Over the last seven posts I have laid out my understanding of the biblical narrative. What I write from this point forward assumes the observations made in these posts. Therefore, I thought it might be good to review and summarize what I have written. You can find the Introduction to the series here: Introduction
I made the following six observations regarding the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2:
- God created all that is and all that is belongs to God.
- God created an orderly world.
- God created humanity in God's image.
- God ordained both individuality and community.
- God placed humanity over creation to be stewards of it and to be eikons of God's authority.
- God established the ideas of linear time and progress.
I haven’t yet developed why all these observations are important. However, the issue of being in “God’s image” is critical from the start. Ancient Near East kings erected graven images (eikon in Greek) of themselves throughout their empires to signify their authority over the region. The Genesis story of creation would have called this practice to mind. Human beings were to be living eikons of God’s authority on the earth. We alone share God’s capacity for reason, imagination and creativity. It was God’s intention from the beginning that we participate with Him in bringing the earth to its full potential.
Shalom is the Hebrew word we often translate as “peace” in English, but it has a much richer meaning than this. It is the single best word to describe the state of affairs after God created Adam and Eve. Here are some of the connotations:
- Absence of War
- Harmonious relationships
- Personal welfare of people and animals
- Peace of mind
What I emphasize for now is that there is an unmistakable economic aspect to shalom. The fact that humanity’s mission is to be stewards of creation, and the fact that shalom can only be realized to the degree we fulfill that mission, makes economics a central issue.
Adam and Eve sought to be more than they were and ended up becoming far less. Their sin brought guilt and shame into the equation and marred every aspect of shalom just mentioned above.
God had told Adam and Eve to “multiply and fill the earth” with his eikons. Their sin started humanity in a downward spiral to where their son Cain refused to reflect God’s character. After leaving Gods presence he tried to settle in the “land of wandering.” (The name of the place he settled was “Nod” which means “wandering.”) He built a city and clustered there rather than filling the earth. He lived in a web of delusion and illusion. Humanity degenerated to the point that God started over with Noah.
After the flood, Noah was given the same instructions to fill the earth that Adam and Eve had been given. The next story we come across is people clustering at Babel uniting for the expressed purpose of not being scattered. They imagine themselves to be able to reach up to God and bring him down. God confuses and scatters them but they still refuse to reflect his character.
This becomes the pattern for humanity from that day until now. We build illusions of meaning and purpose that shield us from our own mortality and the true presence of God.
Here I used the metamorphosis of the name “Jerusalem” to illustrate God’s intention for humanity. Shalem was both an area in Canaan and the name of the Baal god the inhabitants worshiped. The name referred to Venus, the evening star, symbolizing fulfillment and completion. The city of Urushalem meant “foundation of Shalem.” It is believed that the Hebrew word shalom has its origin in this word shalem.
David annexed the area of Shalem to Israel and set up his throne at Urushalem. He added the first syllable of God’s name “Jehovah” to the front of the name making it (anglicized) “Jerusalem.” The name becomes “God’s foundation of fulfillment and peace." Finally, the euphemistic name given to the world when Christ returns and all is restored is the "New Jerusalem."
Humanity defies God and looks for fulfillment and peace in a city apart from God. God inhabits that city and gives it his name and transforms it into God’s city of fulfillment and peace.
The nation of Israel began with a covenant that God made with Abraham to bless all the families of the earth through him and his descendants. What exactly God had in mind is not clear at first. We come to learn that God’s intention was to form a people that would be evidence for, and witnesses of, his love for all humanity and that through Israel all the peoples of the earth would turn to God. Once again, the image of filling the earth with God’s eikons is evidenced. However, Israel disobeyed God, became centered on themselves, and failed to be the “light to the gentiles” that God had intended. For more than four hundred years after the close of the Old Testament, Israel found it itself in varying degrees of bondage and oppression, looking for a messiah who would call them to righteousness, gather the dispersed, bring down their enemies and restore shalom in the land.
The New Testament begins with Jesus life, death and resurrection. He presents himself as the messiah but he is not the messiah Israel was expecting. Israel was looking through a zoom lens camera and saw only themselves and what God intended for them. Jesus “zoomed out” to give them a wide angle view so they could see what God intended for all humanity. Israel’s story was not lost. It was just cast in terms of a much larger story. The covenant was expanded to include all who repented and embraced the messiah. These disciples would then be Jesus' witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, to the ends of the earth. In other words, the Church was to fill the world with God’s eikons. At some future unknown date, Jesus will return and make all things new and establish his eternal throne on earth. Shalom in all its many dimensions will be restored.
The Two Sentence Summary
In short, the story begins with God creating the earth, intending to fill it with his animated eikons living in perfect shalom. The story ends with God recreating the earth, and dwelling among his animated eikons who now fill the earth, living in perfect shalom.