Creation, Poetry, and the Image of God

Last night, I had a miserable time sleeping.  So, I laid awake for a long time, thinking about, of all things, the series of posts I’ve been writing about Scripture and Literature.  My plan was to stop after the last post.  It seemed a good stopping place.  At the time at least.  But last night, I realized something that, I believe, is truly significant to our understanding of creation and what it means to be made in the image of God.  Let’s start with creation.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5 TNIV)

Most translations don’t reflect what I am about to say, but I think it is present just from a simple reading of the text.  Scripture opens with a poem about God creating the earth and the sky.  Most translations render it as paragraphs or lists of verses, but I don’t personally think that this does the text justice.  The language just simply doesn’t seem to flow in the same way that Genesis 2 does.  Genesis 2 makes itself very clear that it is the true story of how the earth was made.  To quote:

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. (Genesis 2:4 TNIV)

Genesis 1 doesn’t begin like that.  It is not clear that it is a factual “account.”  Rather, it reads as though it is a poem based on the events found in chapter 2.

We see something similar happening over in the book of Judges.

In Judges 4, we read the story of Jael and Sisera.  Sisera is running from the Israelites and, in fulfillment of prophecy, is killed by Jael.  First we see the story itself, as it really took place.  In the next chapter, we see a song, essentially a poem set to music, telling the same story in more lavish language.  Genesis 1 and 2 are in the opposite order (poem followed by narrative) but I tend to think that the same basic idea is present.

So, what I gather from this is that the first thing God wants us to hear, the first words out of God’s mouth to us today is a poem.  Creation is set in motion poetically.  God chooses to use humankind’s most beautiful literary art form to express to us what He did at the beginning of time.  God begins the reparation of His image within us via poetry.

Jump to Genesis 2.

So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh.  Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2:21-23 TNIV)

God created man in His image.  There are myriad interpretations of what this means.  Some say it means we have free-will.  Others say it’s our capacity to love that makes us like God.  While these may be true, although I have to question one of them, I think there is an aspect of the image of God that we oftentimes miss.  Notice what happens in this passage in Genesis 2.

The first words out of man’s mouth is a poem.  Just as God chose to speak His first recorded words to us through poem, so man chose to speak His first recorded words as poetry.

I think this is significant because it shows the depth to which the appreciation for literature goes.  To fully realize God’s image within us, we must tap into that suppressed desire to make something beautiful; something complete; something “very good.”  To appreciate God’s image within ourselves, we must appreciate the primary medium through which God has chosen to reveal Himself.

This is not to say that this is the entirety of God’s image in us.  It goes much deeper.  But I think that we often neglect this aspect of how God has made us.  But literature is only one way in which we can come to grips with it.  More on that next time.

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2 thoughts on “Creation, Poetry, and the Image of God

  1. I always found the dynamic between the two creation accounts interesting. The line of contemporary scholarship that I’ve glommed on to approaches the first story as a liturgical poem. Characteristics of the Hebrew indicates that this is a later text, dating perhaps from the time of the two kingdoms. The poem itself was likely set to music, and would have been part of a ritual in the first temple.

  2. maaark says:

    If Genesis 1 was written around time of Exodus then it fits well as a contrast to the Egyptian culture/religion. Gen 1 tells us there is a Creator beyond the items of creation that were deified in Egypt. Thus it is not a scientific log on how God created as our modern minds want it to be. But it is telling us about the Creator and our role as creatures. It is in contrast to the surrounding cultures who deified creation.

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