Read the text below, preferably aloud. As you hear the word, “listen with the ear of your heart” for a word or short phrase that God has for you this day.
Genesis 1: 1-5; 1: 31-2:3
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
Containing the first words of the Bible, Genesis 1 is one of the better known passages of Scripture. But as I sit with it this morning, I wonder if it is not one of the least understood. Simple as it may seem on the surface (“God created the world in six days in this order, saw it was good as he went, and rested.”) it is actually filled with meaning, complexities, and implications.
Theologians debate the words above in miniscule detail. How should the first 3 verses be tied together grammatically? Did the Israelites believe that God created the world out of nothing, or that God simply imposed order on preexisting chaos? What other creation stories from the ancient world influenced this one?
These are good questions, but I’m not sure they’re the most pressing ones. With our modern world’s 3 million year old Lucy and an even older Big Bang, can a few surviving paragraphs from 6,000 B.C. really hope to compete?
The creation story is often called a myth. The Merriam-Webster’s first definition of “myth” is not, as some might think, “some old story that’s not actually true.” That’s closer to the third definition. The first is the most important: “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon”.
Genesis 1 makes powerful statements that unfold a “world view”, but we must have the eyes to see them. We have to look at the text as the ancient Israelites did, not just as an ancient story competing for its place on the school curriculum, but rather as the incredible, almost unspeakable idea that the all-powerful God made the world what it is.
The Israelites saw this story as the beginning. It wouldn’t really matter what came before, whether it be absolutely nothing, a formless chaos, or (I suspect) billions of years of planetary evolution. What mattered was that God created it, God had a purpose for it, and (read on into Genesis) that very same God was with them.
© Creation, Donald Jackson with contribution by Christ Tomlin, 2003. The Saint John’s Bible, Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition, © 1993, 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.