The Primeval Revelation

Chapter 9: The Six Days

Michelangelo frescoed into the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel a striking expression on the face of almighty God while engaged in the act of creation. God appears to be fully in command of all things, and to exercise the almighty power of His will to bring into effect what He has in mind. The sun appears reluctant to leave its seclusion of nothingness to be awakened into being something, as though preferring nonexistence to the inertia of tumbling into being. The Creator therefore commands with a fierce and menacing countenance, at the same time jabbing His finger nearly into the disk of the dawdling sun. God's sharp command must rouse forth from non-being into being that orb which now warms and lights up the earth. The artist expressed powerfully the idea that an act of creation is not done, even by God, without an application of corresponding power and concentration. Of very great power indeed, and of tremendous concentration!

The sacred author of Genesis explains the works of creation in a succession of the six days, much as a father and mother might dramatize the great events for their children. To construct the universe God first of all needed materials. For us materials needed for construction may be expensive and hard to come by. But no materials were there for God at the beginning, so He first of all provides them by an act of power. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

The chaos or pile of materials is not attractive. Its stormy depths (tehom) are dark and menacing. The formless mass might be likened to the undifferentiated plasma before the detonation of the so-called "Big Bang" about which scientists discourse. The Hebrew word which is translated "formless" in Gen 1:2 is translated "empty space" or "void" in Job 26:7: "He stretches out the north over the void, and hangs the earth upon nothing." The heavens and the earth were an empty void - tohu wa bohu - in the language of the sacred author, meaning shapeless and without form.

Elohim moves deliberately over the surface: "The Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters." Is this the Holy Spirit, Third Person of the Blessed Trinity? We likely give the human author too much credit if we attribute explicit faith in the Blessed Trinity to him in this passage. That Mystery, although foreshadowed in the Old Testament, perhaps even here, was not explicitly revealed until Christ came. What the author is saying is that God surveyed the materials and the situation in preparation for construction work. After these preliminaries, God now proceeds methodically with the work at hand. He turns on the light, muscles the sky, the water and the land into place, carpets the land with green, hangs lanterns into the sky, and fills land, water, and sky with teeming life.

"Let There Be Light"

A great command thunders through the startled chaos: "YEHI OR !!!!!" (LIGHT, BE!). "When he utters his voice there is a tumult of waters in the heavens" writes Jeremiah about God's powerful voice (Jer 10:12). Brilliance blitzes over the primeval chaos faster than lightning, from end to end as far as the eye can see. From horizon to horizon there is light. God chases the darkness out of sight. With the lights on now, God can see what He is doing. The clock of time started ticking when the lights came on.

God decides that making light is sufficient work for the first day. He is not impulsive, never in a hurry, always methodical. He savors the work of each day deliberately. The One who made the pendulum of time to begin swinging for us does not Himself swing with its sequential ticking. He is in eternity, timeless, changeless, forever blessed. Time stops at the threshold of His dwelling in the heavens. Having made the light, He ends His work for this day. The author doesn't state expressly that God takes a rest during the night, aware that God does not need to sleep. But children who listen to the creation story will probably imagine that God sleeps during the night in His home in the heavens, much as they sleep under their covers in a warm bed.

Before retiring from the scene "God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night." In the Bible assigning a name to a person or thing signifies authority over the object named. For example, when God changed Abram's name to Abraham (Gen 17:5), He made him subject to a covenant. When He changed Sarai's name to Sarah, He made her the mother of many nations (Gen 17:15). By giving "Day" and "Night" names, God orders them to march on and off the stage on schedule, every twenty-four hours. So it will be until the end of time, because God has set the clock of our planetary days and nights. The Israelites began their next day in the evening, not at midnight as we do. The text counts the seven days in this manner: "And there was evening and there was morning, one day."

The Seven Day Week

The author of Genesis apparently had to deal with a problem of mathematics: he counted eight works of creation to be done, but had only six days in which to do them. We see that he assigned two jobs to Day Three, and two to Day Six. The other work days have but one task assigned. Day Seven is for rest. Thus Genesis canonized the seven-day-week. So far as I know, the seven day week is not found in hunter-gatherer myths. It was probably not a part of the primeval revelation.

On Day Three God collected the waters into a basin and made the dry land appear. That done, He was pleased with what He saw. But instead of calling it a day as we should expect from the flow of the narrative, He began another work. He called vegetation to swathe the dry land with its blanket of greenery. He gave detailed instructions about seed bearing-plants according to their kinds and fruit bearing trees with seeds inside the fruit, each according to its kind. Only then did He retire on Day Three.

On Day Six He made the earth bring forth the animals. When it did so, He was pleased with what He saw. Again as on Day Three, instead of retiring as we should expect from the flow of the narrative, He turned to an even more important job of that day. It was so important that He paused to deliberate with His Council. All should see and be present when the next and final work is performed. With the Council gathered around, He said: "And now let us make man." The work of the preceding days all led up to this climax.

Pleased now with all that He saw, with the light and darkness separated, the sky holding up, the ocean containing the water below, with the dry land holding firm against the ocean and already producing grain and fruit, with the greater light for the day hung into the sky and the lesser light and the stars in place for the night, with the waters teeming with fish and the birds filling the skies, with animals creeping or marching on the land, with the crowning creation of man, He could call off His activities and hand over the reins of management to man. He felt free now to go back into the quiet rest of bliss in eternity. With a benign sigh of deep satisfaction He saw that what He had done was "very good":

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day. . . .And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation (Gen. 1:31, 2:2-3).

Moses enjoined upon the Israelites the keeping of the sabbatical rest: "Six days you shall labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath . . . for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that are in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it" (Ex 20:8 ff).

For a long time we were taught mistakenly to believe that God segmented His work of creation into six twenty-four-hour days. Anglican Archbishop James Usher, for example, proclaimed some three hundred and fifty years ago that the world "was created in six twenty-four-hour days at 9:00 A.M. on 26 October, 4004 B.C." This precise date and time were recorded as a note in some translations of the Bible. Many people, including scientists, religiously believed that, well into the eighteenth century (see Jim , Origins of Life, p.28). But today we are entitled to take a more relaxed position. We ask scientists to teach science, to estimate the duration of time from the "Big Bang" if they so understand it. We ask the Church to teach us the message about faith which the Lord revealed in the Bible. As the saying goes, the Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. If we think we find errors in the Bible, we are the ones who are in error. We attempt to put a spin into its words which is not there, which God did not intend to be there.

Ample Space

On Day Three God works as the Great Landscape Artist of our earth: God said: "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." Much as talented Japanese garden artists shape and distribute their reflecting pools, rounded islands, curved stone bridges, so on a large scale God raised the dry land above the waters which He called Earth, and spread around it the five connected oceans which He called Seas. In Job, God commands the ocean powerfully to stay in its place:

Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst forth from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band; and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, "Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed"? (Job 38:8-11).

There will be ample room for humans to roam over the earth and sail on the seas when they will be created. Providentially God made the oceans expand to the horizon and beyond to put adequate space between warring humans for their peace and safety. Likewise He guided the former great land mass of Pangea to break up into our present configuration of continents. The separated continents are parceled into segregated sub-sections by natural land and water barriers. Secured by the boundaries, isolated groups of humans are protected from frequent invasion by enemy peoples. They can therefore develop regional languages and local cultures in comparative peace and safety. Broad and swiftly flowing rivers, snowcapped mountain ranges, vast deserts whose stinging sands are driven by howling winds, dark rain forests that can swallow up inexperienced invaders - all are protective boundaries behind which tribes and peoples have, in the course of many millennia developed their separate cultures and languages.

Today's air travel makes it possible to view the earth and seas much as eagles and condors see it. I will never forget how some years ago a traveling companion, nonagenarian Mrs. Takako Honma, devoutly Christian, could not withhold gasps of awe, pleasure and reverence when she viewed for the first time the spectacular scenery below from the vantage point of a 747 flying at high altitude from Los Angeles to Minneapolis. She remained glued to the window gazing upon the incredibly intricate land formations of California and Arizona - brightly painted kaleidoscopes of the desert, traceries of rivers gathering from high plains and peaks and joining into greater waterways as they headed for the ocean, the green Colorado River flowing between the breathtaking formations of the mile-deep Grand Canyon, the stately cover of forest giving way to sheer rock and then snow caps of peaks; then the sweep of the great central plains with its mile by mile divisions of pastures, corn and wheat fields, or circular patches of irrigated crops. Mrs. Honma stopped looking eventually and with deep satisfaction got out her rosary to pray; she could do no other.

Do Not Look for Proof or Disproof of Evolution in the Book of Genesis

The description of the work, for example on Day Three, does not by itself rule out evolution of plant life from anorganic matter: "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." But before the reader looks for a proof of evolution in this wording, let him or her remember that the human author of Genesis had never heard about evolution. We look in vain for any proof of evolution in the Bible, just as we search in vain there for disproving the scientific theory.

But we may ask, without reference to the Bible, did matter upgrade itself into plant life; and did plant life upgrade itself into animal life; finally, did animal life pull itself up into our human life? None of these, I prefer to think, but surely not the last. In each case, I prefer to believe, God did the upgrading by a new act of creation. Chemical elements are dead, lacking any and every sign or reality of life. Even chemicals arranged into identical formations as those of a living organism would still be dead chemicals. They would not suddenly become alive, but would remain as dead as any other chemicals. Even if an ancient chemical soup were formulated into a shape like things alive, and heat or lightning would provide impetus, no life would come of it, I believe. Is there life on Mars, some ask, or elsewhere in the universe. The answer is "NO!" unless God created life there. Chemicals don't come alive by their own power spontaneously, even when they are lined up correctly. Life comes into being only by the power of God. Life cannot pull itself into being out of non-living materials, no matter how suitable conditions for such a transition exist or are made. Such is my conviction. I believe that Thomas and Augustine reasoned in this manner, when they attributed the origin of plants to divine creative power. The power of God brought the life of plants into being, they state, either virtually before Day Three, or actually on the day itself (see Summa Theologica,I,69,2, where Thomas analyzes the thoughts of Augustine on this subject).

Thomas and Augustine likewise assign to God the creation of animal life as distinct from plant life (see ST I,71). For how can living beings begin to sensate and feel awareness unless God creates the powers of sensation for them? There are four steps of creation, then: 1) from nothing into something; 2) from inert matter into living organisms; 3) from plant life to animal life; 4) from animal to man. In each case, divine power did the upgrading.

When God created humans, He did more than upgrade some form of animal life: He created a new being, a spiritual soul which can exist apart from matter. But the soul can also animate matter and build it into a personal body. God creates each human soul by a Personal act, out of nothing. He infuses it into body building parts - into the material particles, atoms, and molecules, by whose instrumentality the person plays his or her individual symphony of life. Even when the soul separates from the particles of matter, it lives on forever, whether blissfully under God whom one has served, or wretchedly and forever apart from God. (For further discussion about the immediate creation of the soul by God, see CCC 366; see also my book Evolution and the Sin in Eden, pp. 170-178).

Day Four: A Salvo Against Superstition

Genesis opens Day Four with an economy of words if we consider the immensity of the work done on that day: And God said: "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night . . . " The Psalmist exults with jubilee: "The heavens proclaim the glory of God; and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands" (Ps 19). And in another passage the Psalmist expresses joy while viewing the stars: "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made; by the breath of his mouth all their host" (Ps 33:6). The spangled canopy of twinkling stars on a clear and moonless night is surely one of nature's greatest shows. Christ sometimes stole away from the crowds to be with His Father while contemplating the nightly skies. With the Father and the Spirit He had hung this dazzling spectacle into the sky. Perhaps He watched the shower of Perseid meteors in mid-August. Perhaps he watched Orion rising in the east in December.

Christ knew all about science, of course, having Himself designed the cosmos. He knew very well that the stars do not rotate around the earth, but that the earth revolves on its axis which makes it seem that the sky is moving. He did not correct this mistaken science of His time. When He recited Psalm 19, as He probably did in His home Synagogue in Nazareth, He sang with the rest about the sun: "Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them." Christ kept His peace and sang along with the rest, we may be sure. He did not stray from His mission. He had not come to teach science but the Way of Salvation (The subject is treated more amply in chapter thirteen of this book).

Genesis, with no apologies to popular superstitions, makes it clear that sun, moon, and stars are not gods, that they have no power independent of their Creator. Superstitions about the supposed influence of stars on peoples' lives notwithstanding, the sun, moon and stars are shown to be utterly pliant in God's hands, absolutely impotent to do anything of themselves. God hangs them into their place in the sky, like farmers used to hang their lantern on a nail when doing chores in the dark of night. The author of Genesis, in a serene manner, shows the folly of superstitions about a feared power of stars and constellations.

Moses had to warn the Israelites against fear of elements in the sky: "And when you look up to the heavens and behold the sun or the moon or any star among the heavenly hosts, do not be led astray into adoring them and serving them" (Deut 4:19). Yet Israelites remained ever prone to worship the sun, moon, and stars, as well as homemade idols. The serene thrust of Genesis is that God is One, and there is no god besides Him. The book is a light for all ages, admonishing us against worshiping creatures and believing in magic and superstition. In Babylonian writings the gods and the stars have control over the weather, whereas in the Bible God controls all.

Days Five and Six

The text is fine-tuned to indicate meaningful nuances in God's way of creating. He commands the earth to produce the plants on Day Three. The earth promptly brings forth the plants. That's how we observe it all with our eyes. The ground seems to grow plants. But we don't see water produce fish, much less birds. Nor do we see the ground produce animals. Even though God commands them to do this, He Himself finally does the making:

(Day Three): And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation . . . The earth brought forth vegetation.

(Day Five): Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures . . . So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature . . .

(Day Six): "And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.' And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good." The author has God giving the commands to the water and to the ground to bring forth the creatures, but in the end, since the elements are impotent to do this, God Himself does the work of creating.

Another endearing nuance is noted in the text: God speaks to the fish, to the birds, and to the land animals. But He doesn't speak to plants. Children who hear the narration will find this to be only natural. Their parents don't speak to the ferns and rubber plants in the room, but they flatter or scold the dog and cat. The author of Genesis is an artist who observes well.

Note still another charming detail: God commands the waters to bring forth not only the fish but also the birds. So why doesn't God command the air to produce the birds which fly in it? Probably because when we observe the air, we don't think it has enough substance to produce anything. The learned Thomas wrestled with this problem and came up with an answer which reflects ponderous studiousness rather than the viewpoint of an observing child:

Reply to Objection Two: The air, as not being so apparent to the senses, is not enumerated by itself, but with other things: partly with the water, because the lower region of the air is thickened by watery exhalations; partly with the heaven as to the higher region. But birds move in the lower part of the air, and so are said to fly beneath the firmament, even if the firmament be taken to mean the region of the clouds. Hence the production of birds is ascribed to the water (ST I,71).

One thing remains for God to do now, namely to create man, male and female. The lights are on; the sky is up; the oceans sleep in their basins; the dry land floats steadily on its plates, clothed in green; the sun, moon and stars govern the recurrent days and nights, summers and winters; the waters teem with fish, the skies echo with the chatter and song of birds; the animals, creeping and walking, wild and domestic, forage for food and emit their grunts and squeals and clatter.

Botanical gardens highlight God's eye for beauty and variety in creating the flowers, bushes and trees. Aquariums display a riotous assortment of dazzling creatures of the waters. Fish, it seems to me, more than any other creatures, suggest a sense of humor in the Creator. The sea horses even appear to border on the ridiculous. The zoo exhibits God's grace and power. There is power in those elephant shoulders, grace in the gazelle's leap over the bushes, kingly royalty in the lion's massive mane and devastating power. Children at the aquarium and at the zoo give joy to parents with their enthusiasm for every new wonder.

"Let Us Make Man"

"Let us make man," said God finally after having set up all the stage preparations. The plural designation "us" has invoked much discussion. It means at a minimum that God deliberated, reflected, and then acted with informed determination. He knew beforehand how a good number of humans would not be grateful, would ignore Him, even oppose Him. Nevertheless He deliberately made man free, to be at his own disposition. The great adventure of human life on earth is about to begin.

Next Page: Chapt: 10 The Garden of Eden
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