Human Flourishing

Whether you think Genesis 1 is a literal narrative story or a symbolic depiction of the Earth’s beginnings, you cannot deny that Genesis 1 beautifully illustrates the incredible nature of the Creator and his desire for his creation to thrive.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Genesis 1:1-2

At the start of this seven-day creation story, we receive an image of our world that is slightly different than how we know it today.  The descriptors “formless and empty” contrast with our understanding of a concrete earth filled with all things tactile.  In the ancient Israelite context, these descriptors would give a clear image to the world before life inhabited it.  Israel lived right next to a vast land that, to their perspective, looked “formless and empty” because of the sandy dunes constantly taking new shapes with the wind and seeing nothing to fill the landscape except the dry, parched particles of land blowing every which way.  Of course, I am describing the desert that marks some of the Middle Eastern landscape, where ancient Israel resided.

Another descriptor that lies in seemingly direct contrast to this desert landscape is “the waters.”  If “formless and empty” bring about the image of a barren, dry desert, how are there waters on the surface of the world?  Similar to their inability to inhabit the desert for an extended period of time, ancient Israelites did not venture into the sea often.  Throughout the rest of the Torah, the authors reveal that the Israelites were not a sea-faring people; they acquired new lands exclusively on foot.  Therefore, the combination of “formless and empty,” “darkness,” and “the waters” to describe the surface of the earth gave a clear message to the Israelites: the earth was not inhabitable for humans prior to God’s Spirit transforming the landscape.

Therefore, the next seven days show the story of God transforming the earth from chaos into order; from a world incapable of fostering life to the perfect dwelling place for his creation.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’  And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”
Genesis 1:3-5

On the first day, God took another aspect of human uninhabitability, “darkness,” and turned it into a vital part of human flourishing.  God did not create the Sun on this day, which was what I assumed this passage meant for a long time because I understand light coming from the Sun.  This is not how ancient Israelites understood the world.  Instead, God creates a natural rhythm for humans to live by: day and night.  This is an aspect of order in the world because we can trust that every morning, the light will turn night to day, and every evening, the day will retire to night.  This reliable rhythm was established on the first day as the first step God takes to create a world designed specifically for human prosperity.

“And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.’  So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it.  And it was so.  God called the expanse ‘sky.’  And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

“And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’  And it was so.  God called the dry ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters he called ‘seas.’  And God said that it was good.

“And God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’  And it was so.  The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.  And God said that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.”
Genesis 1:6-13

The second day is a bit odd to our modern, science-based sensibilities.  This passage assumes the understanding that the sky is blue because of the water above it, evidenced by the occasional trickle that comes down in the form of what we call “rain.”  This is ancient Israelite meteorology in a sense.  This again is another step God takes to produce order in the world by creating a space (quite literally) for humans to live.

The third day continues this trend by creating the literal ground we walk on.  Notice, though, the specific types of vegetation called to grow on the earth from God: “seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it.”  Where are all of the deciduous trees or the coniferous trees or even the flowers?  The main reason for omitting these other forms of green, in my opinion, is to emphasize the steps God takes to create this world for humans to thrive.  Just a bit later in the chapter, God assigns seed-bearing plants and their fruits as food for humans, which explains their importance and therefore specific reference by God on the third day.

“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.’  And it was so.  God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.  He also made the stars.  God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.  And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

“And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.’  So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.  And God saw that it was good.  God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’  And there was evening and there was morning—the fifth day.

“And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.’  And it was so.  God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds.  And God saw that it was good.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.

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

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’

“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it.  They will be yours for food.  And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’  And it was so.

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.”
Genesis 1:14-31

Ok that was a big chunk of scripture.  Let’s break it down.

There is an inherent symmetry and order to this chapter that further reflects God’s plan to create human flourishing from the dark, chaotic depths.  Days 1-3 set up a space in some part of this earthly experience, and days 4-6 serve to fill the spaces.  On day 1, God created day and night, so on day 4, the Sun, moon, and stars were created to fill those spaces.  On day 2, the sky was created, so on day 5, the birds of the air were created to inhabit the large expanse, and the fish were created to fill the seas (which received a name on day 3 most likely because of the need of a distinction between the land and water).  Lastly, on day 3, the land was created, so on day 6, the beasts of the earth were created to fill the space.

At the end of all of this creation, humans are presented as the crown jewel of God’s creation, made in his image.  We were created to be the blessing on this earth; to rule and subdue it and bring about more life because of our unique ability to create, given to us by none other than the Creator himself.

By the time humans are on the scene in this story, God has sufficiently created a world made for humans.  When first there was darkness and watery expanses, God gave light to the world and created a space that not only allows for but greatly encourages human thriving.  Humans had but to walk a few feet and food would drop from the trees for them to eat.  They lived in total abundance and ease.

This idyllic scene is quite profound to me.  It is no mistake that God designed his creation as vegan: living solely on plants for food.  This is because the ideal world for humans exists without death, so it would follow that nothing has to die for another thing to gain life or nourishment.  This vision of peace and abundant life flowing from the earth was glimpsed in the vision of Ezekiel, who prophesied about the new creation like a river flowing from the temple to the Dead Sea to bring forth life where there was once death (Ezekiel 47).  Also, Isaiah illustrated his vision of the new creation as going back to the Garden of Eden where “the wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 65:25).  These are images that speak back to Genesis 1:29-30, in which death had no part in the daily life of God’s creation.

This is a key aspect of the vegan diet: death does not have a role in my eating choices, and in this fallen, broken world, veganism is a small way of showing compassion to God’s creation, which we have no right to forsake.

I also find that veganism will go well for you since most modern diseases need not even exist in the midst of a vegan diet.  It seems that holding the principles God created in the first six days is also the keys today for human flourishing.

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