It won’t be the first time we read Genesis 1 together, but this might be a different interpretation than most of us are used to. These perspectives don’t need to conflict, however. Rather, I would say these thoughts complement each other. In 2009, John Walton published a book, ‘The Lost World of Genesis One’, and here, I want to share the main idea with you as a starting point for a small series of ‘Thoughts for the Day’.
John Walton proposes that what’s going on in Genesis 1, is that God organises an enormous temple, the entire cosmos, as a place for God to be enthroned. In our Western world of today we are very used to thinking about matter and material things. For us, the story of Genesis is often a story of ‘matter’. What did God create? What did He create it from? When kids get to school, they have already absorbed this ‘what is real is what I can touch’ way of thinking as the only option. Our culture often questions whether things exist if they are not tangible; a lot of people nowadays struggle with the idea of an invisible God who acts.
For the ancient people to whom this text was first written, this sort of doubt would have been alien. It was obvious to them that without the sustaining power of God, nothing could exist. If you unplug God at the mains, so to speak, poooff, everything else would be gone too. The thought of splitting things up into ‘the real tangible stuff’ and the ‘fluffy God stuff’ was inconceivable. Their worldview was not ‘material’ but rather ‘functional’: Something exists when it is carrying out a purpose. For people in this world, creation happened when God spoke order and purpose over the unproductive and chaotic waters and decreed what was to be the new order: A period of light (day), followed by darkness (night) to begin time. A weather system around the edges, expressed in ways that would make sense to the readers. A place for food to grow on the earth. Then after these fundamental functions had been put in place, God told the lights in the sky to function as indicators of time. Then the birds and fish given the purpose of multiplying. And animals on the earth. It was ordered this way to be a perfect home for human beings who were given additional purposes apart from multiplying – namely to steward and to carry God’s image. All this had been put in place, it worked according to plan, it functioned so it was, and it was very good. Once all the ‘doing’ and ‘making’ was done, on the 7th day, God rested but not in the sense we’re used to thinking.
God rests by effortlessly exercising His reign over creation. God’s activity without opposition is ‘rest’. There was no trouble, so God reigned in shalom/peace. Authority and power would go out from Him to smoothly keep things going as they were meant, to benefit the people He had entrusted to co-rule with Him. If we think of every day of the 7-day week being a day of creation of purpose, function, role, meaning, order, the 7th day suddenly becomes the most glorious day of them, as this is where God is enthroned. Only as the Creator God sits down in His enormous temple, does creation find its true purpose. Creation is not fully created until that moment when God makes this huge cosmos His temple, His home, His dwelling-place. It is a blessed day of going from the work of ordering and creating to the work of exercising His rule in peace.
God wants to be understood. He is eager to reveal Himself, and so He speaks in images we can at least begin to fathom although sometimes the mind still boggles. In a culture where temples were universally seen as dwelling places of the divine, places where heaven came to rule over earth and needy deities were served by humans, of course God would speak in familiar language. But what God says in that language is shocking! 3 points: 1. That unlike what other cultures believed at the time, people are not there to meet God’s needs. The whole creation is optimised for human beings and God’s care for us is built into the very order of creation. 2. Other temples have picture of God at the centre. God’s massive temple has us as His image-bearers and co-rulers. 3. That God fills this entire cosmic temple of creation with His glory. On day 8, 9, 10, 11…, God is still resting with us, actively and peacefully going about the business of being God, ruling, decreeing, giving life, keeping things working. So far, so very good. Will it stay that way? -Misha