Relationship in Genesis 1-5


In the Beginning God Created


                The first chapter of Genesis records the first of two creation stories. It is commonly ascribed to the Priestly source because of its cadenced rhythms of liturgical journeying from day to night. It describes creation in seven acts, or days, in which God creates all that is. We all know this story; but, let’s review just to have it fresh in our minds.

                On the first day, God creates light; and he separates the light from the darkness; He calls the light “day,” and the darkness “night.” On the second day, God takes the formless, primordial waters and separates them into two expanses, one of which He calls “sky.” On the third day, God gathers the waters under the sky, creating land and seas; He then commands various species of vegetation to grow on the land, each according to its own kind. On the fourth day, God creates lights in the sky to mark the seasons, to govern the day and night, and to separate light from darkness. On the fifth day, God created all sea life and all birds, according to their kinds. On the sixth day, God created all creatures that live on land, according to their kinds. He also created humans, male and female. On the seventh day, God rested; and there was evening and there was morning.

                Notice that each day, God creates, but then immediately separates what He has just created into categories. Notice also that when God created, he often created in pairs, even dualisms: the heavens and the earth, light and darkness, day and night, sky and seas, land and ocean, sun and moon, male and female. Beyond these pairs, one can still see the categorization of creation in the four seasons, as well as all vegetation and creatures, each categorized according to its own kind. God creates by separating[1]. However, God does not stop at simply separating and categorizing. He separates and then binds. Light and darkness are bound together in the rhythmic cycle of days. The seasons follow on one another's heels; and wherever the sea stops, it must always meet land or sky. He sets all members of creation in ordered relationships with the rest of creation. The planets that He creates are not just big rocks floating through space, they are bound to stars by gravity and move in concert with one another, forming solar systems, galaxies and ultimately the universe. On earth, ecologies are formed in relationships of male and female, predator and prey, etc. The whole picture of life, the universe and everything depends on each component fulfilling its role in relationship with all the others; and each component depends on the whole to sustain its individual existence. These inter-dependent relationships between the members of creation make up the foundation of Christian cosmology.


Male and Female He Created Them


                Genesis 1 tells us that humans were not exempt from these ordered relationships. We were made “male and female (1:27).” Genesis 2 elaborates on this dichotomy. It tells us that, in the beginning, there was only Adam; however, “it was not good for the man to be alone (v.18).” This is an extremely telling verse for two reasons.

                First, God did not have to create us in two genders.  As ridiculous as it might seem, God could have created us in the pattern of the thousands of species of animals that have no gender and which reproduce asexually. He had options. He chose to create us as sexual beings, separated into two genders and bound together by our need for procreation.

                Secondly, and building on what was just said, there are also many, many species in the created order which are not social. Tigers, for the most part, spend significant time together only to procreate. The male leaves after copulation, and the female tolerates the cub(s) for only a short while before they go their separate ways. Even after He created us in two genders, God did not have to create us as social creatures; but He did. “He built into them their maleness and femaleness to symbolize to them, 'Your completeness is not in yourself; it is in somebody else.'”[2] “We are made to live in community.”[3] We were made to depend on each other.[4]

                So God formed Eve. She was created as flesh from Adam's flesh and bone of Adam's bone (v. 23). In so doing God instituted society[5]. We find out how society was to function just two verses later: they were naked, yet they felt no shame (v. 25). Their nakedness is symbolic of their openness and trust[6]. They were completely open and vulnerable to each other; yet they didn't use that vulnerability to harm or abuse one another; nor did they feel a need to cover themselves. They were unashamed of who and what they were, and they did not feel threatened by the other. This is how God intended society to function. We see a picture of this in the vision of Isaiah as predator and prey live together without injury or fear (Is. 11:6-7). Perfect society means uninhibited communion, ultimate vulnerability, complete authenticity, all joined in an absolute void of abuse.


The Serpent Said


                Sin: the great addiction that lures us all and destroys the society of vulnerability that God created. It is the salt sown on the ground of our hearts to prevent true vulnerable community from ever growing again. Evil, in this passage, is conveyed by the Hebrew term [[r, Ra'a. This word may be translated variably as evil, wickedness, calamity, bad, or broken, but the root meaning seems to be broken[7]; as such, it is the polar opposite of Shalom mlv, the world, whole and complete, as God intended it to be. [8] Broken is just what evil made of creation. Adam and Eve's sin broke the world. There have been debates for many years as to whose fault everything really was, what exactly the serpent was or represented, why a talking snake didn't raise any red flags for Adam or Eve, what the fruit was etc. etc. However, in the final analysis, all that really matters is that God made a command and humans disregarded it. We may take notice of several points in this account.

                Sin is, primarily, a breach of relationship[9]. Look at how the serpent tempts the humans; it creates doubt as to the nature of God's character. “Satan smoothly maneuvers Eve into what may appear as a sincere theological discussion, but he subverts obedience and distorts perspective by . . . doubting [God's] sincerity, defaming his motives, and denying the truthfulness of his threat.[10]” The Serpent is clearly implying that God is selfishly withholding the knowledge of good and evil from Adam and Eve in an attempt to secure His own position of power; he is sowing seeds of mistrust. Trust, as is implied by nakedness without shame, is one of the foundational elements of relationship. To mistrust someone who has proven their trustworthiness over time is a breach of relationship. It is a betrayal and a turning away. It breaks the relationship. The nature of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil itself points to this same conclusion. The knowledge of good and evil “leads to human autonomy and an independence of the creator incompatible with the trustful relationship between man and his maker which the story presupposes.”[11] This same dynamic can be seen in every other sin the Bible names. Each of the ten commandments is founded upon an aspect of relationship. The first and second are founded on fidelity to God, the third is based on respect, and the fourth on trust. The fifth, sixth, seventh, and tenth are based on respect for other human beings, the eighth on authenticity and trust, the ninth on fidelity.[12] Righteousness exists in so much as relationships are maintained according to God’s intentions. Sin exists when those relationships are broken. This would indicate that sin is not primarily a juridical, but a relational term.

                As a breach of relationship, Adam and Eve's sin breaks the perfect society they had previously enjoyed. Whereas before they could be naked without shame, now they must scramble to cover themselves with whatever they can find. Whereas before we enjoyed free and unhindered communion and vulnerability, now Satan has convinced us that we must trust only ourselves, that others (including and maybe especially God) will hurt us, and we must build walls instead of bridges. Immediately, the brokenness of society is manifest: Adam blames Eve; Eve blames the serpent; the serpent just smiles.

                Once everyone has had their say, God speaks. He curses all three participants, and ultimately the whole world, because of what has happened. He doesn't simply curse them as individuals, however; He curses their relationships. He places enmity between the serpent and the woman, between the woman and the man, and between man and creation.

                The serpent will strike the woman's heel and her offspring will crush its head. The serpent here represents both the created order of things and Satan. The woman's offspring, likewise, represents both humanity and Christ. In the latter representations, we see a prefiguring of the cross, upon which the servants of evil injure Christ, a son of Eve; but also where Christ ultimately crushes sin, evil, and death; finally rectifying this first great sin[13]. In the former representation we see the perennial struggle between nature and humanity. Nature continually threatens humanity in the form of wild animals, diseases and natural disasters; yet humanity crushes the created order through our pollution, exploitation, wanton slaughter and disregard for creation's well-being.

                In the second curse, God declares that a woman's desire will be for her husband, and that he will rule over her. The first portion of this declaration lies outside my expertise to interpret. The second, however, is unfortunately clearly attested to in almost every society that has ever walked the earth. Men have not only ruled, but have subjugated, enslaved, and dehumanized women for millennia. Just as the enmity between humanity and nature should be ameliorated in any way possible, so too should the injustice of men's subjugation of women be reversed. This rule of men over women is not how God originally intended society to function[14]. This is the opposite of nakedness without shame. Men have caused women to be, at times, ashamed, disgusted, and dehumanized even by their own femininity. It is not a sign of the Shalom for which we were created, but of the brokenness from which God longs to save us.

                In the third curse, God curses the ground; saying that Adam will only be able to eat from it through hard work, sweat and toil. It will grow thistles and thorns to hinder his efforts; and, one day, he will revert to the dust from which he was made. This particular curse is interesting because in it we see the relatedness of all creation. Adam and Eve sinned, yet the ground was cursed. Is creation implicated because it was a passive contributor, through the tree, to the sin? Maybe; but it is hard to comprehend God cursing something for being what He created it to be. Rather, it makes more sense to find in this the relationships that every member of creation is enmeshed in with every other member of creation. We are all ensconced in communities. We are related to each other, to God, and to the world we live in. “Human and nonhuman orders are so deeply interconnected that human sin may have devastating effects on other creatures.”[15] This can clearly be seen in the modern state of the earth, or in the saga of Easter Island, in which humanity's selfishness wiped an entire island of nearly all life. We are irrevocably connected, through the ordered relationships upon which creation is founded, with every member of God's universe; and, moreover, this is the way God intended the world to function.


My Brother's Keeper


                Directly following the account of humanity's first sin comes the account of humanity's first murder. Cain and Abel are Adam and Eve's first two sons. Cain, the elder, works in the field raising crops; Abel, the younger, tends livestock. Both bring the fruit of their labor as a sacrifice to God. God looks with favor on Abel's offering; but looks with disfavor on Cain's. Cain becomes jealous and, ignoring God's counsel, murders Abel. Finally, God confronts Cain, and sentences him to his punishment.

                First, we should take note that before any other evil takes place, Cain grows envious of his brother. This envy, according to God, is “sin lurking at the door;” Cain “must master it,” before it leads to something worse. What does this tell us about relationships? It says that sin takes place because of a distorted relationship. It is not only relational in effect, and relational in structure, but relational in origin. Cain's envy perverted the relationship that he had with his brother; and when Cain refused to resolve the relationship, he led himself to the act of murder.

                Second, we must also see in the Biblical pattern that wherever one finds sin against God, one also finds sin against humans. The primal sin, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, although it was a sin against God, had negative effects on all of humanity. Likewise, when Cain ignored God in a very hidden, personal sin, it resulted in the murder of His brother. Every sin, even if it does not seem to affect anyone else, affects everyone we come in contact with. Even a seemingly hidden infraction, such as a lapse in our devotional life, changes how we allow God to form us, and thus affects how we relate to other people, and how we are able or unable to contribute to our community. Sin, no matter how hidden it may seem, or how much we think it is directed solely at God, always affects those around us. There is no such thing as a personal sin.

                Third, we see in God's punishment of Cain, that, again, He chooses to punish him through his relationships. Cain is banished from the ground and sentenced to wander restlessly. This is a threefold estrangement. First, because he wanders and his family does not, he will be estranged from his parents and sibling(s). Second, he is estranged from the creation which he had once worked with so easily. Third, Cain reveals that, because of this punishment, he will be “hidden from [God's] presence.” This brings us to the fourth and final note on this account.

                The murder of Abel was, one would think, a relational problem between Cain and his brother; however, it cycled back around to further break the relationship between Cain and God. This shows that just as estrangement from God leads to estrangement from others, so estrangement from others leads to estrangement from God. God calls us together as a community; God exists as a community. If we refuse to meet Him in, through, and with a community, our own individual and personal relationship with Him will inevitably suffer.


The Son Of, The Son Of, The Son Of


                For just about any reader, the genealogies of the Bible are difficult. Here in Genesis 1-5, we find two sets of genealogies. The first follows the descendents of Cain; the second follows the line of Seth to Noah. The modern reader must always ask him or herself when these passages are read “Why are these here?” To answer that question we must take a detour into a discussion of personhood.

                Traditionally, Western thought has followed ancient Greek philosophy in its explanation of human ontology. First, we are, then we do. I am a collection of atoms and tissues and organs; I am a collection of thoughts and preferences and personality. Then, once my identity as a person is firmly established, then, I do things. I work; I play; I relate. My sovereignty, individuality, and freedom are ontological priorities before I can be logically inserted into the rest of creation. John D. Zizoulas offers an alternative.

                Zizoulas starts with the personhood of God and the understanding of the Greek Fathers that personhood means freedom.[16] God's freedom is confirmed in his ability to choose the mode of His existence. God is the only person in existence who has the freedom, the ultimate and final freedom, to exist in any way He wishes, or even to not exist at all. In this capacity, He is the only true person in all of existence. “And it is precisely His trinitarian existence that constitutes this confirmation . . . the one divine substance is consequently the being of God only because it has these three modes of existence”[17]. In other words, God's exercise of the ultimate freedom to choose His mode of existence is exercised in His choice to exist as three persons. This self-giving love is the basis of personhood. His Being is His communion.

                Our own pathetic grasps at personhood and freedom are inevitably, in the Ra'a of fallen creation, grounded in our individualism. We are convinced that to be free is to be free of others' control. To be free means to have the freedom to do what we want. However, every attempt to attain this freedom is countered by every other individual's attempt to attain this same type of freedom. I cannot exercise my right to breath clean air without curtailing others’ right to smoke outside, and vice-versa. So, the manifestation of this type of ultimate freedom in society could only be a form of chaos and anarchy; and, even then would be impossible to achieve except for God. When “Humanism proves unable to affirm personhood . . .  love . . . becomes the supreme ontological predicate.[18]  Our only option to affirm personhood, then, is love and communion.

                For Zizioulas, this means that the only path toward true personhood lies in the church. It is only here that we come into communion with God; and through this, into communion with others in authentic community and personhood.

                Genealogies are a way of affirming and practicing identity through community. Even we in the 21st century can feel the draw of this practice. How many hundreds of thousands of people buy genealogy software, track down their lineage on-line or hop a plane to go visit ancestors' graves? One remembers the lyrics of a popular song about identity. The very first words of the chorus sing “I am Rosemary's granddaughter, the spitting image of my father, and when the day is done my momma's still my biggest fan.”[19] She affirms that her personal identity is formed, in some way, by her relationships to those who have come before. On a national scale, we are taught state, national, and global history from the moment we can begin to understand who the pilgrims were. This understanding forms our understanding of our own personal identities. Unfortunately, in a pre-literate society, none of these options are available; and the only way to practice identity through community is to memorize lists of genealogies and remember the stories of those who are included.

                With this understanding in mind, one might compare the genealogies of the descendents of Cain and Seth. Both contain astonishingly similar names:

                Cain, Enoch, Irad, Mehujael, Methushael, Lamech, Jabal, Jubal, Tubal-cain, and Naamah.

                Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methusaleh, Lamech, Noah,

The similar names of the two lists serve to “parallel and contrast the two offspring of Adam.”[20] The lineage of Cain is over-whelmingly evil. It starts with Cain, the primal murderer, and ends with Lamech, who boasts of his own murderous vengeance. This lineage is the picture of all that is wrong in the world. It is a community of evil, and to be identified with this community is to be identified with evil.

                The second genealogy, Seth's, is the polar opposite of Cain's. It begins with one who takes the place of Abel, and includes Enoch, who walked with God and was taken to heaven without dying, and Noah, whose righteousness saved humanity. To be connected with this community is to be identified with righteousness.

Relational Creation

                We were created to live in community. True community can only function in a state of mutual vulnerability; indeed to whatever degree an individual participates in the ordered relationships of creation, that individual must make himself or herself vulnerable to the caprice of other members of creation. Vulnerability, then, must be founded on mutual respect and love, cultivated and formed by God’s Spirit in us.

                What this exegesis of Genesis shows us is just how relational God’s act of Creation really was, and is. Our society was established in the midst of such relationality, and we were created to be relational creatures. This shows us, in concrete and biblical terms, what our theological discussion is pointing to. Genesis is showing us what I am trying to articulate.

[1]    Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: a commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 56.
[2]    Wilbur Glenn Williams, Genesis: A Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2000) 59. See also, his discussion on page 41 where prompts the question “Why male and female?”
[3]    Barnabe Assohoto and Samuel Ngewa “Genesis” in Africa Bible Commentary ed. Tokunboh Adeyemo (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 13.
[4]  We were also made to depend on God; and our dependence on God is much more absolute than our dependence on each other. Without each other we are not fulfilled or complete; without God we are not. The reason I do not mention that here is because that is not the focus of this portion of this work. In an individualistic society, our dependence on each other is deserving of special focus and attention. That focus does not contradict or nullify the attention given elsewhere to our absolute dependence on God.
[5]    I use the word “society” intentionally. God instituted marriage in this act as well; however, I don't want this to be used as an argument to invalidate God's call for some people to remain single. Single men and women are just as vital a part of God's society as any married individual. So, I use “society” to include all of the vital relationships that people find themselves in, both in and outside of marriage.
[6]    Waltke, 90.
[7]    Warren Baker and Eugene Carpenter, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2003),1069.
[8]    S.E. Porter, “Peace” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology ed.  T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 682.
[9]    Waltke, 103.
[10]  Waltke, 91.
[11]  Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 Vol. 1in the Word Biblical Commentary Series (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 87.
[12] I use the standard and predominant protestant enumeration of the Ten Commandments.
[13]  Assohoto, 16.
[14]  Freitheim, 76.
[15]  Freitheim, 19.
[16]  John D. Zizioulas, Being and Communion (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Press, 1985), 39.
[17]  Ibid. 41.
[18]  Ibid. 46.
[19], “Who I Am Lyrics (Jessica Andrews), Nov. 30, 2008. Copyright 2002-2008
[20]  Waltke, 100.

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