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Leaders are tempted by all sorts of enticements. Some are lured into misdeeds by an inordinate desire for financial gain. Others fall into sin because of sexual temptation. Still others get carried away by their own power and self-importance, believing that they are a breed apart, above both human beings and human laws. It’s almost if they see themselves like God.
This last kind of temptation is what snagged the woman in Genesis 3. When the serpent asked if God forbade people from eating the fruit of all trees, the woman rightly said that God’s prohibition related only to one particular tree. If humans ate the fruit of that tree, they would die. The serpent contradicted the woman’s report and, indeed, God’s warning. “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:4-5).
If you were watching the movie version of the Bible, it would start not unlike many other movies, with a positive, happy beginning. Just as the hobbits enjoyed a peaceful existence in the shire, or Woody and his fellow toys were loved by Andy, so the world created by God was very good. The man and woman he created shared together in the good work of stewarding this beautiful and potentially fruitful world. They also shared an unbroken bond of commitment and uninhibited intimacy. Everything was perfect, or, as The Lego Movie puts it, “Everything is awesome!”
Yet, as you watch the first act of the biblical movie unfold, having been introduced to its protagonist (God) and major characters (human beings), you begin to feel a little nervous.
For the past three months, I have been reflecting with you on the creation story in Genesis 1-2. During our slow walk through this passage, we have seen how Scripture speaks to many of our contemporary queries and concerns. One of these has recently made headlines with the publication of the latest papal encyclical, Laudato Sí, which focuses on our responsibility to care for the earth.
If you’ve followed the news about this encyclical, you know that Pope Francis has not shied away from controversy in many of his views. Secular media has focused especially on the Pope’s call for major financial and societal restructuring in order to fight global warming. But, for the most part, the mainstream media has ignored the theological heart of Laudato Sí, which is found in Chapter 2 of the document, “The Gospel of Creation.” Without a careful understanding of this chapter, one really doesn’t grasp the point of the encyclical.
Today, I finish three editions of Life for Leaders that focus on God’s own leadership. So far, we have seen that God’s leadership in Genesis 1-2 is characterized by expansive vision, genuine delegation, empowering direction, and gracious prohibition. Today we’ll add generous provision and consistent collaboration.
Generous Provision. As we saw last month, God provides generously what the first humans need to thrive in their life and work. In Genesis 2:16, God tells the man that he might “freely eat of every tree of the garden,” except, of course, for one. There is a sense of generosity here, of abundance, even of more than enough. God didn’t just give us enough to sustain life. God gave us what we need and much more, trees with ample fruit, trees with diverse, tasty treats, trees that are also beautiful to behold and cooling to sit beneath.
In many churches, the word “stewardship” has a particular meaning, and it is often heard with dread. “Stewardship” is a code word for what is elsewhere called “development” or “advancement” or, more bluntly, “fund raising.” When stewardship season rolls around in your church, it’s time to get our your check book (or credit card, or, now, donation app).
Yet, stewardship includes so much more than giving to your church, however importance that is. Psalm 8 celebrates real, basic stewardship. The psalm begins by praising the majesty of God as revealed in creation. Yet the glory of God in the universe accentuates the apparent insignificance of human beings: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” (8:4). The startling answer to this question comes from the very creation of humanity, as revealed in Genesis 1 and underscored in Psalm 8. God, in fact, created humanity “a little lower than God” and “crowned them with glory and honor” (8:5). Moreover, he delegated to human beings the care of his creation: “You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet” (8:6). God made us to be his stewards who manage his creation for his purposes and benefit.
Today is Independence Day in the United States, a day of patriotic celebrations for citizens in my country. I thought it would be appropriate for me to offer a reflection that is suitable for this day, even though quite a few readers of Life for Leaders do not live in the United States. If you’re from another country, what I write will be relevant to you, though the date won’t have the same significance as it does for my American readers.
In one of his letters to Timothy, the Apostle Paul urged him to offer “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” for all people (1 Tim 2:1). Then, becoming more specific, Paul added that prayers should be offered “for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (2:2).
I wonder why Paul felt it necessary to urge Timothy to pray for his political leaders. Could it be that this sort of prayer might easily haven been neglected, even by such a faithful Christian as Timothy?
Yesterday, I began considering the question “How does God lead?” as revealed in Genesis 1-2. Though the text doesn’t mention divine leadership specifically, we would be well served to consider how God’s activity in creation exemplifies an approach to leadership that can instruct and inspire us. So far, we’ve seen how God’s “leadership” is shaped by vision and exercised through delegation.
Empowering Direction. In Genesis 1-2, God tells the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion . . .” (1:28). These are clear imperatives, given from a superior to those who operate under the superior’s authority. Yet, these directives are not limiting or demeaning, but expansive and honoring. They do not squelch creativity and innovation. Rather, they encourage it.
As I finish up my look back at Genesis 1-2, I want to ask a simple question of this text: “How does God lead?” Since this devotional is called Life for Leaders and since it is published by Fuller Seminary’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, it seems appropriate to reflect a bit on God’s leadership in the biblical account of creation. This is not only a matter of theological curiosity, however. Since we have been created in God’s image and invited to participate in God’s work in the world, then examining God’s way of leading will help us to know how we should lead as well.
The words “leader” or “leadership” do not appear in Genesis 1-2. For the most part, these chapters focus on what God did in creation, with the last verses including human activity as well. Yet, if leadership is a matter of “enabling change over time,” as my colleague Scott Cormode observes, then there is a strong sense in which God leads by creating the heavens and the earth. Moreover, Genesis makes it clear that God envisions a world in which others, namely human beings, will also be change agents. Thus, God could be said to exercise leadership of human beings while inviting them into leadership as well.
In the last couple of months as I having been working my way slowly through Genesis 1-2, I was impressed once again by the picture in this passage of the relationship between male and female. In Genesis 1:27, “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Then, God blessed both male and female together and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion . . .” (1:28). Humankind, as male and female, bears the very image of God. Humankind, as male and female, is given authority and stewardship over creation. This passage reveals God’s intentions for a deep collaboration between man and woman in the work he assigned to human beings.
As we look back upon Genesis 1-2, we see that God created us for community. This community is epitomized in the relationship of man and woman, which, among other things, made possible the growth of community as the first humans were fruitful and multiplied.
In Genesis 1, God created humankind in God’s own image as male and female. Community was built in from the start, an essential element of human life. In Genesis 2, the creation of human beings is seen from a different perspective. God created the man first. But then God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (2:18). There it is, plain as day: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” God creates us for relationship, for fellowship, for community.
Now you may want to say, “Wait a minute! The man wasn’t alone. He had God. In fact, his relationship with God was unstained by sin at this point in the story. The man and God could walk together in the garden, experiencing an intimacy we can only imagine. Why, then, would God say that the man was alone? Wasn’t relationship with God enough?”
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