This first Creation story culminates in God’s making of humanity in God’s own image, after which we human beings are assigned our work in the world: to multiply and fill the earth and to “subdue” it. I’m afraid both of these tasks now can seem problematic in our suffering world. We have overpopulated our earth by a few billion people. We have ravaged, polluted, and subjugated the natural world almost beyond rescue. But how could such a disaster follow from these two commands?
The original context of this writing was life in a largely unpopulated and dangerous land. The world was a place where human beings were continuously at the mercy of natural events. Childbirth, broken limbs, disease, wild animals, famine, earthquakes, floods, fire—life was not a safe proposition. Raising food and hunting successfully couldn’t be taken for granted.
So what can it mean to subdue the earth according to this passage? God surely did not intend for us to overpopulate it and break its back. Instead, I think it means that made in the image of God as we are, we are to “rule” as God rules: with infinite and tender love for the creation—including ourselves as human beings—that this chapter has just described for us.
Because God loves creation, when we read a scripture passage that seems to violate this love, we need to look at it again. God does not want the destruction of any thing or person that God loves. This is the principle by which we understand the Bible.
Loving God, help us learn to love as we learn to interpret scripture in a way that harms neither people nor the rest of creation. Amen.
Our first reading is arguably one of the most controversial passages in the Bible. Even among those who believe that God created the world, there is controversy. For example, should the days be understood as literal or symbolic? Much time and trouble have been spent in arguing about these things. A different approach is found in Psalm 8, where the author simply praises God for the majestic work of creation without needing to work out all the details. Perhaps this approach would lead to more love and peace among the people of God, as Paul hopes for in Second Corinthians. Matthew describes the ascension, where Jesus tells his followers to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, an appropriate passage in preparation for Trinity Sunday.
Read Genesis 1:1–2:4a. When has reading the Bible in a new way or with new knowledge changed your experience of the text?
Read Psalm 8. How do you feel called to care for the earth God has given us?
Read 2 Corinthians 13:11-13. How does your faith community heed Paul’s advice to the Corinthians? How does it fall short?
Read Matthew 28:16-20. Recall a time of doubt. How has that experience made your faith stronger?
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