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Narrative of the Creation of the World


let us open the book of Genesis. The first place in it is occupied by the origin of the world. Moses, the seer of God, speaks briefly about the creation of the world. His account occupies about one page of the Bible. But at the same time he took in everything with a single glance. This brevity displays profound wisdom, for what loquacity could embrace the greatness of God's work? In essence this page is an entire book, which required great spiritual stature on the part of the sacred author and enlightenment from above. It is not without reason that Moses concludes his account of the creation as if he were concluding a large and long work: This is the book of the generations of the heavens and the earth, when they were made, in the day in which the Lord God made the heavens and the earth (Gen. 2:4).

This was a mighty task to speak of how the world and all that is in the world came to be. A large enterprise in the realm of thought requires a correspondingly large store of means of expression, a technical and philosophical vocabulary. But what did Moses have? At his disposal was an almost primitive language, the entire vocabulary of which numbered only several hundred words. This language had almost none of those abstract concepts which now make it much easier for us to express our thoughts. The thinking of antiquity is almost entirely expressed in images, and all its words denote what the eyes and ears perceive of the visible world. Because of this, Moses uses the words of his time with care, so as not to immerse the idea of God in the crudeness of purely earthly perceptions. He has to say "God made," "God took," "God saw," "God said," and even "God walked;" but the first words of Genesis, In the beginning God made, and then, The Spirit of God moved over the water, already speak clearly of God as a spirit, and consequently of the metaphorical nature of the anthropomorphic expressions we quoted above. In a later book, the Psalter, when the metaphorical nature of such expressions about the Spirit became generally understood, we encounter many more such expressions, and ones which are more vivid. In it we read about God's face, about the hands, eyes, steps, shoulders of God, of God's belly. Take hold of weapon and shield, and arise unto my help (Ps. 35:2), the psalmist appeals to God. In his homilies on the book of Genesis, commenting on the words, And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the afternoon, Saint John Chrysostom says:

"Let us not, beloved, inattentively pass over what is said by Divine Scripture, and let us not stumble over the words, but reflect that such simple words are used because of our infirmity, and everything is accomplished fittingly for our salvation. Indeed, tell me, if we wish to accept the words in their literal meaning, and will not understand what we are told at the very beginning of the present reading. And they heard, it is said, the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the afternoon. What are you saying? God walks? Surely we are not ascribing feet to Him? And shall we not understand anything higher by this? No, God does not walk quite the contrary! How, in fact, can He Who is everywhere and fills all things, Whose throne is heaven and the earth His footstool, really walk in paradise? What foolish man will say this? What then does it mean, They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the afternoon? He wanted to awaken in them such a feeling (of His nearness), that it would cast them into anxiety, which is what actually happened: they felt this, trying to hide themselves from God Who was approaching them. Sin happened and the crime and shame fell upon them. The impartial judge, the conscience, rose up, cried out with a loud voice, reproached them, exposed them and, as it were, exhibited before their eyes, the seriousness of the crimes. In the beginning, the Master created man and placed the conscience in him, as an inexorable accuser, which cannot be deceived or flattered ..."

In our era of geological and paleontological research and discoveries, the world of the past is depicted on an immeasurably vast time scale; the appearance of humanity itself is ascribed to immensely distant millennia. In questions of the origin and development of the world, science follows its own path, but it is not essential for us to make efforts to bring the Biblical account into congruence and harmony in all points with the voice of contemporary science. We have no need to plunge ourselves into geology and paleontology to support the Biblical account. In principle we are convinced that the words of the Bible and scientific data will not prove to be in contradiction, even if at any given time their agreement in one respect or another is still not clear to us. In some cases scientific data can show us how we should understand the facts in the Bible. In some respects these two fields are not comparable; they have different purposes, to the extent that they have contrasting points of view from which they see the world.

Moses' task was not the study of the physical world. However, we agree in recognizing and honoring Moses for giving mankind the first elementary natural history; for being the first person in the world to give the history of early humanity; and, finally, for giving a beginning to the history of nations in the book of Genesis. All this only emphasizes his greatness. He presents the creation of the world and its history, in the small space of a single page of the Bible; hence it is already clear, from this brevity, why he does not draw the thread of the world's history through the deep abyss of the past, but rather presents it simply as one general picture. Moses' immediate aim in the account of the creation was to instill basic religious truths into his people and, through them, into other peoples.

The principal truth is that God is the one spiritual Being independent of the world. This truth was preserved in that branch of humanity which the fifth and sixth chapters of the book of Genesis call the "sons of God," and from them faith in the one God was passed on to Abraham and his descendants. By the time of Moses, the other peoples had already lost this truth for some time. It was even becoming darkened among the Hebrew people, surrounded as they were by polytheistic nations, and threatened to die out during their captivity in Egypt. For Moses himself the greatness of the one, divine Spirit was revealed by the unconsumed, burning bush in the wilderness. He asked in perplexity: Behold, I shall go forth to the children of Israel, and shall say to them, "The God of our fathers has sent me to you" and they will ask of me, "What is His name?" What shall I say to them? Then, Moses heard a mystical voice give the name of the very essence of God: And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am the Being. Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, the Being has sent me to you (Ex. 3:13-14).

Such is the lofty conception of God that Moses is expounding in the first words of the book of Genesis: In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. Even when nothing material existed, there was the one Spirit, God, Who transcends time, transcends space, Whose existence is not limited to heaven, since heaven was made together with time and the earth. In the first line of the book of Genesis the name of God is given without any definitions or limitations: for the only thing that can be said about God is that He is, that He is the one, true, eternal Being, the Source of all being, He is the Being.

A series of other truths about God, the world, and man, are bound up with this truth and follow directly from the account of the creation. These are:

God did not separate a part of Himself, was in no way diminished, nor was He augmented in creating the world.

God created the world of His free will, and was not compelled by any necessity.

The world does not, of itself, have a divine nature; it is neither the offspring of the Deity, nor part of Him, nor the body of the Deity.

The world manifests the wisdom, power, and goodness of God.

The world which is visible to us was formed gradually, in order, from the lower to the higher and more perfect.

In the created world "everything was very good"; the world in its entirety is harmonious, excellent, wisely and bountifully ordered.

Man is an earthly being, made from earth, and appointed to be the crown of earthly creation.

Man is made after the image and likeness of God, and bears in himself the breath of life from God.

From these truths the logical conclusion follows that man is obliged to strive towards moral purity and excellence, so as not to deface and lose the image of God in himself, that he might be worthy to stand at the head of earthly creation.

Of course, the revelation about the creation of the world supplanted in the minds of the Hebrews all the tales they had heard from the peoples surrounding them. These fables told of imaginary gods and goddesses, who a) are themselves dependent on the existence of the world and are in essence, impotent, b) who are replete with weaknesses, passions and enmity, bringing and spreading evil, and therefore, c) even if they did exist would be incapable of elevating mankind ethically. The history of the creation of the world, which has its own independent value as a divinely revealed truth, deals, as we see, a blow to the pagan, polytheistic, mythological religions.

The Old Testament concept of God is expressed with vivid imagery in the book of the Wisdom of Solomon: For the whole world before Thee is as a little grain in the balance yea, as a drop of the morning dew that falleth down upon the earth! (Wis. 11:22). The book of Genesis confesses pure, unadulterated monotheism. Yet Christianity brings out a higher truth in the Old Testament accounts: the truth of the unity of God in a Trinity of Persons. We read: Let us make man according to our image; Adam is become as one of us; and later, God appeared to Abraham in the form of three strangers.

Such is the significance of this short account. If the whole book of Genesis consisted only of the first page of the account of the world and mankind, it would still be a great work, a magnificent expression of God's revelation, of the divine illumination of human thought.

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