God is a God of Stifling Freedom, or Beautiful Limitations

1“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17 ESV)

In one of the earliest chapters of the Bible, we come across this verse. What are we to make of it?

For starters, we should probably lose the notion that God is a detached, impersonal, and uncaring “being” in regards to the world. Notice that right after God created everything (Genesis 1), He makes man to “work and keep” all that He has just made. Man was given responsibility to cultivate the “garden” – the arena of all God’s creation activity.

Next, we need to see that God is not a  stuffy buzz-kill.  God gave Adam nearly unrestricted access to everything in creation. There was only one thing that was off limits. Not 10. Not a 187 point referendum on what was acceptable or unacceptable. Not a litany of voluminous pages of do’s and don’ts. One. One simple restriction.  Far from being overly panicky about rules and regulations, we see God as someone who is generous and fairly liberal in what He finds acceptable or unacceptable.

This leads us to consider why the one restriction. Many people have speculated over this for centuries. While there’s much to be said about the distinctions between the two trees in the garden (Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), I think it’s safe to say that whatever the reasons are for the restriction, the essence of it is whether or not man will listen and heed God, or his own wisdom.

And that my friends is the essence of creation and sin. God was not interested in merely having someone do His bidding – like a robot, and automaton, or simple cog in the machinery of creation. Nor was he interested in letting all of His creation simply go and dow whatever they wanted, or felt right, or thought would be good.

God created everything, man included, for relationship. And the basis of that relationship is trust. Man was given only one restriction in the Garden to see, ultimately, would he trust in God, or himself.

And that is a beautiful and glorious limitation. Far from stifling our freedom, we are free to express ourselves and enjoy all of creation, as we trust in the God who created it and commissions us to cultivate it. In that trusting relationship, there is freedom, joy and life!

But apart from that trust, we have the world we currently live in. Where we need more laws, rules, regulations to keep everyone and everything in line; where boredom and drudgery sap our joy, and where life is exchanged for the status quo of death, destruction and dysfunction.

Which world would you rather live in? One of “stifling freedom” because we all want what we want, no matter the cost or who it affects? Or one of “beautiful limitations” based on listening, trusting and obeying the Word of God?

Reading the Bible in a Year – Day 1: Thoughts from Genesis 1:27-28

I am going to blog through my “Read the Bible in a Year”, year (Henceforth known as RTBY.  Attempt might be a more apt word.  Nonetheless, its day 1 and I’m off to a great start!

Part of today’s reading covered the account of Creation, found in Genesis 1-2. No matter how many times I read (and re-read) these chapters, I am always struck by the simple and profound nature of Genesis 1:27:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

In one simple verse, we are told that God created man in His image, yet it was a plural image. Not only does this set up the theological understanding of the Trinity (God is One God, in Three Persons), but also the anthropological understanding of the human need for community.

Just as the first man was created in the image of God, meaning, created in/for/by community (with God), man continues to exist in a state of need for/in/with community (with fellow man), [or as will be made clear if you keep reading in Genesis, with woman].

It also sets up the radical and counter-intuitive notion that community is more than a social group.  Most of us tend to orient ourselves to other like-minded individuals.  We associate with people who are mostly, well, like us.  Because it easy to like “us”.  Its harder to like “them” (whoever “them” are).  But here we are told that man was created in the image of God, and that image had both a male and female aspect to it.

It seems that there is some level of diversity within the God-head.  There was also a level of diversity with the creation of the original man.

None of us can perfectly reflect God apart from others. That’s the critical, and often missing piece, in what passes for contemporary, Christian spirituality. This does not diminish the importance of the individual, but it does relativize the ultimateness of the individual only.

We were created by a community, for a community.

But it goes on from there to speak to one other important aspect. Just what was the first man supposed to do, exactly? Was there some purpose to what some have called the acme, or apex, of God’s creative work? None of the other episodes of God’s creation get a poetic narration from the Creator Himself as man does here in v. 27. Surely, there must have been something of a reason for such a grand display of joy at this point in time?

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28

The answer is that man was created with a mission to fulfill. Man was created to image God in God’s creation.

This doesn’t just mean that we sort-of look like God to everyone and everything around us. It means that we continue to do the things that God was up to those first few days of creation, namely, forming and filling.

We form good “stuff” out of the “stuff” we find around us (unlike God, who simply forms “stuff” out of nothing), and we fill the “stuff” of creation with more good “stuff”. All the while pointing it all back to the One who did all in the first place, and put us here to do it.

I spend time on this because I often here Christians speak of mission in the context of evangelism.

Only evangelism would be more accurate.

Surely evangelism is important; I am not denying or minimizing that at all. But “mission” is something that is inherent in our being created in the image of God, not just in our nature being sinful and fallen and in need of redemption.

Mission exists before the Fall. If you don’t believe me, read Genesis 1-2 for yourself and ask yourself why you read about stuff man was supposed to do, when sin had not yet entered the world (that would be Genesis 3).

Let me leave you with some thoughts for reflection:
1) If you and I were created in the image of God, entailing the importance of community for our lives, how highly would you rate the need for community in your life today?

2) If you do think highly of community, do you value the diversity that community itself entails, or do you simply find only like-minded, similar-thinking, affinity-based social groups that share your same biases on nearly everything? Remember, God created us in His image – male and female (diversity within community).

3) As creatures, created in the image of God, how might you live differently today knowing that what you do was meant to reflect back to the One who created you, designed you for this world, and seeks to make Himself known as both Creator and (eventually in the Biblical story) Redeemer? How might this affect your relationships at home? Work? Church? Community? How might this affect the way you think about issues surrounding your community?

Let me know your thoughts!

PS – For those who like more of this stuff, here is the Study Note for Genesis 1:27 from the ESV Study Bible (which, if you’re looking for a good Bible, that has helpful side-note, foot-note information, this would be it.)

Gen. 1:27 There has been debate about the expression image of God. Many scholars point out the idea, commonly used in the ancient Near East, of the king who was the visible representative of the deity; thus the king ruled on behalf of the god. Since v. 26 links the image of God with the exercise of dominion over all the other creatures of the seas, heavens, and earth, one can see that humanity is endowed here with authority to rule the earth as God’s representatives or vice-regents (see note on v. 28). Other scholars, seeing the pattern of male and female, have concluded that humanity expresses God’s image in relationship, particularly in well-functioning human community, both in marriage and in wider society. Traditionally, the image has been seen as the capacities that set man apart from the other animals—ways in which humans resemble God, such as in the characteristics of reason, morality, language, a capacity for relationships governed by love and commitment, and creativity in all forms of art. All these insights can be put together by observing that the resemblances (man is like God in a series of ways) allow mankind to represent God in ruling, and to establish worthy relationships with God, with one another, and with the rest of the creation. This “image” and this dignity apply to both “male and female” human beings. (This view is unique in the context of the ancient Near East. In Mesopotamia, e.g., the gods created humans merely to carry out work for them.) The Hebrew term ’adam, translated as man, is often a generic term that denotes both male and female, while sometimes it refers to man in distinction from woman (2:22, 23, 25; 3:8, 9, 12, 20): it becomes the proper name “Adam” (2:20; 3:17, 21; 4:1; 5:1). At this stage, humanity as a species is set apart from all other creatures and crowned with glory and honor as ruler of the earth (cf. Ps. 8:5–8). The events recorded in Genesis 3, however, will have an important bearing on the creation status of humanity.