The writing that we know as The Book of Genesis is actually a composite of three (or possibly more) unrelated oral traditions—Yahwist (J) (10th century bce), Elohist (9th century bce, and Priestly (P) (about 5th century bce). Each have a different understanding of God and a different focus. It is important when we read it that we remember that, for all practical purposes, we come as aliens to the culture in which it was written. This is a story through which we can understanding humanity’s beginnings.
Genesis makes the first claim about God’s character, God’s relationship to the world, and God’s relationship to humanity and to us as individuals. So, Genesis is not a book that provides easy, historical lessons to life’s questions. Genesis is an experience that you have to enter. Theodore Hiebert says of the book: “Genesis shares the scientist’s fascination with the birth of the cosmos and the origin of life on earth, the anthropologists’ curiosity about the first human beings, the historian’s interest in the beginning of civilization, a family’s esteem for their earliest ancestors, and the theologian’s concern about the founding events of religious traditions.”
To claim that God created the world and all that exists is a matter of faith, grounded fundamentally in God’s self-revelation. At this level, the opening chapters of Genesis are a confession of faith. In the passage, the phrase “in the beginning” probably does not refer to the absolute beginning, but to the beginning of ordered creation. After all, God was there as well as chaos! “Heaven and earth” is probably not intended to be two separate places but a reference to the totality of Creation. In fact, Norman Habel contends that this verse IS the account of Creation, followed by a more detailed account in the form of an inclusion.
Light here is not sunlight, but a pushing back of the darkness with life. The phrase “it was good” does not imply perfection, but rather implies the fulfillment of divine intention. It was not perfect; it was the way it was meant to be.
According to ancient Israel cosmology, the dome is an impermeable barrier that holds back a great reservoir of water in the sky, separating it from the great reservoir under the earth. When the “windows of the sky” (7:11) are opened in the Priestly flood story, the water in this reservoir falls as rain.
In verses 11-13, there is a shift in God’s way of creating; the earth itself participates in the creative process. The description of the plants and trees with their capacity to reproduce by themselves gives evidence for a probing interest in what we would call “natural science”. (Keep in mind that when this was written, there was no understanding of photosynthesis. It was ascribed to the powers of the earth.)
“Let us”—refers to an image of God as a consultant of other divine beings. God is not alone but chooses to share Creation with what God has created. In the phrase “In our image, according to our likeness”, image should not be construed as identity. The image functions to mirror God to the world, to be God as God would be to the nonhuman, to be an extension of God’s own dominion. We are not created to be God. Think of a photograph, an “image” of the subject in the picture. The “image” is NOT the subject; it is rather a reminder, something that points to and makes the subject more real.
Abraham Heschel said that “Eternal life does not grow away from us; it is “planted within us, growing beyond us.” (Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, 74). The divine resting concludes creation—namely, Sabbath belongs to the created order; it cannot be legislated or abrogated by human beings. “Finishing” does not mean that God has quit creating. The seventh day refers to a specific day and not to an open future. Continuing creative work will be needed, but there is a “rounding off” of the created order at this point.
Also according to Heschel, “The Sabbath is a reminder of the two worlds—this world and the world to come; it is an example of both worlds. For the Sabbath is joy, holiness, and rest; joy is part of this world; holiness and rest are something of the world to come…The Sabbath is more than an armistice, more than an interlude; it is a profound conscious harmony of man and the world, a sympathy for all things and a participation in the spirit that unites what is below and what is above. All that is divine in the world is brought into union with God. This is Sabbath, and the true happiness of the universe…“There are two aspects to the Sabbath, as there are two aspects to the world. The Sabbath is meaningful to [us] and is meaningful to God….The Sabbath is holy by the grace of God, and is still in need of all the holiness which man may lend to it…Unless one learns how to relish the taste of Sabbath while still in this world, unless one is initiated in the appreciation of eternal life, one will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come. Sad is the lot of [those] who have no power to perceive the beauty of the Sabbath…” (Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, 19, 31-32, 53-54, 74)
The high point of Creation is the Sabbath, which is delight in God, one another, and Creation. It is where it all comes together. This is the revealing of the God who made us, who conversed with us and with all of Creation even from the beginning, and who saw something in the world that we have not yet been able to see—an order and equality and justice that has been there from the very beginning. And God saw that it was good.
- What is your response to this passage?
- What stands out the most for you?
- What do you think is the central point of Creation?
- What does the “Sabbath” mean for you?
- Why do you think we read this passage in this week in which we are remembering and celebrating the Trinity?
NEW TESTAMENT: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
This passage is the concluding admonition for this entire second letter to the Church at Corinth. The “holy kiss”, which is probably a little odd-sounding to us, was essentially a known and usual social convention that Paul has brought into practice in his churches. The “holy” reference suggests that it was a social convention that was assumed into the church and made acceptable as an intimate greeting. It became the demonstration of love and peace between members. The extension “be with all of you” once again affirms that all the Corinthians stand on the same ground (no one is better than the next) and that they belong to one another because of God’s love, the grace in and from Christ, and the fellowship generated by the Holy Spirit.
This short passage is about relationship, that sense of unity that comes from being one with God and one with God’s people. Kissing, of course, connotes real intimacy. It is closer than just being friends. It means entering each others’ lives and becoming part of each other. Although this isn’t a specifically “trinitiarian” text in the classic sense of what that means, it still depicts that close relationship, inseparable and mutual, without any part of the relationship being held above the other. It depicts who we are called to be and how we are to relate to others within this Kingdom of God in which we already reside.
- What does this closing admonition mean for us?
- How can we “live in peace” when there is so much disunity, strife, and suffering in the world?
GOSPEL: Matthew 28:16-20
This is the first scene in which the disciples have appeared since they fled during the arrest of Jesus. Jesus appears to them and they “see” him. There is also the element of doubt. But Jesus comes to this somewhat wavering church and speaks. The basis for the words of The Great Commission is the claim of that risen Jesus that all authority has been given to him by God. The commission is to all the “nations”. The “nations” are to be discipled—go, make, baptize, teach. Essentially, Jesus has handed the authority given to him by God to those whom he has commissioned. Jesus’ last words are a promise of his continuing presence during the church’s mission.
When we look more deeply at this passage, we see that there are actually several different ways to translate the phrase “but some doubted”. To whom do we think the word “some” refers? We would like to think that it was those outside of the small circle of disciples, those that did not know Jesus as well in the first place. It is easy, then, for us to dismiss this doubting as unfounded and even wrong. But this phrase can also be translated as “but some of them doubted”, implying that there were some of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples that had their doubts. That becomes a little bit more difficult for us to swallow. After all, if THEY had doubts, where does that leave us? Or maybe the passage is then saying, “hey, THEY, even they, had doubts; maybe doubting is alright”. It is no longer a phrase that condemns doubting but rather affirms that it exists. In the New American Bible, however, it is translated “but they doubted”, meaning that all of the disciples were both worshipping and doubting, doubting and worshipping. Maybe this is saying that doubt is the norm, something that is perhaps even expected to happen. Here, doubt is not skepticism or unbelief but rather a part of discipleship itself. It is a part of what it means to be the church—worshipping and doubting, doubting and worshipping.
Whatever the nature of the resurrection event, it did not generate perfect faith even in those who experienced it firsthand. It is not to perfect believers that the mission of Jesus Christ is entrusted but to the worshipping and wavering community of disciples.
Hans Kung says this: Doubt is the shadow cast by faith. One does not always notice it, but it is always there, though concealed. At any moment it may come into action. There is no mystery of the faith which is immune to doubt.
Faith in the resurrection is a matter of worship, not of inference. But it does not exclude doubt, but takes doubt into itself. The Great Commission, then, is given to all of us worshipping and doubting believers.
But, ultimately, doubts are supposed to be resolved, right? With careful study of the Scriptures, everything becomes clear, right? Well, let me tell you, I have a Masters of Divinity degree on my wall. And, sadly, I have to tell you…that I do not have all the answers. That’s not the way it works. You know what intense theological study does for you? It doesn’t give you all the answers; it teaches you how to ask the questions.
Part of Jesus’ directive to the disciples was to “teach”. How do you teach, how do you learn, without asking questions? Constructive doubt is what forms the questions in us and leads us to search and explore our own faith understanding. It is doubt that compels us to search for greater understanding of who God is and who we are as children of God. And it is in the face of doubt that our faith is born. God does not call us to a blind, unexamined faith, accepting all that we see and all that we hear as unquestionable truth; God instead calls us to an illumined doubt, through which we search and journey toward a greater understanding of God.
So can we live amidst the shadows, the doubts, the varying shades of grey? Think about different amounts of sunlight. We have difficulty living in darkness. We try desperately to artificially light our way or find some way to compensate for our blindness. But full sunlight is also blinding. Our eyes cannot take it. It is those cloudy, gray days that allow us to see the best. Overcast days are a photographer’s dream. It is the light mixed with shadows that provides the most clarity and allows every color of the prism to be illumined on its own.
Faith is like that. For here we have not human truth which we can understand and prove but God’s truth. True faith is never completely clear. It remains obscure. It is always intermingled with shadows and doubts that open our eyes to the only way to deal with them—not by proving them wrong but by looking to God for the light that will make them part of our faith. “But some doubted”. They were the ones that saw him and worshipped him and whose faith grew. They were the ones that were blessed with that reasonable doubt. It’s called faith. Thanks be to God!
So, what does this all have to do with the Trinity? Well, keep in mind that the Trinity is not a doctrine that is perfectly laid out in the Scriptures. It is rather a human construct that for us Trinitarian Christians represents the fullest understanding of God that we can imagine. Think of it like this…In the beginning was God. God created everything that was and everything that is and laid out a vision for what it would become. But we didn’t really get it. So God tried and tried again to explain it. God sent us Abraham and Moses and Judges and Kings and Prophets. But we still didn’t get it. God wove a vision of what Creation was meant to be and what we were meant to be as God’s children through poetry and songs and beautiful writings of wisdom. But we still didn’t get it.
“So,” God thought, “there is only one thing left to do. I’ll show you. I’ll show you the way to who I am and who I desire you to be. I will walk with you.” So God came, Emmanuel, God-with-us, and was born just like we were with controversy and labor pains and all those very human conceptions of what life is. Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, was the Incarnation of a universal truth, a universal path, the embodiment of the way to God and the vision that God holds for all of Creation. But we still didn’t get it. We fought and we argued and we held on to our own human-contrived understandings of who God is. And it didn’t make sense to us. This image of God did not fit into our carefully-constructed boxes. And so, as we humans have done so many times before and so many times since, we destroyed that which got in the way of our understanding. There…it was finished…we could go back to the way it was before.
But God loves us too much to allow us to lose our way. And so God promised to be with us forever. Because now you have seen me; now you know what it is I intended; now you know the way. And so I will always be with you, always inside of you, always surrounding you, always ahead of you, and always behind you. There will always be a part of me in you. Come, follow me, this way. Be with me. Be who I know you can be.
- What meaning does this passage hold for you?
- What does the “doubt” mean for you here?
- What does “faith” mean for you here?
- Taking all three of these Scriptures, what do you think we’re supposed to make of the Trinity?
Some Quotes for Further Reflection:
God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so do not waste too much time protecting the boxes. (Richard Rohr)
Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is an on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway—a journey without maps. Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. (Frederick Buechner)
So much depends on our idea of God! Yet no idea of [God], however pure and perfect, is adequate to express who [God] really is. Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about [God]. We must learn to realize that the love of God seeks us in every situation, and seeks our good. [God’s] inscrutable love seeks our awakening. (Thomas Merton)
God to enfold me, God to surround me, God in my speaking, God in my thinking.
God in my sleeping, God in my waking, God in my watching, God in my hoping.
God in my life, God in my lips, God in my soul, God in my heart.
God in my sufficing, God in my slumber, God in mine ever-living soul, God in mine eternity.
God our Creator, today you bring us to a new stage of our journey to you; May the presence of your Son guide us, the love of your Spirit enlighten us, until we come at last to you, God blessed for ever and ever. Amen.
(From A Celtic Primer, compiled by Brendan O’Malley, p. 150-151, 60.)
A Programming Note:
Sorry I have been “missing in action” for so many weeks. Life has been a whirlwind and sometimes a blur. I’ve journeyed to a place that I did not see coming but I am good. So, I’ll commit to getting back to this on a regular basis, as well as posting on my Dancing to God blog at http://www.dancingtogod.com. I hope you’ll check that out too. Thank you for being a part of my journey!
Grace and Peace,