The Creative Breath

'Belief in God’s creation brings with it a way of looking at all life in the light of human dependence on Him'

GENESIS 2:4b - 9, 15-25 and Matt 6:25-30

What goes through your mind when I tell you that today is the 9th Sunday before Christmas? It’s a sobering thought isn’t it, that the shops are already stocking cards, and as soon as the shelves are cleared of Halloween masks and the like, then it’ll be Spice Girl dolls and Telly Tubbies all the way until Christmas, the turkey and the January sales are over!

By way of introduction to the season, the lectionary takes us to the book of Genesis and the story of the Creation. Why has the story of the Creation got anything to do with the excitement of Christmas, you might ask? Well, what better way to begin the drama of the salvation of mankind than by celebrating the universe that God has created for it to live in. And at the same time look at mankind’s place in this universe and its reaction to it.

What I’m not going to try and do is answer the question ‘Did this really happen as it’s written in Genesis?’ Scientists and theologians have been struggling over that one for many years. Far more important for us is the question ‘What is this really telling us?’ because these few verses pose some awkward questions, especially for us meeting today as part of the family of God. They also point to the importance of the Old Testament as a source book for knowledge about man’s relationship with God.

The reading challenges us with several questions, not just about creation, but also about the environment, stewardship, loneliness and marriage. I’m certainly not going to try and attempt to cover all of them, and I freely admit to avoiding the more contentious ones, but I would like us to look at two, and these are our relation to God’s creation and our part as God’s creation.

‘When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens’ is how our reading started, and ‘heaven and earth’ is a Hebrew way of saying everything - not just the things we can see with our eyes or through a telescope or by sending satellites to the Moon, Mars or Saturn. But the things we can’t see as well - those things that physicists spend their time mulling over and theorising about; black holes, quasars, distant galaxies and the like.

The bible makes no attempt to prove that God exists, I don’t know whether you realise that. It rather takes that for granted, if for no other reason that His existence is self-evident because the whole creation displays His work and through it He can be discerned. The two versions of the creation story which occur in chapters one and two of Genesis tell us two important things about God and creation. Firstly that everything in creation is totally dependant on God. All life belongs to Him and we can do no creative act without Him. The second is this; God did not have to create.

So why did he?

The bible leads us to believe that God created the universe because he loves, in a BIG way!. From our own human experience we can perhaps understand something of the link between loving and creating. Just as in a family our children are born from love and into love, so God’s act of creation springs from his overflowing love which brings everything into existence.

As far as man is concerned, the opening chapters of Genesis tell us two things. That ‘the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being’ and if we go back to the first chapter ‘that God created man in his own image.’

These statements give us a clue as to the answer to one of our questions, namely about man as God’s creation. Our bodies are composed of around 65% water, a fair bit of carbon and an assortment of other minerals that really wouldn’t be out of place in the garden. We would make a wonderful organic fertiliser, and I know of one dear old lady whose husband’s ashes are helping a rose bush to grow. You see, when it boils down to it, there’s nothing in our makeup that isn’t present in the world around us. ‘Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust’ as the saying goes. ‘The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground’ My bible tells me that the Hebrew for man sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew word for ground (adamah) and is also the name Adam.

Verse seven of our reading says that the Lord breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life. This is a powerful word, in the Hebrew ‘Ruarch’ which can mean everything from the mighty wind that separated the waters of the Red Sea to allow the people of Israel to cross into the promised land, to that strange and invisible thing which we think of as human spirit. When the Queen of Sheba saw Soloman’s glory (1 Kings 10:4-5) ‘There was no more ruarch in her’ It’s that mysterious quality of life itself, for in early biblical thought the human spirit is the divine breath.

We read in the first account of the Creation, in the first chapter of Genesis, that in the ascending order of creation mankind is at the very top, and God’s satisfaction at his handiwork is expressed in the statement that comes right at the end of the chapter ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ So it is that at the heart of this story comes the creation of mankind made ‘in the image and likeness of God.’

This phrase - the image of God - tells us that there is an important difference between us and other living creatures: we bear the stamp of the Creator to show that we belong to him in a very special way.

‘Isn’t she like her mother!’ ‘Doesn’t he look the spitting image of his father!’ And don’t we glow with pride as parents when other people notice the family resemblance. In the same way it was God’s intention right from the start that we should bear the likeness of our heavenly Father.

‘Male and female he created them.’ The image idea embraces mankind as both male and female. Both sexes are equally loved, blessed, chosen and called by God himself.

But what on earth does it mean to be made in the image of God. Are we talking of the purely spiritual here, or does this touch our earthly life? What if we go back to the little child in the pushchair. Yes, there are facial similarities to the mother and father, but that’s about as far as it goes. Give the child a few years and I’ll guarantee that a lot more of the parents has rubbed off on the child’s personality - it really is starting to look and behave like a smaller version of mum and dad, despite our wishing desperately for the child to be anything but. All right, the analogy might break down when the dreaded teenage years strike, but so much of what we are, our outlook on life, our attitude, our prejudices, likes and dislikes, moral and ethical standpoints are imprinted in us when we are children.

Maybe this is part of what the bible means by ‘made in the image of God’ That God wants us to grow up in his family, and gradually to show more and more of his nature in all of its diversity and breadth.

The implications of this teaching are enormous and touch not only our lives in a very personal way, but also have social and political significance. God has declared to us the value that he places on human life. In fact he is interested in every aspect of his creation. Jesus taught in the sermon on the Mount that ‘every hair of your head is numbered’ This caring, this love is personal, for me, for you and for everyone as an individual.

We might sometimes despair of ourselves and enjoy wallowing in a sea of self pity, but God tells us that we are made in his image - and not just us here today, but mankind as a whole. This of course means that we are all equal in God’s sight and therefore ought properly to have equal opportunity for a full, dignified human existence. It is no part of God’s plan for mankind that there should be one half of the world that has everything they could want, and more..... and one half that has less than enough to live on.

The second chapter of Genesis talks not only about man and his relationship with his creator, but also his relationship towards the rest of the created world. Verse 15 ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and care for it’ In chapter 1 man was told ‘Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the land’

The bible reminds us that this world of ours has meaning. If the universe came into being by chance then of course there is no basic purpose behind it, but if God created it then it has a meaning which affects all of our lives. It reminds us that God’s creation is to be enjoyed, to be admired and to be used carefully. We have been given the stewardship of this world, and that is a responsibility which God must believe that man is capable of fulfilling. Unfortunately it is all too easy when we look around to see evidence of man’s irresponsibility. Industrial prosperity and environmental awareness do not seem to make very good bed-fellows

with the notion of man being given by God the stewardship of his creation. It’s not like a gift that we can decide to keep and look after, or tire of and discard. God didn’t just wind the universe up like a clock and leave it with us to tick away unattended. He’s still at work in the universe, giving it direction and purpose. Jesus referred to this unceasing care when he said to those who were persecuting him ‘My Father is always working, and I too must work.’ The apostle Paul echoes this by bringing Jesus directly into God’s creative work: through Christ all things have come into being and are sustained by him. A good employer will delegate work to his trusted employees, believing that they have the necessary skills and honesty to carry the tasks out diligently. But he’s always there should they need to refer back - to ask for advice, to consult - God didn’t abandon man in the Garden of Eden, even after his disobedience. He’s still there, as concerned and interested in his Ceation as he always has been. And when man chooses occasionally to step away from his destructive habits and look once again at stewardship of the world, I’m sure that God smiles.

To believe that God is the creator of the universe is to see things very differently from those without such faith. Belief in God’s creation brings with it a way of looking at all life in the light of human dependence on Him

© John Birch

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