These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
‘This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.’
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.
The creation myth recounted in the second chapter of Genesis is regarded as being much older than the poetic version of Genesis 1. In common with many other such myths extant in the Ancient Near East in the three millennia BCE, it is primarily concerned with reflecting on how humanity might have come into being on the planet and on humanity’s continuing relationship with it.
It is a story which is, literally, earthed. Humanity is formed from the dirt. From the same dirt, with the addition of water, all that is needed to sustain the life of that man is fashioned. Thus is emphasised the deep bond of relationship between humanity and the whole of creation on Earth.
Yet the relationship of the dependency of humanity on the earth was not enough. Hence a subtly different relationship is postulated between man and woman, symbolised by woman being created not directly from the earth, but in union with man. Later in the story, the ultimate relationship of humanity with God is explored.
We are beginning to rediscover the meaning of our relationship with the earth. A century or so ago, it would have been commonplace to echo the Scottish conservationist John Muir in regarding the natural world as exemplifying “divine, enduring, unwasteable wealth”. Muir extolled the virtues of the wilderness where he felt “kin to everything” and on which humanity trod lightly.
Yet now we know different. Even the remotest wilderness bears indelible traces of our activity – plastic residues, pesticides, soot deposits. Earth scientists argue that we have entered the age of the Anthropocene in which the mark of humanity has permanently influenced the future of Earth, potentially for the worse.
In our rediscovery of the meaning of our relationship with the earth our responsibility is to lighten our own footprints, to understand that what we do as individuals is important, that we cannot leave it to others. Our selfishness needs to be replaced by a selfless love for the earth and all its people.
The nakedness of our situation has been exposed, but if our relationship with the God who gave selflessly is restored and leads us back to wholeness in sympathy with creation, we need not feel ashamed.
God of all creation,
forgive us for our foolishness
in believing that we could take and not give back;
in prioritising our own comfort;
and for ignoring the distress of the world.
The Rev’d Ron Reid is a retired minister and member of Upton-by-Chester URC.