Creation Story: The Original Declaration of Independence
Imagine, if you will, a people in exile. Impoverished, straggling across a foreign desert, attuned to little except the hope of a better future and the whisperings of a sometimes inscrutable deity. This wandering people live an existence so far from our own that it’s almost alien. While we clamor for ever expansive rights and privileges, they wrestled for nothing more than the strands of subsistence. Their dream was to stay alive. It began as an escape from slavery and tyranny, a revolution not won on the battlefield, but acquired in the quiet enclave of hiding. Eating fast-made and easy-carry food, waiting for the smell of death to clear the night air. This is Israel at its institutional origin.
They are recently liberated, though their freedom is nothing what most Westerners would recognize. In an emancipation more akin to people of color in this country—freed from possession but not yet freed from oppression. In the windswept barrenness of the desert, this people finds itself through the shared stories they carry. Stories that were recorded down at some point by their liberating figure, Moses. The most important of these stories, an origin story, what we have come to call Genesis – BEGINNINGS.
In the Ancient Near East (ANE), origin stories were not written to solve the questions of modern minds. They weren’t written to answer conflicts between mysticism and physics, chemistry and sociology, genetics and tradition. These battles would have been beyond foreign to the reasoning and rhetoric of Genesis’ original listeners and so it should come as NO SURPRISE that the answers to these questions make no appearance in the text. The first Book of Moses stands as an earth-shattering answer to the claims of its contemporary texts, not as a science text book. It doesn’t attempt to answer the question of material origins; something, rather, much deeper and richer than that: it attempts to answer the question of PURPOSE.
What are we here for? What is the meaning behind all this struggle?
To those wandering desert nomads, the text claims a revolutionary polemic against the cultures of its time. It claims that human beings, these ragged smelly, impoverished miscreants… are the face of God. Genesis exists as the exclamation point of their liberation from Egypt, with a claim so wild and wooly, so irrationally exuberant that it could only come from the minds of madmen or mystics… or both. In contrast to all the other ANE creation stories, the text didn’t claim humans as servants to the gods, didn’t name the king as deity, didn’t malign human existence as a tool of divine passive-aggression.
No, this original declaration of independence, this Genesis, the document of human revolution against her oppressors goes far beyond what any of us have imagined. It goes far beyond the declarations which followed it. Genesis doesn't just claim the equality of humans among each other, instead it claims divine reflection in us all: women and men. There is no statue in a temple to go see if you wish to commune with God. We find God in each other. Imagine the affront to high priests, kings, pharaohs and their ilk. The deity is found as much in the dust acres of lost wandering as in the gilded annals of the powerful. While men may demand pyramids built in their honor, God reveals himself life to life, skipping the pantheon.
In light of such a claim, Jefferson’s Declaration, though poetic and history-changing, presents as a faded shadow of the original. Jefferson’s “all men” were landed, of one race, of one gender. Without a doubt a revelation of his time, but nothing against Moses’ claim, through the power of the Holy Spirit, of true human purpose. The American Declaration of Independence is one of the great documents of Western Civilization... but it stands in the shadow of the Genesis claim to human meaning and purpose.
We exist to find in each other the face of God. And this face can and should be found in everyone.
Until we see Genesis in its true contextual light and liberate this ancient text from the modernist slavery it has been succumbed to, we will lose its true freedoms. As the writer of Galatians would say millennia later (echoing the Creation document), “It is for freedom we have been set free.” Our existence is to be a contagious liberty and the fruit of that liberty is the acknowledgement and embrace of divine light in the face of each other.
Few thoughts, words or ideas could be more transformational for our real living days. It forces us to consider the ultimate truth: the atheist arguing against divine revelation is the image of God. The oppressor who uses power to demean is enemies, his purpose is to be the face of God. The person who cleans the office toilets, our opponents in the PTA, our ex-spouses who have created rifts between us and our children. All of them… hard-wired to image God. Without a doubt, in all examples above (as in you and I) the image has suffered from permutations and distortions. But this should lead us to curiosity and humility, not the usually closed-off rejection. The question of relationships good and bad should simply be, “Where in this person can I find the image of God?”
Do we hold these truths to be self-evident that every person we've ever met is in the image of the perfect loving God?