In the beginning, the world was good.
If the creation story in the book of Genesis is familiar to you, that may not seem like a profound statement. But read it again: in the beginning, the world was good.
This origin story, the one passed down by the ancient Hebrews and captured on paper at the very front of the Bible, is quite different than the stories told by the neighbors of those who knew God. Many of them had stories of earth created out of cosmic conflict and divine unrest. Some of them told tales of humans made to do chores for the gods, who didn’t want to get their hands dirty. But Genesis says something else—in this story, a fully fulfilled God creates the universe, and places in it earth. Over the course of a week of creative work, his immense creativity forms diverse, fascinating landscapes, from snowy mountain peaks to mossy forests to sprawling deserts where sand goes on and on and on. He shapes beautiful, peculiar creatures, from nightingales singing their songs in the treetops to fish darting back and forth underwater to gazelles bounding across the savanna. And everything—everything—is good. God says it over and over, after each day of work. It’s good.
But it’s not finished. Not until Day Six, when the pinnacle of God’s creation enters the stage: humans. Man and woman, the ones who bear God’s image. See, creation was good as it was, but God didn’t just want a cool planet to watch like a television show, he wanted a kingdom. And in a kingdom, there are images of the king everywhere that serve as reminders of who is in charge, who deserves glory and praise, who determines what good is. So now, after he lovingly, painstakingly forms men and women in his image, he sets them in creation and gives them a charge: rule.
Rule? The humans are not the Creator, but creations. They are not the King, but they bear the King’s image, and thus, they are given charge to rule over all of creation on God’s behalf. Care for it. Cultivate it. Unpack the potential latent in the world. Make something of it. This is the human task. This is what it means to be human.
Creation was good each of the previous five days, but now God adds onto that statement. Now, when he looks over his creation, teeming with life and beauty, he sees his image bearers there, ready to to make something of it, to steward everything for God’s glory, and he says it is very good.
The word here to describe this goodness is shalom. Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace, but this kind of peace isn’t just the absence of conflict; it’s much, much deeper than that. Shalom is perfect harmony in the midst of all of creation—between God and humans, humans and each other, humans and the rest of creation, and even humans and the way they understood themselves. Shalom is the state of being where everything—everything—is the way it’s supposed to be.
We often talk about the original, pre-Fall creation as perfect. In the English language, the word perfect can mean two things: it can mean unblemished, but it can also mean unable to be improved. Creation in Genesis 1 and 2 is indeed perfect in the first sense—there’s nothing wrong with it; everything is the way it’s supposed to be. But it’s not perfect in the second sense—there’s abundant potential packed into the world that God is eager to see his image bearers unpack and do something with! This is the plan, that God’s image bearers, his stewards, are created to glorify God by living life to the fullest in his world, continuing his work of creation.
This means taking apples and making apple pie. This means taking trees and building houses. This means taking sound and vibrations and making music. The world itself was good, but now, with God’s image bearers in place, now it’s very good.
So good that God dusts off his hands, takes the next day off, and passes the baton of creativity to man and woman, watching with glee as they live their call in his creation. In the beginning, the world was good.
—Sam Levy is a CCO campus minister in partnership with Gateway Church at Slippery Rock University and Grove City College. He loves his family, baseball, cheese, and walking with college students as they pursue the God who is making all things new. Follow him on Twitter at @sdlevy13.
For more, see Andy Crouch’s Creation talk at Jubilee 2014.
This is the first post in our four-part Biblical Narrative series. Read Chapter 2: Fall.