Adam-naming-animals-by-Theophanes-at-Meteora-04

Who’s In Charge Around Here Anyhow?

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

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9 thoughts on “Who’s In Charge Around Here Anyhow?

  1. Okay, were these arbitrary names until Adam assigned them to each animal — or was this an act of recognition? “Oh, that must be a hippopotomus!” ?

    If a name is, as many Hebrew people thought, the essence of that named-thing, then Adam isn’t just deciding what to call something, but helping create it! Or making a discovery, or perhaps doing something analogous to Jacob’s semi-prophetic blessing of his children; can we always know to what extent such an act fits which of these descriptions?

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    • I think there’s a great deal of truth in what you say. What I put here is really a very simplified version of what I think was going on. I think that to the extent that as baby humanity, Adam’s naming was really a recognizing of the reality of what he was being asked to label. The way we view things shapes the way and therefor the way we interact with them which in turn shapes reality, so in this way I agree that this was also Adam both helping in creating and speaking in a semi-prophetic way over what he named.

      How deep does the rabbit hole go? 😉

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      • Might be a somewhat circular ‘rabbit hole’? — “Down here” leading to “Out here” where we find… “Down here” once again?

        So God nudges Adam, & Adam says, “Hmm, I wonder what a platypus should look like?” & then God produces one, so Adam says: “Oh! That must be a platypus!”

        ?

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  2. Insightful article as always, Rebecca. It’s so easy for us to abdicate the responsibility and empowerment that God has give us. I would change only one word: from independently (in your last paragraph) to interdependently.

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    • That’s interesting, because the style of interaction God seems to be aiming us towards looks like a relationship between ‘independent’ and ‘interdependent.’

      Reading up on how the left & right sides of one brain normally interact… It turns out that the connective fibers turn out to be mainly inhibitory (“Shut up while I’m working!”) but that normally the right (ie left-handed) side uses that to decide whose turn it is to work [many times/second.] That is, it will shut down the left while it’s looking at overall-context stuff [ie that experiment with disconnected people finding that their left brain was seeing lots of interesting detail about a painting, but didn’t know what it was a painting of, while the right saw immediately: “That’s a doctor’s waiting room!” but was flaky about the details] and then temporarily shut itself down when there’s a left-brain task to be done.

      That is, they are supposed to work on their own, without much consultation — but having once made their ‘independent’ observations, integrate them into the one picture (with depth perception!) we see…

      ?

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    • Independence and interdependence are funny things. Like probably most people, I have struggled with codependence and in my experience, the only way to overcome it is to learn independence. We’re never truly independent, of course. But it’s a hard, confounding struggle to stop taking your life and identity from another person. You don’t even realize you’re doing it and can often write it off as interdependence. In my experience, many of the people who see themselves as independent rather than recognizing their interdependence are just the dominant party in codependent relationships. They are taking their life and identity from giving life and identity to someone else. They feel independent because they deny the way they affect other people and refuse to allow others to influence them, but at the core, their identity is just tied up in seeing themselves in opposition to other people.

      So anyways, I do hesitate to use the word interdependence just because I think it is a nice ideal that too often gets swallowed up in our codependent realities.

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