“God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1: 31)
We begin as the Bible begins: in beauty, hope, and love. As we embark on a journey through the scriptures, transforming exclusive, harmful interpretations into inclusive, healing understandings, we embrace the subversive truth that the writers of Genesis came to acknowledge: In the beginning, God made everything… and declared it very good.
We embrace the subversive truth that the writers of Genesis came to acknowledge: In the beginning, God made everything… and declared it very good.
What’s so subversive about this truth?
To declare that a world of danger, suffering, and death was nevertheless created good is to light a spark of hope by which to see. To proclaim God created everything nonviolently, rather than to see through a lens of warring powers and the inevitability and justification of violence, is to affirm an interconnection that runs deeper than the rifts of rivalry that divide the world.
Genesis 1 is far more remarkable than we give it credit for.
Most of the ancient known world believed violence to be the generative force of the world. Ancient origin stories are filled with warring gods and goddesses, humanity and civilization born in blood and ashes.
And this violence makes sense.
When we think about the very beginning of humanity – not as the Bible declares but as evolution shows – we see our earliest ancestors evolving from primitive creatures, exposed to the elements, vulnerable to attack by beasts, no guides to tell the nutritious plants from the deadly. Add in the suffering we inflict on each other through greed, jealousy, and desire for power in order to overcome vulnerability, and when we try to fathom what it would take to survive at the very emergence of human existence, it’s no wonder that much of the ancient world considered violence to be the foundation of reality, and the gods to be violent.
Genesis 1 is different.
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The difference between Genesis and other creation stories is not that Genesis is divinely-dictated truth. Genesis is not a heaven-dropped manuscript but a theological reflection of people who came together in the experience of oppression and liberation from slavery. It’s a perspective from those who have lived on the underside of tremendous violence.
And yet the very people who knew violence most intimately came to believe that the world was not born in violence. In the beginning, there was something better. In the beginning, everything was good.
What does it take for a people who have known slavery, exile, and war, to come to the understanding that the world was created good? That all people – not just “us” – are created God’s image?
What does it take for those who have known great suffering to understand not only that they are loved, but that Love itself is the origin of everything?
It takes a long journey and a slow cultivation of trust between people and God.
And the writers of Genesis, in their wisdom, chose to frame this journey not within the suffering that marks human life, but within the goodness that they came to recognize God’s intention for the whole world to be.
In the beginning, God makes space for creation, and the world is born in beauty. The seas are gathered and the earth stretches out. Vegetation grows, stars come out to play, creatures fill the skies and seas and land, and when all is just right, God says, “Let us make humankind in our image…”
And male and female are born in the image of this loving, creative, playful God.
And it is all very good.
Here are three major take-aways.
Because God creates the universe in all its dazzling diversity, we know that the binaries of Genesis are inclusive, not exhaustive. Between night and day there is twilight, between land and sea there are wetlands, and between male and female there is a spectrum of gender. As science discovers more to the world and more to humanity than was previously known, we are called to see goodness there, too.
The nonviolence of creation extends even to the grammar with which God speaks the cosmos into being. The refrain for creation is “let,” an expression of permission, not command. God creates not for coercive rule but for the sake of joy of all.
To be made in God’s image is to be made to love. God gave us this world not to exploit, but to love. God made us to love one another. Genesis 1 calls us to stewardship of the earth and compassion for each other.
Genesis 1 points to truths about God’s love that we didn’t always know and still don’t fully follow. As we journey, we’ll see how those who went before us came to understand these truths through mistakes and messes and mercy immeasurable. And we’ll come to see the goodness of God, each other, and the universe anew.
For more on God and gender diversity, see Transforming by Austen Hartke.
For more on God’s absolute nonviolence, extending even to the grammar, see From the Blood of Abel by Matthew Distefano.