Harrowing Of Hell
September 13, 2023

Blog Post: Beginning and Blessing

We start our reading in Genesis with the creation story. The authors of Genesis were not attempting to write a historical or scientific record but were seeking to answer the questions that have been asked through the ages by all cultures – how did we get here and what does it all mean. The Hebrew people answered these questions with a story that proclaimed that it all matters because God is at the center of all it. The Bible starts with a story of creative energy, growth, and the evolution from nothingness to being. God is not passive, impassionate, or far away. God is entangled with his creation and his people.

God sees all that was and declared that it was good five times. After the sixth day, he declares that it was very good. We must embrace the truth that this life that God gave us is in its essence very good. It is what Matthew Fox calls the Original Blessing. It seems like Christians want to start our story in Genesis Chapter 3 focused on disobedience and tragedy. This is not the beginning. The beginning is the blessings and goodness of our created world and the relationship that God desires to have with it.

Augustine would later label the disobedience as “Original Sin.” This focus on original sin shifted the arc of the story of God and humanity. Instead of understanding the goal of our relationship with God to be at-one-ment or unity with God and divine purpose, theologians set upon telling a story that begins with the deep problem of sin and separation from God and is only solved by the substitutionary sacrifice (propitiation for the word nerds) of Jesus. This theology goes something like this . . . God loved man. Man sinned. God was so righteous that he could not be in the presence of sin. A great chasm was created between God and man. Jesus was sent by God the Father to be tortured and killed by crucifixion to pay for our sins. His death made it so we can be with God again.

Maybe you have heard this before. This atonement theory is very popular in certain circles. But, not all Christians believe this. What if instead the narrative is that God created the world and it was good. God dwelled with humans because relationship is what God is about. And yes, humans lost sight of God and replaced God with pursuit of their own desires, which as we will see over and over (and maybe know from experience) didn’t turn out so well. As we got further and further down human history, people forgot what it was to have an intimate relationship with and knowledge of God. God came to be among us as Jesus not to be tortured as a substitute victim for us but to show us who God was and to show us how to live in relationship and how to live the blessed life for which we were predestined. Jesus died because as God, he did not deny humanity the freedom to deny God, which put him in the crosshairs of those who wanted to be god, as opposed to be in relationship with God. Jesus’s death on the cross was inevitable because of God’s absolute commitment to freedom as a fundamentally necessary aspect of personhood, so that love may be realized and shared. Jesus died on the cross because he was teaching a message that was (and still is) dangerous. What made it dangerous then and now is that it is all about love, which, at the agape level, is about giving away one’s advantage, privilege and pleasure in favor of another’s preference… in the world of humanity this is radically dangerous. In the kingdom of God, it is the best life – love people not status, not power, not status quo. The message was to love people and live in relationship with God and our neighbor. Jesus shows that everything in creation is a cycle of death and resurrection. This is the cycle of life. Jesus promises that we will partake of this resurrection too.

The way that we understand who God is and God’s intention with and for humanity will shape the way we understand creation and the story of the Hebrew people.