With Mankind in Mind

From the series Breathing Life

Consider this statement from Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell when he explains the condition of the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky:

“When the area was first settled, the plateau was covered with a dense primeval forest.”

Does this mean when the area was first settled – at that moment – someone covered the plateau with dense forest? Before the area was settled, no dense forest existed? This is obviously not the meaning of the sentence at all. Records from previous explorers tell us the primeval forest was already there when the area began to be settled. Sometimes the meaning of a sentence requires looking at its context and timeline.

“And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.” – Genesis 2:8

So, did God plant a garden after man was formed or before? Looking back at the order of creation from Genesis 1, vegetation would have been planted on day 3, and man would have been created on day 6. This is considered a discrepancy by some readers. Some think God planted a garden the day Adam came along. Others get really zealous with this and say the whole creation story is a bust. These misconceptions assume the narrative is still focused on the chronological order of Genesis 1.

Instead, Chapter 1 is an accelerated run-through of how the world and the universe came about. It’s the ultimate synopsis. The writer in me yearns to be so concise yet thorough. By separating the story of mankind after telling about the creation of the world, the narrative of Genesis 2 is way easier to understand. Imagine if all of this had been placed into chapter 1. It would’ve read something like, “On the third day, while God was making these grasses, herbs, and trees, and creating the laws of reproduction for the plants, He designed a garden, a dwelling He was preparing for man and woman—who hasn’t been made yet. The trees He grew in this garden were going to be good to look at and good to eat for Adam and Eve—whom, again, you know nothing about…” This explanation didn’t belong in the first chapter. God waited until I knew about the creation of humans to begin to describe man’s birth and his home. That way I can understand a little at a time. Isn’t that the only way to get the whole picture, a little at a time? The writer side of me is eating this up!

“And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” – Genesis 2:9

So, I just mentioned the trees in the previous paragraph and totally ruined my build-up. I said, “the trees in this garden were going to be good to look at and good to eat for Adam and Eve.” Maybe you just accepted that assertion, but it is an assertion that God made them for mankind’s benefit. Nowhere in this passage does it say that. (Plus, Adam and Eve’s names haven’t been introduced yet.) In the past I’ve just taken it for granted that it was made for the first man and woman. Readers often take for granted descriptions that involve the senses, but writers never should! An appeal to the senses is the most natural way to connect with a reader. We experience life through our senses, and our needs are bound up in those senses, as well.

apple-tree-14709299832f4The Creator is capable of creating something from nothing. Physically, ‘nothing’ is an enigma for me. If I can’t see, taste, touch, smell, or hear it, I have trouble comprehending it. God doesn’t have my problem. Does He need pleasant-looking trees or a tree growing food for Himself? I gather He’s not hurting for pretty things or for food to fill an empty human stomach. He’s thinking in terms of human needs and senses when the passage says the trees were “pleasant to the sight” and “good for food.” So, it’s a reasonable deduction that God had humans in mind, even though the way I introduced it by jumping ahead in my narrative was lousy. The writer of Genesis does a much better job. By telling a little at a time without introducing ideas that need to be developed first, the narrative becomes more crisp and understandable. Great writing lesson, eh?

Two trees are mentioned in the passage that God separates from the rest of the pretty, nutritious ones. They have some additional purpose, but I’ll wait to talk about them later. Ah, a cliffhanger! Annnd… I’m a nerd.

Recap:

  1. A writer should build onto the skeletal outline of the story’s introduction.
  2. Use descriptive words that appeal to a reader’s senses.

*Featured image by Keriography. Used by permission.

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A Day of R & R: Rest and Remembrance (Genesis 2:1-3)

20130701aIs there anything as satisfying as completing a big project? When I begin writing a new story, there is this glowing sense of discovery and challenge, like a bright light on everything. But when it’s done—when the last line is penned and the story sits before me, whole—there’s a dreadful lull that undoes me. Something that smacks of dissatisfaction haunts me as I look at my finished tale. It may be complete, but it needs work. I edit and polish it, and others edit and polish it. I’m still not satisfied. That’s when I have to let it go. I could spend the rest of my life trying to improve my child of script.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

When God completed Project Heavens and Earth, He wasn’t worried about having left out a crucial element. He had no dread of being dissatisfied. Everything He made was perfect.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made: and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

The picture of an all-powerful Being resting after His work is odd, isn’t it? It’s not like He’s exhausted. The point is: He finished the project. It was done, and it was done right the first time. No need to touch-up or amend anything. He sits back and enjoys His completed masterpiece.

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

This is the third time in seven days that God blesses something. Bless is a tough word to my Americanized eyes. Its first meaning is to kneel for a gift, and my society rarely kneels for anything. The second is to grant the gift. In later passages, the patriarchs bless their sons by placing their hands on them, signifying that it is a bestowal and not something the sons can just take. (For more, read about Israel blessing Joseph’s sons.) First, God blesses the animals of the sea and sky. Second, God blesses mankind. Now, God is blessing something I can’t see or set in an alcove of the study to match the curtains. He is blessing a day of the week! The pattern of blessing takes a definite shape: Each time God blesses something, He gives a task or purpose associated with that created thing.

When He blesses the sea creatures and air creatures, He says, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters and seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.” He tells mankind the same thing in verse 28: to be fruitful and multiply. He adds another task or purpose for mankind, to “replenish (fill it full) the earth, and subdue it and have dominion over [all the animals on the earth].”

He gives the seventh day a task, too. Its purpose is to remind me that God finished His Creation in six days, and He stopped working on the seventh because it was done, complete, perfect. God later establishes the ceremonial observance of the seventh day, known as Sabbath, for the Israelite nation under the law of Moses. The word Sabbath is derived from the word for rest, shabath.

He also sanctifies the seventh day. This is the first time sanctify is used, and I’m curious about its meaning because this word gets tossed around in religious terminology all the time. God is teaching this concept to a nation of people in their own primitive language, so it can’t be too complex. Sanctify means “separated for a purpose.” That’s it. So, basically, I can sanctify my hairbrush—meaning, I can announce it is my hairbrush and only my hairbrush, and any man, woman, child, or dog who attempts to use my hairbrush for anything other than to comb my hair will be swiftly rapped on the knuckles with that hairbrush. Sanctified isn’t a mystical concept. Anybody can sanctify something. It’s the one doing the sanctifying that makes all the difference. When God sanctifies something, it will stay separated for the purpose He gives to it.

God established the purpose for the seventh day, and He has the power to uphold it, just like God has the power to uphold all the laws He established. I didn’t exist when He created all the laws that make the world go ’round. I can’t even look back and observe, “Oh, here it is: the beginning of the phenomenon called the Law of Gravity.” Or, “I’ve pinpointed where the Law of Biogenesis came into existence!” Not possible. But God was there, and He talks about how crucial it is for me to believe that He was there at the beginning and that He is the Cause that effected this habitable, beautiful world.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. – Hebrews 11:3

Keir-Collection-Moses-Red-Sea
Moses and the Red Sea, Public Domain Image from Keir Collection

The Greek word aion is translated ‘worlds’ in this passage, and it looks a lot like our word ‘eon.’ It can mean the material universe, and it can mean the eras, the on-going passage of time. It tells me that every period of history that God has had recorded and preserved is a faithful account. It is a true and unfabricated testimony presented by an Eternal, All-Knowing Witness. My faith will not be strong enough to comprehend the nonmaterial components of this world that God has made if I can’t believe He’s telling me the truth. The understanding of concepts like salvation, love, penitence, the heinousness of sin, or the hope of a heavenly reward is not going to resonate with me wholly. Genesis 1 is a simple, this-is-how-it-happened narrative. The rest of the Bible builds on this foundation, so that, when I’m faced with the why’s and how’s of Jesus Christ being both the Son of God and Son of Man centuries later, I will have a solid grip of the material to establish the nonmaterial. If I find the first chapter in the Book questionable, what prevents me from continuing to reword and revise everything God is trying to teach me in the rest of His book? I’m going to miss what He’s trying to tell me.

Here is the message He wants His creation to know about the world and the humans He created: He made it right the first time. He didn’t make any mistakes. So, all the problems and the scars and the wars and the destruction that I see today were not because He messed up. The wise King Solomon knew this and counseled, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, ESV).

He made mankind beautiful in his time, in the fitting moment. I am the one who must choose to be or not to be what God meant me to be. I am born into a world of men and women who were given the opportunity and chose not to be the way God meant. I, too, chose the ugly route, putting the beautiful things God created to their worst use. That choice affected me; it continues to affect me and others. But God offered me—and everyone—that pristine beauty again through the perfect, sinless life of His Son. I can choose God’s good beauty, but I have to believe He’s telling me the truth and nothing but the truth. Because, one day, He’ll accept me as fully and completely as I accept Him and His truth, and I will enter into His rest, an everlasting shabath.

This is the final update of the “Touching Creation” series. You will find a complete list of posts in the series here.