I’ve always had a great love for the Bible. It was what I was brought up with. It’s still the first book I turn to whenever I’m feeling uneasy or confused.
I was brought up to memorise large chunks of Bible verses, and I’m thankful for that because when I’m faced with moments of challenge, I can usually bring a verse to mind that helps me in my situation.
What I love about the Bible, is that you are often faced with a choice because some of the texts would seem to contradict one another.
When that happens, you can make a choice about which you believe….or you can reject it all….or you can just live with the contradiction.
Now, I was brought up to believe that the Bible contains absolutely no contradictions or errors, yet right at the very start of the Bible we are faced with 2 contradicting stories which I was reminded of this week.
This week, I’ve turned to the Bible a few times….
As you might know, there is building work going on in the Parsonage. Putting new windows into an old building has turned into a bigger job than perhaps first expected.
It means I’m living in a bit a chaotic environment at present:
There’s dust everywhere. Some of the rooms aren’t useable, and of course there are people working in the house each day.
So each day this week I’ve read a few chapters of the Bible just to help settle myself.
On Monday morning I opened my Bible at the beginning. As you probably know, the first book of the Bible is called GENESIS.
Now the Bible starts with the words “In the beginning” – which is what Genesis means…..How did it all come about?
Well the book of Genesis gives 2 very different ideas about how things started:
There’s a creation story in Genesis chapter 1 and a creation story in Genesis chapter 2. And they are both very different.
Genesis chapter 1 speaks of God creating the heavens and earth, and they are declared to be good….. and then humans are created in the Divine image, and they are declared to be good too.
There is no mention of sin or wickedness. Only goodness – which is the reflection of God – and humans reflect perfectly the Divine image.
(Interestingly, in Genesis chapter 1, both humans and animals are designed to be vegetarians. God says ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ . So in this account of creation, everything lives in harmony – there is no hunting or killing)
And in Genesis chapter 1, men and women are created equal. Totally equal.
This is what it says: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
And God blessed them….”
There are also no limitations placed on human beings in this story either. God basically says “it’s all there for you. It’s all good, You’re blessed…. Now get on with it”
So that’s the first creation story. A wonderful, good creation which reflects the goodness of God, where everything lives in harmony, where men and women are equal, where we start out blessed, and where there are endless possibilities for humans.
(So this week when I’ve been surrounded by chaos and dust, I read that first creation story and kept saying “It’s ok. It’s all good. It’ll all work out in the end…”)
And although Unitarians almost certainly wouldn’t take the creation story literally, our starting point is usually that God is good and that humans are born good.
Which is all very well, but then how do we explain the presence of evil and wickedness?
Why can’t people manage to live in harmony?
Those are the questions which have perplexed people for hundreds of years.
Does strife originate with God and, if it doesn’t, then where does it come from?
Is there an opposite force? Are good and evil continually battling in some great cosmic war?
Well there is the second creation story in the Bible. You can find that in Genesis chapters 2 and 3.
In this story men and women are definitely not equal. Man is the boss, woman is the servant.
And there are limitations placed on what humans can do.
First and foremost they aren’t told to go and adventure; instead they are placed within a garden. There are borders. And there are rules: “you can’t eat that”
Remember in Genesis chapter 1 humans can eat any plant or fruit… but in chapter 2 there is a tree growing which, apparently, gives knowledge of good and evil to anyone who eats of it.
And what happens? A talking serpent comes along and persuades the humans to eat of the fruit of the tree….
And when they do, shame, suffering, famine and pain come into the world.
Humans are separated from God.
Goodness is no longer the only force in the world.
And from there, the Old Testament (which is the first half of the Bible) speaks of continual struggle between humans and God…..
Of humans disobeying, God becoming angry…. Then God and humans form what seems to be an uneasy truce, before something starts the whole thing off again and again.
And this cosmic dance between good and evil continues until, centuries later, Jesus of Nazareth is born.
Jesus grows up and begins his ministry of teaching and healing….
….which creation story did buy into?
Did he buy into the view that humans are wicked and limited…that pain is to be expected…that we can do nothing about sin….?
Or did Jesus tell people “to be perfect as God is perfect”….did he tell people that “the kingdom of God is within them”
Did he tell people to “love each other just as God loves you”?
According to the gospel writers, he brought about healing and wholeness wherever he went and, through his ministry, released people to do amazing things.
It seems to me that Jesus, through his life and teaching, was basically saying:
“we’ve had enough of the second creation story where humans are unequal, cursed, limited and separated from God”….
Instead he seemed to start from the standpoint of the first creation story, where humans are good, life is good; where we reflect the image of God, and where there is harmony.
And I think, to an extent, that is the choice we are faced with every day:
Do we see each other as good…. Do we view life in a positive way…. And do our actions reflect the fact that we are expressions of a God of love?
Do we live thinking that we are miserable sinners with no goodness in us?
I know which one sounds more attractive to me!
I’d much rather be a Genesis chapter 1 human than a Genesis chapter 2 one!
I’d much rather live with the belief that there is no end to human potential, rather than thinking I’m limited in what I can do.
But you might say to me “well that’s all very Ant, but you’re being a bit of an idealist here. The fact is we DO suffer and there IS wickedness in the world, and what do we do about that….?”
And that’s a good question.
What DO we meet evil and suffering with?
St Paul gave us the answer: “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”
There is that old saying isn’t there: two wrongs don’t make a right…
And wouldn’t the world be a better place if we treated one another as if we were all ‘Genesis chapter 1’ type people….as if goodness was the most powerful force of all, as if blessing were to be expected?
I don’t deny that life can be tough, because it can….
But I refuse to believe that evil has the final word.
I’ve shared some of the quotes from Anne Frank’s diary today. All that she went through and yet she was still able to write: “…in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Isn’t that the key? “in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”… the alternative is too sad to contemplate.
And if she can write things like that in her situation where her liberty was gone, her freedom was gone, and where her life was under threat, then we who live with such blessing should surely be able to shout it from the rooftops.
Anne Frank also wrote: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Right now we can improve the world with our prayers, our actions, our attitude…. We can contribute to the goodness of the world.
And when we meet challenges, there is the advice of St Paul “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”
…and Anne Frank gives us some more practical advice: “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy”
What more can I say?
Unitarian theology tells us that God is One and God is Good and God is Love… and that we reflect that Oneness and Goodness.
And as we learn to love each other, and love ourselves and love God, then all the other things begin to fall into place.
Thank God…there’s always a choice. Every situation, there’s a choice how we will react and respond.
Let’s respond as those who affirm Genesis chapter 1: it’s good, and we reflect that goodness.