Order and Purpose

The first readings from daily Mass for the first two days of this week are taken from Genesis, Chapter 1 into the opening verses of Genesis 2.  It is a familiar story to all from children to grandparents and everyone in between. Some Christians take it literally that in seven 24-hour periods, God created the world. Most Christians take it as an account of God’s role as the Creator of “all thing visible and invisible” as the Creed says, or as Scripture proclaims: “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (John 1:3).

Let me draw your attention to the creation account’s familiar opening verses: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth (lit. skies and the land) and the earth was without form or shape ( tohu wa’bohu; wilderness and wasteland | nothingness, no purpose or order) with darkness over the abyss (deep, symbolic for chaos) and a mighty wind (ruah, wind, Spirit, breath, presence) sweeping over the waters.”

We often pass over these verses and move onto the six days of creation. But let us pause for a moment to consider tohu wa’bohu, the wasteland of nothingness, without order or purpose. Where many other ancient creation stories have the deity arising from the nothingness, in the Biblical story, God is present ruah but over and above with the goal of giving order and purpose.

The ordering happens in a series of six days

  • Each day begins with the phrase “Then God said…
  • Each day ends with “Evening came, and morning followed…

Every day addresses the problem; there is no order and no inhabitants. In the first three days God creates the realms of Time, Water and Sky, and on the third day, the realm of land bringing forth vegetation. On the next three days, God fills the realms of the created order. He added stars, sun and moon to mark the passage of time; bird and water creatures to inhabit the skies and seas. And He then created wild animals upon the land – and finally humankind to have dominion. “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Together (men + women) represent the Creator within Creation

On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation (Gen 2:22-3)

God is still present. Notice that the seventh day has no end. This is the vision: a world in which God resides with his partners in a holy and sacred place, the temple of the world. The 7th day is the goal of creation.

Genesis is artfully written and designed to show God’s intention: share creation with images/partners to rest and rule. And this is the frame for the entire biblical drama. The rest of scripture is the story of how God’s intention will come to fruition despite all the detours created by humanity as we “recreated” smaller version of tohu wa’bohu living without order or divine purpose.

Image credit: fresco from Sistine Chapel | Public Domain

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