I’ve been thinking for a long time about how it can be difficult to see the Bible as a whole, the entire story as a story. When I represent the Gideons at local schools I often present the Bible as a single book – a true story of God and us – yet if we haven’t read it from cover to cover it can be hard to see this, or grasp how one part fits into the whole. I had thought that it might help to give a summary of the story that the Bible contains, it’s true, it’s epic and it goes from history to eternity, and it’s ours to hear. All of that is much harder to describe than the end result is, so I’ve decided to put my ‘beginning’ up here for your consideration. I trust you will like it, I will understand if you don’t. I would very much value your comments for good or for bad.
It’s our story, it’s our history, us and the Creator. It’s where it all began, how it all began, why it all began, and where it’s all going to. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, as with all stories, let’s start at the beginning.
It all starts with the Creator, God, and his creation – that includes us.
Before the universe began, before men and women walked on the face of the earth, before plants grew and animals roamed there was still God. He started it, all of it, and he will one day finish it.
God, the Creator spoke it into existence. God brought existence into existence, and then, as with any creation, the Creator fashioned and moulded and made. At first there was no order and no content: unformed and unfilled
First came the substance, the raw material of the universe, the rules and laws that govern how it all works. The universe was formed. God spoke light into existence, a good light, a light to bring division of day and night. With the division came the days.
The heavens were formed: waters above, waters below. The earth itself began to take shape as God spoke the waters into place and revealed the habitation of mankind. Another good day.
Once formed, God filled the earth: plants sprung up at the Creator’s command, trees and their fruit grew strong. All good.
The Creator filled the expanse, the heavens. Structure, beauty, majesty for man and God to see. The lights were for signs and seasons – to mark the movement of the universe and time itself. Day four.
God once more spoke life into existence. The waters were to teem with life, the birds were to fill the skies. These were to increase, to reproduce, to fill God’s earth. The penultimate day.
Finally, the last scene of this first act: God speaks animals and mankind into existence. First the animals: domestic and wild, small and large, all by kind, made to grow and multiply and diversify within their kind across the face of the planet.
And man – ultimately – God’s crowning creative act in his creation. “I’ll make him like me”, God said. How like him we will learn from our story. How not like him we learn from creation.
God blessed his creation, spoke good of it and to it. God commanded his creation to be fruitful, to increase, to spread out and fulfill their destiny. To mankind alone he commanded dominion and rule. The authority to manage, to maintain, to order this world was given to those whom God made like him.
So, it was done, all of it finished and God rested. The Creator set aside one final day of the first week for contemplation of the previous six, the act of formation and filling and the Creator who not only created, but maintains to this day. The day was a day of rest from labour. This is the first chapter in our family history.
All this the man somehow knew, intuitively, as if it had been planted as seeds in his mind; all this he knew as he blinked his eyes wide open on a brand new world. The land was still raw to him as he began to take it in. Even the name ‘The Man’ was somehow appropriate. How did he understand the name? He had words, understanding, thinking and already a history.
The Man: A’dam in his words, the word for earth, the ground from which he came. Adam could see the creation around him, the plants and creatures the water and the earth and yet there was more. God made a home for Adam, a garden that would meet his every need, apart from the need for his Creator. The garden was pleasant, a true home. It had life and food and beauty. And in the middle of the garden: two trees. One gave life, one gave knowledge.
Water flowed up and out from the garden. The garden was the centre, the lands were blessed from Eden. And God placed Adam in the garden to begin the work of managing the land. The trees were made available for food; all except one were to be eaten of freely. A solitary tree, the tree of knowledge was marked out – “Do not eat of this” God commanded “or you will surely die”.
The creation, the land was good, and yet Adam stood apart from the rest of that creation. Made with the likeness of God, but solitary, alone. Adam was one man among many creatures. God showed his creatures to Adam. One kind after another was brought to Adam to view and to name – Adam at work in God’s creation. But not one was like him. Not another creature was made in God’s image as Adam was. Not another creature was fit to work with or to live with the man.
And, so soon after he first opened his eyes, Adam slept, and God worked. One last act of creation, and yet even in his sleep Adam was included in this last creation. From Adam’s own flesh God brought the woman, truly of his flesh and of God. “Bone of my bones,” Adam said, “flesh of my flesh!” She’s a woman! This is the reason men and women of each generation leave one family to begin a new one: man and wife. In all this Adam and Eve his wife were naive and innocent – naked in the garden and unashamed.
Our story doesn’t tell us how the serpent arrived in the garden, we glimpse fragments of this story now and throughout our history, but we don’t know it all. What we do know is that the serpent possessed guile – directly opposing the naivety and innocence that characterised the first husband and wife.
The serpent started with a question, innocently framed, but not innocently asked. “Did God really say?” Question the Creator, take responsibility for yourself, take control of your life – allow first of all that you have the right to decide for yourself – original sin – pride. And to help the decision making process the serpent adds: “You will not surely die!” The irony of taking control of your own destiny, yet paying heed to a serpent…
So Eve looked, and she considered, and she weighed up – she took control and took responsibility. She reached out her hand to take that which she was expressly forbidden to take – she sinned, and Adam with her.
Something did die in them both that very instant, their innocence – and mortality took hold of their physical bodies. So new, and now already dying. But something else died along with their innocence: a rent was torn between them and their Maker. Not only did they hide their bodies from one another, but they tried to hide from God.
They were expecting God, they were used to his coming among them, walking and talking, it’s called fellowship. But now they were afraid of him who made them and walked with them. Fear came with their grasped knowledge. So, when God came walking they hid. But God called, God reached out and the truth was told. The serpent questioned and brought deceit, God questioned and brought truth. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent. All of them had disobeyed God. And so the world was cursed. The serpent was consigned to the dust, the woman and her offspring became the serpent’s enemies. The woman would suffer in her family life; the man would suffer in his role of husband and worker. Both had overstepped their role in God’s given realm, both would pass on that failure to every generation to come. Both would one day return to the ground from which they came.
And to cover their new found shame? An innocent life was taken on their behalf. Clothes of skin were provided as a substitute for the lost innocence of Adam and Eve.
The final falling in this first Fall was to be cast out of the garden that was their home. The relationship was gone, the source of life was to be withheld too – access to the tree of life was cut off with the closing of the garden.
The First Family
Adam and Eve did obey God in beginning to multiply and populate the earth. From Adam and Eve came the first family on earth. How large this family was we do not know, but two brothers stand tall in the story. Cain and Abel lived outside the garden, working as God had intended, cursed as Adam and Eve had made them. But God was not altogether apart from his creatures and offerings were brought – a more formal relationship than what had been, but a way to respond to the Creator for the gift of his earth. Cain worked the land, Abel tended the flocks. A family who still somehow belonged to God and looked to him.
If pride motivated Adam and Eve, then it seems that anger moved Cain. Did he struggle with the curse on the land? He was certainly jealous of his brother. Remarkably, God still speaks, questions, brings truth: “Why let anger rule? If you do well, you will be accepted, but beware, sin can and will consume those who give themselves over to it!”
Was it a deliberate choice to kill? Was it murder or manslaughter? Cain arranged the meeting: “Come out and meet me, brother.” The act was premeditated. Whatever words were said, actions ended the business. Cain rose up and killed his brother. Anger consumed, sin controlled.
Yet again the Creator has to intervene. God pursues Cain. Again it starts with a question “Where’s Cain, your brother, your nearest?” Cain is beyond caring, reckless in responding to the one he knows is the Lord of all. “How should I know? I’m not the shepherd’s shepherd!” But God knows and God cares. “What have you done?” The horror of one creature, made in his image taking by force the life of another. The grace of God shows in the fact that angry, rebellious Cain is allowed to live, to talk back. But life will never be the same for the murderer. The very ground that soaked up his brother’s blood will become as hard as stone. Cain will wander, far from men and women, and far from God.
And yet even as a rebel and a murderer Cain begins to multiply and to build. And as Cain did, so did Adam and Eve. Living outside the garden they bore more children and began to spread across the land. They began to call on the name of the Lord – to worship as a people the God they only knew at a distance. This is Adam’s story.
Excerpt from ‘something I’m writing’