Hi, I was wondering if you could answer this question, as it has been on my mind a lot, and an explanation would help enormously. We know creation came into being a long time ago. Can you explain to me what is meant by 'creation' as told in Genesis?  To what creation does it refer? Thank you for your patience.  I'm sure you are very busy,  and the answers given in the other page are very full and thought-provoking. But some sort of clue as to what it means would help. Eithne

Dear Eithne, Thanks for your email. The word ‘genesis’ means ‘origin’, and the creation story in the Book of Genesis is about the origin of everything - the whole caboodle as they say. It is a question that almost every society and almost every human being asks sooner or later: why is there something rather than nothing? It is the easiest and the hardest of all questions: easiest to ask, hardest to answer. Even when we try to trace the genealogy (same word as genesis) of our own family we become quite vague after a while: how much does the average person really know about the life and times of, say, their great-grandparents? How hard then to say anything about the origin of the whole universe! But it is a question that doesn’t go away, even when we become impatient with it. We might give ourselves the ‘Shut up and eat your cake’ answer, but the question never stops coming back. (A child on a tram with his father. The child says, “Daddy, what makes the tram go?” “The wheels make it go, son.” After a while, “Daddy, what makes the wheels go?” “The engine - the engine makes the wheels go.” Then, “What makes the engine go?” “Well…the electricity.” After a pause, “Daddy, what's electricity?” “Shut up and eat your cake!”)

               People of all times have looked up at the night sky and wondered just what it all was and what it was all about. I remember a Neil Diamond song that was just a long random list of names of people from every period of history, ending with the lines, “Each one there / Had one thing to share: / They all sweated beneath the same sun / Looked up in wonder at the same moon / And wept when it was all done / For being done too soon.” Our own lives seem fleeting when we look at the big picture. Wonder will never cease.

               Astrophysicists take us quickly out of our depth, and they are humble about being out of their own depth. Parts of the Book of Genesis are thought to go back to about 1000 BC, and to rely on much earlier traditions. The lives of those people must have been unimaginably different from ours, but they too “looked up in wonder at the same moon.” They were not astrophysicists and their way of looking at the world was religious, not scientific. They had profound insights into the mystery of God and the meaning and destiny of human life and the world. These insights were dimmed by misunderstanding on the part of many Christians in the past (and some even in the present) who took them to be literal accounts of creation that ought somehow to be ‘proved’ by science. This would now be seen by the great majority of Christians as a bizarre view, even though it was common into the 20th century.

               The Genesis story of creation (actually there are two in the Book of Genesis) is that God created the world in six ‘days’. It is obvious that we cannot take this literally, because the sun was created only on the fourth day; how could there be a literal day before there was a sun? Some people have suggested that a ‘day’ meant an ‘aeon’, an age. But this is to strain the thing while still missing the meaning. The works of the first four days are works of division: light is divided from darkness, the waters above from the waters below, the land from the sea, and day from night. All of this is about order and meaning. They see the world as fundamentally ordered and reliable. Throughout the work God looks at what he has made and declares that “it is good.” This declaration is repeated six times in the first chapter of Genesis. The sixth time, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (1:31).

               These are fundamental affirmations about God and the world. There is only one God, ‘Yahweh’, who is the source of all that is. Every existing thing depends on God for its existence, while God depends on nothing. The Chaos from which God made things is not a separate and personified power, as in other Near Eastern creation stories. God is supreme over creation, and creation is good, not evil. Creation is accomplished by a spoken word, not by victory over some mythical monster.

               The creation of human beings is of particular interest to us of course. "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness….So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (1:26-27). That is an affirmation that does not date; and notice that male and female are on an exactly equal footing as images of God. In the second Genesis account of creation (chapter 2), God said, "’It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them…” But still his heart was empty, so God made a partner for him who was “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken." She alone was his equal. There is a play on words here that is providentially repeated in English. The Hebrew word for man is ‘ish’, and for woman ‘ishah’. They are the same and yet a little different, like the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’. This from the Bronze Age, but it is still a live issue in the Space Age!

               One last point: “God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (2:7). The story affirms the divine element in human beings, the breath of God by which they live. The word ‘spirit’ comes from ‘spirare’, which means ‘to breathe’; spirit = breath. In the New Testament there is an echo of this detail of the Genesis story. Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection and “he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). They are, as it were, created anew; they have a new and deeper intimacy with God.

               I hope these few remarks will be of some help to you, Eithne.

               Donagh O'Shea

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