I am starting a new Bible reading plan for the year, and so I am back to Genesis. Reading through the rich text of Genesis 1 again I am seeing some things I hadn’t really noticed before. Consider the following (with my emphasis added):
“Then God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them‘; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.
“God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’“
“Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind‘; and it was so. God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.”
Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it….'”
I color-coded the various provisions that form the pattern that informs my thinking today. The provisions in each color correspond with the other provisions of the same color.
Now, let me see if I can put all my thoughts together in a coherent whole.
First of all, God ordered (in the sense of designed) all living beings to multiply after they own kind. We see this everywhere in nature: apple trees bear seeds that grow into new apple trees; asparagus plants bear seeds that grow into new asparagus plants; lions beget lions; polar bears beget polar bears; yellow polka dotted salamanders beget yellow polka dotted salamanders; bluefin tuna beget bluefin tuna; and purple finches beget purple finches.
This is the order of living things. Not only that, but we now know that something (call it evolution or something else) works powerfully within living beings to reproduce and even to adapt with changes over time.
Every living thing bears seed or otherwise reproduces more of its kind. Human beings included, but only humans are made in the image of God. (Hold that thought.)
God “blessed” the living things He created, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply” and fill the earth. (Gen. 1:22) He also blessed man who He made in His own image, and gave similar orders: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it….” (Gen. 1:28)
Note that God “ordered” (as in designed) the living things He created to reproduce after their kinds and to be fruitful and multiply, but God ordered (as in not only designed, but commanded) man to do the same. The difference is an important key to understanding what God is doing.
Unlike the other living creatures which are designed to reproduce and multiply after their kinds, humans have some agency in the matter. God designed them for the same purpose, but He also commanded them to do it because humans are created in the image of God who has agency – the ability to exercise will and to do (or not do) things.
Humans, of course, had no choice in their creation, but they do have choice in whether to “participate in God’s design” and how they would participate in God’s design. This choice was demonstrated in the one tree in the garden that was forbidden to them.
It was a real choice, and it had real consequences. It had to have real consequences or it wouldn’t have been a real choice. That choice was part of what it meant to be made in the image of God. Without the ability to choose, humans would have been just like the other living things God created. The ability to choose set humans apart.
As the story goes, humans ate the fruit of the one tree that was forbidden.
They exercised the choice God gave them. In eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, humans opened up their world to all the ways they might choose to go against the order of creation.
Throughout Genesis 1, we read over and over again that what God did “was good” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). If what God designed was good, choosing to operate counter to that design would be evil (the opposite of good).
None of this is very revelatory so far, but I am getting there.
Genesis 1 reminds me of 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul says:
God gives [all living things] a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.
1 Corinthians 15:38-39
The order/design of life – of reality – is immutable. Life is ordered the way God created it, though humans have some choice (within limits) of whether to align with God’s design or to buck against it. Indeed, the story of the fall is the story of humans exercising that choice and of an adaptation that God built into His design to accomplish His ultimate plan.
We are told that the entire creation has been subjected to futility and groans, waiting to be freed from the futility to which it has been subjected. (Romans 8:20, 22) Not only does the creation groan, “but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom. 8:23)
What’s with the groaning and adoption as sons, and how is this all linked together?
We are at the center of this story God has created. Humans tilted God’s world on its side, knocking it out of whack by exercising the choice given them to go their own way, but God certainly knew what humans would do with that choice.
Just as the life God ordered is robust – able to reproduce itself and to adapt to change – the universe, itself, and His plan is robust with an adaptation built into it to achieve the fulfillment of God’s ultimate design.
In fact, the agency God gave humans is part of the robust design in His plan. God gave humans the keys to participate in recreating the universe.
God Himself initiated the process by becoming one of us, dying in human form and rising from the dead. This was done according to the order of things as God created them. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15 again, opening more of it up:
What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another.
1 Corinthians 15:36-41
Here Paul introduces some new concepts that flow with and from the previous ones. Paul introduces the ideas of heavenly bodies and earthly bodies which are other “kinds” of bodies.
He also picks up on how the order of life works: seeds must die, in effect, to become the potentiality for which God designed them. If they don’t fall to the ground, become buried and “die”, they remain only a seed. Paul is echoing Jesus here, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it only remains a single seed.” (John 12:24)
Going back to the story, God tells humans that they “will return to the ground since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19) (Star dust in fact) Such are our “earthly” bodies – like all the earthly bodies God made from the dust (space/time and matter).
But Paul introduces the idea of “heavenly bodies”, and the birth of those heavenly bodies follows a familiar pattern – God’s order and design for life:
“So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
1 Corinthians 15:42-49
God has built into the design of life for humans a process of adaptation – a way for one kind of body to become another kind of body: an earthly body can become a heavenly body. He demonstrated that Himself in the person of Jesus, who died and was resurrected.
But one kind begets the same kind, right? How does one kind beget another kind?
Jesus was fully God and fully man. He was God introducing Himself into the world in an earthly body. He suffused the earthly and the heavenly together. Not simply made from dust, but having in his body the seed of the heavenly, Jesus introduced an adaptation that may be reproduced in all humans who are “in” Christ.
By dying in the earthly body, as a kernel of wheat “dies” by falling to the ground and being buried, Jesus demonstrated how the earthly body becomes a heavenly one – how this earthly “kind” of body was intended to become a heavenly kind of body.
Only it isn’t in us to become a heavenly body. We are from dust and to dust we will return unless we are born into the life that produces the heavenly body. “[T]here is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:44) “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:6) One kind produces its own kind.
Thus, Jesus said, “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:7)
How are we born again? How do we obtain this seed that will die as a kernel in order that it may grow into the heavenly body from which the seed is reproduced?
We must be united to/in Christ – the One who is of the kind that is able to reproduce itself in humans. We must be “impregnated” (if you will) by the seed of “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.” (From the Apostles Creed)
When Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20), he is talking about this impregnation – this rebirth. This is the divine plan, the divine order that God intended.
Just as one kind of living being begets its own kind, humans were made in the image of God. We were made to be reproduced after God’s kind.
But humans were also made from the dust, and to dust they will return unless they join their earthly bodies to the heavenly kind. Humans must exercise the agency God gave them – that ability to choose which is part of what it means to be made in God’s image.
Though made from dust (Ecc. 3:20), “God set eternity in the human heart”. (Ecc. 3:11) Why?
So that humans would seek Him for whom they were made. (Acts 17:27) Humans of all the living beings God created have this potentiality that may be realized only by the agency God gave us. Humans must choose to join their earthly bodies with the heavenly kind. That is done by allowing God to impregnate us with His heavenly seed and dying to the earthly body that will fall away like a cocoon for the butterfly.
This is nothing we do, other than to yield to God and allow Him to have His way in us. It’s a the life that God gives us.
“[T]to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Christ resonates with the desire for eternity God set in humans hearts, but humans have to “let Him in”.
If humans “let Him in”, His seed takes root in us. At the moment of receiving Him, we are “born again”, and His seed begins to grow in us. For this reason, Paul says, Christ in you is the hope of glory. This seed is the potentiality of a heavenly body.
From there, the process must play out. God’s life in us must take hold. We have some agency in that, also. God works within us (Phil. 2:13), but we must work out the new life growing within us. (Phil. 2:12) We must nurture it. We have agency in this because God made us in His image to be like Him – having agency like Him.
And this is all part of God’s grand design: God’s entire creation awaits with eager anticipation the adaptation and transformation of humans from dust to spirt, from earthly bodies to heavenly bodies. Thus Paul says:
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
This is God’s plan and his order for the life and universe He created. Human beings are unique in our ability to participate willingly in that design and order of things.
This article only really scratches the surface of the various facets of God’s order and design and our place in it. It’s a slightly different view of things, linking together Genesis and 1 Corinthians in a way I hadn’t seen before.