The Many Faces of Creation

The creation narratives in Scripture are many and varied – although certain themes are always present. God alone is the creator of the cosmos. His creation is good, playful, purposeful. Creation is grounded in God’s wisdom – in a manner often beyond human understanding. Tom McLeish, in Faith and Wisdom in Science surveys several of the creation themes found in Proverbs 8, Psalm 33, Psalm 104, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Hosea before turning to Genesis 1 and 2. Job 38-41 could be thrown into the mix as well, but McLeish will delve into Job in detail later.

Proverbs 8 provides “a playful, delightful description of a young world full of hope!.” (p. 56) There is a child-like delight expressed by Wisdom, present at the time of creation: “Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (v. 30-31) In Proverbs 8 Creation is described as a time when God … set the heavens in place, … marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, … established the clouds above … fixed securely the fountains of the deep … gave the sea its boundary ….marked out the foundations of the earth. God tames, gives order and control to creation.

In Psalm 33:6-7 we read that “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses.” God’s word and spirit/breath creates and again he establishes order, controlling the sea and the deep.

In Psalm 104 describes God who established and sustains a well ordered creation. To pick just a small piece: He made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens. Then people go out to their work, to their labor until evening. How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. (v. 19-24) There is a harmony, with a time and place for everything including the labor of humans.

Jeremiah also describes creation is one of his passages assaulting idolatry and idol makers. “But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.” (10:12-13) To make idols is a betrayal of the creator. McLeish concludes: “As God creates so, with breath-taking audacity, must the people who reflect His own nature, not to conjure up the false deities of primitivism but to participate in the continuous task of bringing nature itself to fruitfulness.” (p. 63)

Isaiah makes several references to creation. Of particular note: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” 40:12 and “It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts.” 45:12

Genesis 1. These comments on and allusions to God’s act of creation can help us understand the long creation passages in Genesis 1-2 at the very beginning of our Bibles. Concerning these passages, McLeish writes:

They constitute, however, neither the earliest nor the most fundamental of Old Testament writing on the natural world. As we have seen, they are most certainly not the only ‘creation stories’. We must wonder whether much of the deplorable literalism around Genesis 1, still so shrill in many frightened Christian churches today, might have arisen purely as a result of the traditional ordering of biblical books. (p. 70)

McLeish suggests that Genesis 1 takes the understanding of creation, seen in the creation material presented throughout Scripture, in Proverbs, Psalms, Job and the Prophets, and “digs that tradition deep into liturgy.” The creation narrative is placed in a formal worshipful structure. “What the ‘priestly’ account does is surely to enshrine the purpose and nature of creation within the repeated acts of worship of the community. The days of the week may well be literal, but if so then they are the repeated days of a cycle of worship and prayer, not a physical account of the beginning of the universe.” (p. 72) And then:

To conclude, we have found in even a brief survey of Old Testament literature that various versions of the story of creation appear at almost every turn. Far from being confined to an introductory preface to the biblical history of God’s developing relationship with people, creation is retold time and again as wisdom, prophecy, and history mature. The story is emphatically physical and structural, with an emphasis on ordering, heterogeneity and the establishment of boundaries between Earth, sea and sky. Furthermore it always places creation in a dual relationship with both creator and humankind. It is told to a purpose, developing the relation God’s people enjoy with the physical creation in husbandry, worship or politics. (p. 73)

McLeish, of course, goes into much more detail and covers a few more passages. The book is well worth reading – and discussing. I’ve skipped over Genesis 2, early Isaiah and Hosea, the deconstruction of creation in Jeremiah all discussed by McLeish. We could add additional passages to the study as well, although McLeish has identified and discussed the major ones.

There are many consistent and interwoven themes of Creation in Scripture. God is the sovereign creator. There is no other. God’s creation is grounded in his wisdom. He establishes boundaries and brings order out of chaos. Reading Genesis 1 as some kind of historical report of creation, whispered by God to the inspired author, doesn’t do justice to the biblical tradition and story.

How should we read the references to creation in Scripture?

How do the later (although perhaps earlier in date) texts shape our understanding of Genesis 1 and 2?

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