If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you are well aware that I have a bit of an obsession with the creation stories in Genesis. (No, I don’t read them literally – I take them waaaaaaaaaay too seriously to inflict that sort of nonsense on the text which all but screams “this is a mythological telling, not a history lesson!”) If you could make money by meditating on and studying these stories, I would uber rich. But, alas, God pays in insight and wisdom, not cash. I know he says that wisdom is to be valued above rubies, but try telling that to the electric company – “here, take some wisdom. It’s worth more than that money you keep demanding!”
Anyhow, what I want to talk about today is the first thing God ever did with Adam (read mankind). Even before there was man and woman. Even before he assigned us the job of raising food and making babies. Even before he warned not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Do you know what he did? He had man name the animals. Isn’t that amazing? Can you believe it?
Alright, alright. Some of you just started wondering if I’ve been smoking something. The answer is yes. I had a cigarette a couple of hours ago. Don’t tell anyone.
So the naming of the animals doesn’t seem that remarkable or amazing. Just one of those odd, throw-away details that trying to read the text as history obscures. But it’s revolutionary. It could change everything. Really. Allow I to explain.
It’s a common narrative in Christian teachings that God is in charge of everything. Some people take it to the extreme of saying that every bridge collapse, every act of abuse, every sickness is the direct result of God, in his infinite wisdom, specifically causing that event and its results to occur. Most of us are unwilling to take it to that extreme. We punt and say that God is in charge but allows, rather than causes, terrible things to happen for mysterious reasons.
Now, contrast that view with the very first thing God does with mankind. God doesn’t start by offering instructions, demanding obedience or demonstrating his power. Quite to the contrary. The first thing God does with man ask him to act independently, according to his own judgment. He doesn’t bring the animals to Adam and tell him what they are called. He brings the animals to Adam and has Adam tell God what they are called. Instead of God putting on a display of God’s own power, God has Adam put on a display of mankind’s power. Think about that. Isn’t that amazing? Can you believe it?
This small, seemingly insignificant detail reveals something very important about God’s desire for us and our relationship with him. Naming has long been considered an act of power and responsibility. Far from being a God whose sovereignty demands that he maintain control over all things, we see a God who willingly and eagerly hands power and responsibility over to mankind.
When was the last time a pastor or Christian teacher told you that God wants mankind to take hold of our own power and responsibility? Most of us have probably never heard such a thing taught. God wants us to be obedient, to submit to his will, to hand over control to him. If a Christian pastor had written Genesis, God would brought the animals to Adam, told him what their names were and given instructions for how to deal with each. And then he would have monitored the situation to make sure Adam was using the right names and following the instructions. Yet the God in scripture puts mankind in charge and doesn’t come back until he’s taking his evening stroll through the garden.
Now, am I claiming that we don’t need to worry about being obedient to God, seeking his will, etc? Nope. Not at all. I’m going to get into that in my next blog post, in fact. But for today, this is my point: in the beginning, before it all went wrong, God’s first priority was empowering man to use his own judgment and act independently. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, our relationship with God is redeemed, corrected, healed and restored. God’s first desire for mankind was that we be empowered, given responsibility and control. And that’s still his intention for us – that we would be empowered to use our own judgment and make our own choices. Isn’t that amazing? Doesn’t that have the potential to change everything?
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. ~ T.S. Elliot