Genesis 2

Two themes – suitably enough given this second chapter – emerge for me from my reading of Genesis 2: The first is ‘work’, and the second is ‘pairing’ (another two!). Scholars find this second creation account to be a wholly separate one from that given in the previous chapter, and its placement probably the work of later editors/redactors (Genesis is thought to have gone through at least three layers of compositional efforts before it arrived at the version we have now), but in it we can still see God/“God” needing to labor with what was on hand rather than ex nihilo conjuring, and this I think reinforces the kind of ‘weak God/“God”’ schema we ourselves are trying to move towards and will return to below.

‘Work’, then: In 2.5 we find: “when no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted, because the LORD [Incidentally, this is the Tetragrammaton; the most ancient scriptures seem to use El instead to refer to the deity. The evolution of these terms and their associated notional worlds I find fascinating, but that is a topic for another ‘day’.] God had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the soil”; and then a little further on in 2.15: “The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.”

Many of us probably think of lolling about if we ever imagine the fabled Garden of Eden, of walking around, plucking fruit off of trees, and staring at the clouds. Imagine the boredom! That’s probably what the ‘knowledge that leads to death’ of the next chapter’s tree and snake episode is all about: the realization of how utterly dull is any kind of ‘perfection’ (enter wabi sabi). Yet such is not the point here, rather ‘man’ is made for the purpose of working: “to till the soil”, to “tend it”. On the divine plan it seems we have roles to fulfill; are these pre-destined? Personalized? I’m not sure that anything can be determined either way along those lines just from what we have here: if there is only one human in existence then whatever function the person is meant for must be individuated by default, but that doesn’t imply a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for the fate of the now seven billion plus of us. Still, that there is a ‘something to do’ I find quite comforting, and motivating. May such be found.

Next, ‘pairing’: This is quite intriguing to me; 2.18 has: “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.’” The next portion though is not about Eve but rather “all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky” (verse nineteen) which are brought before the ‘man’ to be named, after which it’s stated that “but for Adam [the ‘man’] no fitting helper was found” (verse twenty), and only thence do we get Eve’s creation. What is evidently being asserted is that initially the nonhuman animals were presented as potential companions to the ‘man’ by God/“God” (which like the ‘man’ were formed out of “the earth” (verses seven and nineteen): i.e., pre-existing materials, as in Genesis 1), and only when these were found wanting was another human animal finally fashioned.

The clear implication of this – once we allow ourselves to see it rather than being blinded by received traditions – is that God/“God” didn’t know what would be appropriate to give the ‘man’, it required a series of trial and error. This is astounding; but it matches quite well with a view of the divine wherein God/“God” engages with whatever materials are present and doesn’t have perfect foreknowledge of exactly what will happen; in short, a form of ‘weak theology’ that – I propose – far better suits our world as we experience it than a vision of an omnipotent and omniscient controlling super-being does: messy, terrible things happen which even God/“God” probably didn’t want but is stuck with, at least until we ‘pair’ with it and ‘work’ to make something better.

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