This Tuesday, we are continuing with our in-depth contemplation of the first creation story found in Genesis 1:1-2:4. I thought that we had an awesome discussion last week. This Tuesday we will be diving into Genesis 1:1b-2 which concludes the introductory statement to the creation account.
HEAVEN AND EARTH:
As we discussed last week, God is the ineffable pre-existent who brings all things into being. One of the overall themes of this first creation story is that God creates everything and that God’s creation is fully complete. Genesis begins with the statement that “In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” However, the “heavens” (Heb: shamayim) were not created until Day Two (v.8) and the “earth” (Heb: erets) was not created until Day Three (v.10). Therefore, the question arises as to what is meant by “heaven and earth” in v.1 prior to Day One? One explanation is simply that verse 1 is simply an introduction, and the actual substance of creation doesn’t begin to take place until verse 3. This surface explanation, however, doesn’t allow us to go deeper.
The JPS Commentary says that “heaven and earth” is “a merism, the combination of opposites, to express the totality of cosmic phenomena, for which there is no single word in biblical Hebrew” (p.5). The combination of these words denotes that God creates everything and that God’s creation is fully complete. Paul will expand upon this merism in Colossians, which finds its way into the Creed: “for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” (Col. 1:16). Think about other merisms that can be used to describe God or creation (another merism is also found in Genesis 1).
(As an aside, this theme of totality, comes out not only in the words used but in the numerology of the words themselves. In Hebrew, the first verse/sentence of Genesis is seven words. The second sentence/verse is fourteen words. Therefore, in Hebrew this introduction to Creation is 3×7 words long which signifies Divine (3) Completeness (7).)
One of the merism that we may look this week comes from Revelation 22:13: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Because God is outside of time, all the moments within creation come into being at Creation. At a minimum, just as all information necessary to create a great oak tree is contained in the acorn, so the End (Gk: teleos) is contained in the Beginning (Gk: arche). In commenting on this understanding in the Early Church, David Bentley Hart writes: “the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is not merely a cosmological or metaphysical claim, but also an eschatological (end-times) claim about the world’s relation to God, and hence a moral claim about the nature of God in himself. In the end of all things is their beginning, and only from the perspective of the end can one know what they are, why they have been made, and who the God is who has called them forth from nothingness. And in Gregory of Nyssa’s thought, with an integrity found only also in Origen of Alexandria and Maximus the Confessor, protology (the study of creation) and eschatology (the study of end-times) are a single science, a single revelation disclosed in the God-man.” Therefore, when we look at the meaning of “heaven and earth,” we should not limit our contemplation to simply Genesis 1, but should take into account the entirety of God’s revelation, particularly his revelation in Christ.
In Book 12 of his Confessions (12.2.2.), Augustine explores the deeper meaning of the words “heaven and earth.” In this exploration, Augustine begins with a verse from the Psalms: “to the Lord belongs the heaven of heavens, the earth he gives to the children of men.” Ps. 115:16. For Augustine, the “heaven of heavens” is the heaven created in v.1., while the heaven that we see (the heaven of the birds and the stars) is the heaven created in v.3 and was created from the formerly formless and void earth. (Bk XII, Ch. 2). In v.1, the earth is the material corporeal world of perishable humanity and the heavens are the spiritual realm. For Augustine, the “heaven of heavens” is the “intelligible heaven, where to understand is to know all at once – not ‘in part’, not ‘darkly’, not ‘through the glass’ – but as a simultaneous whole, in full sight, ‘face to face’” (Bk XII, Ch. 13). This heaven of heavens is not a geographical place, but rather a type of ontological beingness.
Augustine looks at “heaven and earth” differently in The Literal Interpretation of Genesis. There, he hypothesizes that “Perhaps we should take ‘heaven’ to mean the spiritual beings in a state of perfection and beatitude from the first moment of creation and take ‘earth’ to mean bodily matter in a state that is not yet complete and perfect.” (Bk.1, Ch.1, para 3). Under this interpretation, the “darkness over the deep” in v.3 points to a dark unformed life unless it turns towards its Creator. The remainder of Scripture and the remainder of our lives are therefore concerned with being formed and filled by God as we move from earth to heaven.
Think about what is signified by the terms “heaven” and “earth.” There is no “right” answer. But in the contemplation there is a growing closer to God.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.1 Corinthians 13:12