My current stroll through the Bible is slow enough that it allows me to notice and think about things. I’m reading about a chapter a day, and that gives me the chance to mull it over in my mind.
“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” — Genesis 1:31 NRSV
This verse appears at a significant place. It is a summing up statement, coming at the end of the sixth day it is also a statement about the whole world that God had created. The seventh day will be a day of rest.
So, it represents God’s evaluation of the world that has been created: “very good” (ט֖וֹב מְאֹ֑ד).
How often I have lost this perspective of the essential goodness of the world. Part of this is my scientific background, by which I learned about the concept of entropy. Entropy is random disorder. The second law of thermodynamics asserts that natural processes favor the increase of random disorder. With the apostle Paul I have a strong sense that the world is in “bondage to decay.” (Romans 8:21 NRSV). I see the cruelty of life more often than I appreciate its beauty and wonder. I used to have trouble singing:
This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
I guess I thought it was a naive view of the world. But, maybe I didn’t sing far enough. Further on the song says:
This is my Father’s world:
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
My sense of what’s wrong with the world cannot be allowed to obscure my sense of its essential goodness. It is dangerous to lose hope. It is dangerous to lose sight of the good. The truth is that we live in a world of light and darkness. This is why the story of Creation — affirming the essential goodness of God’s creation will be followed by a story of Fall — asserting that, indeed all is not right with the world — or with human nature. But, the goodness of Creation is the first word.
It is not necessarily the most obvious word. It is not to me. It is an affirmation that arises out of the history of God’s salvation and love that is recorded in the Bible. God is good. Therefore, God’s creation is essentially good. In the midst of the light and the darkness, don’t miss the light. Mercy and love and justice and compassion are at the heart of creation too, because they are at the heart of God. I have to believe that it was the experience of God’s goodness that lead the Israelites to assert the goodness of Creation. So, for Christians it is the reality of Christ’s resurrection that buoys up our view of the world. We don’t deny the darkness. We concentrate our attention on the light.
And, the same should be true for our view of human nature. Wesley remarks:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him:” (Gen. 1:26, 27) — Not barely in his natural image, a picture of his own immortality; a spiritual being, endued with understanding, freedom of will, and various affections; — nor merely in his political image, the governor of this lower world, having “dominion over the fishes of the sea, and over all the earth;” — but chiefly in his moral image; which, according to the Apostle, is “righteousness and true holiness.” (Eph. 4:24) In this image of God was man made. “God is love:” Accordingly, man at his creation was full of love; which was the sole principle of all his tempers, thoughts, words, and actions. God is full of justice, mercy, and truth; so was man as he came from the hands of his Creator. God is spotless purity; and so man was in the beginning pure from every sinful blot; otherwise God could not have pronounced him, as well as all the other work of his hands, “very good.” (Gen. 1:31) This he could not have been, had he not been pure from sin, and filled with righteousness and true holiness. For there is no medium: If we suppose an intelligent creature not to love God, not to be righteous and holy, we necessarily suppose him not to be good at all; much less to be “very good.”
— The New Birth (§I.1)
Okay. I will grant that he may be reading too much into those words. But, the point is a important one: human beings are essentially not only “good” but “very good.” We dare not lose sight of this either.
The original nature of things was goodness. Yes, we live in a fallen world — we see the evidences of evil and sin all around us — but we dare not lose sight of original goodness. This is what Christian faith can affirm even in the face of human sinfulness — original goodness. Before sin was the image of God. I need to see my fellow human beings as beings created in the image of God — or I am not seeing them for who they are.
In this passage of Scripture a world is envisioned in which evil has no place. Wesley says:
But evil did not exist at all in the original nature of things. It was no more the necessary result of matter, than it was the necessary result of spirit. All things then, without exception, were very good. And how should they be otherwise? There was no defect at all in the power of God, any more than in his goodness or wisdom. His goodness inclined him to make all things good; and this was executed by his power and wisdom. Let every sensible infidel, then, be ashamed of making such miserable excuses for his Creator. He needs none of us to make apologies, either for him or for his creation. “As for God, his way is perfect;” and such originally were all his works; and such they will be again, when “the Son of God” shall have “destroyed” all “the works of the devil.”
— God’s Approbation of His Work (§II.2)
All this might seems quite theoretical at this point. What is the value of believing in an originally good creation, since it is evident everywhere that we do not live in such a world?
It allows us to see “very good” as the first word about creation and about human nature. It allows us to affirm the material world — and the human body — as being essentially good — whatever evil purposes to which they may be turned. Goodness is the first word.
I read this comment in the Wesley Study Bible: “The absolute goodness of God’s creation, including especially the goodness of humanity, is at the heart of a thoroughly Wesleyan understanding of grace.”
I believe I have often allowed the idea of human sinfulness to obscure my sense of human goodness — the image of God (Imago Dei) in which we were created.
But, if I see things the way I should I recognize sin as dysfunction — and holiness as wholeness and restoration.