WHAT ARE PEOPLE – Pete Bauer
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on October 19, 2014. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Gen 2.
Genesis 2:4ff can be confusing because, after Genesis 1:1-2:3, it seems like God is done with creation–and yet, in 2:4, it seems as though the author is going back to a time before the plants were created on the land and telling the story differently. One way around this is to say that Genesis two is giving us a close up view of what happened in Genesis 1:25ff–although this begs the question. Frankly, a story teller would have told the story in order.
Another view, which I think is more helpful, is to understand Genesis one as a story about who God is (Creative, Investing, Appreciating), and then to look at Genesis two as a story about who people are. This morning we are going to take a look at Genesis two that focuses on the symbolism of the story in order to understand what the Bible says about who people are and how they/we relate to God.
People are Both Flesh and Spirit. (The Symbols of Dust and Breath)
We Are Tied to The Earth–Flesh: “… the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground…” There could not be a clearer way to say that we are made up of, and part of this earth. In this sense, we have the characteristics of the earth in our nature: competition, drives (survival, hunger, reproduction). We cannot throw these things off by not paying attention to them or denying them.
Not only is this true, but also this dust or flesh is also, to some extent, “wild” in us–which is to say that it is not completely naturally under our control. We cannot decide not to be hungry, or that we are no longer going to need sleep, or that we will no longer have a sex drive. These things are part of the earth–the dust which God formed to be our physical bodies, with all of their tendencies, drives, desires, etc.
We Are God-Breathed: “… and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” But human beings are more than a pile of dust and a collection of neurons, drives, fluids, etc. Genesis also tells us something about ourselves that rings true: we are spirit, or breath, and that breath of life that animates us is vitally connected to the divine–God. Much that we take for granted comes from this divine connectedness: the pursuit of meaning for our lives, the desire and ability to create, the desire to find satisfaction, peace and joy (all of which, we saw, are reflected in Genesis one).
Spiritual Implications: As it turns out, this description of mankind rings very true. We do have these drives and desires–and we do have this spiritual connection or aspect of our lives. What does that mean for the way we were made to live?
~ Drives are Neither Evil Nor Absolute: First, this view leads us to a balance where physical drives are neither all that there is so that we live only for the bloated satisfaction of the body, nor are they evil, so that we deny every possible pleasure. Our dust is formed by God–and therefore it is good, our drives and desires have good origin, proper use as gifts given to us from God. Food is a gift to be enjoyed, yet not abused. Sex is a gift to be enjoyed, but not abused. The church often gets this wrong and treats these things as though the Bible started at Genesis three (with the fall of man) so that everything that we enjoy is somehow wrong or evil. The world outside of the church gets this wrong and lives as though a person were nothing more than a collection of drives to be used to their limits.
~ Without Connection to the Source of Our Spirit, We Are Alone: Secondly, Genesis tells us that the source of the spirit within us is God. There is a sense in which the vitality of the human spirit depends on return to and connection with its source–God. Without that connection, human beings are deeply and profoundly lonely. In consequence many people try to fill that loneliness by filling and overfilling themselves in response to their physical drives. Human beings do this–animals don’t. Why? because human beings are longing for more.
People Are Cultivators. (The Symbol of the Garden)
We Develop Our Lives: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
The first thing God does with the man he created is to give him a job–the Garden of Eden to care for and cultivate. God does not put Adam in the garden just to sit. Genesis is telling us something about the basic nature of being human. To be human is to cultivate. This is something that we cannot help doing–developing. We develop physically and care for and cultivate our bodies. We cultivate/develop the homes we live in, our habits and patterns of life, friendships, gardens, our knowledge and social skills, etc.
Our lives can be pictured like a garden/ The Garden. We grow things in our lives. We grow in our understanding, ability, knowledge-become more or less beautiful, orderly, productive.
We Were Made to Cultivate Body and Spirit: The spiritual implications of cultivation–based on the previous understanding that we are both body/flesh and soul/spirit, become fairly clear. We were made to cultivate not only our jobs, our minds, our friendships, etc., but also our spirits.
There are two ways of thinking about cultivating our spirit (1) actively, through spiritual practices of what are generally referred to as the “means of grace”–prayer, public and private worship, scripture meditation and study, etc., and (2) passively through appreciating the beauty of creation, listening for God’s direction, sitting quietly and receiving grace and favor from God.
People Are Free. (The Symbol of the Tree of Knowledge)
People are Free to Choose: “9 In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’”
God puts the tree of knowledge in the middle of the Garden of Eden–then tells the man not to eat of it or he’ll die. This situation, set up by God, makes no sense from a literal reading of Genesis two. If we are reading a literal account of Genesis, then we run into a serious problem with the nature of God. The problem can be expressed this way – What kind of loving parent puts temptation in the middle of the room and then threatens their child, when they KNOW that the child will fail? Or do we want to say that God did not know what would happen–was not wise enough to know?
A symbolic view of Genesis makes much more sense here–a picture of humanity made with the capacity of choice: choice to love or not love God–choice to trust or not trust God–choice to obey or not obey God. This freedom is further expressed at the end of the chapter where, “25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” After the fall they cover up before God.
We were Made to Be Free and Responsible Before God: God does not control us but gives us the capacity to make real choices. We are free before God–naked in a true sense. Our actions and choices to love God or not to love–trust or not trust–obey or not obey are ours. We make them, we must own them before God. There is no spiritual autopilot or cruise control where we can set up certain spiritual practices to appease God and then live our lives without reference to him. There is no separation between spiritual life and real life. God has called us to see our choices as, not automatic, thoughtless, meaningless, but as responses to him and the freedom he has given us.
People Are Communal. (The Symbol of the Woman)
People are Not Needless: “18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
This is the first time in either creation account (Gen.1 or 2) where God says that something is “not good,” and so this should grab our attention. What is not good is for the man to be alone, by himself without help. In response a drama unfolds in which God is seeking a helper for the man. Here again, a literal reading is not helpful. Did God really think that Adam might find true companionship with one of the animals? Instead what we see is a comparison between the animals and the woman–who turns out to be far superior and identified as the same kind–bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.
We Need Society and Help: The point? We need people. We need relationship. We need help. Adam does not fully know who he is and where he belongs until he meets Eve. In the story, once he meets her he knows who he is and where he belongs–not with the animals. There is something very true in this. We do not fully know ourselves apart from other people: our families, our friends, our community.
But also, we need help. Adam is not left alone to cultivate the garden by himself. He needs society as he does it–he needs other hands to help with the work.
We Were Made to Bless and be Blessed by Relationship: The spiritual implications of this are that we need people and people need us. We need people both physically and spiritually to help us as we cultivate our lives. We were not made to do this alone. We were not created to be in isolation.