If you’re into science fiction and fantasy there is no shortage of stories about fallen and/or rebel angels. Sure, it’s hip to be noble with an edge, like the main characters in Rebel Without a Cause, Easy Rider, Road House or Rumble Fish, but why would an angel choose this path. They spend their lives in heaven, the exotic destination that everyone everywhere else wishes they were, contemplating the good, the just, and the beautiful while everyone else is wallowing in the bad, the unfair, and the ugly. It slowly starts to make sense when you think of these celestial beings and their perspective on life. Your eyes are trained upon the face of God, but God’s eyes are not trained right back upon you. God is looking elsewhere, and according to Genesis he’s saying “This is good,” and “That is good,” but he’s not spending a whole lot of time basking in the good that has been at his side the entire time. The creation of humanity might be something that the angels aren’t aware of. All they can see is God’s face, and what they notice is that God’s focus is elsewhere. Soon an all-too-human emotion begins to surface, and even the heavens prove unguarded against the power of jealousy.
I’m sure that if you polled all movie and television angels and asked them why they fell from grace, they would talk about how humans were created with free will, that they screw up ALL THE TIME, and yet they are still God’s favorite in all creation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the events of Genesis 2 were the cause of this enmity.
In Genesis 1, we are told the story of the creation of the universe, or at least of history, or at least (according to my buddy Rodney) of theology. We are amazed at how quickly popular movie series are rebooted in 2014, but in Genesis the origin story from Chapter 1 has already been retold differently by the time we get to Chapter 2. And this is before the advent of Sam Raimi’s emo Spider-man, even. What happened in seven days in the original now appears to happen in one day, or perhaps one particular era, something we might call the creation era. Not only do we get rid of the days of the week as a method of organization, but the order of events is completely different as well. Genesis 1 told the story pretty succinctly, but now that we have to add Genesis 2 to the story what we’re left with is a mess. The one thing both stories have in common, a touch stone to help us push forward, is that humankind is placed at the center of all created things.
In the first creation story, the creation of mankind is placed at the end of the narrative, making it feel like the wonders of separating night from day and the waters from the dry land, the creation of all other living things, was all simply a herald for the really special moment, when humanity enters the cast. What was created before us was created for us. Perhaps my own situation seeps into this reading. For the last year and a half I have been doing everything I can – looking for better paying positions at work, getting engaged and planning a wedding, struggling to find a way to buy a house, trying to get two reliable vehicles – to prepare my world for the child Amy and I plan on having some time after we become husband and wife. I can’t help but to see the creator of this chapter acting just as we are. While Amy and I are trying to make a better world for our potential future children, this deity has the bigger duty of actually making a world. It seems that there wasn’t really a world before Genesis happened and for the good of humanity you kind of need a place to put them.
If I’m sticking with analogies I think the second creation story is more like entertaining guests in your home. The first step is to invite your guests into the house. After that, you have to offer them some lemonade, or perhaps some sun tea you brewed on the back porch. You have to show them the bathroom, in case they need to use it, open up a guest toothbrush for them and then show them to the guest bedroom where they can throw the private, personal items they brought with them. It is your job to keep your guests company even when you are not present to do so yourself, so you have to introduce your guests to the television, because how else would we pass time in 2014? The entire time you’re afraid that what you have provided is not good enough. Genesis 2 is kind of funny, reading a little bit like a sit com. “Here, have a garden. Honey, they seem bored with the garden. What should we do? Well, we have some lovely animals in this garden. You simply must name them all. Darling, we have to think of something else. Do we have any other people handy for our guest? You didn’t forget to pick up more people at the grocery store, did you?” There is certainly some comedy to this scene, but throughout there is a theme. This story is for humans (with the establishment of traditions), about humans (and our origin), and perhaps most difficult to deal with, this story is by humans.
I can’t help, sometimes, to see the hubris in this story. Maybe this is only because I know the often spoken of “fall” is coming. But a group of humans tell a story about how humans are the most beloved by God in all of the cosmos. Say what you will about how the humans are divinely inspired or even dictating the perfect word of God – I’m not here to argue that point – but regardless of the source of this text, there is no better way for humanity to become the most hated creatures in the universe, by the angels, by the animals, by the plants and their mother earth, than to be labeled the most beloved. At this time we were unashamed of our nakedness. We didn’t have any of the rules of society or the smell of civilization. We simply lived as the other animals lived, without struggling for purpose, without fearing our inevitable death. But we had to be elevated above all that, and in so doing God, and the storyteller responsible for this tale, painted a target on our backs. Humanity was created in a land governed by peace, but the seed of violence, the pride of being the closest to God’s heart, was planted in us even at the very beginning. We never even had a chance. Everything was bound to fall apart.
I keep going back to the idea of a community fresh out of exile in Egypt and wandering through the wilderness looking for a land that seemed more like a pipe dream than a promise, and I think of the parents who are telling their children these stories in order to let them know that who they are and where they com from. They know all of this gets spoiled by violence, and it leaks even into their telling of this perfect era. They are aware of the irony in the story of how humanity is elevated above all else because they know the story of two brothers named Abel and Cain and the first murder that was caused by God elevating the gifts of one over the gifts of the other. I could take another step back and imagine that the story of these parents is being told by another set of parents who lived their lives in the promised land only to see everyone they know scattered by the powerful empire that ended their dream of Israel. These parents see another irony – that the exile in the wilderness ends in even more violence than these former slaves experienced themselves, only this violence was committed by the children of God. With one last step, I imagine telling all of these stories to my children when they come of age. Will I be willing to take responsibility for the violence caused by my people and driven by the way we tell the stories of God, humankind and creation? Or will I experience the third irony, that even in this age of enlightenment, at the end of all stories, we have not learned to curb the appeal of being at the top of the pile, that we have not yet overcome our violent natures?