If we think about God as creator we are often tempted to think of his action as a single event, perhaps as causing something like the Big Bang, which brings into being a Universe that goes its own way from then on. The Universe and God then relate to one another in a completely different way, they are separate from one another and God tries, perhaps, to steer it but cannot completely control it, as he could when he was deciding whether to bring it into being, a bit like a parent who can decide whether to have a child but who has to accept that the child will live, ultimately, as they will.
Hearing the story of creation, as we have this morning, should prevent us from accepting this view. In it God shapes creation gradually, with each step building on previous steps. Light and water are there from the beginning, land is separated and vegetation brought forth from it, water and land are populated with living creatures. At each stage God sees that what has come into being is good and goes on to do more. It is a process, a series of actions and reactions and at its climax comes the final act of creation: God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.
We aren’t told anything about what God might be like separated from creation, nor about any reason there might be for creation. What we hear is about God’s activity and about God’s judgement, that it was very good.
It is natural and right for us to ask about the purpose of creation, since the purposes of our own lives can’t be found apart from it and it is obvious that, for those of us who have faith in God, the purpose of creation must be related to God’s purposes. So to understand what our lives are all about we have to ask what God was, or perhaps is, up to in bringing us and everything else into being.
And that, of course, is where things get really difficult. If there’s one thing we can deduce about God from the Bible it is that while we may be made in his image he is definitely very different from us. He is not simply a bigger, better, more powerful version of a human being, however tempting it may be for us to think of him like that. God is mysterious and other than us, of a different kind altogether.
Yet God also made us for relationship with him and as, somehow, like him, in his image. We are to represent him in creation and he, we say, has revealed himself through his relationship with Israel and through his incarnation in Jesus, both recorded and reflected upon in the Bible, and through this revelation we are given some insight into his nature and his purposes.
So what do we gather, from all of this, about what God means to do in creation, and about our own part in it?
First that it is made good, harmonious, and peaceful. It is not often enough remarked upon that in the creation story all the animals, including human beings, have a vegetarian diet. The ideal that this story presents is one in which nature is not “red in tooth and claw”. The animals all live on “every green plant” as verse 30 says. This completely non-violent state of being is referred to again in Isaiah’s famous image of the kingdom to come being one where the lamb will lie down with the lion. So God’s purpose is for peace and harmony.
Secondly, and related to that, God’s purpose is that creation should be in contact with him, that he and the creatures should be connected, above all through human beings. This is what it means to say that we are God’s image. Human beings are to “rule over” all the creatures on behalf of God. This does not mean we are to exploit or to kill, after all God says to the people he has created: “I give you every seed-bearing plant … every tree that has fruit … They will be yours for food”. The kind of rule God has in mind is one that will be in the service of the ones ruled, not those ruling. As Jesus says: “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant” a lesson he illustrated by washing the feet of the disciples at the last supper. In God’s purpose the one with power uses it for the good of others, not for him or herself.
Which brings us to the heart of God’s revelation to us of his will and purpose, the great dual commandment of love which Jesus takes from the Old Testament and restates as the centre of what we receive from Israel and from him. Love of God and love of neighbour are what is demanded of us, love itself is the goal and purpose of our lives as the core of the relationship between God and creation. Love is God’s motive and God’s purpose, in fact, as the apostle John writes: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love”.
To get at what God’s purposes are in creation we need to look both at the Genesis account to see that this purpose is to be in a loving relationship with a good world and at the promises given to the prophets and in Jesus that despite all the difficulties and complexities of the lives we live that purpose is being and will be fulfilled.
The story that the Bible tells describes how God has repeatedly been disappointed by the way that violence and sin enters in, when we seek purposes and identities separate and distinct from that of being God’s image, serving as stewards of creation and expressing love. When we seek after knowledge and power of our own, prioritise our own purposes and our own desires then, the Biblical faith warns us, conflict and disaster loom. From Cain’s murder of Abel, through the wickedness that led God to visit the great flood, to the repeated departures of Israel from the Law it had been given the Bible repeats the pattern of attempts to restore the relationship between God and creation through humanity which ultimately fail, only for God to find another way.
This struggle, to complete the work begun in the six days of the creation story, is the core of the Biblical narrative. What that tells us, however we interpret it, is that God’s involvement with us is ongoing, the process of forming us to be the image that is needed is not complete. God is still at work, bringing his good creation to fruition and we are called to be part of that work, through the love we feel and the love we express.