One last thing about Genesis 1

Dear reader,

As I’m sure you’ve now all heard, I will be leaving St. Anne’s this summer.  Next month I will write and tell you a little about the parishes I’m going to and in September’s magazine I shall write a few final words.  But for now, I thought I would give one last thought on the creation story in Genesis 1.

In my experience people seem to take one of two attitudes to Genesis 1:

  1. It’s what is written in the Bible, so it must have happened like that – I don’t care what science says.

OR

2. Science has shown the world wasn’t made like that so the passage is silly and has nothing to tell me.

I find both points of view ridiculous.  I think the question of whether or not God made the world in 6 literal days is just a way of avoiding what the passage actually says.  In recent magazines I’ve tried to show two other things that the passage tells us.  I could write lots more!  So, before I go, here’s one more look at Genesis 1.

What word would you use to describe the Garden of Eden?  Forget for a second whether or not it really existed – that’s beside the point.  Instead ask yourself, what do you picture when you hear the phrase ‘Garden of Eden’.  I suspect many people naturally go for the word ‘perfect’.  Now the idea of perfect is a Greek idea, and means something that is without flaw.  It means something that cannot be improved.  It makes us think of things that are static, fixed, unchanging.  But Genesis wasn’t written from a Greek perspective, it was written from a Hebrew perspective.  Read the story again, it doesn’t say that the Garden of Eden was perfect – does it?  No!  It says that it was ‘Good’:

‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.  And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.’
Genesis 1:31

This comes from the Hebrew word “tov”, and it doesn’t mean perfect and static.  It means something that is moving in a particular direction.  Something that is dynamic and changing and growing and evolving!

Please notice this, in Genesis the world that God creates is not finished!  In Genesis there are stars and fish and birds and animals and they are not fixed, but moving.  The plants are called to grow and make new plants (Gen 1:11-12).  The animals are called to increase and grow and make more animals (Gen 1:25).  Adam and Eve are told to subdue and take care of the earth – to harvest the plants and look after the animals (Gen 1:28-30).  This is not a perfect, static, picture.  Instead it is a world exploding with life and vitality, with everything changing and growing and evolving to that every tomorrow will be different from the day before.  The world is heading somewhere.  The creation is pulsating with possibility.  And this is the world God declares ‘very good.’

Now, the name Adam means “the human one” and the name Eve means “the mother of the living.”  In other words these people are supposed to represent the whole human race.  And they find themselves in the centre of the beautiful, exotic, unfinished and evolving world and are basically told – “Make something!  Do something with this world I have made!  Enjoy it!!”  In other words Genesis is telling us that God creates humanity to be his partners, his co-creators in the world! (That’s the point of Genesis 1:28-30 by the way).

If you read Genesis 1 for the first time the questions you would have are : What will humans do with this world?  What kind of world will they make?

Which leads us to now!  What are you doing with your life?  What are you using your energies doing?  What kind of world do your actions help to create?  Are you working in the world the way God would want the world to go?  Or are your actions pointing in another direction?

Now I find that way more interesting than whether or not the world was made in a literal 6 days!

God bless,
Reverend David

 

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Original Goodness

Dear reader,

I know that not everyone who reads the parish magazine regularly attends St. Anne’s Church, and so some of you may not have heard our news.  I have been appointed the vicar of St. Andrew’s and St. Mary’s Church Wakefield and St. Catherine’s Church Sandal.  We will be sad to leave St. Anne’s, but we’re excited about this new step and eager to see all that God has in store for us. I will not write my farewells today, as I have a few more months with you.  I will save my words and good byes for a future magazine.

Instead, I want to talk about Genesis 1.  Back in the March Magazine I wrote about how Genesis 1 teaches that we are made of both dust and spirit.  That we are both physical and spiritual beings.  That we are made of atoms, atoms that replace themselves, the same atoms and molecules that also make up everything else.  We are made of dust.

But we also reflect and love and despair and dream.  We experience transcendence.  We suffer loss and heartache and brokenness.  We are made of dust, but we are also made of spirit.

I find this discussion so much more interesting than whether or not the world was made in a literal period of 6 days!

Now I got a lot of feedback about this parish magazine article, including the statement ‘That’s just one verse in Genesis 1, what about the rest of it!’  Now I could write a whole bunch of articles on Genesis 1, it is a brilliant, wonderful, subversive, revolutionary chapter.  (Maybe I’ll write another one next month?  We’ll see!)  So I thought today I’d write something about the whole chapter.

In Genesis 1 God creates the world, with a repeated refrain ‘And God saw that it was good.’  (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25), culminating in verse 31 ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’

So God sees this world, the plants and animals, the sea and sky, the man and woman, and he declares the whole lot ‘very good’.  God sees men and women, together, multiplying and calls it very good.  God makes plants that can make more of themselves (Gen 1:12).  He makes animals that can make more of themselves (Gen 1:25).  He creates human kind in his image, and instructs them to work in the world and create in the world (Gen 1:26-30) and then he declares the whole lot ‘very good’.

Only in Genesis 3 does this go wrong.  In Genesis 3 sin enters the picture.  The relationship between people and God is damaged, the relationship between people and the creation is damaged and the relationship between people and other people is damaged.

Now to state the obvious, the Bible does not beginning in Genesis 3, the Bible begins in Genesis 1!  This is so vital.  It affects everything about how you see the world and how you see the Christian faith.

The story starts in Genesis 1!

If you start the story in Genesis 3, then the world is a dark, sinful place and we need to get out of here.  The main story is about removing sin.  If you begin in Genesis 3 then the important thing is that Jesus forgives you your sin and rescues you from this evil world.

But, if you begin in Genesis 1, then the world is fundamentally good, and the story is about redeeming and restoring this world that God has declared ‘very good’.  This obviously includes forgiveness and the removal of sin, but it goes way beyond it to the very ends of the cosmos!

If you begin in Genesis 3 then the fundamental posture towards people is telling them what they aren’t.  Telling them that they aren’t good enough, they aren’t holy enough, they don’t read their Bible enough, they don’t attend church enough.

If you begin in Genesis 1 then the fundamental posture towards people is telling them what they are!  Telling them that they are made in the image of God.  They are daughters and sons of a loving heavenly Father who spoke over them at creation that they are, at their original core, ‘very good.’

From the beginning this heavenly Father has had an unconditional, all-embracing love for all of creation.  This creator God is endlessly diverse and creative, making all things and declaring it good.  You are made in His image, and, no matter what you’ve done, or how bad you think you’ve messed up, you contain that divine spark.

As a human being you were created to be a co-creative partner with the creator God.  The world that He made wanting it to move forward.  Making the animals to make more animals, the plants to make more plants and the humans to multiply and subdue (read create in and take care of) the world.

Now we all know that we’ve sometimes gone against this movement.  Sometimes my actions have increased the evil in this world, and not increased the goodness.  We all now that Genesis 3 is true, that this world is not always good.  But the story starts in Genesis 1 – with a loud declaration that the world is ‘very good’ and that we are in His image.

We often talk about ‘original sin’, which I find a bizarre term, because sin wasn’t original!  Sin didn’t enter the story until Genesis 3 (now I get that that is not what original sin means, that instead it’s saying all of us are born with the capacity to be part of the problem.)  But if we start in Genesis 1 the emphasis should actually be on original goodness, because that really was original!

When we start the story in Genesis 1 the story is about how this world and we humans are fundamentally good and God is determined to put it right again.

Now I find that far more interesting than whether or not the world was made in a literal period of 6 days!

God bless,
Reverend David

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Esther in 5 minutes (ish!)


Esther in 5 minutes (ish!)

Watch the first of the series here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAzjK4A_VZc

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Hello!

On Sunday it was announced that I will soon be the vicar of St. Andrew’s and St. Mary’s Church, Wakefield, and St. Catherine’s Church, Sandal.  Since then I’ve had a surprising number of views on this blog from people in Wakefield!  So I assume the new congregations are checking me out!
So I thought I’d just say ‘Hi’.  We can’t wait to come a join you, get to know you and get on with all that God has planned for us.
God bless

David

 

P.S.  I also thought I’d up date the photo section of the blog page, so you can see what we look like now.  My children are older, and I am fatter!

 

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Nehemiah in 5 minutes (ish!)


The Bible series continues with Nehemiah in 5 minutes (ish!)

Ezra in 5 minutes (ish!): http://followergerrard.com/2016/04/19/ezra-in-5-minutes-ish/

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Ezra in 5 minutes (ish!)

Ezra in 5 minutes (ish)

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Rob Bell and the “universe”

Not for the first time I heard Rob Bell getting criticised the other day.  Nothing new.  Some of the criticisms I agree with (although, frankly, there’s so much God-given work to do in this world, why spend your time tearing down others.  Just get on with doing something worth while!).  Some of the criticisms I don’t agree with.

Anyway … The reason I heard Rob Bell get criticised this time was because he’s turned “new age” and keeps talking about the universe instead of God.  Here’s an example to show what was being discussed (you might want to skip to about 1 minute 20 seconds):

I found this criticism ridiculous, but seemed unable to explain why in that two minutes – so here’s a blog post where I can, hopefully, explain a bit better.

The word “God” is found throughout the Bible.  In the Old Testament it’s a translation of the Hebrew word “Elohim”.  But, here’s the thing, this was a very generic word in the middle east at that time.  Read ancient Ugarit literature and “Elohim” refers to a whole bunch of Ugaritic gods.  Elsewhere the word means other ancient gods, a whole range of semi-gods and even angels and judges.  If the writers wanted to distinguish the Israelite, Old Testament God, they used the name YHWH, normally written LORD in English Bibles.

In the Old Testament God is also described in a whole bunch of ways that were used by those around them to describe their own gods.  For example, the Canaanite god Baal was said to control the weather and would be described as the one who would ride on the clouds.  This makes verses like Psalm 68:4 very interesting! – “Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds.”

It appears that the Old Testament writers had no problem taking the words and phrases used by the surrounding cultures and using them to help communicate what the God of the Old Testament was like.

The New Testament is the same.  There the word God is the Greek word ‘theos” – which was the word used to describe all the Roman gods of the time.  In 2 Corinthians 4:4 the word is even used to describe the devil!  (look it up if you don’t believe me!)

To describe Jesus the New Testament often used the word ‘Kurios”, which means Lord.  This title was used by many masters around the world, “The Lord” being Caesar himself.

Throughout the Bible the writers took words and titles used by the surrounding cultures to describe the God of the Bible and Jesus.  There was nothing, absolutely nothing at all, special or unique about these words.  Instead they would take the ideas, phrases and words around them and use them to help people grasp the creator they were trying to describe.

Now, I think, if we’re going to be biblical we shouldn’t hang on so strongly to biblical words, but instead seek to use the biblical example.

I am convinced, through talking to many, many people, that most people’s understanding of the word “god” is nothing at all like the God of the Bible.  Most still have a very pagan understanding of God.  A mean, cruel, thunder bolt throwing, angry god who’s a long way away and demands good behaviour.  A god who’s making a list and checking it twice, who’s going to find out who’s naughty or nice.  Maybe we should be looking for terms and titles and metaphors that our culture uses that may help them understand our God?  In a world where the title god no longer helps people picture the creator we believe in, maybe we should seek other words and titles?  As far as I can see, this is biblical.

Whether ‘universe’ is a good one, I don’t know.

What else could we use?  Higher power?  The divine?  The depth of existence?  Presence?  The Force!!?

All I’ll say is that if you think the idea of using different titles for God is ‘new age’ or ‘pagan’ then you need to realise that the same practice is embedded in our Bibles.

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2 Chronicles in 5 minutes (ish!)

Video for 1 Chronicles https://youtu.be/_UAWh8PEeVY

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Happy Easter

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How the Book of Leviticus is Awesome!

Dear reader,

So I was in a meeting the other day and I heard someone say (not for the first time!) that the book of Leviticus is boring!  If you don’t know, the book of Leviticus is the third book of the Bible and it has a bit of a reputation for being the most dull book in the Bible.  So when I heard this again I said, ‘Actually the book of Leviticus is awesome, I only wish we had time right now for me to explain why!”  So please, my wonderful St. Anne’s Family, stick with me for a second as I try to convince you that Leviticus really is awesome!

Leviticus begins with extensive (ok, I’ll be honest – boring) instructions on how to offer 5 different sacrifices — the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace-offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering. Burnt, sin, guilt — is that a party waiting to happen or what?

To add to that, there’s verse after verse of instructions on what to do with the fat, the loins, the long lob of the liver,and the blood of the animal you’re offering.  I mean there’s lots and lots of blood.

But … the book actually begins:

“The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting.  He said, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “When you bring an offering to the LORD …”  (Leviticus 1:1-2a)

The name LORD is the name of God, the God who had just rescued his people from Egypt.  And you can bring an offering to this LORD.  The word ‘offering’ is the Hebrew word ‘corban’ and it means ‘to draw near’.  Draw near!!

Everyone at this time, everyone, knew that the gods were distant, detached, demanding and constantly needed to be kept on side and appeased.  You could never know where you stood with these gods.

But the LORD, well you can draw near to this God!  Now this was a revolutionary new idea.  We’re only one verse into the book and we’re come across a revolutionary idea in the history of humanity.  You can draw near to God.  You can relate to this God.

Which is actually the point.  For example, one of the offerings was called ‘the peace offering’.  You present the offering and then (the instructions in Leviticus 7 are clear) you must eat the offering on the same day.  In other words, you sit and have a meal with God to celebrate the peace between you!  You can be in relationship with the LORD.

You see, you know where you stand with this God.  At the time this was revolutionary.  What if you suddenly realise that you did something wrong several days ago — how do you make things right? There was an offering for that. What if you did something unintentional that ended up harming someone but you only just now found out about it? There was an offering for that. What if you had a deep sense of anxiety in your conscience from something you felt guilty about? There was an app, I mean,  an offering for that as well. (I hope someone got that joke!).

So why all the endless details?

The belief of that era was that the gods could smite you at any moment for an improper gesture or a sacrifice offered carelessly. That’s how people saw the gods. One mistake and you’re done. The details would have had a significant calming effect, reassuring you that you’re doing it correctly and not bringing unnecessary wrath on yourself.

Why all the repetition that makes it so hard to read through the book without dozing off?
Because the culture was primarily oral at this point. The repetition made it easier to memorize and then hand down to the next generation.

But why didn’t they just get rid of the sacrificial system all together?

Wouldn’t that be amazing!  If someone announced that the final sacrifice has been offered and there’s no more need to do such things.  If someone came along and declared that the temple is going to be torn down.  If someone proclaimed ‘It is finished!’

BUT … someone has!!!

This month we have Easter, and at Easter we celebrate that someone did come along and declare that very thing.  That the final, the ultimate sacrifice had been offered, and that it was all finished.  We can all know exactly where we stand with God and we can all be in relationship with him.  This is the radical, awesome message of Leviticus and it is brought to it’s climax in Jesus.

Now come on … how awesome is that!

God bless,

Reverend David

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