Back in my school days, I read a story about some people in a place called Babylon. It was a tale about creation, and it explained how this ancient culture believed that the earth, the universe, and human beings all came to be. It started with a fight.
According to the Babylonians, the struggle was between the gods. I couldn’t help but notice that it ended like a lot of human fights I’ve seen. That is, it ended in a bloody mess. In this creation story, there were two main characters: one called Tiamat (I will refer to her as “Sugar Momma”) and another called Marduk. Tiamat was a mother goddess, and she had a son named Kingu. The story didn’t say so, but apparently Kingu was an only child because his mother liked to dote on him even more than usual. She liked it so much, in fact, that one day Sugar Momma went so far as to name her golden boy as the undisputed boss of all the other deities. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. She even held a ceremony. Picture an over-the-top suburban sweet sixteen. Unfortunately, as it often does with spoiled children, the parental favoritism didn’t sit too well with all the other gods. They didn’t like Kingu. They thought he was a punk. And they decided to do something. After some heated discussion, a rival god was chosen. He would face Tiamat and he would tell Sugar Momma to stop playing favorites, or else. The rival god they found was Marduk. Cue the Rocky theme music. Trouble ensued.
In what sounds like a Babylonian royal rumble, there was a showdown between the deities. They fought, and it was messy. As the story goes, at the end of the brawl both Sugar Momma and her golden boy lay dead. But in case you thought that was the end, it’s not. Things were just getting interesting. (Remember, the story is about creation.) After Marduk murdered his rivals, he wasn’t finished with them. In a gory fit of creativity, he decided to make something from the remains of his slain foes. According to the Babylonians, he created the earth from the mangled scraps of Tiamat, and human beings from the bloody corpse of Kingu.1 Somewhere, Quentin Tarantino proclaimed that “it was good.”
Creation from Conflict
This may seem like an odd way to begin a chapter on creation, but upon reading this grotesque old story I had a slightly different reaction than you might expect. That is, I thought it sounded pretty normal. Because, in some ways, conflict is a pretty standard description of the way it goes when new things are created. Stay with me. What I mean is, when you think about it, creativity is almost always fueled by struggle, adversity, suffering, and tension. It’s that way in business. Two executives disagree about the best way to make an app (or whatever). Trouble ensues. Things get tense. And before long one person decides to go on her own and do things differently. A new company is born, and new products flood the market. It’s creation, from conflict.
It’s that way with nations too. Country A passes a law that says certain people far away have to pay high taxes on their tea. Certain people are not pleased. In fact, some folks actually go so far as to throw said tea into the local harbor. Trouble ensues. Things get tense. And, before you know it, there are two countries where there used to be one. It’s creation, from conflict. (Word to the wise: never mess with people’s tea.)
It’s that way in music too. A young and talented musician feels that his parents’ music fails to connect with the way he sees the world. It hems him in. It’s too restrictive. A struggle ensues, and in a fit of creativity, Young and Talented Musician grabs an instrument and breaks all the rules. (I’m referring of course to Mozart. Or maybe Kurt Cobain. Or any musician that really matters.) It’s creation out of conflict. The same principle holds true in science and sports, art and architecture, and pretty much everything in between. Creation is almost always fueled by conflict.
This is especially true when we begin to study the various creation stories floating around the ancient and modern world. Biblical scholars tell us that perhaps the most unique element of the Jewish-Christian account of origins is its complete and utter lack of conflict. There are other unique features, of course. But this one really sets our narrative apart. Virtually every other ancient (or modern) creation story involves some sort of violent or sexual conflict.
Consider also the big bang theory—at least when it is divorced from some benevolent oversight. To put it crudely, scientists tell us that the bang is merely a metaphor used to describe an intense reaction that occurred when multiple cosmic gases, well . . . interacted violently. As the story goes, the gasses conflicted, reacted, and bang! The universe was made (much like Tiamat and golden boy’s remains).
Come to think of it, maybe the Babylonian story isn’t as unique as one might think. (At least, minus the particulars about divine disembowelment.) If we are honest, it sometimes seems that violence has been stitched into the eternal fabric of the universe. It governs the animal kingdom and it blankets the cable news networks. Nature, as they say, is “red in tooth and claw.” Tarantino has reason to be smiling.
Creation from and for Communion
So what would a more original creation story look like? Where would it begin if not with conflict? Well, if you believe the Scriptures, a more original story of creation would start with something many of us have only experienced in passing. A truly original story of creation would start with perfect, loving community. Now that would be subversive.
The creation chapter in God’s Story is an attempt to open our minds to the possibility that there is indeed another story out there—a more beautiful story—and one that rings truer. We find it in the Scriptures. What we discover, when we read the Bible carefully, is that the universe emerges not from violent or sexual conflict, not from the clash of volatile personalities or volatile gases, but from and for community.
In the Bible, everything from anteaters to jellyfish, waterfalls to water buffaloes, sunsets to supernovas—everything emerges from and for persons in loving relationship. This is the classic Christian doctrine of creation. But it is also the doctrine of the Trinity. Our universe came into being from a God who is communion (Father, Son, and Spirit). And it emerges for persons (both divine and human) who will live together with that same concern for one another.
This article is an excerpt from Long Story Short by Josh McNall (book + video). This book is perfect for: 1) Newcomers classes 2) College or Young Adult Ministry 3) Home groups 4) Neighborhood Bible studies 5) Sunday School. As you walk through this book, you will: Learn the big story of Scripture as a seamless whole; engage with a highly readable book; be challenged to think about familiar stories of the Bible in fresh ways. “Joshua McNall in his engaging and witty little book Long Story Short, can help you understand the storied world in and of the Bible, and perhaps more importantly help you understand how actually you are in the story, and you must embrace it as yours.” (Dr. Ben Witherington III) Get the book + DVD or video streaming from our store here.