Those that have joined us for Bible Study can tell you one really important concept that comes out of our earliest creation story. It begins in Genesis 2 (chapter 1 was written later). GOD creates the earth and all of the creatures of the earth. Then from the soil (adama), the first human (adam) was taken. The name, Adam is therefore derived from the soil, just as the first human is formed from the soil.
Then, after the human is awakened to knowledge of good and evil thanks to a few bites of fruit, GOD chooses to give the human a job. He has been given the work of tilling the soil. Many of our great church elders have long understood this moment as GOD’s punishment on humanity and the creation of “original sin”. The tenor of the text speaks of something else. Something merciful.
- This mercy is expressed in two essential ways. One is the promise that if they eat the fruit they will die. When they eat the fruit, GOD doesn’t kill them. That doesn’t sound like much today, other than to say “Wow, so GOD isn’t super cranky! What does that have to do with mercy?” The gods of the time were known for their fickle willingness to kill followers who stepped out of line. So for this god to not be so fickle and to not kill is revolutionary.
- The second merciful thing is that these “punishments” aren’t really punishments. Now, I can’t speak for what GOD does to the snake, but GOD gives the two humans each something pretty remarkable. First, GOD gives the woman childbirth and birth pangs. It’s easy for a man to say this, but those birth pangs are not punishment as we normally understand it. For those that have given birth naturally can attest, these pangs are signs: they are clues of what to do next. Where the labor is at. When a person is with a mother to help her through this time and interpret those signs, she is able to do the most remarkable thing ever…
- GOD gives women the very power of creating life. This is what Eve proclaims in giving birth to Cain: that she is able to do the very thing that GOD did in creating Adam (and her).
- As for the man, GOD gives him an important job. A job that will allow him to know his origins and to give purpose to creation. He is to till the soil (from which he came)
The Hebrew scholar Theodore Hiebert in his book The Yahwist’s Landscape makes an important suggestion. He argues that we’ve long taken for granted the job GOD gives humanity in Genesis 1 (the newer account). There GOD tells the humans to subdue the land. One way we’ve understood that is as a call to exploit the land. But Hiebert argues that the older, and therefore more original purpose for humanity is to work with the soil.
In our 21st Century North American context, what does it then mean to till the soil? Should we understand that literally and put ourselves to work in the fields? Should we understand that statement metaphorically and till the land that is our context: as accountants or advertisers or teachers or nurses? Or is something missing from our existence? Are we separated from creation because we have focused more on subduing it rather than working with it?
I’m beginning to think there is something to the idea that our job isn’t only about getting more butts in the pews or telling a few more people our story of faith, but that we might be called to get our hands dirty.
That to till the soil, we must live and be a certain way. We must protect the earth, not destroy it, because it is our job and it is the place of our origin, for “to dust we shall return.” We must be a people of faithful commitment: not just acting a certain way or believing a certain thing, but living as GOD dreams for us. And that our work should be work.
GOD gives the human the work of tilling the soil.
Jesus gives us the work of loving GOD and our neighbor.
These things are related.