Genesis 2: Comparative Analysis of Terrence Fretheim and William Brown

Brown begins by showing the connection between humanity and humus.  All of humanity is connected to the ground from which they come.  They are “groundlings.”  This connection is more noticeable in the Hebrew in which Adam is only slightly different than the word for earth.  As such, Brown points out that humanity is not created in the imago Dei but in the imago terrae.  It is from this dust that God creates everything.  Rather than a powerfully cosmic God, we see a “God of the compost.”  God is intimately working in the “Garden of Plenty.”

Genesis 1 has the continual mantra “It is good.”  However, Genesis 2 moves against this pattern, saying, “It is not good.”  That is not to say that Creation is somehow poorly constructed.  Rather, it is not good because in some way the Creation does not fully reflect the nature of YHWH.  We soon find out this is because man is alone, which is not good.  God is a communal Being, as such, humanity is also communal.  Fretheim’s relational theology becomes quite helpful at this point in recognizing the connection between Creator and humanity.  The Creation is a community, but it is lacking in the fullest sense for the man without woman.  There is an unequal relationship between man and the other creatures.  This is demonstrated in Adam’s naming of the animals, while woman is not “named.”  It is only with woman that Adam proclaims that he has found his ezer kenigdo.

Fretheim notes that God allows the man to decide what is “adequate to move the evaluation of the creation from ‘not good’ to ‘good’” (Kindle location 1537).  In determining what is “fit for him,” God allows and invites freedom and real decisions on the part of humanity.  However, in discerning the issue of homosexuality, would Fretheim also say that this same reality would allow humanity to determine what is good, so that it might be changed?  Fretheim notes that the relationship is not purely sexual, but based also upon the equality between male and female.  So, are the options that God provides contained within certain boundaries?  How might we discuss issues of sexuality further, especially given the heated nature of the topic?

Fretheim’s framework of relational creation is decisively helpful in several ways.  First, it suggests that Creation is not static.  Rather, it is dynamic and subject to further development by other parts of the creation (i.e., humanity).  God creates a world full of potentialities.  Decisions of humanity opens and closes possibilities.  For instance, the narrative notes that no vegetation exists because man has not tilled the soil.  Not only is humanity brought into Eden, but they are invited to join in the creative process!

Fretheim addresses the issue of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  This prohibition is the Law which precedes sin.  In this way, creation’s capacity to create is shown to be derivative of God’s power to create.  There are limits or boundaries within which humanity is invited to work.  These boundaries of relationship provide life and blessing and fruitfulness of Creation.  To step outside of these boundaries is to no longer recognize their dependence upon God or the “proper use of power.”

Unfortunately, Brown spends most of his time discussing the science of origins rather than focusing on the text of Genesis.  Although they may not be mutually exclusive, the text should not be forced to say things that it is not concerned about.  The primary issue is theological and should remain so in our discussions of the text.  Fretheim integrates science into his discussion of the Genesis narratives; however, it is woven much more seamlessly in with the narratives of Genesis 1 and 2.  Thus, science and the text are given voice while maintaining respectful boundaries where they cannot speak.

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Depiction of God in Genesis 1 and 2

In Genesis 1, begins with the ruach of God hovering over the waters of pre-Creation.  The tohu wa bohu and the waters of pre-Creation represent chaos and the lack of life.  There is no “space” in which life can happen or be sustained.  Yet, God breathes into the chaos, separating waters from waters, and opening space (day 1-3 and 7?) in which life can be sustained.  God is Creator and Sustainer.  God is not a God of chaos but of order.  After each day of creating, God blesses that which was made.

On days 4-6, God fills the space that has been created.  In each of these spaces, God empowers part of the creation to “govern” over the space (i.e., Sun, moon and stars govern the seasons and day and night).  God creates humanity and sets them to govern over the entirety of Creation.  Although God is shown to have all the power, God empowers the Creation and shares power with the Creation.  The potential of Creation is not complete.  Rather, God invites the Creation to participate in fulfilling that potential.  This suggests that God desires response from the Creation.

Everything that God has created is good, nothing is bad.  God does not create evil or chaos, but creates order and proclaims it very good (blesses it).  The life of God is generative.  Thus, God’s command to the creation, “be fruitful and multiply”, reflects the character and nature of God.  Although the Creation cannot create ex nihilo, it is able to “create” its own kind (likeness).  Again, God shares God’s power with the Creation, which blesses and sustains life.

God blesses the Sabbath and makes it holy.  The first thing that humanity sees God doing in Genesis 1 is resting, not creating.  God invites the Creation to rest from its labors with its Creator.  God is not simply about accomplishing tasks, but about relating with God’s good Creation.

In Genesis 1, God is pictured as transcendent and, in many ways, separate from the Creation.  God stands outside of the system.  Genesis 2 paints a different portrait.  God is very much intimately and immanently involved with the Creation.  God breathes life into the man’s nostrils and formed all the living creatures from the ground, like a potter molding clay.

God brings the animals before Adam to see what he might name them.  If God does know what Adam is going to name the animals, yet acts like there is real freedom for Adam to choose, then God has set the world up in deceptive ways (the appearance of freedom without the reality is illusory).  But, if God truly doesn’t know what Adam will decide and God is truthful, then we must re-conceive God’s omniscience.

God knows everything that is knowable, which means that the future is not something that is knowable as a set of propositions.  The future is not knowable because it does not yet exist and is not knowable.  God truly waits to see what Adam will name the animals because God really doesn’t know!  God gives true freedom for decision (and consequence) to the created order.  God invites the creation to participate in what God is doing in the world.

In order for there to be freedom for humanity, there has to be the option to choose opposite of God’s desires.  Thus, God creates the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  It is still part of God’s good creation.  Within that good creation, God provides boundaries and great freedom within those boundaries (“eat of any tree, except this one”).  God outlines the consequences of disobedience.  But, in providing the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God also creates freedom for humanity to really choose to live in obedience and love God.  God’s love is not coercive.

In Genesis 1, God creates and proclaims it as “good.”  In Genesis 2 there is a reversal.  God says that it is “not good.”  Man is alone and God views it as “not good.”  That does not mean that God’s creation is bad but simply incomplete.  It is “not good” because Adam’s situation does not fully reflect God’s character and nature.  Thus, God creates Adam a help partner: woman.  Man was created for community because the very character and nature of God is communal!