Debates surrounding the Creation story typically focus on whether or not the Biblical account of creation coincides with a scientific understanding of the origins of the world. Such a focus loses the point of the first stories of Genesis. These stories are not written as scientific accounts, and were never understood as such even by the early Hebrews.
Rather, the creation stories found in the first two chapters of Genesis are deeply meaningful accounts of our relationship with God as He intended it from the very beginning. They show us who we are created to be, and who we are in relation to God. The main message of these stories is not how God created the universe, but why He created the universe.
So, let's take a look at each of the stories of Creation to discover what meaning and beauty they hold for us.
Genesis Chapter 1: The Seven Days of Creation
Did God create the world in seven days? The one answer that any good Catholic can give with confidence is, "He sure could have!" But does it really matter if God created the world in seven literal days? Not really. Whether He actually created the world in seven days (or seven ages, or seven stages, or seven whatever) or whether He just inspired the Creation Story to say that He did, the importance of the number seven goes far beyond simple scientific fact.
The Hebrew word for "seven" is also the word for "covenantal oath." According to scripture scholar Scott Hahn, whenever two tribes or nations swore a treaty oath with each other that bonded them together as "family," scripture says in Hebrew that they "sevened themselves." So, when God created the world in seven days, the significance of this act is that in doing so He "sevened Himself" to us. He formed a covenant with us that bonded us to Him in a sacred family bond.
OK, step back for a moment. Remember that the meaning of theology is "faith seeking understanding." this is not just an academic exercise. What new meaning does the Creation story have for us because of this understanding?
If you ask young people why God created the world (as I very often did as a high school theology teacher), you get all kinds of interesting answers ranging from the profound and insightful to the cynical and ludicrous. I have heard such answers as:
- He was bored
- He needed something to play with
- Because He could
- He was lonely
With the possible exception of the third one, none of these answers fits a proper understanding of God. God is perfect, completely sufficient within the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Boredom and loneliness are not possible for God. So let's consider what is possible for God. John tells us that God is love. He doesn't say that God loves, but that God is love. It is the nature of love to grow and to give life. So, why did God create the world? Because God is love, and love creates new life and expands to embrace that new life. So, God did not create us out of any need that He had out of emptiness. Rather, He created us out of the fullness of His very nature.
Cool, huh? We can very safely say that God created us
1. out of love
2. to be in a relationship of love with Him
That is what covenant is all about.
On the Seventh Day
I'm not going to spend a lot of time here talking about the meaning of each of the seven days. The video in the free membership area touches on the rhythm of the seven days a little bit more. However, I do want to focus on the last two days - six and seven.
On what day did God create humanity? The answer is day 6 (did you remember correctly?). What else did God create on day 6? He created the animals. Is there significance to this? One of my high school students actually clued me into this meaning, and I have since verified it with other scholars (including Pope John Paul II). Human beings are created with the animals on day 6 because we share with animals an animal nature (physical body, physical powers and physical drives). However, unlike the animals, we were created for day 7. So, if human beings forget the Seventh Day, we get stuck in the sixth day - we become mere animals. But God created us for so much more.
The seventh day - the Sabbath Day - is the day that God rested. Now, did God rest because He was tired from all that creation work? Of course not. A perfect God does not get tired. So, the rest on the Sabbath must hold a special meaning. God shows us that this is true when He blesses it (to bless means to set apart) and commanded that all of humanity rest on the Sabbath. And you remember what the word seven means, right? It means covenant. So the Sabbath - the seventh day or the day of the covenant - is a day when we rest in order to remember our reason for existence. We need to remember that we exists in order to have a relationship with God - in order to be members of His family. Everything we do in the other six days should be focused on this fact. We should do all of our work for the sake of the Family. But unless we take the time to stop working and to remind ourselves of our true identity and purpose, we run the risk of losing ourselves in the material nature of work. When this happens, we are in danger of losing sight of our true nature and purpose as children of God and of therefore making ourselves into mere animals.
We Are Family
So, when you hear or read the first chapter of Genesis, let it remind you of who we really are. God created us to be members of His Family. He wants us to have a relationship of love with Him. He wants us to participate in the life of the Trinity. He wants us to love each other as brothers and sisters of God. He wants us to recognize our dignity and worth as princes and princesses in the Kingdom. He wants us to live as children of God.
This call is not unique to Christians. It is written in the very fabric of humanity. True, Christ makes it possible because sin divorces us from the Family. Also, Christ brings about a unity with God that is even more intimate than the relationship we were created for. But every human being, whether they know and love Jesus or not, has the inestimable dignity of being created to know, love and serve God as on of His children.
And we get all of that just from "seven days of creation."