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Friday Afternoon
Genesis 1: 27-30

My wife and I have friends who used to keep an animal or two, and when we stayed with them for the weekend we were introduced to a calf called Jeremy. It was at Sunday lunch that we met him. They brought Jeremy up, had him slaughtered and cut up, and put him in their freezer. This happened thirty years ago, but I still remember his name. It seemed horrible that we were eating him. Genesis rather suggests that there is indeed something barbaric about one creature eating another. In the West we are usually shielded from the fact that we eat creatures that were once full of life like us; we buy our meat in packages from the supermarket, sanitized. This also shields us from the barbaric nature of the practices whereby animals are reared and killed for us...

It doesn’t fit with the logic of our being made in God’s image. When Genesis told us about the creation of plants and trees on day three, it mentioned only the trees that bear fruit. There was no mention of beech trees and redwoods. Here, the reason becomes clear. Genesis was concerned about plants and trees as sources of food. God now gives the plants and the fruit trees to humanity to eat and also gives to the rest of the animal world all the other plants, the ones human beings don’t eat. The shocking implication is that both humanity and the rest of the animate world were designed to be vegetarian. It is only after humanity has become disobedient to God that it eats meat; in the time of Noah, God then agrees to this (Genesis 9:1–3). But at the time of creation, the thought of humanity eating meat was not in God’s mind. So much for the idea that humanity is free to do what it likes with the world, to treat it as belonging to us, available for our exploitation. We were not even free to eat the animals we were put in charge of. So people who do not eat meat are witnessing to an aspect of God’s actual creation intent, whether they realize it or not.

Yet to speak of being “designed” to be vegetarian may seem inappropriate, because the physiology of creatures such as lions does not suggest they were designed to be vegetarian; indeed, they would die if they tried to live on grass. So maybe something else underlies this element in the creation story. It points to the fact that the world was designed to be a place characterized by harmony among its creatures. This is the destiny that God intended for it from the beginning and to which God intends to take it.

Women and men both share in the vocation to take it there. Genesis supplements “created in God’s image” with the affirmation that God thus made humanity “male and female.” Women and men together comprise this image. The statement is an extraordinary one in this opening chapter of Genesis, written in a patriarchal culture. One might wonder whether the author of Genesis saw the implications of this declaration. Certainly generation after generation of Christians have not seen it. We have often talked and behaved as if the male was the normal and full form of a human being, with the female a deviant and slightly inferior form. But both male and female belong to the image. You have the image of God represented in humanity only when you have both men and women there. When women are not present and involved in God’s work in the world (and in the church), the image of God is not present. Further, however we understand the difference between men and women, the physical difference between them is a sign that this distinction is the elemental marker of diversity in humanity. As Jesus points out, God’s making humanity male and female “at the beginning” has very different implications from the way relationships developed when humanity turned away from God’s vision (see Mark 10:1–9).

It is as creatures made jointly in God’s image that women and men together have the task of mastering the earth. In Genesis 1 there is a structure of authority. God is the ultimate authority. God then delegates authority over creation to humanity, and women and men together are the means of exercising it. There is no suggestion in the creation stories that God designed the world to be a place where any human beings exercised authority over any others. There was no authority to be exercised by men over women, or husbands over wives; there were no masters and servants or slaves; there were no kings and subjects; and there were no emperors and underlings (as Bob Dylan put it in “Gates of Eden,” “There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden”). There was neither slave or free, nor male or female, nor Jew or Gentile (cf. Galatians 3:28). All were one in creation.

Having created humanity male and female, God blesses humanity, giving human beings an inbuilt capacity to reproduce like other animals. And God gives humanity the same commission as the rest of the animate creation, to fill the earth, and adds the commission to assert authority over the earth. Perhaps the reason that Genesis mentions humanity being male and female is that it’s only their sexual complementarity that makes it possible for men and women to reproduce and fill the earth as well as exercise authority over it. A key way that women are involved in filling and holding sway over the world for God with men is by bearing children. Neither men on their own nor women on their own would be able to fill the earth and exercise authority there.

As well as raising questions for cultures that do not see women as sharing equally with men in God’s image, Genesis thus raises questions for cultures that deemphasize the importance of women’s capacity to bear children. There are other parts of the Old Testament, such as the Song of Songs, that make clear that this is not the only way the Old Testament looks at womanhood and at the relationship of men and women. The Song of Songs has a perspective that is much more congenial to Western culture. But the point about the Bible is to confront us, not just to confirm what we think already, and one important feature of the creation story is the high estimate God places on motherhood. God did not make every woman capable of having children; apparently God doesn’t reckon that a woman is somehow less human if she isn’t a mother. There are other ways of being fruitful, of making your contribution to the flourishing of the world. Genesis is talking about humanity as a whole, not about how things work out for every couple. But Western culture came to separate the world of work from the world of home and to imply that the world of work is more important, and it thus devalued motherhood. Genesis counters all that.
Taken from Genesis for Everyone Part 1 by John Goldingay

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