Archive for April, 2020

Bible Study by Rev Suzanne Nockels

Sunday, April 5th, 2020




Welcome to the last of these Bible Studies. There will be more and hopefully we’ll work out a way of discussing them together during the lockdown.

This week we’ve got to the creatures that live upon the land which of course includes us as human beings. Again, I’m sure we’ve all had amazing encounters with wildlife. I can remember waking up on holiday in Scotland and going to fill a kettle from the kitchen tap to find an enormous stag looking through the window at me. I went on a badger watch when I was seven months pregnant with Isaac. I was surprised about how big they are- about the size of a dog. Then there was the evening we watched an Attenborough-like sequence through our patio windows as a hedgehog tried to catch a frog. In the end the frog was cornered.

The land brings forth ‘living creatures’ and as we saw in the last Bible Study the word for life and soul in Hebrew is the same. All creatures have the breath of God within them as a life-force (verse 30). As with vegetation, sea creatures and birds the animals are made ‘according to their kinds’. I am fascinated with the sheer diversity of creation and attempts to classify it. Who knew that prawns and woodlice are part of the same ‘family’ or that there are 42 different species of mole? Every distinct species or type is thus recognised as having worth.

Read Genesis 9:8-11

It is interesting to note the promise God to Noah is also with ‘every living creature that was with you’ and this is emphasised seven times in the verses that follow. Just as we share a day of creation with the animals our destinies do seem bound up together. During the night of the Passover when death came to every firstborn Egyptian son it also came to every firstborn Egyptian calf. As the Egyptians wailed in grief the Israelite kept silent even their dogs did not bark (Exodus 11:6). Perhaps my favourite animal story is also one of the weirdest. Balaam’s donkey is far more aware and more obedient to God than his prophetic master. Its clear from these passages that the lives of animals are bound up with our own- something that pet owners probably understand.

Like people of his time, Jesus also lived his life alongside animals. He was born in a stable and rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. However, there is a little detail in Mark’s telling of Jesus’ time in the wilderness that is often missed. He tells us that Jesus ‘was with the wild animals’. In the wilderness Jesus encounters three types of non-human creatures: Satan, the wild animals and the angels. The writer Bauckham suggests that Jesus make friends of the wild animals in a reference to the vision of Isaiah 11:6-9 when all creatures will live together in peace. The promise of the kingdom of God includes animals and we live with them rather than dominate them.

Currently about 1 in 4 mammals is at risk of extinction which is a terrifying number. Much of this is due to loss of habitat as the land is used to produce goods that we as human beings want to purchase and consume. I am drinking coffee and typing on a laptop. Both include components from places in the world where wildernesses have become plantations and mines. I reap the benefits of a consumer culture and God’s creatures pay the cost. While we cannot extricate ourselves completely from these global networks I can try to consume less. Do I need this? Can I do without it? Is there a version that uses less resources/could I share it?

You might like to research your favourite land animal. How many different species are there? Is it endangered and why?

Made in the Image of God

The last thing that God creates is us- human beings. We don’t get a whole creation day to ourselves but share it with our fellow creatures. Instead of being made ‘according to their kinds’, humanity is made ‘in the image of God’. People have puzzled over this phrase for centuries. What does it mean to be made in the image of God? What makes us unique? Is it self-consciousness, intelligence or creativity?

The Israelites were aware of other religions around them where statues or rulers somehow represented God. The name of the Pharaoh ‘Tutankhamun’ means ‘the living image of the God Amon’. The Israelites are commanded not to make any idols or set up any images because in a real sense they are the living images or representatives of God. To make other images can only mean they have forgotten their calling. People should be able to look at us, individually and collectively as human beings and see something of the nature of God.

This is a task and a responsibility for all of us. It is not just left to a King or Pharaoh. We are obviously not identical. We have different skills, abilities and experiences but as Dr Rowan William writes;

This means that whenever I face another human being, I face a mystery. There is a level of their life, their existence, where I cannot go and which I cannot control, because it exists in relation to God alone…The reverence I owe to every human person is connected with the reverence I owe to God, who brings them into being. I stand before holy ground when I encounter another person.’

There is a radical equality here. All people matter.

Do you find this idea about being ‘made in the image of God’ exciting or daunting? Have you thought about it like this before?

Are there people that you need to remind yourself have been made in God’s image?

Being ‘made in the image of God’ is not so much about an innate quality but more like a job title. The words ‘subdue’ and ‘have dominion/rule over’ have been used to legitimise the abuse of the natural world for our own ends. However, ‘subdue’ can be linked to the idea of occupying or filling the land rather than beating it down by force. ‘Dominion’ and ‘rule’ are neutral although we often associate them with the negative use of power. God expects His rulers to be different. We are expected to work for justice and stand against oppression with love and compassion (Proverbs 31:4-9) Jesus of course was a servant king. How might we be servant kings of the created world?

How might we as a Church be servant-kings of creation?

One way might be to consider what we eat. Animal farming around the world destroys habitats and contributes to greenhouses gases. There are also issues surrounding transportation and packaging. Should we eat less meat as Christians? After all Genesis 1:29-30 seems to suggest that the original vision for creation was a vegetarian one. Meat-eating seems to be granted as a concession to sin in this in-between time after the garden of Eden and before the city of gold. I continue to be greatly challenged by this and while I still eat meat, I eat less of it than I used to and source it to the UK. I also try to eat vegetarian at least once a week; not easy in a house of carnivorous boys. Rabbi Yonatan Neril and Yedidya Sinclair suggest that before we eat, we should ask ourselves; Why am I eating? (Am I actually hungry?) How fast do I eat my food? (Better to eat slowly and gratefully) Where do I eat (In front of the TV?) With whom do I eat? Where has my food come from?

Would you consider changing what you eat? How helpful do you find Rabbi Neril’s questions?

What has been your favourite day of creation in this Bible Study series and why?