The stories we believe about ourselves, the world and the way we live function like a power source that shapes what we do and how we go about it.
One of my favourite photographs is of a bombed-out library during the blitz. The roof has fallen in and the floor is strewn with rubble. It is the nation’s darkest hour. And yet… there are people standing in the ruins, oblivious to the potential of further collapse, looking at the books that remain undisturbed on the shelves.
When people are at war they focus on the things they must have to keep going. And stories provide us with one of those things. They lift our lives out of the horror. In our imaginations we travel to new worlds and for fleeting moments take on alternative identities, with a fresh sense of hope and purpose.
However, stories are not just useful in a crisis. We were created to see our everyday lives as part of a greater plot line. Our lives are guided, consciously or not, by the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, where we have come from and where we are going. When we adopt a story and identify deeply with it, it has a powerful effect on the way we live our lives.
So, the pressing question becomes: what story are you living by?
It should not be surprising to find that the good God of the Bible provides us with the most fulfilling, exciting and satisfying story that has ever been created. And the most remarkable part is that we are invited to be part of it.
Like any good story the first few scenes are particularly important. They provide hints and clues that develop more fully as the plot line unfolds. If we miss them we may never fully grasp the breadth or depth of the story as a result.
This is exactly how the first two chapters of Genesis work. They contain a mixture of hints, clues and more direct statements that shape the themes that reoccur as the drama is played out through the rest of the scriptures.
In this short post there’s just space to touch on three key elements.
First, Genesis 1 reads as the story of the creation of a temple. This is how it is understood in multiple occasions in the rest of the OT. Moreover, recent studies of other creation myths from ancient near eastern cultures also make it clear that when God comes to “rest” (Gen 2:2,3) then He typically does so in a temple. This is what the cosmos is meant to be. A place for God to fill with His presence and dwell in.
Second, the garden is part of creation, but not the whole of creation. There is land that has been created outside the garden. So we read that Eden is “in the east” (2:8). It is not in the west, in the north nor in the south. There is also a river that waters the garden and then leaves it, separating into several rivers that flow through other lands (Gen 2:10-14).
Thirdly, the land beyond the garden provides the context for the command given to Adam and Eve “to fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). This is not simply to fill the earth with their offspring but to take the raw potential of the garden and develop it so that the earth is a place filled with the sort of culture that leads to the flourishing of humanity and consequently the glorifying of God.
We see the first examples of this within a few chapters as musical instruments, metal work and poetry are first described (Gen 4:21, 22, 23f). None of these are found in the initial creation accounts. Rather, Adam and Eve and their progeny have taken the inherent potential of creation and started, “filling the earth” with things that could add to the richness of what already existed.
From these three hints we see the shape of the story starting to develop. We have been made by a good God, to co-partner with Him in His task of filling the earth with His glory.
There will be further important elements to come but what’s starting to become clear is that a significant part of our role is to draw out the potential of the garden in such a way that does everyone good and glorifies Him.
This is the story that we are invited to enter and make our own.
It is the most fulfilling story that exists for it puts serving God and others at the heart of what we do. Our drive for influence, power and making money do not disappear but are re-formed as we see them serve a greater purpose than self-advancement.
It is the most exciting story that exists: we are no longer defined by the limitations of our background or ability but are invited to embrace the extraordinary opportunities that come through trusting God for all that we need to do what He wants.
It is the most satisfying story: at its centre is the opportunity to know God and take His presence with us until one day it fills the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14).
So make this story your own: let the artist paint, the nurse care, the author write and the educator teach. Let the banker bank and the street sweeper clean, let us all care for the vulnerable and fight for justice and let us do it for the benefit of others and the glory of God.