A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

“The marginalization of creation”

Fretheim in his introduction to God and World in the Old Testament begins with:

The importance of creation has often been underestimated by church and academcy. Indeed, we can speak of the “marginalization of creation” in biblical and theological student over the course of muich of the twentieth century (and before). [p. ix]

This indicates part of Fretheim’s purpose in this book, to articulate a creation theology that can serve as the foundation for understanding the rest of hte Old Testament (and, implicitly, a creation theology that is not rife with fundamentalist attitudes toward the Creation narratives, as there have been creation theologies provided, though more focused upon battles with science than actual theology). Salvation history has gotten the bulk of the attention and focus in theology. Later, Fretheim goes on to give a list of historical trajectories for the marginalization of creation theology, such as the focus on salvation history, the focus of the creation narratives with Canaanite mythology, etc, all of which I think are valid to some degree. However, I think there are causes that reach to the root of the situation that explain many of the reasons Fretheim gives for creations lack of respect in the church and academy.

There are few things that contribute heavily to the way we have concieved of theology at the cost of creational thinking. First is the structure of our Biblical canons as Christians. Words such as salvation, redemption has a much more central role in the New Testament texts than words that relate to creation. Given the normative nature of religious texts and of the New Testament for Christians, greater exposure to certain words naturally lead to greater emhpasis on the ideas and theologies related to those words. Furthermore, the association of Christ with redemption, with relative little direct associaton to creation, serves to only create a further disparity as “Jesus texts” will naturally play a great theological role for Christians. Creation, just by looking at the number of direct references, can be said to be on the margins of thought in the Bible, especially in the New Testament (though, by margins, I am refering to human cognitions, not the framework for Biblical theology “behind the text.”). So while creation may be the first thing in the Biblical canon, and by doing so provides a framework to understand what follows, creation thought works in the background. In other words, it might be essential for Biblical understand, but it is not easy to get from reading the Bible.

Furthermore, there is also a sociological trend that biases us away from aspects of creation and nature. In an agricultural world where many people directly work the land, ideas about the world itself plays a more central role in individual thought. But as there are fewer individuals needed to work the land and more needed to organize people and things, or to developed a general understanding of all the experiences in this world, we move away from more earthly and concrete thought, towards the more abstract and “heavenly.” Hence, Gnosticism rooted in the Hellenistic philosophical world, which was a major influence in cities and not rural, agricultural areas, disparged the natural world and moved towards the heavenly and abstract. In the present day world, having excised itself of pagan thought that was somewhat latent in Gnosticism (though perhaps less so than the polytheistic culture it resided in), still retains the same principle. Salvation for many Christians is abut getting into heaven, concieved of a spiritual paradise. Science focuses upon natural laws that are not experienced or seen. While I am not saying that abstract thinking is bad (if I did, I would be speaking against myself!), it does create a bias towards broad, unexperienced principles or ideas (notice the Platonic influence with the word “idea”) and away from tangible experiences that would be majorly agricultural to a society that has to focus more time upon that. Early civilization (including Isreal) was more agricultural, whereas later civilization became more urban. With Christianity becomingas a urban movement with Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, it itself would think in the same way, and thus affect language and reason. This is not to say that the New Testament is in error with its emphasis, only that it would speak less of tangible creation and Gods’ relation to it, and more of futuristic and spiritual salvation and redemption and God’s role in that.

Our bias is more systematic from the Scriptures we considered as normative and our own societal life. For a more agricultural society, they could perhaps more naturally see the creation aspects of Biblical theology and taken Genesis 1-2 as a framework for what follows in the narrative, whereas a more urbanized society will be more apt to pass over it. Thus us Biblical interpreters have to be more cognizant of this “bias” (though not to say this bias must lead to error) in the Biblical canon as a whole and our own life experiences, which we use to interpret the Bible.

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August 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Exodus 14 and Genesis 1:2

I recently purchased the book God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation by Terence E. Fretheim from my seminary’s bookstore. While I am only 94 pages in it, I have a feeling it will be a read I heartily recommend for everyone at all interested in Old Testament theology and/or Creation theology as the first few pages have set the framework which, if the author fulfills my expectations, that can have massive implications for Old Testament theology in general.

Anyways, in light of my renewed interest in Genesis and hope to engage Freitham’s ideas soon, I figure a new set of posts on Old Testament views of creation will set the context in which I can fully engage with Fretheim’s work.

One thing of particular note is the relationship between the Creation narrative of Genesis 1 and of the the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus 14. The imagery and language of the two bare some interesting parallels: “formless and void” and “wilderness”, “darkness” in both narratives, “Spirit/wind of God” and a “strong east wind”, “waters” and “sea.” Not to mention there are further possible parallels beyond just Genesis 1:2. The first thing God does in the Creation narrative is to make light, and in response to the darkness that comes upon the Israelites at the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud that gives lights to the Israelites. Also, the world in creation is not hospitable for life and it formed into a world full of blessing, just as Israel was going from a land that was inhospitable to them to “a good, broad land… flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8; note that same Hebrew word for “good” is used here and in Genesis 1). In addition, there is the splitting of the sea so that dry land arises for the Israelites to cross, just as God made the dry land on the third day.

The multiple possible parallels are probably more than coincidence, but rather speak to the fact that Creation is viewed in the terms and concepts of the Exodus, or vice versa (or even, that they are helped for the understanding for each other). If the Creaton and Exodus narrative are related, there is some further implications for interpretation of the first Creation narrative.

Firstly, the rather mundane statements such as “it was so” that follow the word of God may be more than a simple statement that what God spoke happened. Instead of it speaking positively about the extent to God’s powers, it may be seen as speaking negatively against any hypothetical powers that might could conflict with God in saying that there was no opposition to God’s desire for creation. In the Exodus narrative, the tenth plague of darkness (a reversal of creation?) is an attack against not only Egypt but its sun god Ra. If Ra existed and was powerful, there could have been resistance, but there was none to speak of. YHWH simply brought darkness upon Egypt, with seemingly no resistance.

Furthermore, YHWH’s victory over Egypt established himself as King. Likewise, the same concept could be applied to the creation narrative and seeing God as victorious over an inhospitable place (although, there is a need to refrain from calling it a evil in a idealogical, moral sense), and then exemplifying his reign by making humanity in the image of Himself, which carries possible connotations of royalty. That can be likened to Israel embracing the same ideals and beahviors of YHWH, such as having limits such as the Sabbath to exploitative work and practicing it just as YHWH did (all of which can be summarized in the statement “you shall be holy, for I am YHWH your God”; Leviticus 19:2)

Perhaps an insight is also available into how ruach, Hebrew for wind, came to be associated with the Spirit of God. With wind being the means by which God parted the Red Sea, such an central event could inspire an association with wind and God’s actiity in the world, at which point it is one short jump over to ruach being used to refer to God’s Spirit. Maybe this also means that to translated ruach in Genesis 1:2 as either Spirit or wind leaves a vital aspect out which the creators of the narrative would have seen.

Some of these relations may be stretching the relationship between the two narratives too far. However, I am of the opinion that viewing Creation in terms of the Exodus narrative is the way to go. And indeed, if the Exodus is historically accurate (and I believe it is) and the Creation narrative was formulated sometime relatively soon afterwards, at least to some degree, then it would make sense for the defining moment inIsrael’s history and relationship to YHWH to provide a framework for describing and understandign creation.

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment