September 10, 2017
Every few years, you will hear a story about creation versus evolution. Some school district somewhere will have an argument between a local church and a school board and the questions are flying? Which one is true? Did we evolve from apes or were we created? Was the world developed over millions of years or was it done in six days? Can you believe God created the world and also believe in evolution?
The creation story is one of the most well-known parts of scripture. Why does it matter that God created the world? Does it relate to science and how?
We will focus at the beginning of the Bible and wonder what it meant to the first readers of this text and what it means for us today.
Engaging the Text
There are actually two stories of creation. The first one is today’s text. The other one is found in the second chapter of Genesis. For times sake, we will focus on the first story, but remember the first story is in more detail and longer and the second story seems more like a summary of God’s act. Both are important for different reasons.
In the book, the Magigian’s Nephew, author C.S. Lewis provides an example of what God’s creative act was all about. Aslan, the lion god-like character would sing the world into being. In some way, Genesis 1 is describing something like that. God sees the world a formless void and begins speaking. With each utterance, the world began to appear. Light. Darkness. Day. Night. Every time God would speak and create, God would finally say that the creation was good.
The creation as mentioned in the Bible is not looked at scientifically, but through the eyes of an artist. The poet James Weldon Johnson posits God as an artist in his poem The Creation. Here is how Johnson describes the making of the sun:
Then God reached out and took the light in His hands,
And God rolled the light around in His hands
Until He made the sun;
And He set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said, “That’s good!”
So, God sees all of creation in the way we see a work of art, a thing of beauty, something that is good. Why did God have to say things were good all of the time?
Having God call the creation good over and over was a way to tell people that the created order, the material world, was good. The sun, moon, stars, our pets, you and I are all deemed good, a gift from God.
What does it mean when we see the world around us and know that all of it, even us is considered a gift of God? How then we do we respond to creation, to the care of others?
Why did God create in six days? God spoke things into being, meaning God could have created everything all at once. The early theologian Augustine believed the creation event was just that- done all at once.
The move for God to take time in creating the world could mean that in God’s eyes creation is a process instead of a product. It is a process that is ongoing, meaning it didn’t stop on the day God rested.
The clues to being a process are found in several verses (see Genesis 1:11 and 22)where God allows creation to “put forth.” This means creation itself is creating. For God to enter our time, to take time to create, means that the divine life enters into our time. You, I, the trees and the sky are part of the divine life.
When God rests on the seventh day, it is not yet called Sabbath. But what does happen is that God is able to take “time off” and allow creation to keep on creating, to allow them to be. That is also part of the divine life.
Theologian Terrance Fretheim explains the importance of this divine life and what it means for all of us:
To speak of creation as coming into being along a genuine timeline lifts up creation as dynamic process, and not simply as divine product. God chooses to take time in creating and endows creatures with creative capacities. God determines not to do the creating alone; God, working interdependently and over time, involves the creatures themselves in creational developments. What creatures do actually counts in the ongoing becoming of the world.
All of this tells us that the creation is not a one off. It is something that keeps happening, even today. The artist is still painting.
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century and the Federalist.