us, COVID-19 will not make us seriously ill. We are all living in isolation to protect the vulnerable. That is extraordinarily noble when you think about it. Collectively, we are allowing the global economy to falter and collapse for the same high purpose: to ease human suffering and loss of life. The scope and breadth of this act of compassion has no precedent in human history. If you look for the helpers, you need not look far.
It is easy to do the opposite. We can focus on those who refuse to isolate themselves or engage in other behavior that risks the health and lives of others. Those decisions may have serious consequences for the people they encounter. They are a tiny minority by any standard. Because of the way our media is structured (both news media and social media), those stories will have dramatically exaggerated prevalence. Additionally, the human mind is evolved to have a tendency toward negativity in order to protect us from bad people and bad situations. The human mind is also evolved to seek intimacy and community. The easiest, cheapest form of intimacy and community is through anger. That kind of intimacy never lasts and doesn’t support resilient happiness. It is short-sighted self-soothing - like everything that we do even though we know it will bring us down. People who invite anger are out there. It’s up to us whether their influence on us is proportional and wise.
Much has gone well. The seriousness of the virus was identified swiftly and extraordinary measures to ‘flatten the curve’ were put in place very quickly almost universally. Much has admittedly gone less well. One would have thought every federal government around the world and every hospital and senior care facility would have stockpiled protective gear for a pandemic. Will anger about it in the midst of the pandemic do any genuine good? Will retaliation afterward do any genuine good?
I have been avoiding news and social media for several months. I find it is a poisonous influence. Nowadays, I think its probably important to keep up with current events, so I have been back. There is a lot of anger out there. Or at least there appears to be a lot of anger out there. Those who are consumed with anger, or who habitually seek intimacy through anger, are out in full force. It probably seems vitally important, righteous and justified to them. Anger always does. It is all worse than useless. All these professional and amateur pundits are managing to do is poison their own minds and the minds of those of us reading their material.
There is a sacred, liminal quality to this time. Much good is being done, and much compassion is being shown. Maybe more importantly, much suffering is occurring and many thousands of members of the human family will not survive the next few weeks and months. We can use this time reflexively producing anger and consuming it. Or we can try to embrace the inherent sanctity of this moment.
Look for the helpers.
Photo: Earthrise from the Moon
God spoke to Moses, and said to him, “I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name Yahweh I was not known to them. I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their travels, in which they lived as aliens. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered my covenant. Therefore, tell the children of Israel, ‘I am Yahweh, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments. I will take you to myself for a people. I will be your God; and you shall know that I am Yahweh your God, who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it to you for a heritage: I am Yahweh.’”
Moses spoke so to the children of Israel, but they didn’t listen to Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.
Here, again, God refers to the covenant He made with Abraham. He promises that He will save them from slavery and take them to Himself as His people.
But the Israelites are so broken-hearted by their circumstances they cannot hear, let alone believe, this extraordinary divine promise of loving attention. But their inability to hear Him doesn’t prevent God from keeping His promise. Later in the rescue mission, at the shores of the Red Sea the waters of which God is about to part to complete their escape, Moses will tell the people: “Don’t be afraid. Stand still and see the salvation Yahweh will work for you today; for you will never again see the Egyptians whom you see today. Yahweh will fight for you, and you need only be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14).
God will do His work. We need only be still.
Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the back of the wilderness, and came to God’s mountain, to Horeb. Yahweh’s angel appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the middle of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. Moses said, “I will go now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”
When Yahweh saw that he came over to see, God called to him out of the middle of the bush, and said, “Moses! Moses!”
Moses said, “Here I am.”
God said, “Don’t come close. Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing on is holy ground.” Moreover, He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.
Yahweh said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey. Now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to me. Moreover, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send you to challenge Pharaoh, that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
God said, “Certainly I will be with you.
Again, the dual themes of asymmetry and proximity reveal themselves.
God appears as mysterious fire and warns Moses that he cannot approach too close. Moses must remove his sandals in recognition of the sacredness of the space God occupies. Later in the story, the Israelites will be warned not to touch Mount Sinai as God descends onto it amid thunder, lightning, trumpet blasts and earthquakes. Moses is afraid to look at God and indeed God will warn him in the coming chapters that no one can see God and live.
But Moses will later see God “face-to-face” and Jacob will be renamed, “Israel,” because he wrestled with God and lives. In Genesis, Abraham’s wife, Sarah, marvels that she looked upon God and lived. And God has arrived to deliver a message of warmth, nearness, and loving concern. He is with us, and although He evidently cannot free us from suffering, He suffers with us. He frees us from the slavery of being one little mote in a vast universe and places us squarely in the center of His palm.
Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place, and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. He took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. He dreamed and saw a stairway set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven. Behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Behold, Yahweh stood above it, and said, “I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. I will give the land you lie on to you and to your offspring. Your offspring will be as the dust of the earth, and you will spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. In you and in your offspring, all the families of the earth will be blessed. Behold, I am with you, and will keep you, wherever you go, and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken of to you.”
Jacob awakened out of his sleep, and he said, “Surely Yahweh is in this place, and I didn’t know it.” He was afraid, and said, “How awesome this place is! This is none other than God’s house, and this is the gate of heaven.
This short passage contains three themes that are repeated throughout Scripture:
Jacob’s dream of a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending represents that we do not live in a dualistic universe where there is divide that cannot be crossed between the divine and the human, or the sacred and the profane. Jesus is the incarnation of the divine in the human. When he dies on the cross the veil that separated the Holy of Holies in the Temple from the outside is torn in two. In the Catholic tradition, we both venerate the tabernacle in which the Eucharist is kept, and reach in and eat the contents.
Jacob receives precisely the same promise of abundant divine love and attention that his grandfather, Abraham, received. God’s promise to Abraham that His covenant will endure generation after generation is fulfilled. It doesn’t mean that Abraham’s decedents will not experience suffering. Far from it, as they will find themselves enslaved in Egypt in the next book. But it means that God is with us, exults in our successes, but especially suffers with us in our pain and failures. Isaiah will prophecy the arrival of a messiah named Immanuel, or “God is with us” – a story that Matthew relates at the birth of Jesus.
And finally, Jacob is awed by his encounter with God. Our deepest intuitions of God are paradoxical. On the one hand, God is with us; a familiar Presence and our most intimate relationship. On the other hand, we can’t help but feel our smallness in the presence of God. Rudolf Otto called this feeling “mysterium tremendum et fascinans”, the numinous, the utterly ineffable and overwhelmingly holy – the feeling our creatureliness in the presence of our Creator. Martin Buber put it this way:
O, you safe and secure ones. You who hide yourselves behind the ramparts of law so that you will not have to look into God’s abyss! Yes, you have secure ground under your feet, while we hang suspended looking out over the endless deeps. But we would not exchange our dizzy insecurity and poverty for your security and abundance … Of God’s will we know only the eternal; the temporal we must command for ourselves…
dispelled is darkness.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
The light has shined on those
who lived in the land of the shadow of death.
You have multiplied the nation.
You have increased their joy.
They rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as men rejoice when they divide plunder.
For the yoke that burdened them,
and the staff on their shoulder,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as in the day of Midian.
Photo: the Pillars of Creation (part of the Eagle Nebula)
I think this photograph is so funny. It has taken social media by storm, usually with a caption to the effect of: "Telling Jesus how bad your life is right now."
That the Passion started at the close of Passover has extraordinary meaning in itself. At Passover, God saved the Israelites from slavery "with a strong arm." In the Passion, God allowed His son to be brutally tortured and killed.
One of Jesus's most repeated themes is that bad things do happen to good people. Re-read the story of the man blind from birth. The theology of the time was that any hardship was a sign from God that you (or your parents!) had done something bad and the hardship was imposed on you by God as punishment. Jesus spoke out against this repeatedly. I have argued elsewhere that the Beatitudes are not moral advice - they are a statement against this view. Blessed - not cursed - are the poor in spirit. At our lowest, we have God's highest attention and love. The Story of Lazarus and the rich man is also not moral advice. It contradicts the theology that if you are rich it is because of God's favor and vice versa. The Old Testament challenges this thought too. The Book of Job is often dismissed as a story about a wager between God and the devil, but it is really a statement that bad events are not punishment from God.
When something like COVID sweeps the globe, it is easy to doubt that God is in control of good and bad. That's progress because He isn't. Scripture tells us that God is not the dealer of life's cards - even on a global scale. God loves us and suffers with us. You only have to look at a crucifix to see that.
Yahweh said, “Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous, I will go down now, and see whether their deeds are as bad as the reports which have come to me. If not, I will know.”
The men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, but Abraham stood yet before Yahweh. Abraham came near, and said, “Will you consume the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous within the city? Will you consume and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it? May it be far from you to do things like that, to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be like the wicked. May that be far from you. Shouldn’t the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Yahweh said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “See now, I have taken it on myself to speak to the Lord, although I am dust and ashes. What if there will lack five of the fifty righteous? Will you destroy all the city for lack of five?”
Yahweh said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”
Abraham spoke to him yet again, and said, “What if there are forty found there?”
Yahweh said, “I will not do it for the forty’s sake.”
Abraham said, “Oh don’t let the Lord be angry, and I will speak. What if there are thirty found there?”
Yahweh said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”
Abraham said, “See now, I have taken it on myself to speak to the Lord. What if there are twenty found there?”
Yahweh said, “I will not destroy it for the twenty’s sake.”
Abraham said, “Oh don’t let the Lord be angry, and I will speak just once more. What if ten are found there?”
Yahweh said, “I will not destroy it for the ten’s sake.”
Yahweh went his way as soon as he had finished communing with Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is often assumed to be about a wrathful God punishing bad behavior. But the story really isn’t about that at all. The vast majority of the text consists of an extraordinary discussion between Abraham and God in which Abraham ask God if He will spare the city if just a few innocent people can be found there. God’s answer is inevitably, “yes.”
In the Biblical narrative, it sometimes seems like God’s concern is with the Israelites as a group rather than with each individual. And in our lives, it is easy to feel very small and insignificant – one person in a world of billions. We might ask, “does God take notice of me?” One of the most disconcerting things bout COVID is that it makes us all feel like cannon fodder - a nameless statistic - a potential carrier or patient. The story of Sodom and the discussion between Abraham and God reveals that God does not love groups; He loves each of us as His unique creation and takes notice of each one of us because each one of us is the center of His universe.
Jesus said something similar in the Gospel of Matthew:
Aren’t two sparrows sold for an Assarion coin? Not one of them falls on the ground apart from your Father’s notice, but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore, don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows.
Now Yahweh said to Abram, “Leave your country, and your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram went, as Yahweh had told him. Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife, Lot his brother’s son, all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they went to go into the land of Canaan. They entered into the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time, Canaanites were in the land. Yahweh appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your offspring.” (Genesis 12:1-7)
Yahweh said to Abram, after Lot was separated from him, “Now, lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for I will give all the land which you see to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can count the dust of the earth, then your offspring may also be counted. Arise, walk through the land in its length and in its width; for I will give it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-18)
Yahweh brought him outside, and said, “Look now toward the sky, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” He said to Abram, “So your offspring will be.” He believed in Yahweh, who credited it to him for righteousness. He said to Abram, “I am Yahweh who brought you out of Ur to give you this land to inherit it.” (Genesis 15:5-7)
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, Yahweh appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty. I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Abram fell on his face. God talked with him, saying, “As for me, behold, my covenant is with you. You will be the father of a multitude of nations. Your name will no more be called Abram, but your name will be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you. Kings will come out of you. I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you and to your offspring after you. I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are traveling, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession. I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:1-8)
I will bless you greatly, and I will multiply your offspring greatly like the stars of the heavens, and like the sand which is on the seashore. (Genesis 22:17)
God promises that Abram will be the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam which, taken together, today represent well over half the global population. There is nothing in Abram’s backstory to suggest he deserves to be chosen for this immense blessing and honor. In fact, Genesis tells us who Abram’s ancestors were, but doesn’t tell us anything else about him. God’s choice appears to have been entirely random.
But Abram’s story is more than just the history of world religion. Abram’s name means, “father,” and the new name God gives him, “Abraham,” means “father of nations.” We are not supposed to see Abram as a heroic, distant Biblical figure, but as being in our own immediate family and our direct decedent. Abram represents each one of us and God’s unreasoning decision to take each of us as His very own.
God repeats His covenant with Abram repeatedly as though to make sure we don’t forget it. He speaks in the most evocative language: He tells Abram to look in every direction to see the land God will give his children as an everlasting possession. He invites Abram, and each one of us, to look up into the ancient starlit night sky and the sand on the boundless seashore to illustrate God’s abundant, eternal love.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep and God’s Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters.
God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw the light, and saw that it was good. God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light “day”, and the darkness he called “night”. There was evening and there was morning, the first day.
God said, “Let there be an expanse in the middle of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” God made the expanse, and divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. God called the expanse “sky”. There was evening and there was morning, a second day.
God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together to one place, and let the dry land appear;” and it was so. God called the dry land “earth”, and the gathering together of the waters he called “seas”. God saw that it was good. God said, “Let the earth yield grass, herbs yielding seeds, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with their seeds in it, on the earth;” and it was so. The earth yielded grass, herbs yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with their seeds in it, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a third day.
God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs to mark seasons, days, and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth;” and it was so. God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light to the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
God said, “Let the waters abound with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the sky.” God created the large sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed, after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
God said, “Let the earth produce living creatures after their kind, livestock, creeping things, and animals of the earth after their kind;” and it was so. God made the animals of the earth after their kind, and the livestock after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind. God saw that it was good.
God said, “Let’s make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food. To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food;” and it was so.
God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. There was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.
The heavens, the earth, and all their vast array were finished. On the seventh day God finished his work which he had done; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. God blessed the seventh day, and made it holy, because he rested in it from all his work of creation which he had done.
Some extraordinary themes reveal themselves in the first Creation story:
God brings order from Chaos, represented by the distinguishing of things from one another and, even more evocatively, the watery Deep. In a few chapters, God will teach Noah how to survive the return of Chaos when floodwaters engulf the world, and carefully lock the door of the ark behind him. Moses will command the waters of the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape the Egyptians, pursuing them to return them to slavery. Elijah will divide the Jordan river as he faces the chaos of the end of his earthly life and his apprentice, Elisha, will divide it again to begin his own ministry. Jesus will calm turbulent waters, walk on them, and teach Peter that he can walk on them too.
The earth and everything that emerges from it is Good, and God blesses it.
God is ancient and sovereign. He created an abundant, nurturing universe heartrending in its beauty, mystery and majesty.
God made us in His image. From the very beginning, He intended us to be His children – a message He would underline with earthquakes, thunder and lightning at Mount Sinai and again in Bethlehem and once more on Calvary.
And He must be still, as we must be, to reflect on the enormous beauty of it all.