God’s creative action involved relationship from the very beginning, but with the creation of human beings, God takes relationship with creation to a whole other level. In order to care for all that has been created, God made partners - invited us to join the Father, Son and Spirit for the sake of all that God has created and named good. And with the establishment of that partnership, God now names creation very good.
Perhaps when we think of this creation story we think of a God with ultimate divine power and control. Who else, after all, could create everything that is out of darkness, a formless void, and a little wind? Perhaps we imagine a deep booming voice issuing commands from a throne ‘let there be this, let there be that.’ Yet this was never a solo gig - the three persons of our one God - Father, Son and Spirit, were all present and active in creation. The Trinity reminds us that at the core of God’s identity is relationship and community. Through that lens, when we read this creation story, we can see God cultivating community everywhere.
God creates things not in isolation but in relationship to one another. Light and dark. Water and land. Sun and Moon. Creatures for the sky and creatures for the water. In the midst of the creation event happening, God encourages it to be fruitful and multiply - to continue to create of its own volition. And God brings those things already created into the conversation as creation continues. Verses 11 and 24 start with the same words “Let the earth bring forth vegetation/living creatures…” - it’s not ‘let there be vegetation/living creatures that happen to be placed on the earth.’ The earth itself is a collaborator as the systems of life are built up day after day.
And notice the words God chooses. ‘Let there be’, ‘let us make’, ‘let them have dominion’. There is room for the created to respond, to take part. This sharing of power is particularly important when it comes to human beings.
When the Israelites wrote down this creation story, when it became an important part of their faith journey and understanding of the world, they were surrounded by other groups of people who understood creation much differently. In other stories of creation, human beings were often slaves of the gods, pawns in the midst of their feuds. But this story is different - this story names humanity very good and human beings are given value, purpose, and partnership. God chooses not to be alone and creates beings in God’s own image. God moves over, as it were, and makes room for others. God takes a huge risk and chooses to give up absolute divine control for the sake of community and relationship, for the sake of having partners in the care for and continuing work of creation.
Some have interpreted the gift of dominion and the instruction to subdue as permission to destroy, pillage and leave desolate God’s good creation. But just as ancient kings erected images of themselves in areas of their kingdom where they were not present so people would be reminded of who they were, so God has placed images of Godself throughout the world so that the world may be reminded of who God is. We are those images. If we are created in the image of God, then our care of the earth should reflect God’s will for it. And as we see from this creation story, God’s will for the world is collaborative creativity, balanced relationship, continued growth and flourishing!
All of creation is important to God - the first words spoken aloud to human beings were not about relationship to God, but relationship to the earth! Dominion is a word that is NOT about exploitation and power, it is about care giving and nurture. In our partnership with God in caring for creation, if we leave God out of it, we invite disaster. Our dominion becomes domination. God asks humanity to subdue creation. At this point in the story, there are no enemies to speak of - subduing creation is not about control, not about crushing something to our will, but instead it is about bringing the world to its fullest possible potential. Just as God took the raw materials of void, darkness, and wind and ordered them into the gloriously connected universe, so we are invited to take the raw materials of God’s good creation and work to cultivate and order them into systems that can sustain new life, new creation.
God is creator, source of life. It is no surprise that for many of us, an image of the creation story might include the booming, commanding voice of God. But by opening up creation to partnership and community, God opens up creation to development, creativity, and change. So alongside the booming voice, let us hear the voices of a few young friends playing pretend in the back yard, their excited whispers and peals of laughter pointing us toward the delight and joy of creation. Let us hear the voice of a beautiful song into which the melody has invited harmony in order to make the music more rich and whole. Let us hear an improvised jazz solo that will surprise and delight. Let us hear God’s affirmation that we are very good and also God’s invitation to join the work.
You have been created by God. You have been created by God in the image of God. You were not created on a whim, but as the pinnacle of the creation event. You were not created for the entertainment of a far-off God, but for partnership with a God who wants to be as close as possible. A God who promises to be with us until the end of the age. Let us hear the promise, let us hear the call, let our work in the world be a true reflection of the God in whose image we were created and in whose name we were baptized - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - Amen!