Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Creation as Perfect Context through Limits (Genesis 1)

The Bible begins with the story of creation (Genesis 1:1-31). Karl Barth, greatest theologian of the 20th century, shares his insightful understanding of this passage with us in his Church Dogmatics.

The biblical story begins simply enough: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (1:1 New Revised Standard Version, here and following).

Here we have the briefest description of creation as a cosmos or ordered good.

The second verse of the story has always caused troubled. What does it mean? How does it fit with the verses that come before and after it?

Following Karl’s lead, let’s us regard this verse as the description of an alternative universe which God rejected. We may then translate the verse in this way: Now the earth might have been a desolation and a wasteland, darkness might have covered the face of the deep, and the Spirit might have hung helplessly over the waters (Genesis 1:2).

We have here the briefest description of creation as a chaos or disordered evil. This chaotic creation would have been characterized by desolation, darkness, and a deep overwhelming evil against which God’s Spirit would have proved helpless.

Our biblical storyteller affirms God’s decision to create an ordered good, and to definitively reject a chaos of disordered evil, by writing: But God said, “[No.] Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:3 NRSV).

God’s implied “no” gave only an implied existence to that chaos of disordered evil. God positively willed only creation and only gave it a positive creaturely existence. He only negatively willed chaos and thereby gave it only a negative phantom existence. He only gave creation a positive future and gave chaos only a definitive past.

God then made creation distinct from chaos through successive acts of separation or limitation. Through these acts of separation, these separate acts of establishing vital limits, God made creation an ordered good and put it in good order.

On the first day, God distinguished light from darkness, good from evil, and one day from the next (Genesis 1:3-5).

On the fourth, God created sun, moon, and stars to make day and night distinct (vs. 14-19).

On the second day, God divided the implied threat of deep overwhelming evil into harmless lower and upper parts (vs. 6-8).

On the fifth, he filled the tamed lower waters with living aquatic creatures (especially fish) and the air below the tamed upper waters with birds (vs. 20-23).

On the third day, God confined the lower waters within further limits and thereby separated it from dry land. He then used this dry land as the perfect context for plants and trees of all kinds (vs. 9-13).

On the sixth day, he used this planted land as the perfect context for living terrestrial creatures of all kinds: domestic animals, insects, and wild animals (vs. 24-25).

God then did something truly extraordinary. He created creatures called humans in his own image. We read:

In the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them (v. 27b).

The parallel nature of this verse tells us that the image of God is relational. Just as Father, Son, and Spirit are united in a dynamic relationship of freedom and love, so too humans were created by God to enjoy this same relationship of freedom and love with God, one another, and the rest of God’s creatures.

So, in Genesis 1, we learn that God created a cosmos. He created an ordered good he put in good order through successive acts of vital limitation. He successively created light, good, and days made distinct from nights by sun, moon, and stars. He tamed lower waters and filled them with the vitality of fish and other aquatic creatures. He tamed upper waters and filled the space beneath them with birds. He further limited the seas to create dry land as the perfect context for plants and trees. He made this the perfect context for domestic and wild animals. Then in this context made perfect by vital limitations, he created humans to share with him, one another, and the rest of creation a vital relationship of freedom and love.

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (v. 31).

Copyright © 2014 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.