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...
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.
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?
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.
- 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.