Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Genesis 1 - God creates the universe and the earth and by his word light came forth that was good and pleasing to God, not the light of the sun, for that is created later, on day four; not the light that physically gives us the experience of day and night—that too is not the focus. The light that is created in the very beginning is a light that simply is with God in the beginning of his creation—a presence, perhaps a power that is brought forth to be a presence in and through the creation.
God divides the waters—He places a great dome to divide them. The waters above from the waters beneath. The dome is the sky (day 2).
The waters under the dome are gathered together and the dry land appears—and the seas. Then the earth brings forth vegetation sufficient to provide for all the life God intends to create on the earth (day 3).
The lights of the heavens – the sun and moon and stars – are created and with them the means for calculating time set in place (day 4).
Then the waters are ordered to teem with life and birds are sent forth to dwell beneath the dome of heaven. And they are told to increase and multiply (day 5).
The earth is filled with “all kinds of living creatures” and finally man is created (both male and female) in the divine image (1:27). They too are told to be fertile and to multiply to fill the earth and “subdue” it, bringing it under their care. Everything was very good and all was created by the end of the sixth day. Then God rests.
What are we to take from this creation story? First of all that the entire creation is the product of God’s transcendent power—a power that brings order and good out of chaos or nothingness, a power that is fundamentally “other” from everything we can see – not created, not contingent. The universe and all of the life and non-life in it are his work. And we human beings – male and female were created “in his image and likeness”—that God reveals himself to us first and foremost in and through our humanity. Man has a great dignity in this story, for it is in knowing and understanding ourselves that we come to an understanding of our creator.
Karl Marx – someone who meant a lot to me early in my adult life - would say that in religion man simply projects his human nature out onto the universe. But this is mysteriously a biblical truth. By projecting ourselves, God’s image and likeness, out into the universe, we begin to know what God’s nature is. The difficulty comes when we realize that not everything in us is in the image and likeness of God. We are not God – we are his “likeness” but with our own separate existence as well – an existent being with our own will and freedom in the exercise of that will.
Man, in this creation story is the culmination of the creation—it’s pinnacle. A number of things pop out of the story when we get to the creation of man—first the way God speaks of himself. “Let us make man in our image,” he says. Now God is one, so you will read and learn many approaches to this apparent mystery. To whom is God referring? One explanation I have read is that God is addressing a host of heavenly, spiritual presences—speaking for them in a sense. Another is that God is using a kind of royal “we” – so as to emphasize his infinite transcendence. A third, more modern explanation, is that God is speaking out of a spiritual reality that is only captured in the flesh by a human creation that is both male and female—hence both are created simultaneously and reflect the divine nature only in their complimentarity and their unity. As an Catholic Christian, I myself tend to see the "us" as referring to the Trinitarian image of the divine nature. The Light is with God, having been begotten by God’s creative word even before the physical creation; and with the two in being, the Holy Spirit too is given forth and made present, so that the “us” refers to the Trinitarian, divine being from whom all things flow. I love the simultaneity of male and female creation in this story and am thankful for it.
When you consider how ancient the writing is, it is a wonder that it is so profoundly even-handed. As a modern person who has been raised on evolution and anti-religious attitudes of all kinds, it strikes me as interesting that while the creation story outlined here does not make a pretense of being scientific, it does seem to follow in a general way what scientists tell us was the evolutionary order of creation-- the gathering of waters and the creation of living things to inhabit the waters; then the teeming forth of life from the waters, the birds and life on the land. The cosmology is earth-centered, but other than that, there is not much to complain of.
The first story of creation is very important. It sets forth for us a view of man in the creation that is not easily caricatured. It claims for man a dignity and goodness that defies all that we know of man in the history that will unfold for him; but it shows us God’s divine intention, the impetus and engine of the divine determination to redeem what he has created, a determination we will see played out in the biblical narrative.
I love the fact that all the complicating factors that come in the 2nd version are absent: complimentarity for men and women, dignity, God’s intention that all be good.
First Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (96/97 AD) Sections 16-20
“Christ belongs to the lowly of heart, and not to those who would exalt themselves over His flock” (29).
Again quoting scripture, he writes, “we proclaimed before the Lord that he resembles a babe in arms, or a root in waterless soil; there is not a trace of shapeliness or splendor about him. We saw him, and he had neither comeliness nor beauty; his appearance was mean, and inferior to that of other men. He was familiar with hard labor and the lash, and schooled to endure weakness . . . Yet this is he who carries the burden of our sins, and suffers pain on our behalf . . . he was led away like a sheep to be slaughtered, and like a lamb that is mute before its shearer he never opened his lips. His sentence was to be humiliated; no one will ever recount his descendants, for his life was destroyed from off the earth” (29).
“Elsewhere, too, it says, I am a worm, and no man; a public reproach, and an object of contempt to the people. All who saw me derided me; they spoke with their lips, nodding their heads and saying, He set his hopes on the Lord; let him deliver him, let him save him, since he has such a liking for him. You see, dear friend, what an example we have been given. If the Lord humbled Himself in this way, what ought we to do, who through Him have come under the yoke of His grace?” (29)
We need to follow the example of Old Testament heroes like Elijah and Elisha, Ezekiel and Abraham, “Friend of God,” (30) or Moses, who when he encountered God in the Burning Bush, said “Who am I, that you should send me? My voice is feeble, and my tongue is slow” (30).
Then Clement turns to the figure of David: “Thought God says of him, I have found a man after my own heart, even David the son of Jesse, and I have anointed him with everlasting mercy, yet this is how he addresses God: O God, in your great mercy have mercy on me; in the fullness of your compassion blot out my transgressions . . . I know my own disobedience; my sin is always before my eyes. It was against you alone that I sinned, and did what was wrong in your sight . . . But you loved truth, and showed me the hidden secrets of your wisdom. You will sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be made clean; you will wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow” (30).
“Create a clean heart in me, O God; set a new spirit of uprightness in me. Do not send me away from your presence, or withdraw your holy spirit from me . . . Then I will teach your ways to the lawless, and the wicked will turn back to you once more” (30-31).
This “ethic” of self-effacement is one that has inspired people for generations. “Thus there exists a vast heritage of glorious achievements for us to share in. Let us then make haste and get back to the state of tranquility which was set before us in the beginning as the mark for us to aim at” (31).
“Let us turn our eyes to the Father and Creator of the universe, and when we consider how precious and peerless are His gifts of peace, let us embrace them eagerly for ourselves. Let us contemplate Him with understanding, noting with the eyes of the spirit the patient forbearance that is everywhere willed by Him, and the total absence of any friction that marks the ordering of His whole creation” (31).
I think our views of nature have changed a bit since this time. The "total absence of any friction" is something I'm not sure I see anywhere, but it is true that the "frictions" of nature seem to be very much part of the overall order. The challenge of getting the "frictions" to blend in to the over-riding order is certainly something we need to consider.
“The heavens, as they revolve beneath His government, do so in quiet submission to Him. The day and the night run the course He has laid down for them, and neither of them interferes with the other. Sun, moon, and the starry choirs roll on in harmony at His command, none swerving from its appointed orbit. Season by season the teeming earth, obedient to His will, causes a wealth of nourishment to spring forth for man and beast and every living thing upon its surface” (31).
“Laws of the same kind sustain the fathomless deeps of the abyss and the untold regions of the underworld” (31).
“The impassable Ocean and all the worlds that lie beyond it are themselves ruled by the like ordinances of the Lord. Spring, summer, autumn and winter succeed one another peaceably; the winds fulfill their punctual duties, each from its own quarter, and give no offence; the ever-flowing streams, created for our well-being and enjoyment, offer their breasts unfailingly for the life of man, and even the minutest of living creatures mingle together in peaceful accord” (31).