“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground
all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky.
He brought them to the human
to see what the human would name them;
and whatever the human called each living creature,
that was its name.”
I love the Speak-and-Bang-It-Happens God of Genesis 1. He is exactly who I want my God to be: a powerful, task-orientated perfectionist who snaps his fingers and makes things come out right. This God values the same things I do: efficiency, order and control. In a world full of chaos, it’s comforting to contemplate a beginning in which a great white shark simply appeared at Someone’s say-so. (After all, what can be done with a word can be undone just as quickly.) Yes, I like my God like I like my life: no waiting, no ambiguity, and certainly no mess.
I’m not nearly so comfortable with the Mud-Pie-Making God of Genesis 2. He does things in all the wrong order; he makes gardens before rain and people before the plants that feed them. He digs in the dirt like a kid in the sandbox who’s wondering what might crawl out. He mounts a parade of his most dazzling creatures just to see what his human will say. He’s not afraid to change his mind halfway through and decide there’s a better use for that rib. This God is playful, adventurous, curious, maddeningly patient, and truth be told, a little bit messy. It’s hard to know what to make of him. This God with soil caked under his nails is so not the God I learned about in Sunday School.
There is, I have come to believe, a distinct Genesis 1 bias deeply woven into much of Western Christianity. It underlies our practice of teaching theology as system rather than story. It can be glimpsed in our carefully regimented worship structures. (“And God said, ‘Let there be Offertory to separate the Prayers of the People from the 12 Minute Sermon.’ And it was so.”) It is found in the mountains of best-selling books that claim some kind of formulaic solution to the historic challenges facing the contemporary church. (“Some half-decent coffee, 2.5 guitars, and a tasteful tattoo on the pastor, and we’ll be beating young adults off with sticks.”) And perhaps above all, it is visible in our attempts to interpret the Bible as if it were a code that, once cracked, will unfold in clean, unambiguous lines. The binding thread is our assumption of a God who values process less than results—a God who shares our fears of messiness, our painful discomfort with imperfection and incompleteness.
But while there are no doubt a few “bang-and-it-happened” moments in the history of faith—moments when something erupts out of nothing perfect, whole, and complete—the truth is that most of the time, it is a mud-pie world. Most of the time, creation occurs in a bit of holy chaos. Most of the time, God sculpts and waters and nudges and then joyfully waits for new life to emerge. Most of the time, revelation is measured not in starbursts but in breathes over dust.
What would it mean to read the Bible as the Revelation of a God like this—a God who relishes relationship, celebrates creative process, delights to see what humans make of divinely-planted possibilities? What might it look like to approach our Holy Book not as code-crackers but mud-pie makers, called to play together with God in the rich soil of the Word? With a little less fear, with a little more freedom rooted in grace, what might begin to crawl out and come to life for us? What might dance before our eyes, carried on the Spirit’s breath?
I, for one, can’t wait to find out.
Come, Holy Spirit. Breathe into your Word so that it will live for us and we may live for You.