BEIJING CITIZENS SELDOM SEE THE SUN
GENESIS 1 (translated by John Darby as revised by me)
14 And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens, to divide between the day and the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years;
15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens, to give light on the earth. And it was so.
16 And God made the two great lights, the great light to rule the day, and the small light to rule the night,—and the stars.
17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens, to give light on the earth,
18 and to rule during the day and during the night, and to divide between the light and the darkness. And God saw that it was good.
19 And there was evening, and there was morning—a fourth day.
20 And God said, Let the waters swarm with swarms of living souls, and let birds fly above the earth in the expanse of the heavens.
21 And God created the great sea monsters, and every living soul that moves with which the waters swarm, after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind. And God saw that it was good.
22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.
23 And there was evening, and there was morning—a fifth day.
I’m afraid that readers who want continuity will have to start reading at blog 1612 to get the full sequence.
I noted yesterday that the process of creation imagined in Genesis proceeds from an undifferentiated chaos by means of God’s encouragement (Let there be…) towards order, form and difference. Here the process continues with the creation of the sun , moon, stars and planets. In the development of ancient cosmology the heavenly bodies had often been described by myths, identifying them with Gods or giving them control over earthly events. This author demythologises them: they are simply bodies in the sky giving light and enabling human beings to measure time. The sky is a dome into which these lights are fixed like electric bulbs in a ceiling socket.
This day concludes the preparation of the universe to host life. The science available to the author understood that the physical earth and its system of light had to exist before life. Well, not uite, seeing vegetation had already been assigned to the third day! So, perhaps this science didn’t see vegetation as the same sort of life as insects, animals, fish an birds. This is also evident in that God blesses the mobile creatures but not the vegetation.
In the development of life on earth according to Genesis, the vegetation is first followed by the creatures of the sea and the sky. Darby’s translation rightly keeps the word “soul” (Hebrew: nephesh) to describe animals. It means a living, sentient being. We shall see that human being is described with the same word. There is a crucial difference between animals and humans in the Genesis account but it is not that animals are not souls. This may be an important point in any discussion of the Bible’s view of animals.
Again in days four and five, the author emphasises that creation is good; and as noted, day five contains the first blessing of the Bible. The newly created animals are both blessed (given God’s favour) and commanded to reproduce. The reproductive fruitfulness of creatures is commanded by God; it is an instance of God’s wisdom.
Theologians down the centuries have talked about “original sin” referring to the events of Genesis chapter 3, but more recently, some dissenters have noted that God’s blessing is original; it is there with the gift of life. Life starts in goodness and the favour of God; and any denigration of it is a denigration of God.(Readers interested in following up this thought should try “creation theology” in google.) It may be that human beings are always in rebellion against the blessing of God, but that does not remove the blessing upon them and certainly does not affect God’s blessing on other creatures.
We should notice that “God” is completely undefined except by his/her actions. This reticence makes its own statement: God is not to be confused with human words about him/her. God will be depicted as doing and saying, but these human words merely point in the direction of One who is beyond all words.
14 But after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the glad tidings of the kingdom of God,
15 and saying, The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has drawn near; change your ways and believe in the glad tidings.
16 And walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon, and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting out a net in the sea, for they were fishers.
17 And Jesus said to them, Come after me, and I will make you become fishers of men;
18 and straightaway leaving their trawl-nets they followed him.
19 And going on thence a little, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, and these were in the ship repairing the trawl-nets;
20 and straightaway he called them; and leaving their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, they went away after him.
Where does Jesus come from? The obvious answer is Nazareth. But in Mark’s gospel he appears alomost if from nowhere to be baptised and the makes his way to Galilee. Mark frequently creates little cross-references between the beginning and the end of his gospel. We can note that the women at the tomb are told that Jesus is going to Galilee ahead of his disciples, and here in chapter 1 we see Jesus going into Galiliee and calling his disciples. Where does this mysterious Jesus really come from? In John’s gospel this same issue arises with the question as to where Jesus “dwells” and he invites his first disciples to “come and see.” In this Gospel, from the start, Jesus is the crucified and risen rescuer of human beings.
Mark’s version of Jesus’ preaching is clear:
1. The promised time of God’s rule on earth has arrived. God is at your door. Through ages of defeat and oppression the Jewish people had trusted that “one day” God would show his hand and rule the earth by his justice.
2. In face of God’s imminent arrival, people should “change their ways”, turning towards the God who has turned towards them. The Greek verb “metanoiein” used to be translated “repent”, but this does not do justice the Hebrew verb “shuv” to turn, which is the equivalent term in the Old Testament. If God knocks at the door, you turn from other concerns towards the one who is asking entry.
3. But when you turn and meet the one who arrives, you need faith (trust) because he may not look like your picture of God.
The calling of the first disciples illustrates this. Jesus arrives and simply commands the fishemen to follow him. He will go ahead, announcing the arrival of God’s rule, but he needs followers. If he is God’s Son why does he need anyone? Surely he can do it on his own! This is the second great surprise of the Gospel: God needs help to bring his goodness to people.
The fishermen show that they believe the glad tidings; they turn their lives around and go with Jesus.
At the begnning of 2015, this gospel challenges me. Which way am I facing, towards God’s goodness or away from it? Of course I want God’s goodness. But do I want it enough to start out on another trek in the wake of that vagabond and intemperate preacher from Nazareth? I’m reminded of the great hymn by John Bell and Graham Maule.”Inspired by love and anger.” of which the last four lines read:
A saviour without safety
a tradesman without tools
has come to tip the balance
with fishermen and fools.
That’s a neat way of interpreting this passage from Mark.