Genesis, and Freedom (part 3)

Ethic: A Way of Life

[See Part 1 and Part 2]

A free life is the calling and birthright of humans. This right is given to us by God, who created us freely. But it’s harder than you think. To live out our freedom-identity, we need some kind of road map, we need a way of life to guide and sustain us. We need an ethic that gives shape to our freedom.

Genesis 1 gives us a clue, pointing us toward a way of life that has been set in motion by God. But it doesn’t come by way of verbal instruction, it’s more embedded in the text – like a design feature, an artistic vision.

In this first chapter of Genesis we see a demonstration of the beauty and order of God’s design. We can see it in the internal structure of the text, in the literary design. Check this out:

  • There are seven days in the creation narrative.
    • The first three deal with the major structural underpinnings of the universe and world: the bones.
    • Then the next three flesh it out.
  • There’s a nice parallel to each of these sets of three days.
    • On the first day, there was light; then on the fourth day, lights (in the sky: sun, moon and stars).
    • On the second day, the dome to “separate the waters from the waters”¹ to give form to sea and sky; then on the fifth day, fish and birds.
    • On the third day, land; and on the sixth day, animals and humans.

This is a nice layout. The author takes playful delight in the details and the symmetry, using the words to convey something of intentional design of God’s creation.

And after six days of active creating, God rests. The seventh day is the Sabbath. This is the crowning day of creation, and the day that lays the foundation for the way of life that leads to freedom.

  • On the Sabbath, we are to “cease and desist.”
    • Work matters; but in resting we allow our identity to be re-orientated.
    • We are not defined firstly by what we do, but by who we were made by.
  • On the Sabbath, we are to bless.
    • All the work that God had done was good and “very good.”
    • The Sabbath is for naming the good, for enjoying that which we have created and sweated for.
  • On the Sabbath, we get to celebrate.
    • The world that God created for us live in is abundant and beautiful and good.
    • You’re not free until you can enjoy the perks that freedom brings. Get this!

So we are called to a way of life that is orderly and beautiful, a way that prioritises and stands upon the concept of Rest. Maybe this seems like a strange starting point for ethic. But it is actually quite counter-cultural.

In looking to God who creates with order and beauty, and in choosing to enter the rest he has given to us, we actively take a stand against and renounce our own self-sufficiency. We cannot create freedom for ourselves; only God can. So in proactive resistance against all that pulling us in other directions, we cease from our need to accomplish, produce and succeed. For we trust that we find enough in God. And we embrace relationships with the rest of creation (which in God’s words is “good”) and especially so with humans (“very good”).

Through this lense of ordered beauty and of Sabbath, Genesis 1 shows us a way of life that is both simple and profound. The pathway to freedom can be found here.

¹ This references the ancient Jewish view of the universe which understood there to be ‘waters’ above all that we know of as the sky, above which is heaven where God dwells.

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© Tom Mepham 2023