And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years,  and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so.  God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.  God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth,  to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.On the first day, God creates light. On the fourth day, God creates lights. The light separated from the darkness on the first day served to distinguish day and night for the first time. And yet the lights of the fourth day are made by God to govern day and night and to mark the seasons and days and years. So there is already light and time on the first day. And yet on the fourth day, God makes the bearers of light which mark livable time. Of course, this raises the question of how light shone on the first three days without a sun, moon and stars. Some have suggested that the creation of light prior to the sun functions as a criticism of anicent near east sun-god religions, especially as found in Egypt, Israel's nemesis. That is probably right, but only insofar as it advances the positive point that God creates both light itself and its bearers. God is the creator of all things, even the most basic things like the particle/waves of light.
So, with this parallel in mind, let's ask our three questions in order to tease out some of the themes of the fourth day of creation.
How does God create?
God sees goodness.
At the end of almost every day, after speaking and separating and naming, God sees. God looks over his creation. And he does not do or say anything, but thinks. God comes to a conclusion. God sees that it is good. The story could have said God "made" it good or "declared" it good. Those may also be true in some sense. But that is not what the text says. The text says that God "saw" that it was good. Something about light and land and luminaries in the sky is good. God acknowledges this goodness.
God's creation is good. This statement is not mean to deny the power of evil in this world, but rather shows that God takes the side of good. The source of evil remains a question at this point. But the least we can say is what God creates is good. God's continued action in relationship to his creation is on the side of good. As history moves forward, God sees much that is not good. God's redemptive re-creation makes that which is not good good again (or perhaps in some cases, even better). God's creation is good.
What does God create?
God sees the goodness of the signs of the time.
All of God's creation is good. Specific to the fourth day is God's observation that the lights and their function are good. The statement that God saw it was good comes after not only the creation of the lights but the description of their function to govern the days and nights and seasons, standing as signs that order time. So God sees the goodness of the signs of time. God does not just see the goodness of the lights in and of themselves. On the first day, God sees light itself in its separation from darkness as good in and of itself. But the lights are not intrinsic goods. They have a purpose: to separate day and night and mark the seasons and months and weeks, etc. They bear God's light to bring order to creaturely time.
Why does God create?
God sees the goodness of the signs of time so that there may be order.
It is reasonable to suggest that God values order in his creation in general and for his servants in particular. This does not mean that orderliness is some abstract principle that can be used to squash freedom and creativity. But it does mean that God's creativity and freedom are expressed through order. This means that the church as it creatively and freely serves God in this world need not fear order. God gives the rhythm of time to his creation for his creatures. Although the rhythms of time in the new creation may be of another order altogether, the new creation does have an orderly rhythm of time. There is a time for this and a time for that. The decisions of what "this" and "that" are must be guided by the trajectory of life given in and with the gospel. But the reality of time is part of our creatureliness. God can and does use time for his purposes. Our service to his purposes has time and the execution of this service must be timely. This does not necessarily imply a blanket endorsement of some traditional liturgical calendar or more recent devotional regime. But it does mean that time matters, and attention to the temporal rhythms of life is appropriate for new creatures in Christ.
- Are there any other parallels between the first and fourth days I've missed?
- Is there any further significance that God sees the goodness of his creation?
- Are there other crucial functions of the luminaries other than giving order to time?