Asked by members of his Sunday School class about the nature of the first chapters of Genesis, the elderly farmer explained, “In the Old Testament, when God wanted to tell His people about suffering, He used a play – the drama of Job. When He wanted to help people to pray, He gave a collection of prayers – the Psalms. When God wanted to record historical events, He inspired the narratives, especially in Kings and Chronicles. And when God wanted to communicate His purpose in creation, He gave the special stories at the beginning of our Bible.”
More simple accounts of scientific or historical facts, the collection of primeval stories in these first chapters of Genesis is God’s communication of truth about His purpose in and for creation. Any search obsessed with mere facts in these faith stories obscures their abiding foundational truth about God and His intention for the created order and humankind.
God the creator (1-4)
The familiar words, “In the beginning God,” straight-forwardly declare paired truths: God was before any thing created and God created all things. God’s creative activity brought the universe into being. It is God alone who created, and that which He created is neither evil nor flawed. It is all good, carrying the marks of His touch only.
The elementary form of the earth is pictured as shapeless and formless. The chaotic, unborn mass was covered by watery deep and enveloped in cosmic darkness. Upon this original chaos the Spirit of God hovered.
And when God began to create, His first creation was light. Having called light into being (Psalm 33:6-9), the Creator pushed back the forces of darkness and chaos. He set bounds and established meaningful order. Now as then, the darkness of night is a symbol of threat and chaos. But God restricts the darkness, giving it a place and time. The primeval, chaotic darkness is limited by the universal order introduced by God’s creation of good light. God begins to bring order out of chaos.
God creates the heavens (7, 16-18)
The second day brought the creation of the firmament, understood to be a solid gigantic dome which separated the waters beneath and above. The arch of the heavens was set in place.
God’s creative purpose continued to progress as He made the lights: the sun, moon, and stars. These creaturely lights or lamps are viewed as possessing no intentional power of their own. Although God gives them important functions to perform, the heavenly lights do not rule life. They have no power and are not to be feared.
God creates the animals (21-22, 25)
Once the conditions for supporting life have been met, God makes living creatures. He calls both the waters and the earth to share in His creative work.
The account of the creation of animate beings moves progressively from the spheres farthest from man: unknown sea monsters, fish, fowl, and various land animals. All creatures – from the greatest unimaginable sea monsters to the most harmless, common animals – came into being by direct creative act and will of God. All that God created is good in His sight.
Elie Wiesel (Messengers of God, pp 28-29) relates an ancient story about a pagan who visited Rabbi Akiba in order to test and taunt him.
“Who created the world,” he asked. “God, blessed-be-His-name,” replied the sage.
“Really? Then prove it.” “Very well,” said Rabbi Akiba. “Come back tomorrow.” The pagan returned the following day.
“What are you wearing,” asked the sage. “That’s a strange question,” said the pagan. “I am wearing a suit.”
“Really? And who made it?” “The tailor,” responded the man. “Prove it,” said Rabbi Akiba. Whereupon the pagan became angry: “What, don’t you know that it is the tailor who made the clothes we wear?”
To which the sage replied: “And don’t you know that it is God who made this world we live in?” And the pagan went away.
Explaining the connection to his dull disciples, Rabbi Akiba declared, “Just as the house attests to the builder and the garment to the tailor ..., the world is and will be God’s testimonial; one has only to look at it to understand what it affirms is God.
An unforgettable scene in The King and I has Anna being summoned late one night into the king’s audience hall, where she finds the Siamese monarch engrossed in the reading of a large book. “Why, your majesty,” she exclaims, “you are reading the Bible!”
The king protested that he perceived Moses to be an ill-informed man because he thought that the world was created in six days. Anna’s reply was poignant: “Your majesty, Moses was not a man of science; he was a man of faith.”
Through the Genesis faith stories, the community of faith receives and shares the truth that God purposefully brought forth order out of disorder and meaning out of chaos, making all things good.
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.