Beginnings

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
—Genesis 1:1-5

“In the beginning” (bereshith in Hebrew) . . . this seems like a good place, as any, to start. So we will.

The entirety of the Jewish and Christian canon of scripture flows from this opening expression. And, this expression serves as the summary of the “good news” described within the pages of the first book of the bible. Therefore, any effort to examine the gospel according to Genesis must account for the importance and character of the beginning that is being pronounced in this text.

But, just what is beginning? I will try to answer that question indirectly.

Importantly, the book of Genesis records two separate beginnings with two different yet interrelated characteristics. The first beginning or “genesis” recalls an event of cosmic significance. There, the entirety of heaven and earth emerges from nothing into something through the spoken initiation of God. Everything is created, ordered, and even named. Stars and moons are flung into the sky. Flying things and creeping things find their place. The rhythms of night and day are imbedded into our consciousness. And, most notably, God’s gracious instigation and cherishing of life is revealed.

In the second description of a beginning, something comes from nothing, too. However, this time, the something created is not plants or animals or stars or people but a people. Genesis 12 records the creation of Israel when God calls Abram and Sari to leave everything behind and risk life with God in a new venture that has equally cosmic consequences:

Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ (Genesis 12:1-3)

The first creation recorded is the creation of everything, evidencing the cosmological affirmation of God’s gracious initiation of life itself while the second creation recorded is a further focused account meant to bring a deeper, more profound character to that life, also begun and maintained by God.

The first creation is cosmic while the second is communal. The first creation has a universal perspective while the second bears a particular one. The second beginning, while smaller and seemingly more mundane, is just as significant, and its placement in proximity to the cosmic creation story is meant to draw this very complimentary comparison. By recalling the creation of Israel as the people of God created to serve the world and invite all of the world into a deeper, more direct relationship with their Creator—i.e., “all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” the Genesis account seeks to assign to that second creation event the same degree of care, profundity, and imbued purpose as evidenced when God hung the stars, watered the earth, and knitted Adam and Eve clothing in the garden.

When the church reflected on these early stories from the faith, the church sought to draw out these purposeful connections between God’s cosmic grace and humanity’s communal role by recreating the scriptural narrative itself. Originally, what the church came to call the Old Testament existed in a different order. The Hebrew canon has the books of scripture organized according to when those books were written. Rather than utilizing this chronological ordering, the church desired an ordering that told the story of God and God’s people, from cosmic creation to the specific need for a radical and particular recreation. This new arrangement emphasized two themes in the divine narrative: (1) the divine narrative’s saturation with the initiated outpouring of grace, implying an insight into the inherent character of God and (2) the divine narrative’s recording of the lengths to which God would go to bind the eternal, cosmic workings of God to the intimate, direct workings of God with God’s creation, especially God’s proxies in grace.

The beginning announced each time in the divine narrative is the arrival of God in some definitive way. In addition, each definitive arrival marks God’s gracious and “verbal” efforts to create occasions for relating to that creation. Just as the first “beginning” and second “beginning” are connected, so, too, the new beginning confessed to initiate in the incarnation of God in Jesus implies a connection between what happened before when God spoke to creation and what will happen this time when God’s “Word” encounters creation. The divine narrative suggests that if God created everything before through the spoken word then God can recreate everything a second time through the embodied “Word.” As when God worked through the particularity of Israel to evidence a universal purpose, in the incarnation the particular work of Jesus is meant to have universal consequences, too.

Thus, the larger biblical narrative assumes a grand chiastic structure. A chiastic structure, coming from the Greek letter “X” (transliterated “chi” and pronounced “ki”), is a literary pattern that repeats itself throughout scripture. The structure is defined by its inverting of an initial literary pattern, like points on a line moving in on the top half of the letter “X” and backs out on the bottom half. For instance, the pattern might be ABBA. The first part of the pattern is inversely repeated in the second part of the pattern. The presence of the pattern is only as important as the purpose of the literary form. That form is meant to emphasize what is found in the middle of the form.

In our grand chiastic structure seen in the overall narrative arch of scripture, the initial “A” is the universal creation, followed by the initial “B” seen in the creation of a particular means of salvation via Israel. The second “B” is the recreation of a particular means of salvation via Israel, this time embodied in the person of a Jewish boy. The second “A” constitutes a universal recreation through the creation of a “new heaven and new earth” in the new garden of God’s life with us seen in the book placed at the end of the New Testament, the book of Revelation. (Just as the church ordered the books of the Old Testament to serve not a chronological but narrative purpose, so, too, the books of the New Testament are not placed according to when they were written but as to how they help contribute to the overall narrative energy of the divine story.)

So, what is the central point of this chiastic structure? That central point is God’s gracious initial movement toward us to create something new as a means to connect with us, no matter how particular and peculiar. This central point gives us the answer to as to what the book of Genesis might convey as its understanding of victory. Genesis declares a victory over our assumption that we are primarily responsible for any positive movement toward God in the salvation event. Moreover, the Genesis story is a declaration of purpose for God, asserting that God will go to any-yet-to-be-imagined-length to create ways to connect with us.

The Jesus story is meant to serve as the very embodiment of this primal claim.

If God, as attested throughout the scriptural narrative, repeatedly moves initially, creatively, and relentlessly towards us, then what is to stay that God does not continue such efforts today:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38)

This is good news indeed.

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