God's Creation to be Enjoyed, Cared for, and Shared
Bible Study: Genesis 1:1-2:4
In two ancient accounts of the origins of the cosmos (the Enuma Elish and the Atrahasis Epic), the gods created a world designed for their own benefit. Humans were a necessary evil created only to "set the gods free" from menial tasks.
Genesis 1:1-2:4 presents a different picture. Here the Creator created a world filled with good things in abundance (1:3-25). Instead of being a necessary evil, the humans were the pinnacle of God's good creation. Of all the creatures they alone were made in God's "image and likeness" (1:26-27).
God made provision for humanity's most basic needs. He gave them their food: "every seed-bearing plant ... and every tree that has fruit with seed in it" (1:29). This emphasis on food with seed indicates the humans would have an endless supply of nourishment. Notably, they were given only plant life for their food, as were the beasts and birds. The provision for eating meat was a concession made after the flood (Genesis 9:2-3).
Unlike the other ancient accounts, humans were not invented at the last minute by an impetuous God who desired to avoid work. Rather, they were created to enjoy God's creation and participate in its care.
As God's representatives, the humans were given dominion over the new world and thus received a privilege tempered with awesome responsibilities (1:26, 28). To "rule over" does not mean the humans could exploit God's creation as they pleased. Rather, they were to govern creation as God would--with wisdom, with justice and with care. Significantly, their enjoyment of God's bountiful provision was contingent on their obedience. Once the humans turned away from God in their desire to become "like God" (Genesis 3:5), their relationship with creation changed. Instead of being effortless recipients of abundance, they became laborers who produced meager food only through burdensome toil (Genesis 3:17-19).
Today, we delight in God's abundant provisions for us, both material and spiritual. We only have to go to the nearest grocery store to find food in abundance. And we live in a country where we worship freely and have ready access to God's word. Of course, not everyone enjoys such bounty, and the desperate need for food, both physical and spiritual, can so overwhelm us that we may retreat into despair or, worse, indifference. We must be reminded that as "rulers" over God's creation we are obligated to share its bounty with those who have nothing (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
The gods of the ancient accounts were portrayed as selfish and fickle beings. They abused their status as deities, making themselves comfortable at the expense of the humans they created. Certainly, the God of Genesis is not portrayed in this fashion, but what of the humans who turned from God to exalt themselves? And what of us? Are we abusing our status as Christians, making ourselves comfortable in our abundance at the expense of others who are not so fortunate?
Susan Pigott is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology.