So often we are conditioned to think of the existence in Eden as perfect. That there was no room for improvement. This literally becomes a paradise to which we think we want to one day return.
But Fretheim raises some important points. Creation is good , but not perfect. In Genesis 1 God states six times that what has been created is "good" (1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) and once we read that God said it was very "good" (1:31). Even after the introduction of sin the evaluation of "good" is not lost, particularly in relation to human beings as witnessed in Isaiah 43:5 and Psalm 8:5. The human sinful condition is certainly not welcomed, but it does not change the fact that God still considers creation "good."
But it is not perfect, if by that we mean finished, free from suffering and without need of improvement. Fretheim points out that the command to "subdue" the earth (1:28) suggests that there is an inherent lack of order that needs to be constructed within creation, and God expects the creatures to do it (p. 31). In conjunction with this is the need for creation to participate in the act of creation. The earth is to bring forth plants, seed and vegetation (1:11-13). Creatures, human or otherwise, are to be fruitful and multiply (1:22, 28). Thus, although creation is "good" it is not perfect in that there is nothing for the created to do. The process of creation continues through the created.
And humanity has even greater role to play. Not only are humans to be fruitful and multiply, but God invites humans to participate in the creative activity. In 2:18-20 God allows the man to name creatures (p.25-28).
But not all is "good." In 2:28 God realizes that it is "not good" for man to be alone. And although the man is allowed to participate in the creative process by naming the creatures, it appears that there is a flaw in the creation. In spite of all that God did that was "good," it was not perfect. God realizes that in order for humanity to find its fullest expression there must be yet another creative act, this time bringing forth the woman.
But even after the creation of the woman the world is not perfect, if by that we mean free from suffering. When God speaks to the woman in Genesis 3:16 she is told that her labor pains in childbirth will increase. Note that God is not introducing pain to the human experience here. Although the woman has yet to bear any children, it is already assumed that pain will be a part of the process. What has changed is that pain increases. This means that God's creation is a place in which pain exists and is to be expected. The introduction of sin does not inaugurate pain, it only complicates it more.
It is based on this assessment of creation that Fretheim makes the statement that "God created the world good, not perfect." And the imperfection and incompleteness of creation, he argues, shifts responsibility on to the created. In the closing paragraphs of the chapter Fretheim ponders what this might mean to us and says:
These various texts place the issue of human responsibility for the future of creation directly on the plates of the creatures, especially human beings. We cannot rest back and assume that God will take care of everything or that the future of creation is solely in God's hands. Ultimately it is, yes, but in the meantime, human beings are called no to passivity but to genuine engagement, and the decisions that we make will have significant implications for the future of the earth and the nature of the future of God. (pp. 36-37)
How we understand the "good creation" of God and our role as the created should have an impact on how we continue to participate in the creative process that God has called us to. The world is not, and apparently never was, perfect. We are called to be creative with God as well as responsible for what God has entrusted to us.
I have just finished chapter two and will post some thoughts next week.