It is a common mistake to read ancient writings such as the Book of Genesis as if they were published in yesterday’s New York Times or the Sydney Herald or The New Delhi Times.
When we read these newspapers, we instinctively consider the context of each article we read, its geohistory and purpose. So it should be with the book of Genesis, written sometime in the 6th century BC but dates far back to a much earlier oral tradition.
In any case, anyone from the Ancient Near East (ANE) reading what we have come to call the creation accounts of the Bible will understand something that most of us will miss. Gods of the ANE were routinely described in terms of how they built the natural order, separating the heavens from the earth, waters from dry land, and placing the right animals and plants in their ordered arenas.
The writer of Genesis described the building of a god’s house, i.e., a temple. Every temple is a bipartite building, with god-space and creation-space. The final thing you put in any ANE temple is the image of its god.
The six days of creation in Genesis 1 would have led the ANE readers to conclude that Israel’s god had created a temple, a dwelling place for himself. But unlike other, regional gods, the entire world belongs to this god. When YHWH made Adam (men and women) In His Image, the writer described the entire world as God’s temple, i.e., God’s house.
The Sabbath or Seventh day “of rest” is not a day of doing no work. Rather, it signifies God now coming in to ‘dwell’ in his house, which is a temple to its worshippers. Through God’s image (humanity), God is reflected to the world and the world reflects back to God. We are the channel of God’s grace. But paradoxically, by distortion, we can also be the cause or channel for God’s grief.
We humans are made to bear witness to all creation of who God is, maker of heaven and earth. We are privileged to be custodians of the divine order known to us as the natural order. Thus, every scientific discovery we translate into technological artifacts that blesses God’s creation celebrates God’s grace. For example, when our God-given minds reached the stage of collective knowledge to discover the chemical composition of water and ways to purify them by desalination of sea-water, it reduced water-borne illnesses significantly. This blessing honors God’s grace to humanity.
Those who believe in our creator God ought to celebrate the wonders of science, technology and medicine. My spectacles allows me to be productive while someone with myopia in the thirteenth century is essentially retired. High-speed trains opened up vast stretches of geographically isolated land masses and brought much needed medicines to countless communities. I look forward to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner because materials engineering allows it to increase the moisture content and raise the cabin pressure from 8000 to 6000 feet above sea-level. The technology behind ipads and android phones allows me to catch the latest TEDMED presentation, contributing to free medical education for so many. Skype, not yet a verb 7 years ago, connects me to my friends around the globe and Twitter technology made the Arab Spring uprising possible.
Glory be to God indeed. Amen.