In The Beginning, GOD, Marva J. Dawn. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.
Summary: A series of reflections on the texts of Genesis 1-3 focused not on questions of beginnings and the controversies that surround these chapters but on what they show us of God and how this may lead us into worship.
Over the last 150 years, the first chapters of Genesis have been a battleground between faith and science, and sometimes between competing views within the Christian community. Marva J. Dawn thinks all of this misses the central object of these chapters. She contends these chapters reveal the character of God and lead us into worship of this God.
There is the very text itself. She observes the liturgical character of Genesis 1:1-2:3 with its repetition of “God said,” “it came to be,” “it was good,” and “evening and morning.” with an ordering of creation and a culmination in God’s “very good” and the rest of the seventh day.
This is a story in which we are formed. There is the creation of human beings as male and female. They are formed for care of the earth. They are formed for justice, with enough food and all the goods of creation for all. They are formed for sabbath-keeping. As God rests, so may we.
She considers the second of the accounts beginning with Genesis 2:4, with humans placed in a well-watered garden. Like a number of other scholars, Dawn notes that the woman is “helper”, a term used of God 17 times and thus not a term of subordination. She notes the design of our sexuality to be a leaving, cleaving and becoming one between woman and man. She then explores the fall and the choice God gives that allows us to choose love, the nature of human sin, and its effects, and the mercy of a God who clothes the naked and ashamed couple in skins, foreshadowing a greater sacrifice.
She concludes with a summary of the questions Genesis does answer:
- Who am I? What is my identity?
- To whom do I belong? To whom do I pledge my loyalty?
- Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?
- What is wrong with the world? Why is there so much disorder?
- How can it be fixed? What is the remedy for sin and evil?
- Where am I headed? What is my goal?
- How does everything fit together? Is there a master story?
- How can I survive? When the forces of evil assail me, how do I find the power to protect myself?
- What do I respect? By what values do I live?
- Why should I live? What gives meaning to my existence?
- How can there be a future when the world is in such a mess? How do I find hope?
- What is my center? Who is our God?
The Epilogue to the book is a confession of sin and faith based on her reading of Genesis, a confession she first introduced at InterVarsity’s 2002 Following Christ conference in Atlanta (I was there!).
Dawn’s book is reflection, not polemic. Along the way, she helps us recognize the important emphases of Genesis without descending into controversy or weighty exegesis. She opens our eyes to the wisdom and beauty and grace and truth of God in his creative work, and the beginnings of his dealings with human fallenness. She leads us into worship and response to what God has done in a series of short but rich reflections. I would commend this as a first text to read for any interested in the message of Genesis 1-3, to focus us on foundational and formative truths rather than the incidental concerns that have come to occupy our attentions.