The first chapter (and a little more) of the book of Genesis provide an embarrassment of riches for any preacher worthy of stepping into the pulpit. I could squeeze a year’s worth of columns out of this passage. In fact, I wouldn’t feel a bit bad about giving over a column to the text itself; the rhythm and the vocabulary alone would justify it.
One of the first questions modern readers ask about this passage is whether they should take it as literal truth. Did God really create the world in six days, and rest on the seventh?
The answer is yes and no.
Yes: it’s a pre-scientific text. It explained the origins of the world to its first readers, who had no concept of evolution, geology, or carbon-dating. No: we do have those things, and so can ask more “sophisticated” questions about how the world began.
I say “sophisticated” because the squabbling over details obscures the central point: that the world was born with a purpose, and its history moves along the arc of narrative to its destiny. Did God make birds before cattle? Who cares: the world is a place potent with meaning.
This is why the Christian Bible begins with Genesis and ends with Revelation, of course. The confession is that our origins and our end share in God’s purpose. That purpose may be difficult to discern, and even more difficult to align ourselves with, but it’s there, the scriptural writers agree.
So for my money, this bit of poetry is the core of the narrative:
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
(The bit about “every creeping thing that creeps on the ground” is also good, but alas, not nearly as important.)
At first glance, it might seem we’ve taken a tangent here. As anyone who’s read anything about same-sex marriage knows, this is one of the prooftexts cited to demonstrate that homosexuality is against God’s wishes. (It’s “Adam and Eve,” not “Adam and Steve”…) Indeed, the word translated “humankind” here is a pun in the Hebrew: adam, which is both “mankind” and the first man’s given name.
But again, the trees can obscure the forest. In Hebrew poetry, repetition is emphatic: the point is not so much that God created man for woman and vice versa as it is that God created them all. Look around you, this text says: everything you see was made by the same God.
More to the point, the text emphasizes that we are all created in the image of God. As my trusty study Bible points out, this is something of a paradox: we are made in the image of an unseen God. However that paradox resolves, though, it applies equally to both sexes. Both are good, both were created by the same God. At a time when women were often consigned to second-hand status, even thought of as children of a lesser god, this is an unusual statement. Even the Israelites couldn’t live up to it.
And it is here that the two questions begin to come together. God made the world a meaningful place, and us as well. Each and every one of us. I see no exemptions written in here for queers, negroes, or wingnuts.
What other hateful names do we have for one another? They’re also not listed. This is a blanket affirmation: we are all created in the image of God, and as a result, we have a role to play in the overarching drama of salvation. The temptation to divvy the world up into good people and not-so-good is all too human, but this text calls us to resist that particular sin.
Remember that the next time someone tries to fend off marriage equality with an appeal to “God’s good creation.” But remember that as well should you be tempted to write him or her off as nothing more than just plain evil.
For “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” No exceptions.
No, not even him.
Not even her.
Not even you.