By Scott Anderson
The first verse of Genesis identifies God as a creator, the creator of the heavens and the earth, of sky and sea, of animals and humans. The story quickly turns from the viewpoint of God to the viewpoint of God’s first human creation: Adam. God gives responsibility to Adam, God’s crowning creation, to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “fill the earth and subdue it.” Genesis 1:28. After placing Adam above all created things, God evaluates God’s creation and judges it “very good.” Genesis 1:31.
The Genesis story makes us—as Adam’s descendants—proud. We are inheritors of the divine gift: authority over all creation. God created the whole world for us. God’s creation culminated in human beings, and God gave us charge over everything that exists. And with this gift comes a solemn duty: we are responsible for evaluating and judging—as God did at the end of the sixth day—all that God created.
In this way, we might consider ourselves to be God’s agents. Our identity in relation to our Creator-God is God’s earthly representatives. We are created to enforce God’s creative principles on the earth. God has entrusted us to subdue the earth and to judge it. This perspective—humans as God’s agents—assumes two things: (1) God is an absent deity, sitting above creation, who depends on humans to work out God’s righteous will on the earth; and (2) humans are the most powerful moral force on earth, rightly judging the creation God has put under our charge.
The text permits us to assume that God is distant, if not absent. God walks in the garden in the cool of the evening; there is no evidence that God comes to the garden at any other time. Genesis 3:3:8. God is searching for Adam and Eve among the trees and cannot locate them. God must interrogate them to uncover their disobedience in eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Genesis 3:9-11. An ever-present God would not have to search for one’s crowning creation, and would certainly be aware of their transgression. Moreover, before pronouncing judgment on them, God permits Adam and Eve to evaluate their conduct: as morally authoritative beings, Adam condemns Eve, and Eve condemns the serpent. Genesis 3:12-13.
But this conception of humanity as authoritative moral agents of an absent God is not required by the text. Indeed, from the beginning of the story, God seems to consider the creative endeavor to be a cooperative enterprise. In a conversation with God-self, God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” Genesis 1:26. Indeed, this is the phrase that directly precedes the “multiply” and “subdue” language presented above. It is as if God is including humans in the creative enterprise God (and God’s other “persons,” the Christ and the Holy Spirit) has begun.
If this is the picture of creation in Genesis, then we have a different view of our role on earth. If God considers creation an ongoing enterprise, then God is giving humans authority over continuing creation. On this view, God is not an absent dictator ceding authority to an occupying force of righteous judges; rather, God is a present master craftsman seeking partners to help promote God’s magnificent work. This view of God’s creation makes two very different assumptions: (1) God is a present deity, walking with us and depending on us to work toward a creative goal; and (2) humans have only the power that God gives us to continue the creative enterprise.
Of course, these two assumptions support a radically different view of humanity’s power on earth. As partners, we are only given authority to do what furthers God’s creative purpose in the world. In other words, we are only to do what we see our God in heaven doing. Moreover, as partners of an immanent (rather than transcendent) God, we are permitted to create continuously with God and to see the benefits of that creative enterprise.
A passage in Genesis—one that is not discussed much—demonstrates this idea of humankind’s partnership with God in the continuing creation of the world. Adam and Eve have been driven out of the garden, never to return. Genesis 3:24. The very next verse tells us that Adam and Eve were fruitful and multiplied: “Now the man knew his wife, Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have created a man with the help of the Lord.” Genesis 4:1. Eve created a man. God helped Eve create a man. With the mundane miracle of childbirth, God informs Adam and Eve that they are partners with God, as co-creators. Seemingly from nothing, they produced a third human. This changes the way we view our relationship to God. God is a creator not for us, but with us. Our destiny is to be not an agent of an absent God, but a partner with a present God.
So, the Genesis story leaves us with a question, one which may determine how we view our relationship to God and to the earth God created: Do we see ourselves as God’s righteous representatives or as God’s creative partners?
Next week’s series installment: God-the-Knower