Symbolism and reality in the creation stories
– The first creation story (Gen. 1 – 2,4a)
Creationism stubbornly ignores the predominantly mythical character of the Biblical origin stories, although this is – as mentioned – evident in form and content. Because of this attitude, the spiritual meaning of some statements is reduced to a purely physical, almost “materialistic” sense. The essence of the given message disappears, and this masterpiece of religious literature is trivialized into a double “creation record”, with mutual contradictions and the story style of children’s fairy tales.
In the first creation story, it is regularly repeated that “God saw that it was good.” Creationism apparently interprets the word “good” as “perfect from a human point of view.” But the genesis story wants to teach us something about the origin of the struggle between GOOD and EVIL. If one starts from this premise, the intention and meaning of the word become clear: everything that God created up to man was in accordance with God’s will. So, it was “good”, although it is quite possible that many modern mortals would not have found creation in its initial phase so fabulous at all, from ecological, vegetarian, meteorological, racist, or any other human consideration or opinion.
Another saying that is misinterpreted in this way is that God created man “in his image and likeness.” In creationism, this is interpreted in a physical sense, to emphasize that man was “formed from the dust of the earth and not from the body of an animal or a monkey”. However, the physical aspect does not matter here. A believer knows that God is a pure spirit. In the same biblical sentence, it is added “man and woman He created them.” Which of the two, then, was possibly the physical image of God?
The passage, on the other hand, which states that man is formed from earth, comes from the second history of creation, which, as we have seen, does not correspond to the first. From a purely religious vision (which does not want to prove or impose anything more) it can be said that the biblical author meant that God created our ancestors in such a way that they reflected his will in their actions and behaviors as a faithful mirror image. Their souls were completely focused on God. Thus, they ruled harmoniously over the created things around them, like God over them and over the universe. The author of the second creation story does not worry too much about the scientific question of how they were created: of earth of course; after all, this contains the building and growth materials for all known land life, as well as for the many clay figures that were made at that time.
On the seventh day, God “rested from all the work He had created.” How should we interpret that? God wasn’t going to take a nap, was He? Creationism deduces that creation was “finished”, and this interpretation is certainly valid, but this does not imply that creation could no longer “evolve”. Nor should we conclude that God has not kept an eye on things since then and that He has not intervened from time to time, because then we could close the (biblical) books. God’s rest means, of course, that He abstained from further radical acts of creation. The work he had completed was “finished”, but that doesn’t mean “static”. He had given men the assignment to deal with the living reality that was entrusted to them in a way that pleased Him.
Six times in chapter 1 is repeated in a poetic and typically oriental way: “there was an evening, and there was a morning: one day, the second, the third, … day”. This is somewhat reminiscent of the opening of the seven seals of which John speaks in the Apocalypse. Chapter 2 then tells the story of the seventh day when God rested. Creationism attaches to this the literal meaning of a geological time scale and concludes that the entire universe up to and including all forms of life was born in seven days. Yet it was not the intention of the visionary narrator to give Yahweh a week of work in which He neatly delivered a creation package every 24 hours. After all, time spans have no effective importance for the eternal God. In an allegorical way, crucial acts of creation are evoked here, with which the Almighty steered his work in the direction He desired. Let us briefly list them with a modern explanation, as if the sacred scribe were alive today and he would add a short commentary to it:
– In the beginning God created heaven and a still dark chaotic earth: God created a universe out of nothing, but it still had to be ordered. The first words of the Bible do not contain an indication of time and do not fit into the seven-day calendar of creationism (that ignores them for that reason). Science for its part knows nothing about it at all and is forced to get rid of it with a speculative theory of the big bang, which cannot explain the mystery of creation either.
– On the first day, God separated light from darkness: He brought order and structure to the energy distribution of the universe. This easily verifiable fact is an inexplicable mystery to a science without God, meaningless and attributing everything to “chance”.
– On the second day, God created the firmament, and on the third, He separated the waters: He created and arranged matter in the right way and in the right proportions, so that life on earth became possible. Most scientists do not seem to realize the multitude of factors and elements that must be present together in time and space for this to happen. The probability that this so-called accidental confluence occurred elsewhere in the universe is perhaps much smaller than is currently assumed rather carelessly.
– On the third day, God also created the plants, each according to its species: He created the biotope that provides food for moving life, which also provides the oxygen supply necessary for most vital energy conversions and which offers protection against cosmic radiation. The shift from inanimate matter to the unimaginable complexity of a single living cell is an inexplicable mystery to science, while there is no scientific answer at all to the question of why life absolutely wants to maintain itself in the most ingenious way.
– On the fourth day, He placed lights on the celestial vault that control night and day: He made the sun to the ideal size and brought the earth to the right distance and to the right orbit and position relative to it, so that solar heat illuminates and heats to the maximum the entire surface of the Earth, alternately and within the limits in which an infinite range of life forms can optimally thrive. He let the moon and the stars light up the night. They would also serve to guide people and provide their calendars. They would testify to the greatness and omnipotence of the Creator and the greatness of what He has accomplished on behalf of men. It is clear that the emergence of the sun and celestial bodies is too late here, if only because otherwise the newly created vegetation would have been instantly destroyed by darkness and ultra-frost.
– On the fifth day, He created fish and birds, each according to his species: He created the species that live in the water and the winged animals that can move in the air. The former will populate the oceans and thus form an invaluable food reserve. The last will spread seeds and fertilizers on land and sea, they will remove the superfluous small animals from the air, they will announce the morning with their warbling in chorus and will praise the Lord of all life. Only man is given the opportunity to discover the incredible wealth of shape variation and color splendor of these animals, but does this also inspire him to pay tribute to the Artist who accomplished this?
– On the sixth day, God created the different species of domestic and wild terrestrial animals, and then man as male and female: God made the earth populated by crawling animals and quadrupeds. Some of them will help people in their work and travel or will eventually accompany them and provide distraction. The flesh of animals will form a high-calorie food source, with which they will be able to cope with heavier work, and their skin will provide them with protection from the cold. People will be fruitful and, by their intelligence, will make the whole earth habitable for themselves.
Why the poetic writer gave early animals and humans an exclusively vegetarian character, in contradiction with our contemporary biological and archaeological knowledge, remains an open question. More important is the observation that man is created here completely separately, alongside marine, aerial, and terrestrial plants and animals. He is a being with unlimited range of action and the crowning achievement of God’s work. God’s purpose had been accomplished: He had created a creature with whom His Spirit could communicate.
Why He did this in constructive phases that, according to interpretation, took from several billion years to several days, remains God’s secret, but one can guess an answer. By spreading the story of his origins in time, it remains as vague for man as the story of his own birth. God does not want to impose himself, but release people to seek Him, to accept Him as their Creator, and finally honor and love Him. If everything was too clear, there was no choice for man and therefore no possibility of showing that their love of God is true. – On the seventh day, God rested from all that He had done: His will had become reality; the times were born, when countless will make the transition from nothing to a living spirit, called to come before God’s face. It was now up to men to seek, find and honor God and thus become worthy of His call. So it was good, even very good.