So there we were talking about the Hebrew word tov. It was me, and a bunch mostly comprised of teenagers in a room on a Sunday morning. Tov is a word that appears in the first chapter of the book of Genesis to describe God’s reaction to his emerging creation. It was tov.
It describes light and land and plants and animals. But when he got to the creation of human beings, God described the man and woman as ‘very tov’. God was particularly enthusiastic.
Tov means good. It means delightful. it means balanced and right. In Genesis we read of a world that was all of those things.
We got to thinking about all the elements of our lives that could be described as tov. About how even in the midst of a lot that goes wrong, a lot that can get unbalanced in our lives, there are always things that are tov, like little promises to give us hope.
Bizarrely I thought of my old dog, Tobey. I thought of those occasions when I am sitting absent-mindedly on the settee, and the fire is lit, and maybe I have a book in my hand, or maybe something particularly good on the TV, and he comes unbidden, and buries the warm weight of his head in my lap. And my hand automatically reaches to scratch behind his ear. And somehow my contentment is increased. And his tail acknowledges that he is feeling the same. And the world is tov. In balance. A human being and an animal in communion.
Funny to think about all of that in a week when the most powerful man in the world describes poorer nations using an expletive. When we were once again reminded that we are selling out the planet for a cup of coffee. When our local politicians debase themselves again to outdo one another in giving offence. Something is out of balance.
Surprisingly quickly after the story of tov-ness in Genesis things go downhill, an event sometimes referred to by Christian theologians as The FALL. This week’s news stories are evidence that in the midst of much that is good in our world, some that is even very good, there is always a serpent.
A serpent with an eye for the main chance. A serpent willing to sacrifice the welfare of animals or human beings, even the planet itself for short-term selfish gain.
We should not submit to the despair of the serpent. We need regular reminders of the goodness of the world. But always also, the presence of the serpent, as unwelcome in this good world as the presence of the racism of the powerful or the sectarianism of the stupid.