Skip to content
Jul 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 18, 2021



In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. . . . God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. . . . And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. . . .So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. . . . And God made the beasts of the eaerth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creep on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. . . . And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. Genesis 1:1-4, 10, 12, 16-18, 21, 25, 31

Intro: The Bible begins at the beginning – the story of creation

It is important that we read this passage as a story and not as a scientific account
(I do not have a problem with people trying to harmonize it with science, but that was not how Genesis was written nor how it was meant to be read)
– stories have a plot, characters, setting and mood
• in this story, the universe does not merely exist by itself
◦ it has an Architect, a Creator – and he has a purpose for it
• each new addition as it unfolds, is inspected and approved
◦ once the project is complete, all of it is very good
– the goodness of the created world is repeated and celebrated in the Old Testament
• in the Book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified and sings:
The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water. . . .
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man (Pr. 8:22-31)
◦ also in the Psalms
The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein . . . . (Ps. 24:1)
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine,
and bread to strengthen man’s heart (Ps. 104:14-15)
◦ and on and on, the Hebrew Scriptures celebrate the created world
• the Catholic saint who caught this better than any other was St. Francis of Assisi
◦ in his “Canticle of the Sun,” he sings,
“Praise be to you, my Lord . . . through Brother Sun”
“Praise be to you, my Lord . . . through Sister Moon”
“Praise be to you, my Lord . . . through Mother Earth”

We are made of the same stuff as the rest of our universe

Our relation to the earth is organic
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return (Ge. 3:19)
– our spirit may belong to God’s realm, but the body belongs to the earth
– today I will conclude my series of talks on body parts
• what I’ve tried to stress is that our bodies are not only material, but spiritual
◦ not two different realities – but spirit belongs to another, larger dimension
◦ we are spiritual bodies
• today we’ll explore our embodied connection to the earth
◦ what will be our attitude to Earth? how will we treat it?

We know the world through our bodies

Our sense of direction, our orientation in world begins with the body
– so depending on what direction my body is facing,
• “north” can be to the right of me, the left, in front of me, or behind me
Arthur Vogel, “The fundamental role which being-in-the-world-through-our-bodies plays in our personal lives can be simply and convincingly demonstrated by the role played by prepositions in our thought. Such terms as in, between, over, under, behind, within, without, beyond, beside, are basic to our thinking, but they come to us from an experience of the world . . . The world of our personal embodiment.”
• with this basic knowledge, we can conceptualize other objects
◦ for instance, “Voyager has traveled outside our solar system”
◦ our body-knowledge is how we understand what “outside” means
– let’s bring this down to earth
• remember relief maps? colors are used to indicate elevation
◦ some were even molded with 3-dimensional mountains and valleys
◦ topography maps are similar, but more technical
• suppose you had to create a relief map using only words?
◦ a technical description of landscape; its height, depth, width, breadth, shapes and configurations?
◦ that would take some imagination

The Bible does this, using what we know from our bodies
And the east boundary is the Salt Sea, to the mouth of the Jordan. And the boundary on the north side runs from the bay of the sea at the mouth of the Jordan. . . . Then the boundary goes up by the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the southern shoulder of [Jerusalem]. And the boundary goes up to the top of the mountain that lies over against the Valley of Hinnom . . . . (Jos. 15:5-8)
• two body parts used for the contours of landscape are obvious
◦ the mouth of Jordan and the shoulder of Jerusalem (the side of a hill or a slope)
• but there are other body parts not obvious in our English translation:
bay is literally tongue
top of the mountain translates a Hebrew word for head
over against is the Hebrew word panyim, “faces” (in this instance, facing the Valley of Hinnom
• another familiar expression is the foot of Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:17)
– Old Testament maps were drawn up using analogies of the human body
• in Joshua, these maps were made to establish boundaries between the twelve tribes
◦ each territory was like a body, and the borders were like its skin
• do you see how the human body is superimposed over the earth’s body
◦ this is possible because we are alike
◦ in Genesis, the human body and earth are mutually dependent
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it (Ge. 2:15)
. . . and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread . . . (Ge. 3:17-19)

Thinking about all of this, two of the Bible’s books came to mind

Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs – they appear side-by-side
– both are relatively short, and both are controversial
• when studying them, question that comes up most often is:
◦ “Why is this book in the Bible?”
◦ neither mention the name of Yahweh, and the Song does not even mention “God”
• Ecclesiastes is Utilitarian and pessimistic; the Song is Epicurean and optimistic
– I thought of them, because the backdrop for both is the created world
• if we ask, “What does it mean to be alive in the world?”
◦ each of these books gives a very different answer

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun? (Ecc. 1:2-3)
This is how Ecclesiastes begins and ends (Ecc. 12:8)
– the writer claims to be a descendent of David,
• and describes himself as “The Preacher” – “one who gather an audience”
vanity is a poor choice for translators to make
• the Hebrew word hebel is your misty breath on a cold day
(cf. Jas. 4:14, For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes)
◦ it is nothingness, emptiness, futility
Robert Alter, “For the most part . . . his observations are properly philosophic, inviting us to contemplate the cyclical nature of reality and human experience, the fleeting duration of all that we cherish, the brevity of life, and the inexorability of death, which levels all things.”
Alter describes Ecclesiastes as a “radical dissent, in which time, history, politics, and human nature are seen in . . . a bleak light” and “the world is a theater of continuing frustration and illusion; that is the way that God/fate/the intrinsic constitution of reality has determined that it should be.”
– contrast this with beginning of the Song
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;
your anointing oils are fragrant . . . (Song 1:2-3)
• immediately we see the pleasures of physical love
◦ there is touch, and taste, and fragrance (soon all of the senses will be stimulated)
• for the lovers who sing to each other, the earth is teeming with life
◦ love thrives in its mountains and valleys, its vineyards and gardens
◦ it seems that everything in nature finds a counterpart in the human body
Ariel and Chana Bloch, “Nature is the mirror of the human lovers. . . . The poet’s metaphors keep shifting between the actual landscape, suffused with erotic associations, and the landscape of the body. The Shulamite waits for her lover in a garden, but she herself is a garden . . . .” “The images are not literally descriptive; what they convey is the delight of the lover in contemplating the beloved, finding in the body a reflected image of the world in its freshness and splendor.”
Robert Alter, “The Song of Songs is the great love poem of commingling—of different realms, different senses, and of the male and female bodies. . . . there are abundant cross-overs from the luxuriance of the landscape to the luxuriance of the human body.”

The Song and Ecclesiastes share same themes, but develop them differently
the wind in the Song:
Awake, O north wind,
and come O South wind!
Blow upon my garden,
let its spices flow (Song 4:16)
the wind in Ecclesiastes
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns (Ecc. 1:6)
• what’s did the Teacher conclude about traveling in circles? You never get anywhere
• all worldly pursuits are a striving after the wind (Ecc. 2:17)
Alter translates this, herding the wind
the sun in Ecclesiastes describes the environment of human endeavor
under the sun (Ecc. 1:9, 14, etc., etc.)
• this is a materialistic worldview in which death makes everything irrelevant (Ecc. 2:15-17)
◦ even the sun and moon are eventually darkened (Ecc. 12:2)
• but the lovers see the beauty of sun and moon in each other’s body
Who is this who looks down like the dawn,
beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun,
awesome as an army with banners? (Song 6:10)

Conclusion: There’s so much more here to contrast and compare

If you’re interested, you can continue this study of the two books on your own
– my concern here is that we see these books as a challenge of two doors
• what happens if we take our bodies through door one?
• and what happens if we choose door two?
I am not a doomsday person
– and I do not spend my time in scripture trying to figure out the day and hour of Jesus’ return
• but anyone who happens to be noticing, can see that we have done great damage to our planet

If we commit our bodies to an Ecclesiastes view of life,
we will go on abusing Mother Earth
If we take a Song of Songs view of life,
there is hope for redemption for the earth body and the human body
• we share a destiny with our planet
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. . . . For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Ro. 8:19-23)

James Hall, “It is in the gospel stories of Jesus that we recognize how present and intimately available God is in creation. The story begins with Jesus’ birth in a manger-a place where animals were kept, most likely a cave in the hillside. God’s incarnation in human form begins in the earth itself. Years later, Jesus responds to the cry of John the Baptist, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.’ Then and now, John and his cry embody the undomesticated wildness of God. In that remote setting, Jesus was baptized . . . .”
– think of how much of Jesus’ teaching referred to nature
• seeds and soil, lilies and birds, fig trees and vineyards
• he is himself is the true vine and the Spirit is living water
Hall, “Throughout his ministry Jesus withdrew to remote mountain and desert places to pray. On the night before he was arrested, he went to a quiet garden to pour out his anguish and grief. For Jesus the most intimate moments with God took place in the desert, on the mountain, in the garden, among the wildness and beauty of God’s creation.” “. . . when we lay the written scripture, so full of images from the natural world, beside the scripture of the earth, our understanding of each is enhanced.”
“Only recently have we lost contact with the earth out of which we were made, and on which we depend for life and sanity. Some think that this is why we are blindly destroying our habitat. In our alienation from the earth, have we gone mad?”

If we are looking for the redemption of planet earth and our bodies with it,
– we will need to treat our bodies as part of nature’s song
• and treat our planet’s body with same care we give our own
• we will want to connect with the created world as Jesus did
◦ and like Jesus, pray with our bodies
Hall asks, “How do we learn to pray the prayer of embodiment with all creation? One way we can begin is by going to a less inhabited, natural place. . . . Such a place, if it is accessible and we go there often, will become a special and sacred place where we can meet God in the things he has made.”

What is required of us to have a role in redemption?
– perhaps re-learning how to be a child
Rachel Carson, “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement . . . . If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world would be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things artificial, the alienation from the source of our strength.” (quoted in James Hall)

Our hope is to become as children,
enter the kingdom of heaven
and recover our sense of wonder–
for the Creator of this fantastic universe,
for the beauty and wonders of nature,
and for our own bodies
as we present them to God,
again and again,
living sacrifices

Leave a comment