Genesis 6:1-5 1 The number of people increased all over the earth, and daughters were born to them. 2 The sons of God saw that the daughters of other humans were beautiful. So they married any woman they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not struggle with humans forever, because they are flesh and blood. They will live 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, as well as later, when the sons of God slept with the daughters of other humans and had children by them. These children were famous long ago. 5 The LORD saw how evil humans had become on the earth. All day long their deepest thoughts were nothing but evil.
Hey! What about chapter 5??!? You must be one of those line-by-line, verse-by-verse guys. Well, I hate to disappoint you, but not every Hebrew character has something to add to our conversation and understanding of food. Chapter 5 is a genealogy that traces the lineage from Adam to Noah and his sons. Some scholars could probably give you a ten part series on the importance and meaning of the genealogy, but then you would never read this blog again.
Verses 1-2 and 4 describe ways that humanity is working against nature. They are involved in relationships between humans and other beings, “sons of God” or “Nephilim.” God decides to limit the lifespan of humans because of this. Ws we will see, this is part of God’s reason for destroying creation.
Originally, I intended to leave out these verses because I didn’t think they were relevant to our study. However, as I considered the rest of the flood narrative it seems clear there is something important going on here with how we understand nature. God condemns these inter-species or inter-being relationships as unnatural.
Often people look at the natural world as a sort of utopian example of the way the world should be. A functioning ecosystem is indeed a beautiful thing. Some idolize nature as a pure, pristine, innocent state of existence that we are striving toward. The problem is this is like wishing we could go back to the “Leave it to Beaver” perfection of the 1950s. 1) You can never go back and 2) it wasn’t as perfect as we like to think.
The point of our existence is not to return to the Garden of Eden according to the early church father, Irenaeus. Irenaeus asserted that creation was always intended to move forward and progress towards something better and more like God’s own trinitarian community. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was not about just getting us back to a state of innocence or purity, but rather lifting us up to closer communion with God and right relationship with the world.
It seems that depending on what you’re talking about nature is either good or bad. For example, I’m concerned with both our care for the environment and violence. I might argue that human activity is causing problems with the environment and what we need is to help ecosystems regain a natural equilibrium. This assumes nature (minus human intervention) is essentially good. As a pacifist though, I find that the animal kingdom is an extremely violent world. I would argue that nature is inherently violent and broken because of sin and that explains the violence of our world. Can I have it both ways? What does this passage say?
First, we have to acknowledge that creation is affirmed as essentially good by God. Even after sin enters the world creation maintains its goodness as something created by God. But things have also changed. In chapter 3 God curses the ground after Adam and Eve disobeyed. Romans 8:19-22 says that creation has also been affected by sin and is part of God’s work of redemption. So, it looks like the answer is both, nature is essentially good, but it is also corrupted and broken,
This means that theologically it is very difficult to make an argument from nature. In fact, it appears entirely self-serving whenever it is used. Science can tell us what nature is, but not how things should be. Turns out things are more complex than they seem. And so our story is about to take another twist as well. Stay tuned…