God creates by dividing, that’s the pattern begun in Genesis 1. He continues to create that way today. I’ve written before on how the Lord makes order from chaos in the first Creation narrative, and how that work which is begun but not completed becomes our work. Adam was meant to create order in the garden by slaying or expelling the serpent, doing God’s works after himself: ruling over the dragons of chaos.
Let me show you what I mean. On the first three days of creation, God forms things: Light or Day, the Sky and the Sea, and the Land. On the next three days of creation, God fills those things:
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3|
|Light. Day and Night ||Sky and Sea||Land and Trees|
|Day 4||Day 5||Day 6|
|Day is “filled” with the Sun, and Night with the Moon, powers to rule over them so that we can tell the right time for the festivals.||Sky and Sea are filled with animal life and dragons.||Land and Trees are filled with animal life and humans.|
On the seventh day God rested.
So, where’s the division? Well, let’s look at how God creates on each day. On the first day he creates light by separating it from the Darkness, making two defined ‘times’ that did not exist before: Day and Night.
On the second day he creates the heavens and the sea by separating the waters above from the waters below. Where before there was one water, there is now water below (the sea, where chaos and evil dwell) and the water above (the sky or heavens, where order and angels dwell).
On the third day he creates the land by separating it from the water below, and then all the trees by separating them into their kinds. The phrase “according to its kind” begins to occur frequently.
On the filling days we find categories multiplying: heavenly bodies, birds, fish, dragons (have I ever mentioned that there are dragons here and we just skip over it? I have?).
Creation is an act of breaking things down into kinds. When we meet humans we then immediately find them divided into male and female. God creates by dividing.
The pattern continues for Adam in Genesis 2—particularly note his naming of all the animals. Naming is an act of division (and a claiming of authority) by separating one kind into another. To create order involves producing clarity through division. In our case that’s clarifying and categorising the vibrant multiplicity that the Lord has divided one from another, a form of Tolkienian sub-creation, in God’s case that’s making the multiplicity by separating one from another.
God still creates the same way. He divides. The act of division is creative and remains so. It’s how God works.
This strikes us as wrong, we know that the New Testament calls for unity among believers and division sounds like the opposite of that.
Well, I don’t think so. Unity requires division—the clear naming of things as they are, the clear stating of positions so that we can see where things are, the clear separation of this group from that group because they are different for some reason.
We don’t think so, but that’s at least partly because we confuse unity with harmony—harmony is not a Christian concept. Natalie Williams points this out in her brilliant book Invisible Divides where she explores the class divide in the UK church: harmony is when we don’t mention anything so that we all keep getting along as though calling attention to our differences would be divisive. Hogwash. While the sort of division I’m talking about is the opposite of being divisive it can be confused for it, especially in a UK church culture steeped in middle-class values. Unity requires that we name our differences and then follow Jesus together anyway.
We might in the process be called out for our sin which comes into sharp relief with the clarity of naming things as they are. This sort of dividing doesn’t split one group from another, it creates the possibility of unity by allowing the minority group to clearly speak.
Another way of putting this is that the division that creates order is a kind of transparency. Let’s get everything on the table. Often Christians decide not to tell the truth, or act on the truth, because to do so would be bad for our unity. You see this especially in cases of abuse, though I think it’s prevalent more widely than that. We don’t say what stings because we fear it might upset others. That’s the harmony impulse. It sounds Christian, but I’m not convinced it is. If we love each other, we won’t want to upset each other but we will want to tell each other the truth.
Ultimately, we can judge from creation, that the division that comes by saying the truth leads in time to order, which leads in time to unity. How do we know? Because Genesis 1 is eventually leading to the reconciliation of all things in God (Colossians 1). Division leads to order leads to unity.
Not necessarily quickly, but inexorably.
Which is why I think the accusation that the unity (Ephesians 4) that the Church is called to means we can’t have—for example—denominations, is misguided. Division leads to unity. Us clarifying that we disagree about x and y is not a bad thing. The danger is when we give in to the fundamentalist impulse to divide without also in the process clarifying that we agree about z. As long as z here is the gospel we can work together for the sake of our cities and our nations. If we wouldn’t join the same network or the same church because we disagree about something vitally important (like who we should baptise) that doesn’t stop us agreeing about something even more important (like Jesus is the Christ, the Cross saves, or the Resurrection conquered Death).
Truth unites, but often by dividing.
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