Lesson 1: Creation in the Old Testament

We tend to understand the confession “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth” from perspectives that miss its main points. Creationism and Intelligent Design advocates react against modernity and present the confession as a crude, primitive scientific picture. Others read it as a natural evolutionary process ascending from lower to higher stages of life or an emanation descending from godhead to lesser stages of matter, and end up with a rather deterministic scenario. Probably the most popular understanding is still deistic where God acts like a watchmaker who sets up the mechanism and then sits back until he needs to intervene for repairs.

All of these miss the very sophisticated meaning of the confession that speaks about God constantly relating to his creation on a social level. It recognizes the relevance of science but only as part of the bigger story.

The confession is more about God than the structure and process of the universe, more about history than the cosmos, more about ethics than natural law, and more about what’s happening now than long ago. After all, religion speaks to what really makes a difference in our everyday lives here and now.

The biblical creation story tells us who we are, what we believe, and what we are to do It gives give very little information about the particulars. It does sometimes correct those popular at the time to bring them in line with our faith. For instance, the Genesis 1 story modifies the Babylonia myth about the origin of the cosmos, among other things changing its polytheism to our monotheism and replacing its weapons with words. But for the most part, it simply sees creation as the beginning of God’s history with his people.

The story proclaims there is a god and only one; he is good and makes all good. Most other religions have lesser gods or demiurges like Satan involved in creation and use them to explain evil. Of course, some have no gods at all and nothing like our understanding of sin.

We can understand a lot by examining what it means to say God uses words to create. The rhythm in the first story puts it this way: God said “let there be”, and “it was so”, and “it was good”. If God uses words, he ends up with an independent free other. I think Augustine described creation somewhat as God making time and space for others, a beautiful thought. Creation is the beginning of the conversation that characterizes our relationship with God. The relationship is always spontaneous, never mechanical as both sides of a conversation change freely.

The biblical writers understood words create meaning. We are surrounded by a myriad of confusing sense experiences. We give them meaning only when we put them into words. It is not so much that we put our thoughts into words. We can not even think without words.

So God’s Word orders the chaos of life from the very beginning to the present. It is as necessary for life as the bread we eat (Isaiah 55, Deuteronomy 8: 3). If Israel is to know herself, it is more important to remember the Exodus story and the moral law than the mechanics of the physical world.
We miss the point when we read the seven days as eons. So too Francis Collins misses when he describes the genome code as God’s language. The Bible speaks to the social level of creation where morality not gravity gives order and meaning. This bigger picture accommodates freedom, wonders, singularities, and new beginnings. It goes beyond karma to forgiveness, beyond survival to salvation.

Words are also nonviolent. In the earliest stories evil is defined as violence (Genesis 6:11). God does not even allow humans to eat other animals until Noah’s time (Genesis 9:1-7). The goal of creation is still for the wolf to live with the lamb (Isaiah 11: 6-9).

When we confess God as creator we express admiration somewhat like Kant when he states, “Two things fill my mind with ever new and increasingly wonder- the starry firmament above me and the moral law within me”. In a time of nuclear weapons, global warming, and resource waste, we see again the wisdom of acknowledging the moral life is as important as natural laws for holding our world together. It is just as essential to see the power of words. When we describe toilet paper as heavenly soft, a football play as awesome, torture as an enhanced interrogation method; or civilian deaths as collateral damage we are losing the battle against chaos, and the order of our lives is slipping away.

Do you agree that 1) most contemporary debate about creation distracts us from what the Bibles is trying to say, 2) morality is as important as natural law for the life of our world, and 3) losing the ability to read and write contributes more to violence than the drug culture?

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