Genesis 2 and Psalm 8
Ecology is a word we probably associate with a biology class we took in school or a word we associate with environmental issues like global warming. Believe it or not, ecology is not just a scientific or sociological word, it is a church word too. In fact ecology was present at the very beginning when God created the earth. I am sure Webster dictionary can give you a deep understanding of the word that covers things like describing the relationships of organisms to their environment or how humans relate to one another in regards to economic, social, political, and environmental structures, but I want to sum it up the meaning of ecology in one word…connectedness.
Our reading from Genesis today describes how God created everything to be connected to one another, or created everything with an ecological purpose. When God created the earth, and there was no one to till the ground that God created, God formed a human. Our NRSV Bible and other translations might say “formed a man”, but when you read straight from the Hebrew there is no gender associated with the word. A-dam, is the Hebrew word, and its meaning can mean ground, dirt, earthling, or human.
There is an article right before this word so a more literal meaning of the verse would read “the Lord God formed “the human” from the dust of the ground, and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life.” What a beautiful description of humanity’s creation. This creation account is proclaiming to us that our being is not only connected to the very earth God created, but our being is connected to God by God’s breath of life.
When reflecting on this text Dr. Ellen Davis, Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School writes, “the form of human life is fundamentally ecological…We are enmeshed in a harmonious web of relationships, infinitely complex in their intersections, that have in God their origins and their point of cohesion…The understanding that the world is ordered as a comprehensive series of interconnected and interdependent structures is of fundamental importance”
God’s created purpose is ecological; it is about connectedness. As the reading from Genesis continues we see how we are connected to one another, and to God’s creation. It is worth mentioning all the way till verse 23 we are still talking about “the human”, not a particular type of human, just a human or to be more literal “the one made from earth.” Verse 18 tells us, “the Lord God said, “it is not good that the human should be alone; I will make them a helper as a partner.” So God creates animals and birds to be a helper or partner, but nothing suitable could be found.
So then God decides it is time for an equal partner, another human. God caused a deep sleep to fall upon “the human”, then took one of the human’s ribs, and God made another human. These two humans will forever have their connectedness and common identity marked by their common bone and flesh. Then in verse 23 we see a shift in the Hebrew language and God diversifies humanity. God creates the humans beautiful and equal in their common identity, and gives them their own beautiful and unique identity. While some have used this text to define a gender’s power and control over another, let us not let that cloud the celebration that is being declared by Adam that he has a fellow human who his is equal, a partner who shares the same bone and flesh, someone he can share kinship with.
Today’s reading from Genesis is act 1 of 2 acts of this account of the creation story. In Act 1 we see that the two live in paradise, and everything God creates is in a perfect ecological balance. Every relationship from the trees to the humans has its ordered place and purpose. Verse 9 tells us, “out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”
God’s created order is about beauty first, and then from God’s beautiful creation humans will find their needs met. This is the order of the ecological balance that God seeks from humans as they live in paradise, and live in a healthy relationships with God’s creation. Beauty will be the source of how we appreciate our connectedness to God’s creation, and beauty will be the source of our desire to care for everything and everyone God has created.
Yet as we jump ahead to Act 2 of this creation text we read later in chapter 3 verse 6 that the two humans begin to seek a new balance for their own version of ecology. They observed that the tree with forbidden fruit was first “good for food, and second pleasing to the eye.” Their sin of disobeying God by seeking their own gain of power at the expense of God’s creation leads them to view God’s creation as a resource to be consumed first, and beauty becomes secondary. A consequence for this unhealthy behavior is the utopian paradise disappears, the beauty of human equality is harmed, and the beauty of God’s created partnership has become compromised. A pattern of unhealthy behavior towards God’s creation will sadly continue for generations after Adam and Eve, and this consumeristic mindset where the beauty of God’s creation is pushed aside will be the leading cause of humanity’s struggle to live out their calling by God to care for God’s creation.
Psalm 8 proclaims, “you have given humans dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.” How one understands the purpose of the word dominion might be the root of Adam and Eve’s unhealthy choices in paradise, and the root of our own struggles to live in ecological partnership with God’s creation.
This Psalm defines the ecology or the connectedness between God and humanity by proclaiming God creates beautiful and majestic things, and human’s have been created as equals with flesh and bone and the breath of God to have dominion over God’s creation. The word dominion in today’s Psalm has a tone of stewardship. God has generously called us to be good stewards of the works of God’s hands, and we have been called to be care takers of all the things God has put on the earth. Like those first days in paradise our calling of dominion is to see the beauty of God’s created works first, and then we discern how God’s created order may meet our needs as we responsibly care for the earth and everyone in it. This mindset will keep us connected to God’s calling.
Did you notice the layout of the Psalm 8? Did you notice that the first verse and the last verse of this Psalm are the same words of Praise to God? “O Lord, our sovereign how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Did you notice that remaining middle verses names our calling to have dominion and care for God’s created order? When reflecting on the lay out of this Psalm of praise Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “Human power is always bounded and surrounded by divine praise…Doxology gives dominion its context and legitimacy. The two must be held together.”
Our human struggle at times is that we forget that dominion is connected to a covenant partnership that involves praising God for the beauty of God’s majestic works. Like those first humans in the garden we want to think of ourselves first at the expense of the very created order we have been called to care for. When we do this our dominion loses its legitimacy.
We might even start to believe we have a better understanding of God’s created order than God so we find ourselves conveniently redefining our calling of dominion. For the last century we can see many sad and defining moments of ecological disasters when humans have sought to gain power at the expense of God’s creation. Moments when we prioritized ourselves before our calling to see the beauty of God’s creation and to care for God’s creation.
I am sure we all could spend a long time discussing the current ecological struggles happening around us, struggles that have caused a strain in our relationships with one another and our relationship to all the things God created. As we find ourselves in those conversations I am grateful that we have God’s Word to guide us, scripture like today’s readings. As we struggle in our calling to care for everything and everyone that God has created I am grateful we have moments like today when we celebrate communion with one another.
On world communion Sunday we celebrate God’s love for the world. As we gather around the table with Christians across the world we are able to reset and recommit our mindset of ecology and connectedness to God’s creation. Our church’s Directory of Worship reminds us that as reformed church we believe that “when we gather at the Lord’s Supper the Spirit draws us into Christ’s presence and unites with the Church in every time and place. We join with all the faithful in heaven and on earth in offering thanksgiving to the triune God. We reaffirm the promises of our baptism and recommit ourselves to love and serve God, one another, and our neighbors in the world.”
So today let us join together with God’s children whom God has created as equals with the same flesh and bone, and let us praise God together for God’s majestic and beautiful created world. May we remember that God has created us as partners that are called to love and serve all of God’s creation. Alleluia Amen!