By Father Thomas Esposito
Special to The Texas Catholic
Almost every semester, I teach a course for freshmen at the University of Dallas entitled “Understanding the Bible,” though most students prefer the hipster nickname of “Under the Bible.” I do not believe that I will ever tire of teaching this introductory class. I’m certainly never weary of guiding my students into the beautiful majesty of the opening chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1.
The unfolding of God’s creative plan in Genesis 1 is precise, orderly, and calm, as evidenced by the rhythmic refrain and structure of the narrator’s words. “Then God said, ‘Let there be’ … and so it was … God saw how good it was … God separated … God called … and there was evening, and there was morning, one day … the second day …” The mention in verse 2 of a “formless wasteland,” darkness over the abyss, and wind howling above the mighty waters calls to mind the forces of chaos, inhospitable to life. God controls these forces, deified by other polytheistic nations around Israel, by subjecting them to His spoken word. In Genesis 1, God simply and elegantly fashions cosmos out of chaos.
The poetic nature of this beginning is evident in the continuous flow of refrains and the very presentation of what and how God creates. The six days of creation are grouped into two categories, with days one through three corresponding to days four through six. God creates light and darkness on day one, and refines them into sun, moon and stars on day four; God speaks the sky and sea into being on day two, and populates those areas with birds and fish on day five; God calls forth the dry land on day three, and fills it with animals and the human being, the crown jewel of creation, on day six.
The foundation on which God’s good creation quite literally rests is the seventh day Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-4). God, by definition, has no need of rest, since the perfection of being does not admit of any change or imperfection such as getting tired. This Sabbath rest was made for us; God rests on the seventh day and blesses it in order to give the Israelites (and then Christians) an opportunity to imitate his creative plan. Just as God ceases to work in order to admire the goodness of his creation, so too are we invited to step back from our work and marvel at the beauty and goodness of God’s work in our own lives. A symptom of spiritual sickness is the inability to pause from work and be still in the glory of the created order.
God calls man and woman into being together, creating them both “in our image, according to our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). What separates us from everything else God creates is our ability to respond to God’s call: to think and know that God is calling us, and to enter into communion with each other and with God, who will be revealed later in Scripture as love itself (1 John 4:8, 16). The plural “we” in Genesis 1:26, from the Christian perspective, is an initial sneak preview of God’s revelation as one God in a communion of persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Man and woman, then, image that divine communion when they live according to God’s beautiful cosmos and worship as God instructs them on the Sabbath.
In a time of sadness and even despair caused by the chaos introduced into the Church by so many priests, we have a refuge in the witness of Genesis 1 to the immense magnificence of God’s beautiful order. That call to image God must be answered with order to defeat chaos, just as God tamed the primordial forces of chaos in the beginning simply by speaking creatively through His word, the Son (see John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-18). Genesis 1 challenges us to create order and beauty in our own souls, and to seek holiness by finding rest in God’s own rest. Christian, know your dignity, and do not be afraid to speak cosmos into chaos today, as God enables you.
Father Thomas Esposito, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column appears occasionally in The Texas Catholic.