Breath of Life
Published Nov. 1, 2012 @ 5:39 p.m.
This week we are continuing our discussion about the New Creation. When we read in Genesis 1 of the creation the end of the account is that “God saw all that He created, and it was very good.” In the third chapter of Genesis all of that “good” seems to come to an end. The story is familiar even to those who have never picked up a Bible. In Genesis 2 we have a second account of the creation of humanity. In that account God takes the clay of the ground and forms a creature, Adam. Adam is a Hebrew word that literally means, “Creature of clay.” It is not in the clay that Adam is created in the image of God. What happens next is what creates Adam in the image of God; God literally breathes into Adam God’s own life. God then famously creates Eve out of Adams rib and places the couple in a garden dominated by two trees; the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Good is a relative term. Something is good if it produces the kind of effect that you want it to have. A hammer is a good hammer if you can use it all day without undue stress on your arm, it drives the size of nail or bolt you need it to drive into the kind of material you want it driven into, and if it doesn’t break or wear out for a reasonable amount of time. We often make the mistake of translating “good” into the Bible as some kind of abstract term. But really, humans were created good because they were perfectly suited for the purpose for which they were created; to have a relationship with God. That relationship begins with God breathing life into the nostrils of the creature of clay.
I am always amused by the speculation as to what kind of fruit it was that the trees really bore. They are almost certainly symbolic within the story and it wasn’t the fruit of the tree that gave knowledge of good and evil. Humanity already knew good; they knew God. It was in the action of taking the fruit that humanity came to know evil. In the garden humanity began their rebellion against God.
I had a philosophy professor when I was at Texas Tech who asked the question, “Who told the first lie in the Bible?” His answer was, “God.” God told Adam and Eve that on the day they ate of the fruit of the tree they would die but when they ate of the fruit of the tree God didn’t kill them. I replied to the professor that God had not lied. Adam and Eve died spiritually the minute they took of the apple. That death is easily presented with Adam and Eve running and hiding from God. Adam and Eve had died to the life God had breathed into them. They had begun as spiritual creatures filled with God’s own life in a bodily shell. When they took of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge the life God had given was theirs no longer.
At this point it appears that God’s plans for creation have failed. Humanity is no longer able to have the kind of relationship God had created us to have with the Lord. Paul says that even the earth was subjected to corruption. How can we say that God is in control when it appears that God’s purpose for creation has been so thoroughly defeated?
In some ways the Bible is a book of failures. Adam and Eve fail in what God had purposed for them. Humanity fails so miserably that God is even sorry He made them and sends the great flood that destroys everything but what Noah has on the ark. Even as the ark comes to rest on dry ground and the promise of a new creation lies ahead one of Noah’s sons, Canaan, introduces failure back into the equation.
As we move on through the Bible God creates a people from one man found faithful on the earth, Abraham. God fulfills all that he tells Abraham about Abraham descendants and rescues a fruitful nation from Egypt but once again failure is almost immediate; even at the foot of Mt. Sinai Israel loses faith and turns to a foreign God to lead them back into slavery and almost certain death. The rest of the Old Testament is the story of God calling to a people who turn to worship God for a short time but ultimately always fail and fall away until God hands them over to their ultimate enemies and they are taken out of the Promised Land. There have been two brief periods of time since the exile that Israel has been a sovereign nation; after the revolt of the Maccabees in 167 AD. This rule ended with the Rome’s domination. The second is the present time with Israel winning its freedom in 1948.
And yet, throughout the entire narrative of the Old Testament God uses the prophets and others to speak of a coming time, a new covenant, and a new creation. The Lord uses ideas and concepts like a new remnant and a time of peace with great economic stability. We see such pictures as the lions lying down with the lambs and the swords being beaten into plowshares. These wonderful utopic pictures are accompanied by direct prophecies of a new creation and God’s decision to fulfill the promise of humanity and Israel in redeeming the world. Even in the time of Abraham God promises that in Abraham all the people of the earth will be blessed.
The new Testament authors recognize that they are the beginning of God’s fulfillment of all those prophecies and all those pictures. The early Christians did not see themselves as a replacement for Israel but God’s extension of the true Israel, a people able and ready to be in the kind of relationship with God that Adam and Eve were meant to have. Indeed, one of the most important parts of the New Testament we often overlook. God once again breathes back into God’s people the very life of God; the Holy Spirit. This is the beginning of God’s promised “new creation.”