In ancient times, it is told, the tribe was visited by a band of travelers who would come to be remembered as Elohim. Whether gods they were or men it matters not for, if men, they had been so perfectly wrought in the image and likeness of the gods as to be indistinguishable from them. Elohim were seafarers; the awestruck shore-dwellers who witnessed their arrival swore they had seen a spirit moving over the surface of the waters. Speaking into the void of what was destined to become the first dawn, Elohim pulled reality out of the raw world. “This is this,” Elohim declared, “and it is placed here; that is that, it goes there.” And so they imposed order where neither order nor disorder had reigned. Did they bring a new universe into existence, or did they discover that which already was and reveal its truths? To the haphazard and anonymous denizens of that land newly made Elohim said: “You are become fully human, like unto us as like can be.” In the speaking of the words their truth was made manifest, and the inhabitants understood what Elohim had declared: they were human indeed.
And so we stand poised on the nether shores of heresy. Made in the image and likeness, are we any different from elohim? Our exegesis has reduced the gap between man and God nearly to the vanishing point. What remains of godliness in elohim is the kind of creatorliness that distinguishes man from beast: creating for its own sake, teaching others about it, valuing the goodness intrinsic in the creation. Perhaps the moment when man became aware of himself as a unique being was precisely the same moment when he saw the possibility of self-transcendence made manifest in elohim. Perhaps, at the moment that man became man, God became God…
If you already believe in the Judeo-Christian God, chances are you believe in all the superlatives that have been associated with him since at least the Greek era: omniscience, omnipresence, perfection, omnipotence. Even though we have no personal experience of anyone creating anything out of nothing, we have no trouble imagining that God could have done so. It’s more difficult to imagine a God who didn’t create ex nihilo, who perhaps couldn’t do it – a God more like us, in other words. When it comes to God, it’s easier to believe the extraordinary than the ordinary. Probably that’s because in religious realities belief is associated with worship, and we find it hard to imagine worshiping someone who’s too much like us.
What if God doesn’t know everything but is a good learner? What if God can’t do everything but works really hard? What if God can’t imagine every possibility but likes surprises? What if God can’t control everything but is a great improviser? What if God makes mistakes but isn’t too proud to admit them? What if God can’t transcend time but uses time as an opportunity to introduce change and difference? What if God had absolutely nothing to do with creating the material world but has everything to do with making sense of it? Is it possible to imagine such a God?
Instead of this God of superlatives, contemporary theologian John Caputo proposes that we re-envision God as a “weak force”:
Suppose the sense of “God” is to interrupt and disrupt, to confound, contradict, and confront the established human order, the human, all too human way and sway of doing business, the authority of man over man – and over women, animals, and the earth itself – human possessiveness and dominion – to pose, in short, the contradiction of the “world”?
Revisiting Genesis 1, Caputo sees not the omnipotent hand of God creating ex nihilo but the weak force hovering over the deep. And what of man?
Indeed, suppose it turns out that we human beings were made not simply in the image of God, which is surely a central part of the story, but that we are also made of an unimaginable, or hardly imaginable, unmanageable, and unstable stuff, something that is neither icon nor idol, that is prior to both, reducible neither to Elohim nor to a demon or false god?
“Let there be light,” says elohim to the witness – it’s as though elohim is asking the witness to make the light real. Man already has the potential to become godlike: does he really need elohim to witness that potential and to summon it forth? Couldn’t man have become the creator of his own reality?
Man is an animal, a grasping and striving thing – a survivor. God is a seer, an imaginer, a thinker, a namer – a creator. Perhaps God is the difference between adapting and creating, between surviving and living, between evolving and improving. Perhaps God is the difference between individualism and individuality, between communalism and community, between choice and calling, between license and liberty, between necessity and duty. Perhaps God is the difference between fitness and goodness, opinion and truth, taste and beauty, power and justice; the difference between force and faith, desire and hope, need and love; between raw existence and meaningful reality. Would that make God more like us, or more different?
[Note: In light of this new concluding section that I’ve been posting I decided to change the name of the book to The Seven Creations of Genesis 1. I’ve posted a revised book summary here.]