Commentary on Genesis 1:1—2:4a
Genesis 1-2 demonstrates that creative activity refers not simply to what God does.
Creation also has to do with what God specifically does not do (one could speak of divine self-limitation). This divine “not doing” takes place at two levels in this Genesis text (I emphasize the second).
- God is not the only character in this text whose action is creative. When God addresses the earth to “put forth” (1:11), the earth is the subject of the creating verb that follows (1:12; see also the creative capacities of creatures in 1:22). This divine move means that God chooses not to do the creating of the world alone. Indeed, God’s creative action is made explicitly dependent upon the activity of that which is not God.
- God rested on the seventh day (2:1-3). God’s resting, however, did not bring the creative process to a halt. Nothing is said about the creatures resting; the creatures continued to function as the creatures they were created to be, which would include a capacity for creating (see 1:22).
For God to rest means that God will “sit back” and let the creatures function with all the creative capacities they have been given; God rests and the creatures thrive. God’s resting shows that these creatures have powers of their own; God lets them be creatures that are genuinely other than God. Jürgen Moltmann says it well: “God does not create merely by calling something into existence, or by setting something afoot. In a more profound sense he ‘creates’ by letting-be, by making room, and by withdrawing himself”1
Sabbath-keeping on God’s part is important for what it has to say about God’s relationship to creation. The creatures are not said to enter into a resting period for that seventh day. The creatures remain creatively active during the time of God’s resting.
This angle of vision also shows that God, in resting for a specific period of time, has become a participant in the temporality of the created order. God thereby chooses to participate in the community of creatures that have a past, a present, and a future. And God, by so immersing the divine self in time, but resting in the seventh day of that time, sanctifies or hallows that very temporal reality (Genesis 2:3).
Given this relationship of God and time, the creation of the universe may be said to take time — even for God. Efforts have been made to claim that God created the universe instantaneously (Augustine). Certainly, the all-powerful God wouldn’t need to take any time to bring the world into being! But these are actual days to which God attends here, moving from evening to morning for six normal-length days, and resting on the seventh. God’s varied modes of creating take time.
To speak of creation over time — creatures coming into being along a timeline — lifts up the theme of creation as dynamic process and not simply a product (and never a finished product). Creation takes time, and God, who involves the creatures themselves in further creational developments (Genesis 1:11-13, 20-22, 24, 26-28), engages in the time necessary for creatures to come to be what they are. However literally one interprets the seven days, they are emblematic of any period of time that it takes for the creation to come into being and develop. The temporal details of Genesis 1-2 indicate that, in the process of creating, time does not lie outside of divine experience. God’s involvement in the world’s life, including its temporality, is direct and ongoing, even when God is resting.
Climactically, God is twice stated to rest “on the seventh day from all the work that he had done [in creation]” (Genesis 2:2-3). These verses not only testify to God’s resting, but God’s resting for a specific period of time. The seven-day sequence, climaxing on the day of rest (not named Sabbath here), suggests that the temporality in view is to be identified with “time” in the normal sense of that term.
God determines that the world’s time is also God’s time. God knows the days not simply as a specific period of time, but in their passing from day to day. Such divine moves mean that temporality is an actual experience of God. Indeed, explicitly stated effects upon God occur (“God was refreshed,” Exodus 31:17; see also Exodus 20:11). Time and its passing is a genuine reality within the very life of God.
By resting on the seventh day, God is thereby explicitly said to be personally experiencing the time of the created order. God has “moved into” that temporal order and made it an ongoing dimension of God’s own life. Time is as real to God’s experience as is any other dimension of the created order, any other creature. That the seventh-day rest is temporally specified in Genesis 2:2-3 is revealing of a God who not only experiences the passing of time, but who takes “time out” to let the creatures be free to be the creatures they were created to be. In so resting, God thereby chooses not to exercise “control” over their lives.
However one defines this time of divine “refreshment,” such unusual language for God implies that this particular time has been actually experienced by God and has a positive effect upon both God and creatures. The day of divine rest is revealing of a God who has freely chosen to include the community of creatures that have a past, a present, and a future within the divine life. In effect, God immerses the divine self in the same temporality that is experienced by the creatures. Creation, time, and God move together from “the beginning.”
To speak of creation as coming into being along a genuine timeline lifts up creation as dynamic process, and not simply as divine product. God chooses to take time in creating and endows creatures with creative capacities. God determines not to do the creating alone; God, working interdependently and over time, involves the creatures themselves in creational developments. What creatures do actually counts in the ongoing becoming of the world.
PRAYER OF THE DAY
Grand designer of all things,
The light and darkness, the dome in the midst of waters, the sky and dry land, the vegetation, the seasons, the swarms of living creatures, birds and great sea monsters, creeping things and wild animals, and us; all these were brought into being with a word on your lips. And it was good. Amen.
With a voice of singing, Kenneth Jennings
1. Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: An Ecological Doctrine of Creation; trans. Margaret Kohl; London: SCM, 1985, p. 88