Where Time Began
Posted by foryourfaith on September 17, 2010
Why are we here? What are our origins? How can we understand our world? Down through the ages, religion, philosophy, and even science have delved into such mysteries, and the question never cease to rise in the human hear.
In Genesis 1, the Bible confronts those fundamental mysteries and conveys a vision of God, the world, and humanity. The narrative is astoundingly peaceful – without the titanic battles characteristic of so many ancient accounts. The world in its magnificent order and the goodness emerges from the creative word of God.
“In the beginning god created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” Genesis begins with the majestic prose that almost bursts into poetry. It evokes a sense of awe and wonder before the miracle of being.
In the first part of the creation drama, the stage is prepared for life. God created light and separated the light from the darkness of chaos (1:3-4). This was not the light of heavenly bodies, but a cosmic light which flashed at god’s command. God named the light day and the darkness night. Genesis shows the mysteriousness of God’s work, for time began before there was a sun to rise and set: “And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”
On the second day (1:8), God created space. He separated “the waters (above) from the waters (below)” by placing a “firmament,” a solid barrier, between them.
On the third day of creation, the waters were gathered together into bounded places (lakes and seas) and dry land appeared (1:9-13). Then God called on the mysterious fertility of the earth to take part in creation (1:11-13). “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.”
Then on the fourth day, God created the luminaries (sun, moon, stars). They were created to “separate the day from the “to give light upon the earth.” The sun, moon, and stars, Genesis emphasizes, are simply lights set in the firmament, and possess no divinity or power – traits many ancients often assigned to them. Vegetation, created on the previous day, is normally dependent upon the light and warmth of the sun. But in Genesis, light, time, and vegetation were brought into being by God’s word; their existence is based on his continuing care.
On the fifth day, God created animal life, or nefesh hayyah (“living being”). A living being was characterized by breath, flesh, blood, mobility, and sexual reproduction. The latter was dependent on a special blessing from the Creator. These creatures were to live in lakes, streams, and oceans, while the birds would take to the sky.
On the sixth day, land animals and human beings were created. While all animals are considered equal, the Bible uses the Hebrew term adam to describe humankind. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth . . . “ (1:26) the story stresses the close relation between animals and humans, who were created on the same day. Man’s dominion was to be benevolent and peaceful, and until the time of Noah, he was only to eat the plants of the earth. God said, “And to . . . everything that has the breath of life, I have given every grown plant for food” (1:30).
The seventh day, the Sabbath (a word based on a Hebrew verb for “rest”), was declared to be holy or sacred time; a time that belongs especially to God. The Sabbath was “hidden in creation” only to be disclosed to the people of worship was to endow all other days with meaning.
The hallowing of the Sabbath at the very climax and conclusion of the creation story suffuses the whole account with the atmosphere of worship. It also provides an invitation to human beings to give praise to their Creator, even as other creatures do by living as God ordained.
The creation story has some parallels in earlier myths and legends that were recited in the temples of the ancient world – in Babylonia, Egypt, Canaan. One of the best known of these ancient myths is the Babylonian creation epic, known by its opening words, Enuma elish (“When above . . . “). According to this myth, the universe was created after a fierce struggle between the creator god and the powers of chaos, which were symbolized by a monster of the deep, variously called Tiamat, Leviathan, or Yamm (“Sea”). The body of the slain monster was divided, forming a barrier between the watery parts, thereby making a space between the celestial and terrestrial water. There are distinct differences between these myths and the Genesis creation story. For one thing, Genesis deals with the mystery of the beginning of all things. God created a habitable world out of chaos. Thus, the universe was created to God’s purpose, even as it will end with the consummation of God’s purpose.
Prevailing scientific theory proposes that the universe was created in a flash of light. This “Big Bang,” or cosmic explosion, is believed to have occurred some 16 billion years ago. Some see parallels between this modern scientific theory and the biblical account which opens with God’s command “Let there be light.”
Repeatedly the creation story is punctuated with the refrain, “God saw that it was good,” and over the whole stands God’s final evaluation: “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (1:31).
The Creator not only originated, but also constantly maintains the cosmos. In the Genesis story, the waters of chaos were not eliminated, but were only pushed back and assigned their proper boundaries so that the dry land might appear and creatures might exist. The habitable world is surrounded on all sides by these waters, which are held in check by the Creator’s power.
Were God’s sustaining power to be withheld, as in the flood story, the chaotic waters would surge in through “the windows of the heavens” and spring up from “the fountains of the great deep.” The “laws” of nature are manifestations of God’s dependability or “covenant faithfulness,” as expressed in his pledge to Noah at the end of the Deluge: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).
When the psalmists read Genesis they were filled with awe at the grandeur of creation. They wrote poems extolling God’s handiwork. These were meant to be read alongside Genesis, and they ask the reader toe celebrate the joy of creation and the mastery of Yahweh. Psalm 90 exclaims: “from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.”
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