Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

BIBLE: Genesis 1 (Creation) 2012

The Bible is an easy book to read but a hard one to understand. One of the reasons it’s so hard is because it seems so simple. Genesis is a good example. It’s a deceptively “simple” book. The first sentence seems to start off clearly enough: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth… Ok. That makes sense. But let’s pause and consider this statement. The reason it makes sense is because we’ve trained our minds to make sense of the words. We understand the words therefore we think we understand what the words mean. Do we? In the beginning… That means the start of something; in this case the start of the universe. We understand “the beginning” when we say we’ll be there for the beginning of the movie or we’ll be back at the beginning of the next school year. But Genesis is talking about something on an entirely different level. Before the beginning of a movie we may want to have lunch or go shopping. Before next school year we may be spending the summer with Uncle Andy and Aunt Bea in Mayberry. But we’ll be SOMEWHERE before we go to the movie or go back to school. In the case of the universe though in the beginning means… what, exactly? Where was the universe BEFORE the beginning? Apparently nowhere. So where was all the stuff we see today? There was no stuff. So what was there in the beginning? Nothing. There are very few people who can visualize what “nowhere” and “nothing” really mean. Maybe a few highly-trained mathematicians can do it. Maybe a few scattered Zen Buddhist monks can do it. Ordinary people can’t. All our attempts to truly understand the words in the beginning (in the context of the universe) just leave us more confused. And those are just the first three words of the Bible. The next one is a real doozy: God. Who is God? It doesn’t say. Where did he come from? No one knows. How long has God been around? No one knows that either. Obviously God’s older than the universe if he created it. Beyond that, what more can we really say about this God we’ve just met in the opening sentence of Genesis? Actually we can say quite a bit. For one thing, we know that God created the heaven and the earth. Whatever else God may be we have to think in terms of some sort of primary active force. For instance, God’s activity can be seen in the physical universe: the heaven and the earth. Another thing we can say is that the heaven and the earth that we see around us are NOT God. The sheer size of the physical universe may astonish us but this isn’t God. God created it. If there’s a pot there must be a potter. Pots don’t create themselves. Actually potters don’t create pots either. Technically potters make pots by transforming materials that are already there. True creation means making something out of nothing. Only God can make something out of nothing. This is what happened at the beginning of the universe: God said, Let there be light… and light suddenly appeared. Why light? Why not make snowballs first, or diamonds or toads? Here’s another concept we can take away from Genesis: God works in an orderly fashion. Things don’t just happen randomly. They follow one another in what we might call a natural order. First we need light and dark. This is the basic separation of day and night. The sky comes next: God made the firmament. Then God called the dry land Earth, and filled it with lush vegetation. So by this time we have the earth and the sky below the heavens. But God isn’t finished: And God made two great lights, the sun and the moon. Then God created living creatures: great whales…and every winged fowl… until finally God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. This may not seem very orderly at first reading. How can plants be created before the sun? But we’re used to thinking in terms of time, chronologically. God’s order seems to be an order of being. First come things that don’t move: inanimate objects. Then things that are inanimate but do move: like the sun and the moon. Next come creatures that can move of their own accord: whales and birds and so forth. Finally God makes a creature who can read the Bible (even if he can’t fully understand it).


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