In God’s Image

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Bill Moyers leads a discussion with theologians and scholars on what it means to be created “in God’s image” and what the two creation accounts in Genesis suggest about the roles of the sexes.



In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. God made the heaven and the earth, the waters and the dry land, the sun and the moon, and all the creatures of the air, the sea, the earth. And God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let us make man in our image. Let him rule over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air and every living thing. Yes, God created humankind in God’s image. Male and female, God created them and God blessed them and said, “I have given every living thing life and food to eat.” And God saw it was good. It was very good.

And when God finished the work of creation, God rested. On the seventh day, God rested, God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy.

God saw that the seeds and the plants hadn’t grown yet. God hadn’t caused it to rain and there was no one to till the soil. But a mist rose and watered the whole face of the earth. And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. And man became a living soul.

Then God put man into a garden, Eden. And God told him to eat freely, but not to take from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. “If you eat from that tree you will die. Yes, die.”

God made animals in Eden and told Adam to name every one of them. And Adam named the beasts, fowl and cattle but there was no helpmate for him. And God said, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.”

So God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. And God took one of his ribs, closed the flesh around it, and made woman. And God brought her to the man.

And the man said to the woman, “You are bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh and you will be called woman because out of man you were taken.” So now a man will leave his mother and father, cleave to his wife, and together shall be one flesh. And the man and his wife were naked, but they were not at all ashamed.

BILL MOYERS: These words are so familiar to us, that they are almost cliches. What do you think they must have seemed like to the first person who read or heard them?

HUGH O’DONNELL: When I read the Bible again recently the first impression is that it feels very remote I don’t believe these stories. I found myself saying to myself, I don’t believe these stories. I’m only interested in these stories insofar as I know these stories.

BURTON VISOTZKY: But what– what does that mean, that you don’t believe them? You don’t believe it happened that way? or–

HUGH O’DONNELL: Well, you see, if I’m required to believe that in a land beyond time, there occurred this great adventure, it gets put on the shelf along with the other books of fantastic literature. And for me to recognize this as something that I have– that I can relate to, I want to be able to look at it as something that, “Yes, this happens then, it happens now, and it will happen again.” It’s a continuous-­ revelation, a continuous realization. As soon as I can plug into that, I’ve got it.

BILL MOYERS: Were you able to?


BILL MOYERS: In what sense?

HUGH O’DONNELL: Well, I think that the– this question of-­ having– making something in one’s likeness is something, as an artist, that is continuously-­ present. Because one is the author of what one does. And yet one doesn’t somehow completely own what one does. You make something, and it separates from you.

BILL MOYERS: Are you suggesting that God may have been surprised by what He did?

HUGH O’DONNELL: Well, I– think of the – the – the two creation stories – where God – creates everything, and He creates man and woman as an item. He– He creates masculine and feminine in…… one. And then in the second part it all starts again, and He starts doing it in stages. That reminds me of the fact that, as an artist, one has a conception that starts ringing around, running around in your brain. And this is something that’s driving you to do it. And you see the whole thing in this wonderful detail, this immensity. And then you roll up your sleeves and you get started. And-­ and then things all start to– it all hits the floor. And you’ve gotta start rebuilding it. And I think of that as the– from conception to making. And you haven’t really got an idea until you’ve actually started to build something and survived.

JOHN S. KSELMAN: One of the ways we can look at creation, one of the ways that traditionally people have looked at creation is of course, is creation out of nothing, and so on, and there’s a sense in which that’s true. Since– it’s not true in these stories, though. In both of these stories, what the creative act of God .is, is – bringing order where there was chaos, where there was disorder. And– in a certain sense, what I heard you saying, was this is– I mean, the creative act of God, and the creative act of the artists, share a great deal in a certain sense.

Whenever it worked at all, I always end up having to make a mess, before I make anything start to happen. So I always end up– always start creating chaos before I can create order. And that’s the freedom that has to be there, too.

One can’t be perfect.

JOHN S. KSELMAN: I never found you had a create it, it was just there, all around, and–

HUGH O’DONNELL: “Oh, yes, as you know– you know sometimes one goes around in a kind of constriction, a vise, of rules and regulations and how-to, recipes in one’s mind. And one has to break that down, one has to shatter it and put it all back together again.

ROBERTA HESTENES: There’s another sense in the creation story though, using space, in which the creation accounts tell us that, at one level, it’s holy space – it bears the mark of God, or the life of God and the persons who are created have a kind of worth and beauty and dignity which is holy space. So there is a distance between the creator and the creation.

But there is a glory that’s given to the creation from the creator that I think is luminous in the passage.

HUGH O’DONNELL: Like, I mean, here an example in art is when-­ when Shakespeare creates Hamlet. Hamlet that’s performed on the stage today has got very little to do with Shakespeare. I mean it’s– it’s the people who embody that play, and who live in that play. It separates from the creator. But it still praises the creator.

BURTON VISOTZKY: I– I agree with you Roberta. There is very much this element of the divine, of the blessing, of-­ of all of God in the creation. And yet Hugh’s point is sticking with me. Because we all know perfectly well that, however many times God said, “It’s good, it’s good, it’s good, it’s very good” – not so many chapters go by before God decides, “Well maybe this isn’t so good after all,” destroys it all, and starts again.

HUGH O’DONNELL: Yes. Yes. Yes.

BURTON VISOTZKY: So– it– it has the seeds of what you were talking about. This– this incredible creation. God’s astonished, God’s wondrous at it, and we are in God’s image. And yet we fail.

JOHN S. KSELMAN: In these stories and in the stories that follow in the first few chapters of Genesis, there’s almost a– a trial and error approach. God tries something– with the creation of the man or Adam. And it’s not yet right. And then he tries something else. And later on, he decides it’s not good at all. And therefore, he’s going to destroy the whole thing and start again. So it’s almost a– the– the– the stories seem to– to have God involved in experiments in a certain sense. Some work. Some don’t. –but

BILL MOYERS: What do you make of that?

JOHN S. KSELMAN: I make of that– that this is a God that the narrators thought was very much like us. They are certain as well as the first creation story, it says that God is also remote in some sense. Transcendent to use the technical word. God is not one of us. God is not quite– but on the– on another level, God’s– related to us I think the trial and error shows that God works at things the way we work at things.

BILL MOYERS: This is a real radical idea too, isn’t it? Because in– in primitive times gods were often created in the image of us.


BILL MOYERS: This is a different kind of god. You– you– you share the conviction that both male and female are made in the image of God.

ROBERTA HESTENES: It’s there in the text.

BILL MOYERS: It’s there in the text. But there is a stream in tradition and interpretation that– says– because-­ taking the second story of creation. That because Eve was created from– that she is subordinate. Not only is she derivative, but she is subordinate. And that this story is suggesting that perhaps Adam is a little more divine than Eve. I mean, that’s– that’s– we all recognize that’s been a traditional interpretation, do we not? What do you make of that? Are you troubled by this inconsistency here?

ROBERTA HESTENES: I don’t believe it. I don’t think that’s what the story says. But it’s something as a– as a woman, as a person, that– that when you say, what are the questions, these tests– texts get at, who am I? Who am I with? What am I for? The issue of, is woman from man and for man in the– in the narrow traditional hierarchical kind of understanding, some kind of subsidiary secondary thing is– is this is just not for me a question of interpretation. It’s a question of my living and I think we read the text wrongly when we read it that way. I think what we have from the first story and the _second story

BILL MOYERS: As a whole.

ROBERTA HESTENES: They have to be read in complementary fashion.

WALTER BRUGGEMANN: I am uneasy about trying to read across from the first story to the second one. I think it’s much better to– to take them each one and to celebrate the tension between them, rather than to try to turn them into a sequence wherein the second one overcomes some problems for the first one.

BILL MOYERS: What is the tension?

WALTER BRUGGEMANN: Well I think the– the tension is what we’ve been talking about that– that in the first one– male and female are– equal and are a coherence. And there is some problem with that in the second one. There is some hint of subordination however one–

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, there is there.

WALTER BRUGGEMANN: However one tries to say it. And I think it is an interpretive problem about how the two can be held together. But I think it’s a mistake at the beginning to try to make the first one read into the second one. I think what we have at the beginning is a– is a profound tension. And what we do in the history of interpretation, depending on our needs and our vested interest, we fall out into one story or the other.

BURTON VISOTZKY: You have– you’re right. I think two stories that are very much in tension. In one story, humanity ·is created in God’s image, male and female at one fell swoop. Which implies man and woman are equal. And it also implies something about how we read God. That God can’t simply be seen as He. But if humanity reflects God male and female, we have to understand that God has both aspects in some miraculous way. But the second story is– is even more· -intriguing. Not only is woman created from man’s Rib, but let’s not also forget that– man is created out of the dirt. It’s– it’s a very different creation story. It’s a– much more God sculpts something. Picks it up. Makes it stand. You know, blows life into it. And even then, it’s not quite everything God heeds. It seems that-­ both man and woman are much more subordinate in that second story. It’s a much more complicated relationship with God, as well as with one another.

ROBERTA HESTENES: I think you can make too much of playing one against the other. Unless you assume that the person who wove the stories together, didn’t have, you know, any sense, these stories are– do have a kind of unity. And– and I think not so much of trial and error, as the first account gives you the summary, the conclusion. When I go to cook a dinner (LAUGHTER),· the– the end result is,·I say, “Let’s eat. Dinner is served.” But if you want-­ come the other way. I’ll show you my recipe and the pots and pans and all the stages of that. And so the first .story gives you the summary. God created. It was very good. The second stage-­

HUGH O’DONNELL: I think it gives you the menu. I think it gives you the menu.

ROBERTA HESTENES: The– yeah (LAUGHTER). Well it tells you how it came out in the bigger way. And then in the other picture, you get inside of it. And you get more of the– the tension, the dynamic, the interaction. Because the stories meant to tell you about something else. Now, it’s not about man and woman in the image of God. It’s about man and woman in relationship to each other.

RENITA J. WEEMS: I think that’s precisely what happens and–



RENITA J. WEEMS: The difference, I think in the first and the second story. They are a– I think precisely that that relationship of– of God to human beings in the first one. And the second one the relationship of human beings to one another and to all of creation. I think that that is what– what happens in the– the focus of both of them.

BILL MOYERS: Then what is that second story telling us about relationship between men and women?

RENITA J. WEEMS: That in fact they are– related. And I don’t think that the second one is much– is much interested in the issue of equality as it is just relationship. That– that they find– their– themselves in one another, And at last, she is born of my bones and flesh of my flesh. And he realizes something was missing.

BILL MOYERS: When you hear that, the– that wonderful phrase bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, what– what do you think?

RENITA J. WEEMS: She is like me. She is like me.


RENITA J. WEEMS: Finally she is like me. I don’t think it’s a question of equal the way– I mean, equality means so many crazy things for us. You just–

BILL MOYERS: I see it as a love poem.

RENITA J. WEEMS: Oh yes, I believe that’s the first love song that a man ever sung to a woman when he–


RENITA J. WEEMS: I mean it’s poetry. So it’s set off in poetry. And he says– and I wish we could just put music to it. But actually, I mean, it was like the first love song that– that was ever sung to a woman– that a man sung to a woman. Saying at last someone’s like me. A kindred.

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: I think it’s very striking that the word that God uses is “TOV”. He says it’s not good. He takes the word “good,” which has been the stamp on every aspect of creation up ’til now. And He looks at man, He said, “It’s not good that man should be alone.” God then allows man to discover for himself how not good it is. God doesn’t create woman until man has started naming the animals. And according to some traditions, he had noticed that he has all animal potential in himself. All the symbolic characteristics of all the animals are within himself. And he looks for a partner in this. He looks for someone who isn’t simply a sexual partner, but someone who can share this totality of– of his being. And he notices, through his senses, through his– through his way of being in the world, he notices that there is something very “LO TOV” (PH) about the way he’s been created. And only when “LO MATSA” (PH) when he himself hasn’t found any counterpart in the world,·then God puts him to sleep. What has to happen before God can create– according to the second creation story– before God can create woman, is that man should realize the divine dissatisfaction in his own experience. God says it’s not good, but doesn’t do anything about it until man becomes– ·aware of a quest and of a dissatisfaction in himself.

BILL MOYERS: John, does it– has it been a trouble to your faith that there are these two accounts of creation? Are you troubled by the contradiction or the incompatibility? Or just the existence of these two stories?

JOHN S. KSELMAN: Troubled, no. I– I– I think they both say something important. They– they– they say something about God’s relatedness. They also say something about God’s unrelatedness. About God’s– I don’t– I don’t like the word remote, but I think that– that maybe can capture it in some ways. That God is involved and related, but yet he is not one of us in a certain sense, indeed at the end of the second creation story, God says he is troubled by the fact that now, knowing good and evil, man has become like us. That is, it worked in a certain sense the– the– sin and therefore they are excluded from the garden, from the tree of life.

ROBERTA HESTENES: Another thing that we have from the story. That if we had nothing else, which is that creation is not God.

BURTON VISOTZKY: That’s right.

ROBERTA HESTENES: Creation is glorious. Creation has all of this wonder. Creation provides for the needs of the human family. But creation is not God. And so there is a distance between creator and creation, as well as intimacy between creator and creation. And both are important–

HUGH O’DONNELL: I– I– I– just cannot accept that creation is not God. How can this possibly be? Because if God has made something, the process continues and God is happy to let it continue– that’s why He allows Himself to rest, because creation has to– will only work if you allow it to. And for– for that chain reaction to be able to occur, you have to work for the–

ROBERTA HESTENES: Creation did not make itself.

HUGH O’DONNELL: No, but we are working from the divine principle that is in everything that lives. That’s not the only way creation can happen. There’s no sort of shadowy, down-played model from the– from a better model.

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: But then you have the meaning of the word–

HUGH O’DONNELL: What goes on in His creation is pure creation.

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: or the word image. Image is less and not identical with the model.

HUGH O’DONNELL: It’s new. And the idea– It’s a new thing.

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: But the very word raises the question of that relationship, and at the heart of the word again in rabbinic tradition is the word “shadow.” When you say “shadowy ” that there is a sense that the human being is a shadow that God casts in the world. I saw an interesting exhibition “Ernest Gombridge” (PH) set up in London on shadows in art. And one of the primary functions of shadows is to say something about the reality of what is casting a shadow. Once you have a shadow, then you know that the object that’s casting the shadow is– is substantial, is real. So if the human being is God’s shadow, that says something about the reality of God as human beings, experience experience God –

HUGH O’DONNELL: Between the idea and what the act falls the shadow– And somewhere, almost of a reduced reality within the limits of sensual experience that”human beings know in their own–


BILL MOYERS: Do you see yourself made in the image of God?

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: Exactly in that sense. In the sense that there is a being of greater reality than I·myself, even though I sense myself as having tremendous reality (LAUGHTER), obviously. But there is a being of greater reality who I’m both very much related to and I will– I would agree, I have a sense of the otherness of his face.

BILL MOYERS: So what does it mean to you in– in your daily life that you are the shadow of this greater reality, that you are in the image of God?

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: What it means is that I’ve been given something to cultivate, something that is not a fact but a project. You start off with a human being’s idea of the ultimate reality of God, and a human being senses in his own creativity– in his own creativity the possibility of realizing that– that– that model in– in his or her own experience.

ROBERTA HESTENES: The other thing is that life is a gift. I didn’t give it to myself. I’m responsible for it, but I receive it, and in receiving, then one of the emotions is gratitude.


ROBERTA HESTENES: I mean, I’ve just had a heart attack several weeks ago, in which you lay in that hospital bed and listen to the doctors come and go, one of the issues is life and the end of life as we know it and all of those kinds of things. And a new sense of gratitude for this gift. I am dependent really for my very life. I don’t make it (LAUGHTER), I receive it, and I am given the opportunity and the privilege, and I can blow it and I can diminish it, or I can responsibly respond with gratitude to the gift that’s been given.

BILL MOYERS: Do you ever feel the contradiction of being composed of both the dust of the earth and the breath of God, as the text says?

ROBERTA HESTENES: I mean, that’s the essence of what it means to be human. That that the dust is so real, the– the finiteness, the dependence, the fragility, the -brokenness, the· struggle, -the– -that’s so real. And yet this longing inside of us, this– this sense of self-transcendence, this hunger, this yearning for joy– all of these other things that, as one has said are rumors of angels, and this sense that we’re more than dust. And we’re not content simply to be dust returning to dust. We long for something more than that, because I think we bear the image of God within us that creates that hunger and that drive forward and all of that part of us.

HUGH O’DONNELL: What about the gift of death?


HUGH O’DONNELL: Do you see that as part of the thing that you’re thankful for?

ROBERTA HESTENES: From my own perspective and from my recent experience, I still echo the New Testament language which talks about the “sting of death,” and that death is the enemy. And I do not find myself as one who believes it’s the inevitable whatever. It’s– it’s an enemy. And it’s a reality,, but it is– I don’t “go gentle (LAUGHTER) into that good night.” (LAUGHTER).

BURTON VISOTZKY: I want to comment on– on two things you said. One– one is this this tension between the– the dust, as it were, and the breath, and recall a rabbinic story where they actually quote a line from later in the Bible when Abraham says to God, “Here I am ‘AFAR VAYEFER'(PH). I am but dust and ashes.” And the rabbis suggest that human beings are precisely that, but they need to know that there’s a balance there so that everyone should have two pieces of paper, and on one piece of paper it should say, “I am but dust and ashes.” And when you need to be reminded of that, you can take it out and read it. But on the other piece of paper for your low moments is the reminder “BEESH V’LEEN Y’VRAH OLAM” (PH)– “For my sake, the universe was created.”

BILL MOYERS: What goes through your mind when you hear that phrase, “And the-·Lord God’ formed man of·the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. And man became a living soul”?

HUGH O’DONNELL: Well I mean I– I’ve actually tried in my own work to do something like that. I mean, I– I– when I think of creation, I think of it on– on three different things in my own life. I think of– the initial idea of separation. Is the– is the most crucial dynamic, and being able to start the process of creation. Then the one of bene– being able to create something– a person. And then creating the work of art. The idea of breathing life into somebody, is– that’s God’s ability, not– not– not mine. I– I felt that when I– I- I created my own daughter, I didn’t really have much to do with it. In fact, I felt slightly outraged that this thing– that– this process had gone on, and I was just an instrument.

(LAUGHTER) Just sort of came through me and it happened. And I thought– it made me feel weak. It made me feel very, very small.

ROBERTA HESTENES: Surely this is one of the difference for women– giving birth.


ROBERTA HESTENES: It would be very difficult for me as a mother of three thinking of childbirth and that whole experience to feel anything but totally engaged in that process. And totally involved.

HUGH O’DONNELL: I know it’s– it’s a helplessness–

ROBERTA HESTENES: Even as you’re– instrumental, yes (LAUGHTER).

HUGH O’DONNELL: For the man, there’s a helplessness when it comes to the–

ROBERTA HESTENES: There– there’s a difference.

HUGH O’DONNELL: – specifics of– of you know, of all– organic life. You know, the ramifications of organic life.

I– I– were– I sh– share that. I mean, that frustration I had also as a father, that, you know, I could father two children and really have
very little to do with the whole thing when all is said and done. But it comes back to your original question. The rabbis, when– when God says, “Let us– ” The rabbis in one marvelous text from about the fifth, sixth century, imagine that in fact God is talking to Adam and Eve. What– what God is saying is, “Okay, you guys, I will create all on
my own. But from this point onward, you– we all three have to be involved in this process. There has to be a woman. There has to be a man. And there has·to be this divine spark in order for there to be any subsequent creation of humanity.”

So when God says, “Let us create humanity in our image,” it means man, woman, God. All three together. That’s how we create from this point onward. And that– that was what was making me think about– when you talked about fathering, that– how God must have felt having created Adam and Eve and kind of this wistful, oh well, there they are.·-· nd they seem to be all on their own independent now. What did I have to do with it? That’s good, and that’s frustrating to God both.

There is a fascinating rabbinical image that-­ always moves me that only man was not created by the word of God. But– but rather by the hands of God. And I find that very– a very powerful observation. All the rest of creation was created by the fiat of God. God said let there be. And it was.

HUGH O’DONNELL: And you didn’t–

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: Whereas there’s no such statement. Yes. Distance and total control.

HUGH O’DONNELL: But did you know– did you know-­ (OVERTALK)


HUGH O’DONNELL: Cezanne is– as a painter says you don’t create with your eyes, you create with your hands.

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: With your hands. “HEAR BAYADAYIM” (PH) the– the rabbis say go– only man was created as a potter creates, as a– someone who works in clay. And what that means to me, if you– if you look at that famous chapter in Jeremiah about the potter and how he works– how he creates his object.

On the one hand, the most superficial reading is it– images total control. I can do what I like. I am the artist. I can if I don’t like what I’ve made. I simply discard it and try again. And I make what I want. On the other hand, what it means if you look at the text there in Jeremiah closely, what it means is that the object tells the creator actually what it’s going to be.

HUGH O’DONNELL: Yes, that’s right.

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: The object dictates to the creator on every level, even if you use the analogy there. Can’t I do that to you Oh House of Israel. Depending on how you are to me. So I will be to you. In other words, God is saying through this image, “I don’t have total control. I respond to the movements under the hands. I respond to how you are to me.” Very much as artists know really happened to– (OVERTALK)

HUGH O’DONNELL: Did you know _when you’re doing that you mean–

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: Thomas Mann– the– the example that always occurs to me, Thomas Mann intended Joseph and his brothers to be a short story (LAUGHTER). That was– that was the plan. That was–

HUGH O’DONNELL: But you know this thing of making a– what is a part or whether it’s a– a– a huge mural, you’re making yourself.


HUGH O’DONNELL: You’re remaking yourself.

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: Yes. So it’s “NASEH ADAM” (ph) almost I am making (UNINTEL)–

BILL MOYERS: You’ve drawn– you’ve just drawn from this text two wonderful images for God. God the poet, the poet speaks.


BILL MOYERS: The words of God create the image And God the potter, God working not with the voice, not with the words (BACKGROUND CONVERSATION) but with the hands. I mean, a wonderful and there’s no conflict in my mind in those two images of God.

HUGH O’DONNELL: of production that’s overwhelming the earth. I-­ I think one can feel very fruitful in– in making authentic production, as opposed to
unnecessary production.

WALTER BRUGGEMANN: That’s right. But it seems to me the necessary balance of one’s life is to stop productivity. And to,acknowledge.that.. my life depends on receiving as well as asserting. That I take it-­


WALTER BRUGGEMANN: – That sabbath is a pause in the asserting for the receiving that keeps life human.

BURTON VISOTZKY: This is where you recapture Eden when God creates the sabbath, I mean, it’s not a place. It’s the structure. I think Heschel’s term was a “cathedral in time”. We take a piece of time and set it apart. And in so honoring that moment, or that series of moments, we have the Garden of Eden once again. We are able to– to rest. To not be toiling. To not be working. We– we have to cease work at that moment. We have to imitate the creator in recognizing, yes, that there is a
moment of pure bliss. Of– of joy. Of receiving, rather than just constantly producing and constantly working.

BILL MOYERS: Burt, in the beginning, there is this affirmative if not euphoric description of what happens. God creates all this, looks around and says, “It’s good.” And God says, but now, wait a minute, this is all very good, but there’s one tree here that if you eat of it, you will die. And suddenly there’s a chill cast over this story. What do you make of that?

BURTON VISOTZKY: I– I think God is a nervous creator. God creates humanity in God’s image, and yet when God says don’t eat of the fruit, God– almost as an aside-­ because if they eat of the fruit, they’ll be too much like me. Well {LAUGHTER), you can”t have it both ways. Either we’re gonna’ be in God’s image or we’re not gonna’ be in God’s image. And I-­ I’m reacting also to something Walter said earlier about the Sabbath and how God has the ability to let go and say, fine, I did six days wprk, I can rest now for a day. And it strucK me that what that told me about God is that God is very much like a parent. And parents at a certain point realize that their job in being a good parent is just to let go. You’ve done what you can, your children are launched, and you’ve·just got to give them some space, you’ve got to give them some time. You just basically have to sit on your hands and see what happens. So, on one hand, God has that confidence creating humanity– let’s go, let’s see what happens. On the other hand, also like a parent, God is a very nervous creator. God may be, as it were, sitting on God’s hands, but simultaneously God’s biting the nails. (LAUGHTER)

RENITA J. WEEMS: Where do we get this image, I mean, in this circle, this– this image of God who is- the language that we’re using of- of nervous or a God who sees that creation is good but then decides later on that perhaps creation is not as good. And a God who– who “gods” by trial and error. I mean, in this circle, this sounds very reasonable and sound and– and we- turn to the text and say, yes, indeed, there– there’s reason to– to believe this. But where did this– where did this other notion, the more prevailing notion of God who is sovereign, infallible, never makes
– mistakes — I mean we’re making it sound like God is, you know, so much like us and– and certainly, I find that much more comforting than the other image. But where did this other image of the God who is– who is not nervous, the God who made creation and it–


RENITA J. WEEMS: Where do we get this?

WALTER BRUGGEMANN: That is also in the text, isn’t it?


WALTER BRUGGEMANN: I mean. It seems to me that it’s clear that it– both of those portrayals of God are present in the text?


WALTER BRUGGEMANN: And I imagine it’s been ide– ideology and interpretive necessity that has caused us to lift up this one side of (UNINTEL), I think.

BILL MOYERS: I’m not comfortable, are you– I’m– I’m really not comfortable, Renita, thinking that God is more like me. I’m more comfortable with the notion that God is in His heaven and God knows what God is doing (BACKGROUND LAUGHTER)– or Her heaven. That God is sovereign, that God is other. Really greater than I–

HUGH O’DONNELL: Yeah, but what about God is in control? What about that?


BILL MOYERS: Well, I have some questions to ask because I look around me at the state of the world, and I say what kind of God is controlling-this world?

HUGH O’DONNELL: Right, yep.

ROBERTA HESTENES: I do not believe that Genesis 1 and 2 are about God’s nervousness. I think they show God purposeful. I..think that the limitation is not an absolute, arbitrary, capricious rule given just for the rule’s sake, that it’s a description of the finiteness and the limited circumstance that man is in, and that it’s an acknowledgment of that in the story, that in fact man is not autonomous, able to do everything, and there are no boundaries–

HUGH O’DONNELL: But you see–

ROBERTA HESTENES: or no limits.

HUGH O’DONNELL: But the thing about what-­

ROBERTA HESTENES: And that’s good. That is not bad.

BURTON VISOTZKY: I want to come back to this relationship point, because, actually, I think, Roberta, you were the first one who brought up this notion that in creating humanity, God is trying to-,tea-ch relationship. And one of the things about relationship is, is that there are two parties. That means that however powerful God is by any theology, however omnipotent, right, all power, all knowledge, God can be in all places at once, there are still these very frail humans who are part of the relationship. Which means that in some way God relinquishes a certain amount of control.

BILL MOYERS: But can God create something that is that frail?

I mean, would God create something that is frail? And if so, why does God create something that is frail?

HUGH O’DONNELL: Yeah, but the integrity of creation is a broad issue, and God wants us to have dominion and to subdue the earth. In other Words, he wants– he wants us to win the contest of creating an integrity. He wants to make his own creation whole. And that– that is why He– He creates the boundaries and the limits. And he says, you go to those boundaries and you’re really gonna be in trouble. And trouble we are in. But the– the– the thing that inspires me is that when Adam and Eve get to the boundary, they also get knowledge of desire. And the boundary has just simply become another point from which they see ahead. It doesn’t become a brick wall. It becomes another vantage point. And God’s work is increased.

BILL MOYERS: Let me see if I understand why couldn’t God create a creation that doesn’t suffer and therefore doesn’t cause God to weep, and why didn’t God?

HUGH O’DONNELL: Because for it to be whole, it has to have the dynamic of total failure and total–

BILL MOYERS: You can’t have integrity without the Holocaust?

WALTER BRUGGEMANN: Well, I think some other God could. But it belongs to this God to be this way.

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: There’s no good without evil.


WALTER BRUGGEMANN: I mean, you cannot, you cannot rewrite the Bible about this God. That’s who this God is shown and known and confessed to be. And you can’t really explain that. All you can do is acknowledge that that’s who we got.

ROBERTA HESTENES: But you can’t leap to the Holocaust without talking about human freedom. You can’t struggle with that enormous evil and the mystery of that, without struggling with the reality, is that we are told that God creates and gives freedom, of self-limitation on God.

The freedom to do what?

ROBERTA HESTENES: The freedom to make choices whic have consequences–


ROBERTA HESTENES: in-the real- world.

BURTON VISOTZKY: The freedom to do evil?

ROBERTA HESTENES: The freedom to do evil-­

BURTON VISOTZKY: This– this is what it means–

ROBERTA HESTENES: As well as good.

BURTON VISOTZKY: This is what it means to be created in God’s image. It is to have that freedom. Let’s not forget that the Bible itself says that it’s God who creates evil. Right? That’s in Jeremiah, I think– God makes peace and creates evil. Evil is a possibility. It’s a possibility for God. And God does some things in the Bible that are very distressing, things that, by my standard
ethics, make me very, very unhappy– whether it’s the binding of Isaac or wiping out whole villages or destroying the enemy, or destroying the world. God can do horrific things. I won’t judgethem. etc. I assume that there’s some justice in it. But in creating us in God’s image, we also have that privilege, that right, that responsibility. We have choice. And I think it’s that choice that makes God so nervous.

RENITA J. WEEMS: There’s a desperate desire and need and anguish for the image of a God who, irrespective of freedom, will step in, will intercede. We want to believe that in the end or at some point, somewhere, God will intercede for us, on our behalf. That God will not just let evil play itself out.


HUGH O’DONNELL: Have you– have you ever had that happen to you?

RENITA J. WEEMS: Ah, yes, yes, yes. I wouldn’t be sitting here-­ (LAUGHTER)– I mean, I would probably be with the other gods.

HUGH O’DONNELL: Is that what gives you faith, that it happens you again and again?

RENITA J. WEEMS: Again and again, yes.

BILL MOYERS: What happens to you?

RENITA J. WEEMS: Not regularly, not-­

BILL MOYERS: What happens to you?

RENITA J. WEEMS: That I do glimpse the hand of God. Glimpse. And sometimes it’s the back– most times it’s the back side of God. And, as Moses talks about God in Exodus, it’s sometimes the backside of God, but I glimpse the presence of God intervening on my behalf.

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: That’s your perception.

RENITA J. WEEMS: Oh, absolutely. That’s so-­

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: It’s done through natural perspectives.

RENITA J. WEEMS: No, it– it doesn’t matter, I mean, I often tell divinity students, the first year divinity students who I’m teaching at Vanderbilt, and we’re talking when we get to the issue of miracle, what makes a miracle a miracle. Is it that you could not explain it, or that it happened the time that it happened. And for me, a miracle is not that I could never have explained it as happening, but that I experienced it as a miracle because of its timing. That I needed it at that moment. I don’t care if you’re a divinity student, you’re trying to get money for school. It doesn’t matter that the check was in the mail, that it came at the moment the registrar said you’re booted out of here (LAUGHTER). That’s the miracle. So it’s timing that makes the miracle. Even if you can scientifically explain that it got lost through the US post– that’s not the issue. The issue is it came at the time when you were about to die. (LAUGHTER).

BURTON VISOTZKY: I agree with Renita on this as Jews were reminded again and again that in every generation we’re supposed to see ourselves as though we were brought out of Egypt. I mean, that’s the classic case of God intervening in history. God brought us out of slavery with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. And you’re right, sometimes it seems the most petty events, but something happens in my life– I don’t know, just walking down the street, something happens in y and I’m reminded of that moment, I– in some very teeny, minuscule way, I am reliving that redemption. And I know that God acts in the world, and at least for me– it creates a host of other theological questions. Why me and not the poor person on the street. But I think that that is there, that reality of that relationship at–

BILL MOYERS: Is this what you meant a minute ago when you said, “This is the only God we’ve got. We just have to make do with what we know, and we don’t know a whole lot”?

WALTER BRUGGEMANN: If we’re gonna’ live inside the narrative of the Bible, rather than some other narrative, that seems to me is what we’re either blessed with or stuck with. Yeah.

RENITA J. WEEMS: And that narrative is a narrative about us suffering. I think I usually take great comfort in these stories, because they– they are stories of a people trying to explain suffering. Not explain goodness, but explain evil.

BILL MOYERS: So you choose consciously to stay within this narrative even though there are other choices to you?


BILL MOYERS: And you do too?

RENITA J. WEEMS: It’s a choice.

BILL MOYERS: You– stay within this narrative?


BILL MOYERS: As a Christian?


BILL MOYERS: As a believer?

WALTER BRUGGEMANN: Yes. I certainly do. But I wouldn’t say necessarily that it’s conscious. I would say that I am so compelled inside of it that I couldn’t imagine or think myself outside of it. I have two adult sons, and what worries me most, their generation more than mine,is that they are tempted to live in the world that is generated by TV consummerism. It is another made up world.

BILL: This is the world of the imagination. Your imagination has been shaped by this narrative?


BILL MOYERS: By these stqries and this fate. You’re saying their imagination is being shaped by other stories and other images–

WALTER BRUGGEMANN: Yeah, that’s right and I believe that the true situation of most of us in US culture is that we are pulled apart by not wanting to choose between these two narrative worlds, because there’s so much good stuff in this other one that I don’t want to give up. But I believed at the time–- I’m rather apocalyptic. That the time is coming when those choices– the choice between those narrative worlds cannot be put off in our society.

BURTON VISOTZKY: Yeah, but, Walter, that hasn’t changed for millennia. You’ve got to– that hasn’t changed –since the first.

WALTER BRUGGEMANN: I think that’s right. I mean-­ I mean only to be describing our situation. I don’t want to argue that it’s unique or unprecedented.

ROBERTA HESTENES: Right. That’s back to who are we as humans. Are we, for instance, primarily economic beings? Are we consumers? And is tne way we’re to define ourselves in terms of getting and spending and having and acquisition and all of that, or, as the story tells us, are we responsible moral beings?

HUGH O’DONNELL: Well, to be–

ROBERTA HESTENES: And do we have then the capacity and the obligation to make the kind of choices.which shape the world that we’re part of.

HUGH O’DONNELL: Well, this is– this is back to the– to the story again, isn’t it? It’s like Adam and Eve, here you are, here you have it, and here you have the tree of… but you mustn’t touch it. And it’s like, you know, you have to have choice. In order to escape the evil and this kind of indoctrination where people are not making decisions of their own– they’re just being spoonfed with information, where they lost all of their genius and all of their originality, and they become flat, two-dimensional beings. This is the end of creation.

ROBERTA HESTENES: Your choices matter.

HUGH O’DONNELL: Choice is absolutely fundamental.

ROBERTA HESTENES: They have consequences.

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: That’s essentially it.

HUGH O’DONNELL: … But why is it–


AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: But it occurs to me what they wrote in the liturgy, speaking of the liturgy, when we refer to being made in the image of God is when a couple gets married.


AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: In other words, we don’t– we don’t say a blessing when a baby is born thanking God for creating a child in his image. We say a blessing under the wedding canopy celebrating the maturity of a couple who have made certain choices, and who are­- have reached a point at which they can begin to create their lives and to create new human beings. And that’s being in the image of God– not the primary con– natural condition, but something–

BILL MOYERS: So is this-– is this text suggesting that the-­ the normal social order in this world of Genesis is a man and a woman being fruitful, multiplying?


BILL MOYERS: Children?


BILL MOYERS: Are you suggesting that that’s– ?

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: That’s the– that’s it.

BILL MOYERS: – the ideal social norm as revealed in this scripture?

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: I would think so. And also, but not necessarily a primary natural ideal. In other words, people the understanding is that it’s not a– not a simple thing. “EZER KNEGOL” (PH) implies a helpmate opposite one. To have to be married is a very complicated business. One has there’s an adversarial–

BILL MOYERS: Tell me about it. (LAUGHTER)

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: It’s not just seeing my partner. It’s seeing my adversary as well, “KNEGDOL” (PH).

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: “KNEGDOL” _(PH). The word that’s used there. That’s what’s so blotted out in the English translations.

BILL MOYERS: The Hebrew word?

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: Yes. It’s a helpmate-­

ROBERTA HESTENES: Corresponding-­

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: As it were, opposite. “KNEGDOL” (PH). The– the only place where that keh (PH) is used. As it were, not literally opposite, but as it were opposite. And the rabbis otten have many comments to make about the relation between the adversary and the helpful in the relationship.

BILL MOYERS: I knew I should have been Jewish. (LAUGHTER). I knew.

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: If a man deserves it, then he has a wife who is against him in the right ways. And if he doesn’t deserve it, he has a wife who is always with him in the wrong ways.

RENITA J. WEEMS: We say that that is the ideal social norm, and we live in a culture where we make choices or choices are foisted upon us, where we can’t live–



RENITA: Or, for example, if a woman cannot have a child.


RENITA J. WEEMS: And to– and to hear her say that that is the ideal social norm, what does that say?

BILL MOYERS: And some of my colleagues who are homosexUals say this leaves them out­


BILL MOYERS: If this is the normal social norm, as derived from the Biblical picture, they don’t see themselves in it. And they–

BURTON VISOTZKY: This is– this is but one story in a very large Bible. (SLIGHT LAUGH). It’s true that as God creates humanity here, male and female, that’s one model. But later on, we get a model, for instance, of Jacob with four wives. We get a commandment in the Bible later on that if things don’t work well in a couple, you should be divorced. We get stories of all kinds of relationships– barren women, single parents, etcetera, etcetera. I think all the models that we can find in our current society are there in the Bible, and then some. (LAUGHTER). So that this idea of being· included versus being excluded ain’t necessarily so. If you want to find yourself within the broad range of the Biblical we’re there.

RENITA J. WEEMS: But we get back to–

JOHN S. KSELMAN: Avivah, I want to go back to one thing you said what do you make of the fact that every family in Genesis, from this primal family of– of the man and the woman to Abraham’s family, Jacob’s, Joseph’s– every family in the book of Genesis is a fractured family. Almost what we would call a dysfunctional family. Of conflict and agony and fracture and so on. The, I mean, the images in– in the creation story in Genesis are almost images of the bliss of this relationship, but then we come to the reality in this story and in all the other stories of the darkside, the dysfunctional side in that. What– what do you make of that?

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: It’s very painful. It’s very painful. I think when you say “bliss,” it’s exactly the wrong word.


Bliss is perhaps a theoretical construct of the Garden of Eden, but as soon as you emerge into the real world–

BURTON VISOTZKY: Bliss as in ignorance is bliss. (LAUGHTER)

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: Ignorance is unconsciousness. (LAUGHTER). Unconsciousness is bliss.

ROBERTA HESTENES: The bridge is Genesis 3.



AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: And you emerge into the real world, and what-­ there’s a terrible line from Kafkthat always sticks in my mind, when he says, “We read– we read stories that wound and stab us. That– the purpose of a story is to be an axe that breaks up the ice within us.” We don’t read stories– we don’t read,happy stories. If the Bible– if the Bible were a series of happy stories, it wouldn’t have any purpose at all. (LAUGHTER) What would we read it for? We read stories that remind us of our own moments of fracture, that– that constantly
rub the wound. (SLIGHT LAUGH)

That constantly, if we had been lulled into any kind of equanimity, the Bible comes and breaks up the equanimity. It says, yes, but remember, things don’t go the way one would perhaps like them to go. And then what does one do?

JOHN S. KSELMAN: But hope for reconciliation is held out in in those stories in some way or other, but it’s a–


JOHN S. KSELMAN: – hope for reconciliation, a movement towards that, from fracture and from human distress and pain–


AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: And therefore desire.

BILL MOYERS: Answer your own question that you ask Avivah. What’s your answer to that question?

JOHN S. KSELMAN: What do I make of the stories?

BILL MOYERS: Of the brokenness-­

JOHN S. KSELMAN: Of the– of the-­

BILL: – of the human race after–


BILL MOYERS: This chapter. This text.

JOHN S. KSELMAN: This is human agony in a certain sense, and human struggle and the knowledge of frailty, getting back to the theme. Someone asked, well, why did God make frailty? Well, we can’t
say why, but I mean, the experience of frailty is a few moments of self-reflection. And I think, you know, as these frail, limited human beings in– undertake the process of marriage in the book, we see love, we see reconciliation, but we also see a fracture.

And it seems to me that’s a fairly honest look at the world.

WALTER BRUGGEMANN: It seems to me that the other piece of the story line of those family stories in Genesis is that this family continues to carry the blessing, and I take it the blessing means something like the capacity to create a future. And the amazing thing is that these fractured, dysfunctional families are adequate vehicles for that. And the Book of Genesis doesn’t have any particularly critical perspective on dysfunctions. That’s okay, you don’t have to get everything straightened out– (AGREEING COMMENTS)

WALTER BRUGGEMANN: – to live with a–

AVIVAH GOTTLIEB ZORNBERG: It’s good enough for the– ?

WALTER BRUGGEMANN: That’s right. For carrying God’s blessing, which may indeed be the blessing that was pronounced already in Genesis, Genesis 1, about be fruitful and multiply. This family keeps the possibility of creation going from generation to generation.


WALTER BRUGGEMANN: Now what’s– let me just say one other thing-– what’s interesting about this madness about family values we want to act as though you’ve got it get the family perfectly straightened out morally before it can do anything. Genesis isn’t interested in that at all. Just get on with it in the shape you find yourself, and look what’s been entrusted to you.

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