An ad promoting a trip to Glacier National Park

Mention the word “creation” and we are likely to find ourselves in a discussion of evolution and some version of intelligent design, due to the persistence of the pseudo-conflict between science and religion.
Such arguments shortchange the profound biblical affirmation of the relation of Creator-creature-creation and the delicate interdependent balance that is the nature of the world.

It may seem strange to connect the way money has taken control of our political process with a biblical concept of creation.

After all, what does an ancient culture’s poetic response to the question of origins have to do with the incredible complexity of a modern economy?

But there has been something about the disorder reflected in our current economic chaos that has drawn me to the portrait of humanity’s foundation in the book of Genesis.

Reflecting on the idea of creation as bringing order out of chaos has led me to wonder if the Bible’s concept of creation might hold keys for bringing some order out of the economic chaos that has engulfed us of late.

Of course, we have to let the early part of Genesis be the theological affirmation that it is, rather than the scientific description that it isn’t.

Rather than speaking to the question of how and when the world began, it responds instead to the question: What does it mean to be a creature, in relationship with a Creator and with the rest of creation?

After the beautifully systematic introduction in chapter one, the ancient narrative that begins in chapter two portrays an interdependent system of Creator-creature-creation, with plenty of resources for an abundant life, with the simple directive to take care of the garden and each other, and to be content with life as a creature, not eating of the tree that would provide the knowledge of what God knows.

But we know the story: Unable to resist the temptation to be and have more than what was enough, the fruit of the tree that was beyond the creature’s domain was eaten, and the stage was set for the human journey through the destructive ages of greed and exploitation – Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph’s brothers, Pharaoh and the empire, even David and several other kings.

Set in a world that knew nothing of venture or vulture capitalism, hedge funds, super PACs and tax loopholes, the creation portraits suggest an order of life that puts its various dimensions in perspective.

Economic processes seem to be as old as civilization itself, and in and of themselves are neither good nor bad. But economic systems and processes can be used to serve goals that are healthy and promote the well being of a given society, or they can become tools of exploitation and greed, to the detriment of that society.

A biblical concept of creation suggests that the intended order of things is for the elements of life to function together in a harmonious interdependency, with each part playing its proper role, with the human creature having responsibility for “tending the garden,” that is, being a steward and taking care of the available resources, using them as needed to sustain life and providing for their replenishment to serve future generations.

Abundant resources are available to maintain the appropriate balance – what is required is good management of those resources and not their abuse.

As soon as anyone, any group or any empire decides to claim a share of those resources that is more than enough, someone else, some other group or some other empire suffers from a lack of enough; and the system that is designed to work breaks down.

Human history is the story of lapsing back into the chaos out of which a covenant community was created.

It happens whenever creation’s “theology of enough” is replaced by overly ambitious humanity’s “theology of more,” and that seems to know no age.

Perhaps there is good news in the open-endedness of the creation story: The God who created the world is still in the business of creating it – still bringing order out of chaos and holding forth the possibility of living faithfully as creatures charged with tending the garden and taking care of each other.

Perhaps also in response to the current chaos of economic complexity, where dueling tax returns and unlimited money vie for the favor of those who will offer the blessing of a vote, maybe communities of faith can hold up creation’s theology of enough as an alternative way of thinking about how we might live.

ColinHarris is professor of religious studies at Mercer University and a member of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Ga.

Share This