Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Drulogion's Hexameron - The Fourth Day

We now turn to the fourth day in our series on the first creation account in Genesis. In so doing, we turn a corner from the first half to the second half of the story. When turning this corner, it is important to note the parallelism between the first three days and the latter three days. The first and the fourth, the second and the fifth, and the third and the sixth days relate to each other as presupposition and fulfillment. That which is created on the former three days is the necessary presupposition for that which is created on the latter three days. But that which is created on the latter three days is the fulfillment of that which is created on the former three days. We can see this parallelism quite explicitly on the fourth day:
[14] 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, [15] and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. [16] 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. [17] God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, [18] to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. [19] 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.

Any thoughts?
  • 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?
Next Week: The Fifth Day

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Drulogion's Hexameron - The Third Day

In our series on the first creation account of Genesis, we have already discussed the first and second days. We have observed that God creates by speaking and by separating. God speaks light into existence, separating it from darkness, so that we may know. By his word, God separates the waters so that we may live. This week we turn our attention to the third day of creation, wherein God creates the dry ground by gathering the lower waters by his word.
.....[9] And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. [10] God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good.
.....[11] Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. [12] The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. [13] And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
How does God create?
God names.

God names what he creates. God not only speaks once in order to calls things into existence, but God also speaks again in order to name that which he has created. On the third day we hear God naming the gathered lowered waters "seas" and the newly appearing dry ground "land." God not only makes things, but names things. God leaves much unnamed. God gives human beings the freedom and responsibility to name many things. But God does not leave all things unnamed. Some things are named by God. This seems to imply that naming is not an absolutely conventional matter. Or, perhaps we could say that the convention of naming is not a human invention, but a gift given by the God who names. God names what he creates.

This is not the first time God names what he creates. On the first day, God names the light "day" and the darkness "night." And on the second day, God names the firmament "heaven" or "sky." Nor is this the last time God names what he creates. In his covenantal dealings with his people, God names his covenant partners. At crucial moments in his history with us, God gives a new name. At the reiteration of his covenant promise of a son, God renames Abram "Abraham" and Sarai "Sarah." And after a night of wrestling and blessing, God renames Jacob "Israel." This second renaming becomes the naming of his people on a macro level. So even those Israelites who are not given new names have been named by God inasmuch as they are Israelites. At the culmination of this covenant, God tells Mary and Joseph to name their "Jesus." The community of Jesus Christ is named after him "Christian" and the members of this community are named "Christians." God names what he creates.

What does God create?
God names the dry ground "land."

God names the newly created dry ground "land." This land is first of all a gift because it has been separated from the lower waters. Although the great threat of the upper waters were contained by the firmament created on the second day, the lesser but not insignificant threat of the lower waters remains. It is gathered on the third day, but not so strictly separated as the upper waters. Unlike the upper waters, these gathered lowered waters are given a name: "seas." They are given a place within creation. Unlike the upper waters, which are held at bay by the sturdy firmament, the windows of which can only be opened by God himself, the lower waters touch the land and remain an ever-present threat. But the good news of the second day is that God successfully gathers them and makes dry land to appear. The threat remains, but God overcomes. God makes dry ground to appear. And God names this dry ground, "land."

But the emergence of land is not the end of God's creative activity on the third day. God does not just gather the waters in order to produce a desert. That would be to trade one threat for another. God not only makes the land, but also makes the land to produce vegetation. That God acts a second time is unique to the third and sixth days. On the other days, God acts once. But on these parallel days, God acts twice. He first creates the land, then he causes the land to produce. In the first act, God acts alone. In the second act, God acts by causing his creation to act. Both land and vegetation are God's creation. But he creates each by a different mode, the first immediately and the second mediately. But the mediated mode of the creation of vegetation does not make it secondary in importance. Rather, the production of vegetation is the telos of the creation of the land. That which God calls "land" he has created for the purpose of vegetation.

Why does God create?
God names the dry ground "land" so that we may be bear fruit.

The vegetative purpose of that which God calls "land" points to the spiritual significance of the third day of creation. In the case of land, God names that which will be productive. The land produces vegetation which itself produces more vegetation: seed bearing plants which reproduce according to their kinds. In the history of the covenant, God's naming is correlated with God's promise of reproductive fruitfulness. God never gives someone a new name as an end in itself. God does not establish a relationship with Abraham just to hang out with Abraham. "Abraham" is not God's pet name for his buddy Abraham. The name "Abraham" is a sign of the promise, a pointer to the future. God establishes a covenantal relationship with Abraham which contains the promise of children. The creator's naming of his creation is oriented toward creation's fruitfulness. The fruitfulness of the land's vegetation is not only food for our living but also means of our own fruitfulness. We live not only to ourselves, but for the sake of future life.

When God calls us by name, he calls us to be fruitful. When we are given our "Christian names," we are not merely receiving a benefit. We are, of course, being given a great gift for which we must be ever thankful. But it is a gift to be shared and passed on. When God calls us by name, he is call us to the glorious task of reproduction. We are called to reproduce, not only by bearing and raising children(though that too can be a form of disciple-making), but by making disciples of all nations. The fruit of the vine is people. We are called to be fruitful for the kingdom of God. Jesus' parables are replete with vegetative imagery. In almost every case, that comes up from the land is people. There are, of course, other kinds of Christian fruitfulness. Most obviously, the marks of Christian character known as the fruit of the Spirit. But even these fruits ought not to be abstracted from the fruitfulness as the reproduction of people for the kingdom of God. For all the ethical exhortation in the New Testament stand under the call to live a life worthy of the gospel calling to which we were called (Php 1:27; Eph 4:1). When God calls us by name, he calls us to be fruitful.

Any thoughts?
  • What do you think is the significance of God naming what he creates? Are there other instances of naming in the Bible which cast light on this divine act?
  • Is it right to suggest that the land is created for the purpose of vegetation? Are there other ways of interpreting the double activity of God on the third day?
  • Is the connection between naming and fruitfulness clear to you? Is it reasonable? What other implications may be drawn from this connection?

Next Week: The Fourth Day

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Drulogion's Hexameron - The Second Day

This week we turn to the second day of creation as the second installment of Drulogion's Hexameron. Let's ask of Genesis 1:6-8 how God creates, what God creates, and what purpose God has in creating, with an eye as always to the character of this creative God who re-creates in Christ.
[6] And God said, "Let there be a firmament between the waters to separate water from water." [7] So God made the firmament and separated the waters under the firmament from the waters above it. And it was so. [8] God called the firmament "heaven." And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
How does God create?
God separates.

God creates by separating. The chaotic waters over which the spirit of God was hovering prior to the first day (v. 2) are separated into two bodies: the upper waters and lower waters. These chaotic waters return as the doors of heaven are opened in the story of the flood (Gen 6-8). However, the point is not to dwell on the threat of these upper waters, but rather on God's gracious act of speaking into existence a firmament -- a hard translucent surface -- between the upper waters and the lower waters. God has created a mediating space which holds at bay the powers of chaos in this world. God has said No to that which could overwhelm his creation. In so doing, God has said Yes to creation.

This is not the only mention of separating in the creation account. God also separated light from the darkness on the first day. Parallel to this, on the fourth day God creates the sun, moon and stars to separate day and night. On the third day, God gathers the waters in order to separate them from the land. God creates by separating. God does not just create an undifferentiated blob. There is no monism here, where good and evil and everything else are folded into one system of nature. Rather, God creates with definite intentions which require discriminating judgments. God separates the good from evil, and differentiates between goods.

This motif of separation does not end with the establishment of the created order, but persists in God's covenant history, as God separates his people from among the nations. God calls his people to be separate as he is separate. God re-creates by separating a people to be like him and to serve him so that his creation will be with him.

What does God create?
God separates the waters.

Now there are really two things in view in the passage: the heavens and the seas. This is confirmed when on the parallel day (the fifth day), God creates the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. And in the strictest sense, God creates only the firmament/heaven on the second day, for the waters are already around (cf. v. 2). So the object of God's act of making is the firmament.

But we are focusing here on God's act of separating, the object of which is the waters. God separates the waters. The separation of the waters is the function of the firmament. And so the separation of the waters is the outcome of the second day. The good news of the second day is that God brings the waters into the scope of his creative will. There is a sense in which the waters -- in all their chaos and danger -- are not created by God. They are opposed to everything that God is for in creation. And yet by separating them and giving them a place, God identifies himself as the sovereign creator over them. God treats the chaotic waters as a creature, a creature with a place in his ordered creation.

When God creates and when God re-creates, water is involved. God makes that which threatens his creation part of his creative purpose. In Jesus Christ, God takes sin and death to himself in order to bring about righteousness and life. Those who are baptized into his death are given the promise of also sharing in his resurrection. The waters of Genesis 1 are not necessarily a type of the waters of baptism. But they are at least a sign of God's creative use of anti-creative forces -- God's use of death to bring about life.

Why does God create?
God separates the waters so that we may live.

We have already been hinting at the purpose of God's separation of the waters: the protect his good creation from chaotic forces. God separates the waters so that we may live. Before creating birds or fish or land animals or breathing the breath of life into Adam, God is making a world safe for life. The waters and the heavens which separate them are the conditions for life.

We often think of water as signifying cleansing. And it does. But water only cleanses because it is threatens. Water is dangerous. It floods, it drowns, it destroys. Yes, we are washed ... but in the blood of the Lamb! God's re-creation of us in Christ is not just a matter of cleansing; it is a matter of life and death. God cleanses us, makes us new, re-creates us, by putting us to death. This would be bad news, if it were not the creator we are dealing with here -- the one who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not though they were (Rom 4:17).

Any thoughts?
  • Is it right to treat the waters as threatening?
  • What other instances of God separating come to your mind? What do they teach us?
  • What other theological themes emerge from the motif of water?

Next Week: The Second Day

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Drulogion's Hexameron - The First Day

The release of the sequel piques interest in the original.

Whenever the sequel of a book or movie comes out, people are drawn to reconsider the original. In many cases, the first installment is better. But not always. Sometimes the later installment surpasses the first. This is often the case when the later installments were planned from the beginning, not simply tacked on to capitalize on the success of the first. But even when sequel is better, its release piques our interest in the original, looking for patterns, continuities, hidden themes, etc.

On the first day of the week, God raised Jesus from the dead. By raising Jesus from the dead, God restores and surpasses his creative work. In Christ, God recreates. He restores his original creation, and this restoration surpasses the original. Jesus lives again--to never die again. This surpassing restoration is the context of the Christian life: "If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation" (2 Cor 5:17). The new creation is better than the original creation. Perhaps this is because it was planned from the beginning. But even when the sequel is better, its release piques interest in the original. The new creation piques interest in the original creation.

And so this Easter season I am going to reflect on God's original work of creating as testified to in the first creation story of Genesis (Gen 1:1-2:3). It is not a coincidence that lectionaries regularly place readings from Genesis 1 during the Easter season, for the release of the sequel piques interest in the original. Following this Christian practice, I will be reflecting on Genesis in light of Easter, and therefore not exclusively on its own terms, but as the first installment directed to its intended sequel.

This seven-week series of reflections will be organized around the seven days of creation. For each day I will ask after how God creates, what God creates, and why God creates. Answering the first question will require that at each day I pick out general themes that run through the creation story as a whole. I'm giving this series the g(r)eeky name of Hexameron ("six days") after the great tradition of Christian reflection on the first creation story that goes at least back to Basil of Caesarea. So here goes...

The First Day (Genesis 1:3-5)

In order to answer our three guiding questions, let's build a single statement. I am adding a first question because it is our first week, so we'll build this single statement in four steps.

Who creates?

I will not give a separate treatment to the introductory verses of Genesis 1. Instead, I will revisit them from time to time through this series. And the subject of the statement I want to make concerning the first day occasions a reference to v. 1: "In the beginning, God." God. The actor, subject, agent of the first day of creation is God. God is the central character in the creation story. The Bible does not start with setting the scene ("It was a dark and stormy night") and then introduce the characters. Rather, the Bible starts with the character, God, who then sets the scene by creating it. This is the crucial starting point for our series, for it is God who supplies the point of continuity between the original creation and the new creation. No other continuities can be assumed from the outset except that the God who creates is the God who recreates. So the character of divine action is the focus of our reflection on creation.

How does God create?
God speaks.

One of the recurring features in the creation account is that God creates by speaking. God speaks at least once on each of the six days (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26). And his speaking is not just a deliberation before taking creative action; God's speaking is his creative action. God creates by speaking. God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God speaks realities into existence. When God speaks, things happen. God's word is powerful and effective.

God continues to act by his word throughout his dealings with his creatures. It is not merely a special feature of the creation account. God's voice is heard in the heavens according to the Psalms. God's word comes to the prophets. And the same word by which God creates in the beginning became incarnate in Jesus Christ (Jn 1:1-18). The word of gospel concerning him is power, according to Paul (Rom 1:17). Note, the gospel is not about power, it is power. When God speaks, things happen. This means that those who new creatures in Christ have been made say by God's word. God has spoken new life into them. Perhaps this is why new creatures are Bible readers. Perhaps this is why we are told, "he who has ears let him hear." Hearing (which includes both listening and obeying) are near the heart of the Christian life.

What does God create?
God speaks light.

On the first day, God speaks light into existence. An odd feature of the creation story is that God does not create the lights (sun, moon, stars) until the fourth day. God doesn't create lights which give off light, but rather God creates light itself. What this means may remain a mystery, though it probably has something to do with the creaturely form of God's glory. With light God also creates time, as the rhythm of light and darkness, which he names "day" and "night," commences. And the daylight triumphs over the darkness of night. In the time that God has for us, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.

God continues to shine his light throughout his dealing with his creatures. He guides his people through the wilderness nights by his pillar of fire. He fills his temple with the glorious light of his shekinah. His word-become-flesh is the light of his glory. He is the light of the world. He is the light of life. On the first day of the week, his light of light broke forth from the darkness of death. Just as when God created, there was light, so when God recreates, there is light. New creatures in Christ have been enlivened by God's light. The weight of God's glory shines on their unveiled faces.

Why does God create?
God speaks light so that we may know God.

The language of light connotes knowledge. The content of this knowledge is clearly more than mere information. He is the light of life. But knowledge is a result of light. We need light to see and understand. We speak of "enlightenment" with reference to new knowledge and understanding. Casting light on something means to reveal its true nature. God speaks light into existence so that we may know, not only the world around us, but himself.

Now knowledge has benefits. You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Knowledge of God is an instrumental good. We can testify to this in the lives of those whose knowledge of God made a significant difference in their attitudes and actions, especially in the face of suffering. But, I do not want to focus on the benefits of the knowledge of God. You shall know the truth. Knowledge of God is also an intrinsic good. In fact, we must first face its intrinsic worth before considering its instrumental value. Knowing God is good in and of itself. And so the knowledge of God is a core value of the new creature. New creatures bath in the light of life. They crave to know God. Their driving passion is to know Christ, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings. New creatures know God. What does this look like? New creatures ask each other, what are you learning about God? Or, better yet, what is God teaching you about himself? This is the concrete sign of the new creature's driving passion to know God.

Any thoughts?
  • Is understanding redemption as re-creation helpful? What problems do it have? Are these problems dealt with by the claim that it surpasses the original? Or does that claim have problems of its own?
  • Does the general relationship between creation and redemption implicit in the introduction to this appeal to you? In other words, is it okay to read Genesis in the light of Easter?
  • What do you think of the notion that God is the only presupposed point of continuity between creation and re-creation?
  • What do you make of God creating by speaking?
  • What does the language of light connote for you?

Next Week: The Second Day

Works consulted in the development of this series:

Basil the Great of Caesera, Hexameron, NPNF, Second Series, Vol. 8.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. 3, Part 1.
Walter Brueggemann,
Genesis, Interpretation.
Terence Fretheim, “Genesis” in
The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 1.
Gordon Wenham,
Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1.