Monday, January 30, 2006

In the Beginning

I’m launching into a re-reading of the Book of Genesis, which I must confess I haven’t done for a few years (outside of listening to the readings prescribed during Lent). I tend to keep re-reading the New Testament most of the time, with occasional forays into the prophets, the wisdom books, and other interesting stuff. The Book of Genesis is quite important for understanding some essential elements of our faith.

The book opens: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Such grandeur surely befits the first page of the word of God. It’s something that almost takes your breath away for its sheer magnitude and depth of meaning. There was a time (hard to get around using that word) when everything was not. God was, but everything else wasn’t. Genesis tantalizes us with omissions of equal magnitude to its proclamations. What was it like when nothing was? What was God doing with no universe to do it in? Did He create the angels before He created heaven and earth? Why did He create anything at all? Who is God, anyway?

It seems that the author of the book couldn’t quite conceive of absolute nothingness, so he gives us an image of a kind of primordial chaos, a watery, formless void—over which hovered the creative Spirit of God. Good thing there wasn’t some cranky atheistic scientist writing the book of Genesis, for he would have ruined it with some brilliant theory, like one I recently read, summarized as follows: in the beginning there was nothing; then nothing exploded and became everything. Somehow, “God created the heavens and the earth” has a much deeper ring of truth (and beauty) to it.

God created. We simply can’t imagine what that was like. How did God create something out of nothing? Nothing doesn’t become something all by itself; non-being can’t evolve into being. The “be-ing” had to come from God. This is how He created: “Let there be…” And so it was. And God saw that it was good. To say that God made everything out of nothing is not like saying a man makes a table out of wood. A man can build a table, but he cannot create one. For God, his will and his word are sufficient to make things be.

I’ve no inclination to get into disputes about the “days” of creation, young earth, old earth, and all that. Just knowing that God said, “let there be,” and it was so, should be enough to fire our contemplation. Then we can ponder the depths of what it means that God made man, male and female, in his own image. The psalmist says: "When I look at the moon and the stars, I think: what is man that you care for him?" But if we, not the stars, are made in the image of God, then it is the moon and stars that should say: when we look at man, we think: what are we…?

We don’t get the answers to the several questions I listed above, though St John gives us some insight into the last one. He must have realized that he was writing a new Bible, as it were. For something incredibly new had happened in the world, something totally astounding and utterly inconceivable had been created: the human nature of God—that is, the humanity of the Word made flesh. To try to help us understand the incomprehensible, John begins the new Bible: “In the beginning was the Word.” He takes us back to a beginning before the beginning, not just the creation of the universe, but the eternal inner life of God. “The Word was with God; the Word was God; through Him all things were made.”

So we know a little more about this God who created the heavens and the earth, and why God could say, “Let us make man in our image…” God is not only an “I” but a “We,” for God is one in nature and three in person.

Let us not lose our contemplative vision of the world. God created, God creates. He breathes an immortal soul into the microscopic beginnings of every human life. In the beginning of each of our lives, God was there, creating, loving us into being as his images, his children. The Creator of worlds is also the creator of souls, and He wants us forever to rejoice in the “very good” of all He has made.

I think I’m going to enjoy this renewed reading of the Book of Genesis…