The Evolution of Creation

In the beginningIn the beginning.  This is where we always start, but not necessarily where we return to.  According to most Christians, it was in the beginning that God created the universe ex nihilo (from nothing).  Interestingly enough, the text actually says that there was a void and that “the spirit hovered over the waters.”  This connotes that there was something already in existence and God spoke it into some semblance of order, thereby creating order where there was chaos – something where there was nothing.

Many Christians get caught up on the first three chapters of Genesis and base the roots of their theology on it.  In the process, many things tend to get ignored.  First of all, there are two separate creation accounts here.  One is Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a and the other is Genesis 2:4b – 3:24.  Scholars today realize that these two separate accounts are from two separate sources writing hundreds of years from each other.  In the first account, for example, “Adam and Eve” are created at the same time, “male and female he created them.”  In this account, the animals are created first and the creation of all things on a cosmological scale occurs in chronological order.  In the second account, Eve is created after Adam and animals in between with a focus on the earthly and not so much the cosmological. 

Reading the texts in English (as if we had any other choice) leads to some confusion.   Adam is the word used for humankind and is not a proper noun.  Unfortunately, many people will defend the notion that an actual man named Adam was created first and followed by a woman named Eve, but this is not what the text says.  A BIG point of controversy is the original language used for God in the two accounts which we can see even reflected in the English.  In the first account it says “Let us make man (adam) in our image, in our likeness.”  Many Christians point to the plural language as proof of the existence of the trinity.  This erroneous assumption is to overlook the original language. This reference in the plural to God is seen again later in Genesis 11 when God (plural, Elohim) says “Let us confuse their language . . . .”

The first creation account uses the the word Elohim for God.  This is a term meaning god(s) and not a proper name.  Putting im at the end of a Hebrew word makes it plural such as in the case of seraphim or cherubim – both different kinds of angels – plural.  In the second account, God is referred to as Yahweh.  Yahweh was a proper name for God used after Moses adopted the tribal religion of his father-in-law Jethro for the people of Israel when bringing them out of Egypt.  This begs the question then: Where does the plural expression for God come from?

The Sumerian people were the first to record a written history in the land of Mesopotamia (lit., the land between the rivers).  Their religion told them that the goddess Nammu created the god An (heavens) and the goddess Ki (earth) and therefore, the word an-ki means “cosmos.”  An and Ki had a son named Enlil who was the god of the air and there is an account similar to that in Genesis of Enlil sweeping over the face of the waters and separating them from the sky.  Later, Enlil had a wife named Ninlil and they gave birth to celestial gods such as the moon and the sun.  There was a paradise in an unknown location in the east called Dilmun much like the biblical place called Eden.  Eventually, the gods Enki (god of sweet water) and Ninhursag (another name for earth) were at a banquet of the gods and while drunk, were complaining about how difficult farming fields and digging canals was.  So, they created six flawed humans out of clay to do the work.

If any of this sounds familiar, it should.  It says in Genesis that Abram and Sarai (Abraham and Sarah) came from Ur (the last capital of Sumer) to Canaan (later, Israel).  Not the least of these familiar stories is that of Ziusudra who was the lone survivor of a flood and would gain god-like attributes.  Around 2050 BCE, the Babylonians conquered the Sumerians in what would be the final of many conquests over them and would begin to adopt and change the myths of Sumerian religion.  The religion became much more misogynistic and male-dominated.  One of the sons of the Sumerian god Enki had a minor son named Marduk who became a major figure as a warrior and chief hero of the gods.  The rather peaceful creation account of Sumerian religion gave way to the violent battle in Babylonian mythology of Marduk competing with his mother, Tiamat (Babylonian dragon and goddess of the sea) to create the cosmos.  Marduk killed his mother and cut her in half using the halves to create the heavens and the earth.

Seeing that the male-dominated creation account in Genesis was likely written in the late 500s BCE when the southern (Israeli) kingdom of Judah was in exile in Babylon leads one to a better understanding of the influence on this account.  Eventually, the Persians defeated the Babylonians in 539 BCE and a new religious influence came on the scene – Zoroastrianism.  Zoroastrianism held that there was one god (verses an entire council) and that this God created everything and was in a constant battle with an evil one who was near to being a deity.  There was a three-tiered cosmology with heaven above, the earth in the middle, and hell below.  Eventually, a great battle would lead to the defeat of evil and a return to the original paradise that had been created by the one god, Ahura Mazda.  It’s no wonder then, that such apocalyptic language starts to show up in the book of Daniel which was written after the Persian defeat of Babylon.  

Now that it’s a little easier (I hope) to understand the evolution of thought in the Jewish writings (Old Testament), what about our understanding of creation today – specifically among Christians?  We agree for the most part that we were created in the imago Dei (image of God) and that we were given dominion over the creation.  What we fail to grasp from the creation accounts in Genesis – especially the first one – is that God created something out of chaos.  If we do not look like God in terms of physical attributes, then what is it about us that makes us be in the image of God?  I would opine that it is our ability to create – especially out of chaos!  God uses us as we are in relation to one another to continue to create even today.  When is the last time we thought about the power that we have in relationship to join together as a group and affect great and positive change around us?   

During the evolution of religious thought, it appears that something went terribly awry.  We went from being created “just a little lower than the angels” with the ability to do amazing, almost god-like things to thinking of ourselves as sinful, worthless creatures who can do nothing right until Jesus comes back to make everything better.  Where did the wheels come off the bus!?  It seems to me that it’s time that we go back to taking some responsibility for creation – both the care and preservation of the physical creation that preceded us and the task of continuing to create in relationship with one another.  In a world with plenty of chaos to spare, who are we – the ones who have been made in the image of God – to sit idle when we know that together we can do amazing things?  How dare we wait for someone else to come and do what we were told from the beginning was our responsibility?  To create something out of nothing doesn’t necessarily have to mean that there is nothing physically in existence at the outset.  Rather, it could be that there are endless possibilities that merely haven’t become reality because nobody has taken the necessary actions to speak and act them into existence.  I wonder if that might not be a lot of what Jesus was trying to tell us in the first place . . . .

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One Response to “The Evolution of Creation”

  1. John Lovestrand Says:

    People have spoken. People have acted. Then and now.
    To what end….?

    A few weeks ago I learned of a man who refused to renounce his faith, at gun point, presumably knowing in his heart that it would mean not only his immediate death, but also his family’s.

    A week ago I read about a woman who similarly refused to renounce her faith, at the risk of execution, which remains pending, and has been stayed (for 2 years) so that she can nurse her infant child, born in prison.

    Humans have crusaded for righteousness, individually and socially, for millenia — for as long as injustice has existed, which is to opine that for as long as humankind has endured.

    Scientists tell us of times when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and how they were likely extinguished with the crash of a meteor and/or the resultant onset of an ice age.

    Darwin theorized about the human species and its evolutionary emergence.

    Naturally theologians would posit that we (humans) are created in God’s image, conscious as we are of our own immortality.

    We assume that animal life is not similarly blessed (cursed?) with this self awareness.

    When I was a child, I wondered why dolphins (my favorite creature, Flipper being a popular show at the time!) weren’t created in God’s image. Also, whether they were aware of their fleeting time here on earth. Whether they too would ascend into heaven. Whether they weren’t superior creatures to humans, for they seemingly didn’t hurt their own. I remember well a 3rd grade essay in which I posited this last rhetorical quandary, to my teacher’s delight.

    Now facing the 1/2 century mark, and nearer the end than the beginning, I still wrestle with the same conundrums.

    Evolutionary “progress” aside, we humans remain capable of the most beneficent acts and the most maleficent crimes — to both the benefit and detriment of our own humanity, respectively.

    We have been at once blessed to create, and cursed to destroy — in ways that our fellow creatures seem less equipped and less burdened.

    In God’s image…?

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