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The Rev. Dr. Eric Barreto The Rev. Dr. Eric Barreto

The Rev. Dr. Eric Barreto is the Weyerhaeuser Associate Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ.

Member of:

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Representative of:

Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ


Eric Barreto: In the Beginning and In the End

Genesis 1:1--2:4a

1st Sunday After Pentecost - Year A (Trinity Sunday)

June 11, 2017

 

In the beginning, God created the world. In the beginning, God drew order out of chaos. In the beginning, God breathed life into every living creature. In the beginning, God crafted and made the world.

In contrast, it seems like we as a people want to tell a very different story. It sometimes seems we are committed to leading the world back into chaos, that we would rather commit ourselves to recreating the world in our distorted image: an image punctuated by pollution and war and domination. We sometimes seem determined to create a world characterized by death and loss instead of the miracle of life and breath and goodness and the flourishing of all living things.

In the beginning, God created the world. And, yet, in the end, we seem driven to dismantle the world. In the beginning, God rested. And, yet, in the end, we are opting for the chaos God held at bay as an act of grace, love, and power.

The ever-present specter of war, the threat of climate change, the exploitation of our natural resources, the harm we do to one another: these are theological problems. In our efforts to enhance our comfort and ease our work, we have mistaken what is good with what is merely advantageous for a narrow us. Our ravaging of natural resources reveals our arrogance. We think that the world's water and air and many precious resources are due to us, that they are a recompense we have earned by the sweat of our brow or the ingenuity of our efforts rather than gifts from God meant to enhance the life of all not just the extravagance of a few. We have turned the world upside down, we have served the forces of destruction, and in the end, we have declared them "good."

In short, we have lied about what we do to the world. We have concocted complex (but easily disprovable) denials of our many sins against the world God crafts, God loves, that God calls good.

So, let's go back to the beginning and wonder for a moment why the Bible starts in this way and why a community of believers chose to capture the dawn of creation in this way. As we well know, these opening chapters of Genesis have been embroiled in unavailing arguments about science and evolution. Are these opening chapters blueprints of the created order? Are they precise recollections of the world's creation? Are they science, are they theology, are they both, are they neither?

A few years ago, a so-called "debate" pitching creationism against evolution drew plenty of attention on Twitter but did little to clarify the meaning of these resonant words, "In the beginning." The so-called "debate" was an exercise in missing the very point of Genesis 1. These verses are not a blueprint of the world or a play-by-play of the dawning of creation. These verses are not just an ancient fairy tale that we can dismiss as the ramblings of our ancient ancestors. All such readings miss a critical point.

These verses are controversial precisely because we think these verses are about us, about you and me. And they're not. These verses are not about you, really. These verses are not about me, really. These verses are not really about us.

The first chapter of Genesis is about God first and foremost.

When we turn to these passages we are usually propelled not by knowing something about the past but understanding something about the present, the future, and the God who accompanies us always. The authors and collectors of the traditions we find in Genesis and we, its readers, are not just driven by historical curiosity, by a drive to know what happened back then. I think we want to know why more than we want to know how and when.

Why is the world the way it is? Why does life sometimes flourish while at other moments death seems to strike us at every turn? What explains our drive to war? Why do we afflict one another with pollution and waste? Why do we tend to care so little sometimes for the world we have inherited? What are our obligations to those who come after us? And most importantly, what kind of God created this world? And what kind of world is it anyway?

In Genesis 1, we confess that the world and the God who created it are both good. We join in God's declaration even as we might whisper it, unsure that it is true. We hope that the God who created the skies and the oceans, the highest peaks and the lowest valleys is the same God who will shelter us from the storm and hold death at bay. We yearn for a world that can dazzle us with its beauty, silence us with awe even as we tremble at forces largely beyond our control: winds and mudslides and tornadoes and typhoons.

And if we're honest, we can acknowledge that the "natural" evils that harm our neighbors are not always beyond our control, that these disasters are not just "acts of God" as the insurance companies say. Yes, we did not control the tsunami that decimated Indonesia or direct the vicious path of Hurricane Katrina or determine than an earthquake would strike Haiti. And yet, aren't we all embroiled in systems of oppression that while they advantage us force others to live with difficulty on faults and on sea coasts? Our cheap produce is expensive, our inexpensive water is costly, our affordable energy comes at a steep cost. Someone always pays the price, whether it's the earth or our invisible neighbors near and far.

And yet, God called the world good. And God was and is right. But in the ways we pollute the world and oppress one another, we seek to deny this divine declaration.

So, let's resolve to do otherwise, to count the costs of our conveniences, to join God in the declaring of a "good" world in which life always prevails. And let's resolve to do so not because we are mighty but because the God who stitched the world together is a mighty God. Not because we are so wise but because the God who breathed life into us and the world is a graceful God. Not because we are so good but because the God who crafted a "good" world is the very definition of "good."

 

Let us pray.

For the goodness of your creation, we give you thanks, God. Teach us what it means to echo your declaration that the world you created is "good." Teach us compassion and hope and generosity. Teach us what it means that you, God, are so very good. Amen.

 


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