Using God’s commitment to marvelous relationships to interpret the Days of Creation.
The Pregnant Earth image at the end of the video is made available by Gideon Wright under the WikiCommons License.
We’re starting our journey with scripture, which is the story of a relationship between people and Unconditional Love. Looking at God as love – as an element of relationships – we are going to change our view of the Creation story. Rather than seeing it as a testimony on the awesome power of the SUPREME DEITY, commanding obedience from meaningless worshipers, we instead will understand it as a celebration of the steady work done by love over billions of years to fill the universe with amazing relationships
First, let’s talk a little more about how love affects relationships.
Any relationship between two parties is unstable. Consider Yoshi caring for her first child Aiko. Yoshi is by far the stronger member of the relationship. Aiko is dependent upon her for everything. But if Aiko cries at night, Yoshi suffers from lack of sleep, and may cut herself while preparing a meal
As love, God monitors relationships, shifting support from one side to the other to maintain balance. Our image of blind justice reflects this need – the legal system is supposed to step in when the strong hurt the weak. In reading scripture, we will see that in many cases this is God’s goal as well.
But God’s goal goes beyond that. God does not desire only balance, he wishes to see richness in relationships. This means that sometimes God solves problems by using dead ends as food for more advanced life. We will see this again and again in the story of Creation, and elsewhere in the Bible
Some may see cruelty in this, but I see determination. That’s a good thing. God’s determination is why we exist
Let’s pick up now from where we left off. We looked at the universe, wondering how God might express love through it. Until cells were created, the options were few and limited
The first lines of the Bible set the stage for us
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters
The heavens contain the stars, the first things in the universe. The byproducts of stars become planets, including Earth. The Earth was lifeless until the Spirit arrived, the spirit that enters the world and becomes, on every remaining page, simply “God
As if to prove to us that love doesn’t wait, the very next line reads:
And God said, “Let there be light.”
Under the dark waters of the ocean, oil came out of the rocks, combining with phosphorus to create a film that wrapped little bags of chemicals – bags that we call “cells.” Where the oil touched different kinds of rock, the cells contained different chemicals. As under-sea currents spread the cells, they mixed
The problem facing God was that these cells couldn’t evolve. They were limited to the chemicals from the rocks and water. Making other chemicals takes energy. One source of energy is a thermal vent at the bottom of the ocean. By their nature, though, these vents are very harsh on cells. The water is hot, and contains sulfur that disrupts the chemical factories in cells. Only very simple cells can survive in thermal vents
Conditions at the surface of the ocean are more welcoming, and in the upper layers another source of energy becomes available: the photons emitted from the sun.
The sun shouts into empty space, a billion times as much energy streaming from its surface as warms the earth by day. That energy comes in little packets called “photons.” Not all photons are useful to life. Microwaves causes water to heat, disrupting a cell’s activities. X-rays usually pass right through a cell.
But “light” – even today that means only those photons useful to life. Those are the photons that we use to see. For the first cells, light served a more basic purpose: they learned to store light energy as chemicals that could be used to create more types of chemicals and ultimately more cells
This is love at work. To some, that will be hard to see. There is no need for God in this story: we can explain everything in scientific terms. Given enough time, life evolves on its own. But if spirit permeates everything, would it not feel the vibrations of the photons? Would it not sense the receptive vibrations of chemicals? Would love not seek to join them together, the power of spirit lifting cells containing those chemicals to the surface to meet the light?
This is the message offered by the Bible. God gave cells the sun, and the sun the cells. The sun gained purpose, and the cells took on new forms. Life found new possibilities, and so God gained new things to love.
With that gift, the second of Love’s problems forced its way into the world. Cells that consume light remove warming gases from the air, replacing them with oxygen. Earth froze, the ice sheets drying the air. Life huddled around the volcanic vents.
This is the way in every relationship. Relationships of two parties are unstable. The sun could burn too hot, destroying the Earth. Life could seize all the carbon dioxide, causing the Earth to freeze forever. Over this relationship sits love, offering this judgment at the end of each day:
It is Good
The story continues this way for the next three stages of creation. At each stage, life uses a new resource to enjoy new types of relationships. Some of those relationships were harmful to older forms of life, but at every step Life became more varied and amazing.
The second day of Genesis describes the solution to the frozen world: As the tides rose and fell, clumps of cells are exposed to the air, and must learn to keep water from leaking away. Furthermore, the oxygen in the air allows cells to feed on each other, returning the warming gases to the air. The sun warmed the ocean surface, and evaporated water rose to form clouds above.
This is the relationship between life and the air described in Genesis:
So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.”
The balance is more complicated now: we have the relationship between life that produces oxygen and life that produces carbon dioxide. We have the relationship between cells and water. These relationships are unstable, but love sits over them and sees:
It is Good.
The third day: When wind carries the dust of dead cells into the atmosphere, moisture clings to them. Rain drops form in the clouds. The rain falls on the continents, making rivers and lakes full of fresh water. Having learned to survive in fresh water, cells were flushed across the ground. The barren rock and clay were covered with soil that held water and nutrients. The dry ground became “land” that supported plants.
“Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land.”
This relationship can be unstable: when woody trees evolved, the bacteria in the soil could not break down the dead wood. It laid over the ground, burning in fires until the land was covered with poisonous coal. Love monitored that relationship and testified when it worked:
It is Good.
The fourth day: the senses evolved, foremost among them sight, and moving creatures traveled large distances, storing the food they ate in their bodies. Some animals are active under the sun, others emerge in the moonlight. To escape the changing seasons, some animals hibernate – others migrate by the stars.
“Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years.”
The senses allow living creatures to evolve more intimate relationships with their environment. We have wondrous coral reefs and kelp forests, great savannahs and rainforests, cliffs and trees. Those relationships are again unstable. Consider this: without predators, herbivores breed, stripping the leaves from plants; as the plants die the soil is swept away in the rain. It is God who monitors the balance and testifies:
It is Good.
In each case, the atheist would again ask “But why do we need God? The laws of nature allow for all of this already!” But those laws do not answer this question: how did our ancestors, 7,000 years ago, know these things? The did not have our science. Who told them?
The last two days of Genesis speak much more broadly about life, for the network of relationships had become almost impossible to describe. On day five, the fish and birds occupied their domains, the oceans and the air. On the morning of the sixth day the mammals occupied the land.
And in the afternoon, God created Man, and chose to walk the earth with him. Why? Why are we so important?
And are we Good?