The Primeval Revelation

Chapter 8: Creation in Genesis

The first sentence of the Bible is simple and crisp, yet packed with more information than perhaps any other sentence in all human literature: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." These ten words are the master key to the riddle of life. Great minds of Greece and Rome could not grasp this key. We should recite it in the original Hebrew:

Be resheéth bará Elohim eth ha shamáyim wa eth ha áres.
In beginning created God the heavens and the earth.

Before resheéth, time was not. Only eternity. Before God's bará, the cosmos was not. Only God was. Outside of Him nothing was. Atheists opt to discount this truth, but their option changes not a thing. Unruly scientists look for additional proof. Yet God has given sufficient proof to enable all to believe if they so choose.

Only God Can Create

The CCC teaches that when God creates, He does not use pre-existent materials, nor does He mix an extension of Himself into the objects He makes. He needs nothing to start with, except His power:

296 We believe that God needs no pre-existent thing or any help in order to create, nor is creation any sort of necessary emanation from the divine substance. God creates freely "out of nothing" . . .

"Look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being."

Thomas Aquinas explains why it is that only God can create something out of nothing. The distance between being and non-being is so great that only infinite power can effect a coming into being. Only God can create a suspension bridge which reaches out from Himself as the source, to the anchor which He suspends beyond Himself. The pattern of reasoning by Thomas is abstract but irrefutable:

For to create is the prerogative of that cause which does not presuppose another cause that is more universal. . . . But such causality pertains to God alone. He alone, therefore, is Creator... To create from nothing, then, requires infinite power (The Compendium of Theology, No. 69; translation in Light of Faith, Sophia Institute Press, 1993, p.64).

The author of Genesis teaches the same lesson in less abstract terms than Thomas uses. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" says it all: 1) Since this is the beginning, nothing was there before. 2) God commands, He creates (bara), and things appear. 3) He creates "the heavens and the earth," all things that are. Nothing exists which God did not create.

How "long" did it take for God to plan our universe? By thus posing the question, we erroneously attribute time to eternity. God didn't need "time" to do the planning, of course. Eternity is fixed as one simultaneous duration, whereas time ticks along in sequential passage. We may imagine that it took a thousand years to draw up extensive blue prints for building heaven and earth. He must furnish all the parts, then make them work together functionally. His trademark is always truth, love, and splendor. The macrocosm we see at night, the sky filled with brilliant stars. Recent photos from Hubble and Subaru peer into space and catch beams of light that started on their way toward us fourteen billion years ago. The macrocosm is immense, whereas the microcosm is a tracery of infinitesimal tininess. The blueprints for the human body, for example, are in the DNA of the gametes, written there in minute code:

You have to figure out what a DNA molecule is. I would say it's a long thread one meter in length, cut into twenty-three pieces. Each piece is coiled on itself very tightly to make spiral upon spiral so that finally it looks like a little rod that we can see under the microscope. We call it a chromosome. There are twenty-three of them carried by the father, twenty-three of them carried by the mother. I said the minuteness of the language is bewildering because if I were bringing here into the Court all the one meter long DNA of the sperms and all the meter long DNA of the ova which will make every one of the five billions of human beings that will replace ourselves on this planet, this amount of matter would be roughly two aspirin tablets!... The smallest possible language ... is necessary because life takes advantage of the movement of the particles, of molecules, to put order inside the chance development of random movement of particles, so that chance is now transformed according to the necessity of the new being (Geneticist Jerome Lejeune, The Concentration Can,31-32).

God did all the planning with one sweep of infinite intellectual action. "He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man's mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end" (Eccl 3:11).

Thomas invites us to ponder whether the universe is as old as God, therefore eternal. For why should God delay the beginning if He had made up His mind to create? Does it not seem that the beginning should be simultaneous with eternity? Thomas identifies the point of reasoning thus: "We observe that the will does not delay long what it wishes to do, unless because of some motive that is operative now but will cease later, or because of some motive that is inoperative now but is expected to become operative in the future" (op. cit. No. 98). So why would God not create the universe in eternity once He put it into His mind to carry out creation?

Thomas says that such thoughts only show that we are accustomed to measuring God and eternity from the standpoint of time. But God is outside of our time, and His will does not have what is earlier and later. Everything in eternity is simultaneous: "The question about why God's eternal will produces an effect now and not earlier presupposes that time exists, for now and earlier are segments of time" (ibid. 98). We should not ask why God created only now but not earlier; we ask more reasonably why God decided upon this or that duration of time. This depends upon the divine will. God is perfectly free to assign this time to the universe or any other time. In the same way He can assign this space and dimension to the universe, outside of which there is no other space or dimension. Thomas ends with the wry admission: "We have in mind nothing but time and place as they exist in our imagination" (ibid. 98).

God Holds the Cosmos in His Hand

After God finished the initial work of creation, He did not distance Himself from it. Even though it appears to us that the cosmos is now in an "automatic mode," as though it could continue all by itself, this appearance is deceptive. We know that the universe would delete into nothingnessif ever God would withdraw His supporting hand. "With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also and at every moment upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end" (CCC 301). Somehow two truths must be reconciled: on the one hand we observe that every effect follows from an observable cause (barring miracles), a fact that makes the study of science possible. On the other hand created matter is not a new god that exists on its own. It exists only because God created it in the first place, and from then until now continues to undergird its being.

Scientists and philosophers have for centuries pondered about the existence of the cosmos, its beginning, its end, or its permanence. Many speculated about cyclic or oscillatory collapses and renewals. "Probably all schools of pre-Socratic philosophy subscribed in one way or another to the belief that the universe was to perish and to resurge at regular intervals" (Science & Creation by Stanley L. Jaki, 105). Some scientists continue into our times to speculate about similar positions in futile efforts to escape the need of recognizing a beginning of the cosmos made by the Creator God (cf. Jaki 336-369).

There is another possibility which empirical science can neither ascertain nor deny because it escapes observation. Revelation informs us that at the end of time Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. All who have ever lived on earth will then "see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Mt 24:30-31). Those who spurned or neglected Christ "will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Mt 25:46).

Will God continue to hold the natural cosmos in being after the Last Judgment? Or will He decide that it has fulfilled its chronological purpose and withdraw His hand? What will happen to the sun, the moon, and the stars after the cataclysmic shake up of the cosmos which the synoptic Gospels foretell concerning the end of time? Christ spoke ominously about the end: "The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken... " (Mt 24:29). What will the universe be like after Christ completes His Judgment, after the gates of hell are clanged shut terminally, and after the doors of heaven open to receive the blessed who have been clothed anew in their risen bodies?

The Bible tells about a new heaven and a new earth: "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind" (Is 65:17). The Book of Revelation draws aside the curtain to allow us to glimpse into the hereafter: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more... (And he) showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel..." (21:1,10-11).

Does it mean that God will, at the end of time, withdraw His preserving power from the present cosmos? Perhaps. Neither Scripture nor theology provides a clear answer. If the material universe is destined to zip back into nothing when Christ has completed the Last Judgment, then our apparently mighty and endless cosmos is a "throw away" item, to be discarded when its purpose has been achieved. Like the Olympic flame, it would die when its fuel is cut off. Only darkness would remain here, while heaven lights up. The obituary of the cosmos might then be written:

Thou, Lord, didst found the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of thy hands; they will perish, but thou remainest; they will all grow old like a garment, like a mantle thou wilt roll them up, and they will be changed (Heb 1:10-12).

Genesis: Masterful Account of Creation

Chapter 1 of Genesis is a masterpiece of literature, crafted by long usage in oral tradition before professionals shaped its final form as it now appears on the first pages of the Bible. The events of the six days of creation parade before us in stately sequence, like mitered bishops marching into St. Peter's in Rome. Eight vignettes recount the mighty works of God done on a succession of six days. Each workday is set off with an opening phrase: "And God said." The day is then closed with the refrain: "And there was evening and there was morning, (one day)." When the six day tasks are duly completed, God sits back to contemplate it on day seven.

Each day begins with the phrase: " Wa yomèr Elohìm,"and immediately mighty things happen: the firmament is muscled into place; the waters slosh into their container; the dry land appears, and vegetation carpets the bare ground; lights are hung into the sky; waters bring forth fish, and birds fly across the sky; the earth brings forth living creatures according to their kinds. When that was finished on day six, God takes a breather. He next calls the heavenly hosts together to witness the crowning event: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." The speaking of God always packs power. His yomèr is more than magic; it is almighty.

Instead of catechetical questions and answers, Genesis does its teaching by employing stately prose, lively drama, and flights of poetry. The sacred author evidently loves his topic and likes to make it sing. He draws upon a rich repertoire of seasoned oral literature. He teaches his lessons in stories and symbols which are rich in doctrine. The chief Author, we know, is God, who is existential truth, love, and splendor. The Bible reflects His Being. St. Ambrose (340-397) loved the Bible dearly. When he reads the Bible, he once said, he goes on a walk with God in paradise.

Chapter 1 awakens nostalgia in many hearts who hear it again on Holy Saturday. When we were in the seminary - for me that was over 50 years ago - we heard it chanted in the wee hours of the morning before dawn, after the lone candle symbolizing Christ had been lit. We felt much as the early Christians surely did when they huddled closely in the light of the taper lamps in catacombs, safe from persecutions outside. We were enthralled during the seminary Liturgy of Holy Saturday, as I remember, by chanters who belted out the sonorous Latin sentences in melodious cascades of rhythmic sound: "In principio creavit Deus coelum et terram," began the resonant basso of the Bible's opening line. Priests and seminarians took turns at the lectern, singing the twelve lessons in the enchanting prescribed tonal pattern.

The words of chapter 1 are so well ordered and sequenced that a good translation makes them musical and delightful to hear in every language, not only in Latin. Millions of believers rejoice to hear them again each Holy Saturday, when the great story of creation is recited once again to hushed audiences in the darkness of churches where they await the dawn of Easter Morning.

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