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Creation in the Bible

Those who have been reading my series of columns on creation know that they were motivated by the reactions to my column of last July. In that column I lamented that there were those who wish to fight doctrinal battles over creation and said that doctrines are not established or negated in battles. While Christianity has left a wide wake of dead doctrines behind none of them died “with the boots on.” In an attempt to focus the conversation from a different perspective I affirmed my faith in God as Creator of heaven and earth, but distanced myself from the creationists since creationism is an ideology manufactured in the XIX century to defend a hidden agenda and deceive the unwary.

Given the reactions to that column I decided to review the evidence about creation in the Bible and I am pleased by the reactions to the series of columns that examined various biblical books. My purpose in writing these columns was to put aside what creationists say and try to understand what the Bible says. If my columns stimulated some of my readers to reflect and organize their thinking based on what the texts say, rather than what creationists say, my objective was achieved. A rapid walk along the path covered by my columns reveals a rich panorama.

 Beginning with the apostle Paul in Romans we saw that creation manifests the power and the divinity of God and that this evidence is sufficient to cause humans to give glory and praise to the Creator (Rom. 1: 19-20). Its power to reveal the Creator is not annulled by the present suffering of all creation under corruption. Even though subjected to vanity, it is “subjected in hope” (Rom. 8: 20). This tells us that, contrary to appearances, God is in control of creation and all of creation is good. Moreover, the resurrection of Christ gives us a new vision of reality, and allows us to see that the power of the love of God is superior to all the evil powers who may try to separate us from God’s love. God controls not only what is, but also what is not (Rom. 4: 17). That is, the realm of pure potentiality, of absolute freedom where nothing is already determined, the realm of miracles is also under the control of the Creator.

 In his letters to the Corinthians Paul has to defend himself from those who deny his apostleship and consider his preaching contrary to the gospel. These letters have to confront firmly the evil that makes inroads on earth. Due to the circumstances in which he finds himself, Paul exposes the powers of evil, gods and lords of the air responsible for the crucifixion of Christ and “the thorn in the flesh” that pummels him. Considering the power of agents of evil (1 Cor. 8: 5; 15: 24-26) within creation, Paul contrasts the creation represented by Adam, who was created in the image of God, with the creation represented by the Risen Christ, in which all those who live in Him are being re-created in “the image of His glory” (2 Cor. 4: 6). Given this vision of the New Creation, biological death is “gain”. The true enemy which is to be conquered is “the greatest death” (2 Cor. 1: 10). His eschatological perspective allows Paul to leave the creation “in the flesh” to the agents of evil. In the final analysis, the creation “in the Spirit”, which is taking place daily in those who have faith in the creating power of the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead, makes even more awesome the power of the Creator God.

 The Letter to the Colossians is notable because it uses an early Christian hymn as the text on which to base its message. The hymn envisions the universe as a person with body and soul in which the totality (Pleroma) of divinity is pleased to dwell. Christ is the one who created everything that is, being thus the head of the body. By his death and resurrection Christ has now reconciled all the parts of the body, having conquered the opposing powers he has brought about peace (Col. 1: 15-20). Together with the image of the universe as the Pleroma in which peace reigns, the author also brings out the image of circumcision as the operation that has taken away the foreskin of the universal body by Christ taking off his fleshly body at his resurrection. In this way Christ “perfected” the body of the Pleroma (Col. 2: 11-15). This universe in which there were opposing forces was created, reconciled and perfected by Christ and now waits to be glorified at the Second Coming (Col. 3: 3).

Hebrews is a long exhortation to not give up on account of the troubles of daily life. The hope of the Second Coming of Christ is the anchor of the soul (Heb. 6: 19). In the meantime, faith opens before our eyes the invisible, unmovable, incorruptible reality that is the substance behind the phenomenological realities within which we live. Creation brought to light the world that is within reach of the senses, but this world is transitory, under constant change. What now exists as a visible, corruptible reality existed before in a hypostatic state. That is the reality that faith opens to our eyes and hope is the road that leads us to it. Our God rests in that reality and wishes that we should “enter” into God’s rest. This we will do when this movable world is removed and we live in the immovable, eternal world of God. In other words, according to Hebrews, this creation is a secondary emanation of the true material, hypostatic world.

Apoclayptic literature, as is well known, gave new life to mythological language, and together with it brought to the fore the cosmic geography of the ancient myths. As a result in Revelation we encounter a universe with three stories over which God has total control. There are, however, several places in it which we cannot locate with certainty, such as the abyss, hell, the shaft of the abyss, the lake of fire, the sea of fire and glass, etc. Besides, the agents of evil have caused much injustice on earth and this makes some wonder about the effectiveness of God’s retributive justice. This book’s message is to assure those suffering injustices that Almighty God is seating on God’s throne and one day justice will prevail when the crimes committed by Satan and his followers will be avenged. When this takes place the three-story universe will become a one-story world. God, angels and all the redeemed will dwell in the Garden of Eden. History is a cycle that returns to its beginning.

The absolute necessity for justice to prevail on earth was not discovered by the apocalypticists. It had its origins in the oracles of the prophets of Israel. For them history is the theater of God’s justice, and God is the One guiding history to the Day of the Lord to fulfill justice. For the prophets creation is the beginning of history, but it was not accomplished in the past. Creation and history are joined twins. The historical covenant, made by God first with Abraham, then with the people at Sinai and later renewed as the New Covenant at the time of the exile, is guaranteed by God’s covenant with creation (Jer. 31: 35-36). “Creator of heaven and earth” and “Creator of the Chosen People” are the descriptors of God’s action in history. God creates continuously. This is what establishes the Only God of Israel and distinguishes God from the gods of the fertility cults popular among the Israelites.

The authors of the Wisdom Literature did not tie creation to history because, unlike the prophets, they could not be sure that history revealed the justice of God. They gave more significance to human experience and tried to find out experimentally what was the case. Thus they developed an inquisitive and critical attitude. As a consequence, even as they held firm their faith in Almighty God, they thought it wise to confess ignorance about creation (Eccl. 3: 11: 11: 5). They also rejected the apocalyptic solution to the problem of justice, which delays its fulfillment to after the Day of the Lord and considers the present to be under agents of evil. For them the present life is good, and this life is the only one we can count on. Death is definitive and irreversible. Their positive, optimistic attitude toward the world makes them see even Behemoth, the monster which the apocalypticists considered one of the basic forces of evil, as “the most excellent of the works of God” and God’s pet (Job 40: 15-19).

In Genesis 2: 4b – 4: 26 we find an anthropocentric narrative about the nature and the conditions of human life. Its focus is androcentric, patriarchal, and its horizon is quite limited. God is described anthropomorphically. All the limitations peculiar to humans are shared by God. As any other human being God plants a garden, shapes mud, cuts ribs, opens a thorax and closes it, and walks the garden paths in search of what is lost. At the core of the narrative is the notion that in order to live humans must eat the fruit of the tree of life and obey a command. When they disobey, the man and the woman are denied access to the tree of life and are expelled east of Eden. There human history soon turns tragic. Pride, jealousy, and the need to become more are prodigally displayed. In sum, this narrative represents an important step forward toward a vision of creation that is not the result of a struggle between Good and Evil, the triumph of the Creator over the forces of chaos. Here the sea, which the prophets, the wise and the apocalypticists refer to as the source of evil, does not make an appearance. Also noteworthy is that humans receive life not from the blood of a victim but from the breath of God.      

In contrast to the anthropomorphic God of Gen. 2 who frequently has to put in place plan B, the God of Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 4a is a decisive, effective and transcendent God. The author of this presentation eliminates the gods of the fertility cults and puts in relief the adoration of the Creator of the universe. He puts aside the myths in which the forces of nature are divinized and uses the week of seven days as the structure that allows him to present the Sabbath as a temple in time. In spite of his concerted effort in the use of formulas to represent the actions of God, he does not quite accomplish his goal. Some mythological leftovers have been left around the architectonic structure sustained by his formulas. Still, his didactic purpose is amply achieved. The creation of human beings in God’s image and the Sabbath as the incarnation of God in time are central doctrines in the long history of Judaism and Christianity, and the devaluation of polytheism and the setting up of the Creator as the Only God of the universe is a central doctrine of Judaism and Islam. Gen. 1: 1 – 2: 4a, undoubtedly, has always had and will always have undisputed importance as a document of faith in the Almighty Creator and Only God of the universe.

Those who wish to present the doctrine of creation found in the Bible, however, cannot reduce it to Gen. 1: 1 – 2: 4a. They must take into account the whole Bible. To take the Bible seriously is not to exercise authority over it and deny the testimony of most of it so as to present as “biblical” what one likes. Such a procedure allows one to present almost anything as “biblical”. To be honest about creation in the Bible we must recognize that in it the descriptions of creation, the conditions under which it took place, the structural arrangements of the universe, the presence of evil within it and the characterizations of the Creator are amazingly varied and even contradictory.

In the Bible we find a description of creation as the phenomenological emanation of a previously eternal material hypostatic reality and description of it as what comes out of a primordial sea. The conditions under which it occurred are both the struggle to control Leviathan and the expression of an irrevocable will which faces no opposition. The structure of the universe is described as the chain of being that rises out of lifeless matter to the spiritual and divine realities and also as a building with three stories where, in some contexts, it is not certain the power of God reaches to the nether regions of Sheol. Creation is presented as totally good and under God’s total control, but also as fallen under the power of “the god of this world”. The Creator is described both as an anthropomorphic Being that experiments with the effectiveness of his options and as a transcendent, invisible Being who decrees what is to be. The diversity of these conceptions offers the best possible evidence of the influence of the cultures in which the authors who were inspired by the Spirit gave full expression to their faith in the Creator.

To deny the biblical evidence and enthrone a few verses, giving them scientific and historical value, is to be blinded by agendas of power that construct ideologies. In my rapid journey over the terrain covered in my columns my purpose has not been to fight battles, only to see what eyes can see and ears can hear. My message is: “Those with eyes to see, let them see.”

According to Paul, to live “in the flesh” is to live in the natural world. Paul recognizes that though he would prefer not to have to live “in the flesh”, he has no other option now. It is possible, however, to live not only in the flesh but also “in the Spirit”. This way of understanding can be applied to our theme. We cannot avoid living “in nature”, but for those who also live in the Spirit it is possible at the same time to live “in creation”. To live in the flesh or in nature is not sinful. Christ also lived in the flesh and did not become a sinner for it. But Christ lived to create the universe of the Spirit that was established at his resurrection. Thanks to that New Creation we also can be creatures of the New Creation even while still living in the flesh. To live in the universe of the New Creation and to see the world as “creation” is not the same to seeing the world as “nature”. Of course, those who do not participate in the life of the Spirit can only see nature. Creation can only be seen by the eyes of faith. To close one’s eyes and affirm that nature is all that exists is, as Paul would say, to live “according to the flesh”, and that is certainly sinful, precisely because it is not of faith (Rom. 14:22).

In the same way in which talk about slavery in terms of economics is not the same as talk about slavery in terms of human rights, talk about nature is no the same as talk about creation. The same way in which economists discuss “the evidence” in term of numbers, percentages and monetary values, scientists discuss nature in terms of what they admit as “evidence”. On the other hand, those trying to define human rights discussing what it means to be and the responsibilities of human beings must go beyond the numbers, percentages and statistics to establish moral and spiritual realities. Those who talk about creation must also enter the realm beyond that which can be measured, weighted and calculated cientifically. 

Christians cannot talk about creation without talking about the New Creation. To talk about creation is not to talk about nature. It is to affirm that all that exists continues to exist and moves, as Paul is said to have said citing a pagan author at the Areopagus, “in God we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28). This affirmation of Paul’s cannot be limited to creation “in the beginning”. It includes the New Creation that, like the creation of our physical reality, is also continuously in process. To affirm the New Creation, like affirming the creation of Adam, is not only to affirm that God raised Christ from the dead two thousand years ago. More significantly yet, it is to affirm that all those who identify themselves with and participate in the death and the resurrection of Christ by the creative power of the Spirit are a New Creation. That is, both the creation “in the beginning” and the New Creation in the Risen Christ are creations that are taking place at every moment of our lives by the creative power of God. A doctrine of creation that does not affirm this truth is not Christian.

The New Creation also has its temple, its umbilical cord, its bridge to the universe of the Spirit. As Paul says, the congregation of  believers, created and maintained by the power of the Spirit, is the temple that serves as the bridge to the fountain of life (1 Cor. 3: 16-17). Following on the footsteps of the author of Gen. 1, Paul understands that in the New Creation the sacred is not located geographically. Its temple in space is an existential temple. It is the community of believers where the power of the Spirit works to make effective the faith of the believers.

On account of this, creationism is a non-Christian mythological ideology. Ideologies are subterfuges to hide illegitimate uses of power. Creationism manipulates and abuses the Bible in order to transfer its authority to its so-called defenders. Pretending to be defenders of the authority of the Bible, creationists usurp its authority for their private use and benefit. The fear that motivates them is intimately linked to the recognition that they loose their spurious authority the moment the Bible is allowed to speak for itself. The authority of the Bible, undoubtedly, is able to stand by itself; it does not need human defenders. The day creationists take into account all the biblical evidence I will be willing to listen to what they have to say. Meantime, the smoke and mirrors they use trying to give scientific validity to Gen. 1 only reveals their lack of understanding of the Bible. In their eagerness to deny the obvious influence of their cultures on the biblical writers they not only overlook 95% of the evidence but also, even more surprisingly, they limit their vision to the world of nature and a dead past. Not only that, they forget that the New Creation is the one that gives life in the Spirit to the dead. As prestidigitators of a confused ideology creationists are not convincing. I trust my readers realize that, even though I am giving my reasons for not agreeing with creationists, my purpose has not been to combat creationism. My purpose is to encourage the reading of the Bible.

P.S. I am pleased to announce that the publisher of my recent book Finding My Way in Christianity: Recollections of a Journey, Energion Publications, will publish an edited version of my columns on creation in the first half of 2012.

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