You can read this through, since often one taught point leads on to another than qualifies it. But for an overview, see the list of what God has taught and for the context in which he taught each thing, see the beginnings and the history. Click here for home page.
Most of us in the West are so used to the idea of God as creator now that we little realise how revolutionary that idea is. Nor do we appreciate the richness and wonder of what it means, we have such a narrow view of what God created.
"In the beginning God created heaven and earth" - and all that we experience in theme.
Almost every other belief of where everything came from that is not inspired by this revelation takes one of two views, that Roy Clouser calls pagan and eastern. The pagan view is that a (small) part of what we experience around us is 'divine', and all else depends on that. The eastern view is that all around us is just a tiny part of a much larger 'divine'. But to say that God, the 'divine', created what we experience around us is something completely different.
What is behind everything is more than just an argument about ancient pre-history; it underlies how we view things today, and where we attribute meaning. And that, in turn, dictates how we treat things around us, and how we make sense of all we experience. We are not usually aware of the deep impact it has on us; it is much to do with world views,
Weltanschauung - those 'spectacles of the mind' through which we mentally see everything. When wearing (real) spectacles we become so used to them that we do not realise how they distort what reaches our eyes. So our world view distorts what reaches our mind, but in a much more subtle and devastating way.
To see why the idea of Creation is so revolutionary, we need to understand a bit about the pagan view.
But it goes beyond attempts to explain - which is the province of the academic. Paganism manifests itself in what we consider as all-important, and for which we sacrifice most other things of life, and where we first look for answers to the problems we encounter.
These two are akin. But they are the most subtle form of paganism - because there is some truth in theme. Our relationship with God is indeed the most important, as well shall see. But, under God, there are many other relationships that are important too and not to be seen as just emanations of our relationship with God.
==== bring in dualism
==== # helps us avoid dualism
That God is a person is so obvious to those of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition that I had long forgotten to include it here. But to many religious traditions it is not at all obvious. To Star Wars, God is "The Force". To Hindus, God is impersonal everythingness, the ocean of which we are drops. To rationalists and many Western academics, God is a theological truth. To Aristotle, God was authority. To some pagan cultures, God is one of many sprites or spirits. So it is not obvious, and God has had to reveal himself as person. He might be other things as well, but he is person.
To discern what this means with precision we can examine Biblical texts in detail, and especially the meaning of the rarely used Hebrew word
radah, but that goes against the principles we are espousing here of taking the broad view. The interested reader can find a discussion of this in an essay on creation. But, if we are patient, we can eschew such detailed analysis and gain the broader picture, by looking at what God blesses and what he does not. That is, we just have to learn all the lessons outlined here - and also those that have been left out.
It seems that Christendom has propounded a rather distorted view of what this image and stewardship means, such that one early environmentalist, Lynn White, held that this idea was responsible for all the environmental damage. The distorted view that Christendom has put across goes something like this. Image of God: We human beings (especially our souls) are what is important; nothing else is. Creation is a mere backdrop for human activity, and provides resources for us. Dominion (the word used to translate
radah in the King James Bible): We are commanded to suppress Creation and tread it underfoot. We have a divine right to consume it to meet our ends, regardless of the results.
But the Biblical view is different. The type of
radah that God endorses is when we manage something, not for our own sake and benefit, but for the sake and benefit of the thing we manage. Much later, in the time of the prophets, God likens
radah to shepherding, and explicitly condemned the type of
radah we have practised. We can see our role as being 'shepherds' of the Creation.
For a major development of this theme, see A New View in Theology and Practice, and especially the detailed exposition of
radah, and Representing God.
But this relationship became broken as humanity turned away from God, and we could no longer understand it aright. Its full restoration must wait many thousands of years, until the coming and returning of the Messiah. Only then could its true nature became clear. Before this happened, we had to learn many other things first, perhaps as a prelude to learning about relating individually to God again.
If we take the broad view, then whatever theology we bring to bear on the matter, it is plain that humankind as a whole, and each person individually, is separated from God by what the Bible calls 'sin'. Sin is not just the individual acts of wrong (sins), but something deep-rooted in us that makes us do those acts. It seems to be a proud depending on ourselves rather than on God, and a tendency to place ourselves at the centre of things, rather than place God there. Being in the image of God, we have the ability to do this; we are not robots. But it leads to all kinds of problems.
Many think that the reference to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil means that God wanted to keep us in ignorance. (Some carelessly omit 'of Good and Evil' to come to this wrong view.) For years I wondered whether this could be true, fearing lest a state of ignorance is in fact better than knowledge. But someone - I cannot remember who, or I would credit them here - linked Knowledge of Good and Evil with self-dependence: on whom do we depend, ultimately, to tell us what is good and what, evil, what is to be sought and what, avoided? Do we depend on God, or do we choose to depend on human agencies, such as fiat, power, education, scientific research, experience, or whatever? If we do the latter, we'll be bound to get it wrong, owing to the diverse relationships in the Creation that we can never fully understand. Even if we intend good, there are likely to be evil repercussions that outweigh the little good we achieve. We can see something of the nature of this turning away; that is discussed in The Fall. It becomes much clearer later.
So, in this early chapter we are introduced to the idea of the Fall that breaks the relationship we have with God. But, the full extent of this Fall and its importance are not immediately apparent. Thousands of years of experience must teach us this. For a taster, see Our apostate tendency: the long experience of a specially chosen people demonstrates conclusively that humankind has an innate tendency to turn away from God.
The problems we cause pervade everything, but we often feel we can live with them. Perhaps we can sometimes and in some cultures, but at other times and in other cultures the problems are not so innocuous. Left unchecked, great evil can arise, with gross injustice and much suffering, in which those with power become cruel, arrogant, unconcerned for those without, and eventually this leads to gross indecencies as a sign that all has gone rotten.
What is the answer when this happens? To wipe everyone out and start again? God showed us publicly that this does not work in the long term, because he did just this with the flood and Noah. Furthermore, God hangs on while there's a chance that some will be saved - because God is like that. We come to God's solution much later, but in the intervening millennia God interacts with us to demonstrate that various other solutions that we might think of will not work - such as choosing a special people, such as education, such as reward and punishment, and so on. Eventually, when the time was right, God revealed his own solution: Humankind needs a Saviour, and he himself would be that Saviour. ==== I think that para would be better somewhere else, and in fact it partly duplicates the one referenced.
That God intervenes is clear right through Scripture - with Abram, many times with the people of Israel, by sending prophets, by coming as the Messiah, and right up to this day. This is very different from the type of god whose only interest is to be worshipped or receive sacrifices, and that takes no part in human affairs.
That the Living God was merciful was clear from the earliest of days, and the message burns bright right up to today. This leads to hope.
There is always a thread of hope through the whole of the record of God's action with us. Thin and almost invisible at first, but getting thicker and stronger as more and more is revealed. The whole tenor of what we see and experience about the living God is hope. Not destruction, but hope. Not condemnation, but hope.
Hope that has never disappointed those who rely on it. Hope that is the very root and foundation, not something superficial.
Such hope as is communicated via the Bible is not merely 'hoping', not merely wishing, not merely a dream of how we would like things to be. Some months ago I listened to a church service broadcast on the radio (U.K. BBC Radio 4, 08.00hrs, 10 May 1998) the theme of which was the imminent urging to the G8 Summit to cancel debts of the world's poorest nations. Most of the service was about world poverty and misery, and how debts should be cancelled. But then, at the end was a prayer read by a child about helping us to dream God's dreams that one day things would be as they should, followed by a celebration song. But these seemed 'stuck on' - merely a dream among all this poverty and misery. The wrongness of such injustice and the promise of a future hope might both be true, but where was the middle? Where was the linkage between the two? Where was the 'mechanism' that moves us from the first to the second? The celebration at the end was merely dream, an escape that we know is not true. There was nothing to bring it about, no power greater than the problem.
But the hope spoken of in God's revelation and involvement does have a linkage, does have something to bring it about, a power that is greater than the problem. This is what we find right at the start. But its outworking is slow, complex, and it can take thousands of years to arrive. We still await the final completion.
In preparation for it, God involves himself with us, because he has to do many things among us and to teach us many things. Only then will we be ready for the fulfilment of this hope.
What God teaches is relevant to all humanity, and for all situations. But what he teaches at any one time can be different from what he teaches at another, because in most situations, some parts are more directly relevant than others. For example, to the downtrodden and fearful, God emphasizes comfort, while to the arrogant and lazy he emphasizes judgement and responsibility. But in what follows here I have tried to discern and include all the things that come through as major messages in the Bible, irrespective of situation.
I set them out in the order in which they seem to have been first introduced to humanity. But most of them have carried on and developed since then. However, their relevance to us - to you and to me, to him and to her - might be in a different order. So, at the end, I also group the main messages by type, with pointer to the main sections here.
Right from the start of his communication to humankind, a message has come through: God must be taken seriously. While this might be obvious to many who are from a Christianized culture, to many others it is far from obvious.
To take God seriously means not just to assent to his greatness (and then to smirk behind his back, as it were) but to buy into his purpose for us. To take God seriously means to do what he clearly tells us to do. To take God seriously means to orientate our believing towards him and what he reveals, rather than away from him to other things.
Two of the earliest lessons in taking God seriously came from his 'shouts' at us, which were major catastrophes that he instigated and which we could not turn deaf ears to. One was the flood, and another was the dispersal of languages at the tower of Babel. In the former, he showed his power and hatred of evil and injustice and cruelty. In the latter he showed we must take seriously his original purpose for us of spreading throughout the entire world. (The people had tried to collect together in defiance of his express original command of Genesis 1.)
This communication from God might seem obvious to us, but we don't learn it very easily. In fact, as Scripture records, it took God's special people about 1500 years and the disaster of utter destruction of their nationhood, to learn this. So what hope have the rest of us?
Pagan thinkers have accepted this. The most developed idea of God's authority is that of Aristotle, and called Monarchianism. God, he suggested, was the top of an hierarchy of authority which had, under God, the various powerful heavenly beings, then men, then women, then animals, etc. Human beings can discover God's authority just by looking at Creation. As was later written (Romans 1:20):
"Ever since God created the world, his invisible qualities, both his eternal power and his divine nature, have been clearly seen; they are perceived in the things that God has made."
But authority is not the only importance facet of God; indeed, it might not be the most important. But it seems that some of these other facets are not what we would expect (e.g. that God is humble and love). So God had to reveal them to us himself, and this was part of his long process of revelation.
Unfortunately, much of our (Christians') idea of God's authority comes not from Scripture but from Aristotle, with disastrous consequences since the Middle Ages in Europe.
Nevertheless, ultimate authority does rest in God. He had, and has, the authority to destroy the world. He did so in the time of Noah when he saw that humankind had become so desperately wicked that (most of) it should be wiped out.
But, right from the early days, God showed he is not like that. He is 'Jehovah Jireh' - 'The Lord with Provide'. God made a promise to all human beings and also all animals: never again would God destroy the world by a flood, and seasons would continue to the end of time: "Seedtime and harvest will never fail". God wants his creatures provided for.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2000. Comments and queries are very welcome.
Number of visitors to these pages since Feb 2000 is .
Last updated: 2 July 2000 tgs. 16 July 2000 corrected links. 5 November 2000 link to pers.rel. 12-13 November 2000 started adding 'Relevance to Us'. 10 December 2000 new contacts pointer. 12 February 2001 why flood is not a solution. 7 April 2001 corrected contact. 1 August 2002 belatedly added 'God is Person'. 3 August 2002 two more sections: God intervenes, and God intervenes with mercy. 25 July 2010 mended link to creation.html. 19 October 2014 Representing God.