Readings for Living in The Story Week 2
As You Read the Old Testament
As you read about creation this week, watch for the confession of faith that God is Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer of all-that-is. Listen for the confession both of Israel and Christianity that everything is “good.”
As you read Genesis 1 and 2, watch for differences in the two creation stories: for example, see how God’s name is different, the order of creation is different, and theology is different. Some students of the Bible are troubled by these seeming contradictions, but the stories are different by design and purpose. Scholars understand chapter one to have come from the historical tradition of Israel called “Priestly”—these passages refer to God as Elohim. Chapter two seems to come from another tradition we call “Yahwist” since these texts cite God’s name as Yahweh (Yhwh). When we read the stories side by side, not as scientific reports but rather as theological reflections, then we recognize the beauty of the diverse poetic ways that Genesis describes how all the generations of creation were first generated. (Note the many word plays throughout both chapters. This is rich reading!)
During my earliest days of questioning who am I? as a woman believer who wants to take the Bible seriously, I spent months studying these two short chapters in Genesis. That deep dive completely changed my understanding of how men and women relate appropriately to one another in the home, in society, and in the church.
For example, in the first story, there is no hint of patriarchy or hierarchy; the man and woman are created at the same time and given equal responsibility for the care of the creation. In the second story, man is created first then later woman is shaped from a bone taken from his side and presented to the man as “helper.” This Hebrew word and the context of the story do not suggest the woman’s submission rather, both stories picture equality. It was this epiphany of biblical equality that was the genesis of my own journey into ordained ministry.
It’s hard to recognize Hebrew word plays when we read chapter two in English, but seeing the puns gives the story new meaning. For example, the word adam is a word play that names the adam as coming from adamah: ground, soil, or earth. The human was created from the humus.
We will get to chapter three next week so don’t rush to the “sin” story. This week ponder Creator’s pronouncement that all this physical, material creation is “good.” Spend this week considering the beauty and goodness of all created things and their balanced relationship within the broad scope of creation. Consider creation’s rich, multivalent relationship with Creator.
As You Read the Psalms
As you read Psalms 33 and 104, bask in the beautiful poetry. Especially appreciate Psalm 33: “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made . . . God spoke and it came to be . . .” Psalm 104 celebrates both the creation and the Creator:
You are wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent.
You set the beams of your chambers on the waters.
You make the clouds your chariot and ride on the wings of the wind . . .
As the Genesis stories affirm, the psalmist also acknowledges creation as good—the gift of a good and merciful Creator.
Both Psalm 104 and Genesis 1 picture the Creator as existing and creating from outside the cosmos. Like a poet or an artist or a sculptor, the Creator is not a part of creation but is, rather, its creative source and originator. And yet, at the same time, both Psalm 104 and Genesis 2 picture the Creator as intimately connected with all that is created. In the second Genesis story, God molds the human from the humus of the earth, breathes the breath of life into its nostrils, and walks with the man and the woman in the cool of the evening. Powerful poetic intimacy.
Psalm 104 suggests that Creator set the cosmos into motion so that the days and the seasons continue to endure. Creator shared creative power with the plants and the creatures so they continue to recreate and endlessly procreate of their own accord. And yet, also, at the same time, all things are held together by the spirit and breath of the Creator who is also its Sustainer.
The poet of the psalms sees the world as any typical ancient would have understood it, the cosmos and the earth existing in three tiers. In this cosmology, the heavens (the dome of the skies) are above, the underworld (chaotic sea) is below, while in the middle, the table of the earth is set firmly on a pillared foundation keeping it steadfast and safe. The stories of Genesis frame creation from within this ancient understanding, so as we read these psalms, we must keep in mind that none is intended to be science.
As you read Proverbs 8, enjoy the lovely Hebrew anthropomorphic poetry. Wisdom is pictured here as Sophia, Creator’s partner from before the beginning. Hold this image together with John’s image of Logos. Hebrew and Greek words carry a sense of gender, and I love how the “femininity” of Wisdom couples with the “masculinity” of Word. It’s a kind of yin/yang wholeness portrayed in this ancient way of thinking about the meaning of creation.
As You Read the New Testament
The letter to the church at Colossae was written either by Paul or by one of his next-generation disciples who continued his ministry. The Christology of this amazing little letter is cosmic, proclaiming the Christ to be beyond and outside of creation as the one who “holds all things together” (we would call this a very “high” Christology). At the same time, Colossians also proclaims that: “in Christ, the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily . . .” By incarnation the Christ became a part of creation (Col 1:5 and 2:9). Again the language is profound, remarkable, and full of mystery. As you read Colossians, let the soaring poetry get into your soul.
As you read Living in The Story for week 2, remember that all these texts are steeped in poetry. The Genesis stories, the Psalms, the Proverbs, the Prologue of John, the soaring singing theology of Colossians—all these biblical works speak truth deeper and broader and larger than any historical facts, scientific formulas, or creedal interpretations. Reflect on the ways poetry speaks of unspeakably marvelous realities. The poetry of creation continues to shape even us within the rhyme and rhythm of the Creator, The Poet of The Story.
As You Read the Gospel
John’s narrative style is quite different from the other three gospels because his way was to tell fewer stories and to go deeper. There are not many explicit quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures, but John crafts a rich and complex connection of the ancient story to the story of the life of Jesus the Christ. Theologian Richard Hays calls this connection “reading backwards.”
Even more explicitly than the other Gospel writers, John champions reading backwards as an essential strategy for illuminating Jesus’ identity.
Only by reading backwards, in light of the resurrection under the guidance of the Spirit, can we understand both Israel’s Scripture and Jesus’ words.
Genesis, the book of beginnings, begins, “In the beginning—when God created the heavens and the earth, God said . . .” Centuries later, the Gospel according to John opened with a fresh interpretation, a rereading of the Genesis story: “In the beginning—was the Word, the Logos.”
Reading the sacred Hebrew Scriptures through the lens of the Christ brought John to startling new insights. In his understanding, in some unfathomable mystery the eternal creative energy and wisdom of Divinity had been enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . .” (John 1:14). John’s theology of incarnation is another clear allusion to the goodness of creation and created flesh. The confession of faith that “the Word became flesh,” that the eternal principle of Logos became one particular human being, was and is radical Christology.
The Christian understanding of incarnation is unique among the world religions. Islam locates God’s “presence” in the Koran, and Judaism pictured God’s presence (“glory”) in the Temple, while Christianity proclaims God’s presence in the unique life of Jesus.
As you read John’s prologue in 1:1–18, notice the numerous images, symbols, and figures John incorporates into this gospel. Watch how images of word and light and life particularly hearken back to the Genesis creation stories.
Reflection: The Cosmic Creating Christ
One of my favorite poems is James Weldon Johnson’s The Creation.
And God stepped out on space
And looked around and said,
I’ll make me a world.’
As far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said, “That’s good!” . . .
Then this great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen. Amen. 
I feel sorry for people who try to turn the wide, wonderful creation stories into small, sterile science texts. It’s obvious to me that the stories in Genesis 1 and 2 are poetry in the very best sense of the word. This kind of poetic drama makes the story so much bigger, tells the story so much truer than some other literary forms because we find here deep, profound truth about who we are and about who God is. We discover truth about the eternal God who is outside of time but who also is ever breaking into time, ever breaking into our lives in unexpected places and unexpected ways.
The two creation stories in the first two chapters of Genesis most likely grew out of the Babylonian Exile. Before the Exile, descendants of Abraham were never actually a monotheistic people worshiping only one God. Again and again, in spite of the call to love and worship the one true God, the biblical histories tell about (what the prophets called) “adulteries.” The stories describe a people with a double mind and a divided heart.
It was only in Babylon that Israel finally obeyed their call to love this one God who is God alone. It was during their Exile that they learned to put their hope only in this God. It was here in the darkness and void of Exile they finally began to trust that, even now, even here God could and would create something out of their nothingness. They held onto hope that God was at work creating a new people with new hearts and a new future.
Thus the image of God as Creator became a consuming image that gave hope and purpose to these people who were, in some very real ways, disintegrating; a people whose very existence was at risk. It was in their Exile, as they told their story, that they imagined themselves, reimagined themselves to be a people created and recreated by this Creator.
Babylon had several tales of beginnings (every culture does), but in the creation stories preserved for us in Scripture we can see how Israel did not buy into the Babylonian worldview. Instead Israel reframed the conventional wisdom of their time and rewrote the story of the dominant culture in order to craft an alternative vision that gave witness to and sustained their own faith. All-that-is (the children of Abraham insisted) did not emerge from the carcass of a defeated cosmic monster. Rather all-that-is purposefully was conceived, crafted, and created within the mind of the one true God. All-that-is in the beginning was woven into matter by Wisdom, spoken into being by Word, breathed into existence by Spirit. In these creation tales, we can see the subversive way Israel stood against their enslaving culture and rejected its power to name them. They rewrote the story the world tried to impose upon them and stood firmly in their faith.
In the first creation story of chapter 1, we see Israel’s testimony that God is the Transcendent One, outside of creation, speaking and willing everything into existence, while in the second creation story in chapter 2, God is the Immanent One, intimately bound to creation. God is both/and, unsearchable and yet, at the same time, known. Unreachable and also near like a friend in a garden. In this conception of a purposely-crafted creation, the biblical authors claim that we humans are God’s creatures, God’s desire, God’s beloved—and ultimately God’s responsibility. These stories remember the one who is Source, Sustainer, and Goal; they remind who we are and why we exist. They remind us whose we are—creatures of the creation intimately bound to the Creator.
The stories remind us who we are and they remind us whose we are. The stories teach us that God is God and we are not.
This re-writing, re-telling, re-imagining became Israel’s Scripture, and these creation stories continue to be foundational stories for Jews and Christians alike because they affirm that our very existence is gift and grace.
Centuries later, when John wrote his gospel, John also rewrote creation stories, but not in the same way Israel rewrote the stories of Babylon; rather John was bold to rewrite his own Scripture! “In the beginning . . . was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.” For John and the Christ followers of the first century, for these deeply spiritual people who were grounded in Israel’s Scriptures, everything had changed.
How does a believer rethink everything they have believed before? How does one reimagine what once was firmly set and seemingly unalterable? For these faithful people of God, putting their faith in Jesus Christ had changed everything. Now when they looked back at the old stories, they saw them through the prism of the Christ. Now when they considered the story of God’s Way in the world, they saw it was much bigger than their one particular national story. Now in Jesus Christ, their story had been broken wide open. The Story was now the story of every Jew and Gentile, every man and woman, rich and poor, slave and free.
Equally amazing was the recognition, the confession that this cosmic reality had been incarnated in one particular human being who “lived among us for a while.” The Transcendent One who spoke creation into existence and pronounced all things “good,” the Immanent One with dirty hands who shaped a human out of the humus of the earth, now this one (we confess) has entered into creation like no story before could have imagined. Jesus Christ (as Colossians says) in his fleshly body, in his death, in that reality of humility and powerlessness, in that attitude of self-giving and letting go has reconciled all creation.
This Cosmic Creating Christ, the Word who spoke all things into being, who is before all things, and in whom all things hold together—this one was the baby in the manger and the man upon the cross. And this one is now, we confess, the Risen Christ, the very Energy, Power, Wisdom, Word of God, who continues to create and recreate. The Cosmic Creating Christ continues to form, reform, and transform all us creatures of creation. This is The Cosmic Story within which all our smaller stories are written. Like Israel, retelling the story of creation within the darkness of their exile, we too can remember and reimagine that we are God’s creatures, God’s desire, and ultimately God’s responsibility.
As we read these Living in The Story scriptures in the coming weeks, maybe we will find ourselves in these poems, stories, and narratives. As we read, let us trust that the Word is still speaking into our every darkness; that Wisdom is still weaving beauty into every chaos; that Spirit is still brooding, hovering, nesting over all-that-is.
As we read, may we too, like the ancestors, come to realize that we are always growing, not only in our understandings, but also in our very ability to become our fully human selves.
 Etienne Charpentier’s concise guide How to Read the Bible offers helpful discussions about these various historical traditions and how they became woven together into the Jewish Scriptures.
 Richard Hays, Reading Backwards, 85–86.