Today we begin a 6 week series entitled Fight. Over the next 6 weeks we will take a survey throughout all of the Scriptures, from the beginning of the story of God in Genesis, through the Old Testament, to the New Testament and ending in the New Testament book of Revelation. During our series we will explore questions such as: What does the Bible say about warfare and violence? Can a Christian use violence? Go to war? Kill in self-defense? Why does the Old Testament seem to present violence in a positive light while the New Testament seems more negative? Do we kill our enemies (Joshua) or love them (Jesus)?
No doubt that as we sit here around this room and listen to these questions, we all come at these topics probably from varying degrees of differences. But I am hoping that in the midst of differences, that during our time together over the next 6 weeks we can wrestle together with the Scriptures and with each other and come out stronger as a community for it. My prayer is that we would take a hard look at the Scriptures, and at Jesus to see what he might say about these questions that we’ll explore. My prayer is also that in our times of discussion that we can be open, honest, and loving to each other even (or especially) when we might disagree with each other. My prayer is that our discussions will be filled not with “fighting” but with mutual respect, love, and a desire for all of us to grow deeper in our journeys with Jesus.
So this first week of our series we will start where the story of God begins, in the book of Genesis, and we’ll explore the idea of what God’s original intention for all of his creation (which includes humans, animals and the creation that is all around us) was (and I still believe is his continuing intention for all of creation). Before we get to all those questions that we asked earlier, I believe we need to understand God and his intention from the beginning of why he created humanity and all of creation since that will give us some foundation for our later discussions of how to live out his original intention in the world.
I believe his original intention for his creation can be best summed up in the Hebrew word Shalom. Shalom is the word that we find when we see the word peace in the Scriptures. But what does Shalom actually mean? Is it just the absence of war or conflict or is there more to it? Shalom can be best described as well being, wholeness, perfection of God’s creation, prosperity, peace, fullness, abundance, joy and harmony. Or think of it this way, Shalom is the way things are supposed to be.
Let’s look at the first few chapters of Genesis and see where we find God’s original intention of Shalom popping up, and see what it might say to us gathered together today about living out Shalom and God’s original intention in our own, at times, violent world.
In Genesis 1 and 2 we read the story of creation. In Genesis 1:1-2 we read these words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” So we see earth being without form, empty, and dark. Some have even termed this as chaos. That the earth was in chaos.
The rest of chapter 1 and 2 describe God creating everything, giving the earth and his creation form and substance, light, and moving from empty to filling it with every good thing. We see God creating light, water, ground, plants, animals, creatures, and ending up his creating by creating humankind. God creates everything in Genesis 1 and 2 and he brings order (or Shalom) out of Chaos. Genesis 1 and 2 paint a picture of Shalom. That from the beginning, God wanted Shalom to permeate his creation on every level. Genesis 1 witnesses to life as peaceable. Creation is formed without conflict or opposition to God. This totally differs from other creation accounts and stories from the Ancient Near East which usually had conflict right at its heart. Creation, according to the Bible, is not formed with or through violence. This story in Genesis 1 and 2 begins with the portrayal of Gods’ creative, life-giving power. God brings goodness, shalom, wholeness out of the void of chaos. The ‘miracle’ of creation in Genesis 1 is not God creating matter out of nothing (though that is certainly amazing) nearly so much as God creating wholeness out of chaos. Bringing shalom from chaos. And so we see that Genesis 1 and 2 establishes this world that we live in as founded on peace, not violence. Peace is then our default position.
We continue to see shalom all throughout chapter 2 where God interacts with Adam and Eve. We see this idea of wholeness and the way things are supposed to be when it says that the couple were naked and knew no shame. That they were in the Garden, in perfect harmony with each other, with the entire creation that was teeming with life all around them, and with God as well. That they could walk in the cool of the day with God, being totally free and unhindered. That perfect harmony was a reality. Humans with Humans. Animals with Animals. Creation with animals and humans. And all of Creation (Animals, Humans, Creation) with our maker, God. One can’t begin to understand shalom without first understanding or accepting the fact that God is creator. In the beginning, creation was perfect. All things were planned in proper order and relationships by the Creator. God called it all good.
In Genesis 1:26-27 we read these deeply impactful words describing humankind, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Here is where we get the theological concept and idea of what is called the Imago Dei, or the Image of God. That each and every person who has ever walked the face of this planet, including you and I, are and have been created in the image of God. That part of God’s image has been implanted in ours. Has been rubbed off of God onto us. If we know this, that we are created in the image of God, and then look back to Genesis 1:1-2 where he begins creating out of chaos to wholeness, we get a glimpse of what God might want from us. If we are made in the image of God who brought wholeness (shalom) from chaos, then don’t we have the same ability within us? Human beings, like God, have the power to fashion wholeness out of chaos, peace out of alienation, harmony out of disharmony. Now this ability to bring shalom is confirmed in the New Testament where is says, “Blessed are the peacemakers” which could be translated Shalom-makers. This isn’t to say that we can bring about full Shalom, only God can do that. But that we have the ability to participate with God in his shalom-making in the world. To bring peace to a world that desperately needs it. To bring Shalom between people in conflict. To bring Shalom to the creation that is all around us. To bring shalom into all of our relationships. But there is a problem. And we find that problem in Genesis 3.
Genesis 3 is the account of Adam and Eve in the garden and what theologians sometimes call The Fall. In Genesis 3 we read the account of Adam and Eve choosing their own way instead of God’s way, Genesis 3:1-7, the account of the fall reads this way, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Here we see that shalom is now broken. The wholeness, the peace, the harmony that existed in the garden up to this moment was broken. You can’t understand shalom without also understanding and accepting the fall. In Genesis 1 and 2 we see God creating order out of Chaos and then in Genesis 3 we see humankind taking that order and reverting it back to chaos. We see enmity, strife, and violence taking the place of shalom. We see people choosing chaos and violence instead of shalom. We see people choosing their own way instead of the shalom way of God. But just because shalom was broken doesn’t mean that it didn’t continue to exist or be possible. In fact throughout much of the beginning chapters of the book of Genesis we see mankind choosing the way of violence while God continues to call out for shalom. God’s original intention for humanity was and continues to be shalom-peace and not violence. And Genesis and the Old Testament move towards this goal.
God chose shalom when he provided Adam and Eve with animal skins to cover their nakedness, even after Adam and Eve chose their own way. God chose shalom by sending them out of the garden, but by also going with them. And God continues throughout Genesis to choose and live out shalom, and calling his creation to live it out was well.
In Genesis 4 we find the first act of violence between humankind. We find the story of Cain killing his brother Abel, and in the midst of this violence we find God calling for Shalom- peace. In Genesis 4:8-16 we read, “ Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.”
God’s response to Cain’s killing is not to kill him but by placing a mark on Cain so that no one else will take vengeance on him. God responses to the first murder, the first act of violence, not with more violence but with grace. A visible presentation of shalom.
As we have seen in these early chapters of Genesis, the beginning of the story of God, lay out pretty clearly, in my estimation, that God’s original intention of his creation (animals, people, creation) is for shalom. Early chapters of Genesis celebrate peace while showing disdain for violence among humans, even as “just” punishment for a killer. God stepping into the chaos of the world and creating order, harmony, and shalom. God meeting humankind with shalom when we chose our own way. God protecting and showing a killer shalom and not vengeance. The early accounts in Genesis including the Creation is the establishment of shalom in a universe that apart from God’s role is disordered, unproductive, and unfulfilling.
So what does it mean to you and I today that the first four chapters of Genesis- the story of God- lays out God’s original intention for his creation- and his original intention is shalom? Where do you need God’s shalom in your life? How do you need God to step into your chaos and bring his shalom into it? What does it look like for you and I, as image bearers, to step into the chaos and work for shalom in all of our relationships and within creation? How can our community here be shalom-makers in the place that God has put us? These are the questions that we are going to unpack together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc..do you have regarding the Scriptures and/or the message?
2. Where do you need God’s shalom in your life? How do you need God to step into your chaos and bring his shalom into it?
3. What does it look like for you and I, as image bearers, to step into the chaos and work for shalom in all our relationships and in creation? How can our community here be shalom makers in the place that God has put us?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?