The Alpha and Omega of Generosity
It all starts with God; and it all ends with God. He is the alpha and omega of giving and generosity.
This is an excerpt from the first chapter of Chad Bird’s booklet, My Cup Runneth Over.
God created us in order that he might have children upon whom to shower his gifts. In the Garden of Eden, where the Lord fashioned our first parents, every day was like Christmas. Presents of all kinds were spread under every tree, beside the waters, above in the skies. Every aspect of creation was a brightly wrapped gift that could be opened and again, each time with the childlike shriek of excitement. Even the bodies of our first parents were presents; Adam was a gift to Eve, as Eve was to Adam. God was anything but stingy. He opened his hand and satisfied the desires of every living thing (Ps 145:16). Everything that God saw not only as good, but very good, he gave to his crowning achievement in creation: humanity.
In the book of Genesis, therefore, we see the true genesis, the starting point, for understanding giving and generosity. It all starts with God; and it all ends with God. He is the alpha and omega of giving and generosity. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change,” (James 1:17). And every good gift and every perfect gift our Father has designed for his children.
But this is certainly not the way everyone thinks, nor has it been throughout the ages. We usually don’t suppose the account of creation in Genesis 1-2 is a radical story, a countercultural narrative about humanity’s central place in this world. But in fact it is. If you compare the biblical account to a variety of creation myths that were common in the ancient world, one glaring difference is why humanity exists.
For instance, suppose we walked down a street in ancient Babylon and asked one of the people, “Why are you here? Why did god or the gods create you?”
They would respond with something like, “I am here because the gods needed me.”
“What do you mean the gods needed you?”
“Before we were created, the lesser gods had to do all the work in creation.”
“So the greater gods created you to be a worker? To relieve the burden placed on the lesser gods?”
“Yes, of course. Our primary purpose is to work for the gods. We worship them and provide them with food and drink. We exist to be their servants. That’s why we are here.”
Our Babylonian man on the street is echoing what he (and his religious culture) confessed to be true about humanity. According to their creation myth (known as the Enuma Elish), humanity is (1) an afterthought in creation; (2) at the periphery of the story; (3) and formed not as the gods’ children but as their servants.
Far from being an afterthought in creation, men and women are the forethought in creation.
We can hardly find a more contradictory message to what the Scriptures tell us about why we exist, why God created us. Far from being an afterthought in creation, men and women are the forethought in creation. They are why God uttered the first, “Let there be….” Humanity is why everything else was made. And Adam and Eve were not at the periphery of the story; their creation is the very climax of Genesis 1. Everything leads up to day six, when the Lord says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” And, most importantly, God does not form Adam and Eve to be his servants; he creates them to be his children. He is their Lord, to be sure, but more importantly, more exactly, he is their Father.
The account of creation in Genesis 1-2 is still a countercultural narrative about humanity’s central place in this world. If you ask a New Yorker or Floridian the same question we asked the Babylonian man on the street, you’ll get essentially the same answer: we exist to achieve things; we are created to serve; our lives are defined by our doing, our giving, our working. Even if they believe in God, even if they sit in church every Sunday, they are likely to give an answer along these lines. It all boils down to this: their identity is established by what they do. This doing may be very religious. It may involve serving in the church. It may redound to the glory of God. But if you strip away all the externals, you are left with one fundamental belief about why we are here in this world: God created us as servants, doers, givers.
Yes, of course, it is true that when the Father created Adam and Eve, he gave them work to do. They were to fill the earth, subdue it, have dominion over all creation (Gen 1:28). When the Lord formed Adam, he put the man in Eden “to work it and keep it,” (2:15). And Adam needed a “helper fit for him,” so God crafted Eve from his rib to be that helper (2:18, 22). Our first parents did not kick back in Eden and snore their days away in a hammock hung between the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They had their vocations, their places of service in this new world. So do we. We are spouses or parents, workers, servants of every variety. God has given us work to do, people to help, both inside and outside the church. We are not called to be lazy sloths who spend our lives being waited on hand and foot.
Neither the good we do nor the bad we do define who we are. Rather, our identity is determined by the one who has created us, redeemed us, and given us a brand-spanking new identity in his Son.
However—and this is of critical importance—we must not confuse identity with activity. Who we are is not defined by what we do. We may do lots of good things, and we certainly do lots of bad things. At times we serve God, at times our fellow man, and very frequently we selfishly serve the person in the mirror. But neither the good we do nor the bad we do define who we are. Rather, our identity is determined by the one who has created us, redeemed us, and given us a brand-spanking new identity in his Son. Whether we are awake or asleep, working 24/7 or a comatose patient in ICU, a newborn infant or an retired octogenarian, a millionaire CEO or a homeless man on the street corner—who we are has nothing to do with these externals. We are the children of our heavenly Father in Jesus Christ and through his Holy Spirit. Our identity is rooted in the family to which we belong. We are sons and daughters of our Father because we are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. To be in the image of God is simply to be his child. When Adam fathered Seth, the Scriptures say “he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image,” (5:3). To be in the image and likeness of our heavenly Father is essentially this: to be his child, as Seth was Adam’s child. It is to bear the imprint of our paternity.
Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Galatians, “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God,” (4:6-7). Earlier he says, “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” (3:26-27). To be baptized into Christ is to put on Christ, to be clothed with him, enveloped by his presence, so that our identity is bound up with his. Since he is the Son of God, we who wear him are sons of God. Since he is free, we are free. Since he is the chosen one of God, we are the chosen ones of God. We are not slaves and we are more than servants; we are children because we are in the only begotten child of God, Jesus Christ.
Because we are in Christ, our identities are determined by who he is, not by what we do. Just as the Father created Adam and Eve as his children, so we are recreated in Christ to be the Father’s children. And just as he gave all things to our first parents in the newly created world, so in the kingdom of God “all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s,” (1 Cor 3:21-22). All things are yours because you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God. In other words, the giving and generous God, our good and gracious Father, has enriched us with every imaginable blessing in Christ. We are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). And in this new creation we are kings and queens. Just as the Father formed Adam and Eve in order that he might have someone upon whom to bestow his gifts, so he has reformed us in his Son that he might have children upon whom to bestow even greater gifts. We are defined by what we receive, not by what we achieve, by divine generosity toward us, not our generosity toward others. We are the blessed, gifted, beloved sons and daughters of our Father in Jesus Christ. That is who we are.
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