God said to Noah and to Noah’s sons who were with him, “Here’s my deal. It will apply to you, and all your descendants, and to everything that’s still alive with you: birds, domestic animals, wild animals, everything that made it off the ark. My deal with you is that I’ll never again drown every living thing and wipe out the whole world in a flood.” God said, “The sign of my deal between us and everything still living, and for all time, is this: I’ve put my rainbow in the clouds. That’s the sign of my deal with the earth. Whenever rainclouds gather the rainbow will be in the cloud to remind me of my deal with you and everything living. The flood will never rise again to drown every living thing. I’ll see the rainbow in the clouds, and I’ll remember my deal. It’s a deal between me and every living creature on earth.” God told Noah, “This is the sign of the deal I’ve made between myself and everything living.”
God has vowed never to wipe out all life on the planet. Well and good. We no longer need to worry about that.
But God has not vowed to prevent us from wiping it all out. It’s not a thought that likely occurred to the ancient storytellers that humans would one day be the planet’s greatest threat. Nevertheless, that is our reality. God is not nearly so dangerous as people are.
Perhaps if those who professed to believe in a God who’s pledged not to wipe out all living things simply made a commitment to do as their God did and make the same pledge, we’d be well on our way to mitigating the modern threat. What if we did what God did. What if we made ourselves a sign: something that would appear to us in every encounter where we are tempted to behave destructively. A proverbial string tied around our finger.
But more than that, God’s covenant with Noah marks not just a change in a particular moment. It marks a change in the way God will habitually deal with the world. It’s an ongoing behavior modification plan. God repeats it over and over again, like someone trying very hard to learn a new habit. To save the planet, God’s humans are going to need to change a few habits, too. Whatever will be the sign of your new habits, repeat them over and over. See a rainbow. Change your behavior.
So the universe was finished. Everything. On Day 7, God finished the whole opus, and when it was all done, God rested. God blessed Day 7, and set it apart from the other days, because that was the day God rested after making the universe.
And that is how the universe all hung together when it was made.
If you’ve ever taken a vacation, or had a day off after a long hard week, you’ve probably blessed the time of rest. How you bless it doesn’t really matter. If it’s vegging out on the couch, taking a nap in your favorite chair, playing a game with the kids, looking through old photographs – whatever it is for you is fine. And everyone needs a break now and then.
Additional meanings of Sabbath rest will develop through other stories, but here, in the creation story, the angle is simply that the universe doesn’t hang together quite right when you don’t have a chance to rest. Part of what makes creation complete is the chance to simply be, without having to do anything. There are no rules about Sabbath at this stage. It is whatever is restful.
There aren’t any rules about when it happens either. It needn’t always happen on a particular day of the week. It could be a moment, an hour, a day, or several days. It doesn’t necessarily have to be at regular intervals. It happens when the “whole work is finished,” and you look back and say, “wow!”
Tomorrow (or soon) the work will resume again. But for now, just let the work be complete. Rest. Be. And be blessed.
Then God said, “Animals!” And all kinds of animals – wild animals, tame animals, huge animals, and microscopic insects – began to wander all over the earth.
God saw how good they were. So then, God said, “Humans, like us! Who will be responsible for the fish, birds, animals, and insects!”
In this way God made humans to be like God. Male and female were made like God.
God blessed them and said, “Procreate. Fill the earth. Take charge of things. Be responsible for the fish, birds, and animals.” God said, “You can eat any kind of plant you want. And any of the animals can eat any of the plants.”
So that’s how it was. God saw that everything was really awesome. And so continued evening and morning. Day 6.
This first version of the creation story pictures humans as “like God.” Lots of people have speculated about what this means. Some suggest that it refers to the human capacity for creation, or imagination. I like those suggestions. This is the most verbose God has been in the entire six day process, though, and God mentions nothing about creativity or imagination. Instead, God’s words define humans in two distinct ways:
Initiative. The human likeness to God involves the capacity to be in charge. Humans are Godlike because they initiate. Initiation may involve creativity, of course, but it goes beyond creativity. It’s the difference between imagining something, even designing something, and starting something. It could be something that’s been started before. Some processes need to be started over and over again. Without someone with the capacity to start them, without initiative, nothing happens. To be godlike is to start things.
Responsibility. The human likeness to God also involves being responsible. It means taking a personal ownership and stake in what’s happening, and to bear the consequences of the actions one initiates. It means having the capacity to respond, to change course, to intervene, to take corrective action. Implicit in this is the understanding that creation is going to need some tweaking as things go along. It may be completely begun, but it’s only just getting started. It’s going to require course-corrections.
Initiative and responsibility frame the beginning and end of the creation. Start things, and take ownership of the results of what you started. Be godlike. It’s really awesome.
Then God said, “Fish! Birds!” And the seas swarmed with fish and whales, and all sorts of living things. And the sky was filled with all kinds of birds.
God saw how good all of this was, and said, “Procreate until the sea and sky are full.” And so continued evening and morning. Day 5.
Here, for the first time, we see the emergence of the idea of procreation. (It was latent in the reference to seeds on Day 3.) These verses, though, are not a proof-text about the one case when sex is allowable. It’s not a mandate for anti-contraception campaigns. They are about sustainability.
Until fairly recently, the earth wasn’t dealing with population overload. Until recently, it was a struggle to survive in great enough numbers to continue life into the next generation. While the ancient Hebrews didn’t track the populations of fish and birds the way we do (if you look carefully at the osprey in the picture above, you’ll see it’s tagged with a radio transmitter), they did have an implicit sense that their flourishing was tied inextricably with their own.
With population overload and the environmental degradation that’s come with it, the wisdom of the ancients returns again to the foundational principle of sustainability – of life surviving and thriving into the next generation. Our flourishing is no less inextricably tied to the fish and birds than were the ancient storytellers.