Tonight we will be reading, discussing, and contemplating the First Day of Creation as set forth in Genesis 1:3-5. Within this reading there are three words to focus upon: Said, Light, and Called. What is the power of speech, what do we mean by light, and what does it mean to name something?
Think about the power of the spoken word.
Genesis tells us that God brings about light through speech: “God said.” God spoke. The spoken word is creative and powerful. Almost my entire practice of law concerns words that create legal relationships. Contracts, oral or written, arise out of words. Restrictive property covenants, arise out of words. Words govern our world. In our religion, the liturgy is formed and carried out with words. Whether the priest elevates the host is adiaphora, but the words he uses matter. This is why no matter what Episcopal Church you go to – high/low, big/small, conservative/progressive, etc. – the words are always the same. (In the last 7 years, I have attended twenty different Episcopal churches, and every one uses the same words of the 1979 BCP without exception.)
God doesn’t think and it becomes so, rather he speaks. Speech is more than mere thought, rather it is a public utterance. When we speak, we necessarily involve everyone around us within that speech. You can be alone in your thoughts, but you cannot be alone in your speech. God speaks into the chaos and God speaks into the darkness, and his speech brings about form and substance. A good 3-minute discussion on the creative power of God’s speech by Jordan Peterson is HERE (at 13:45).
Finally, the creative power of God’s speech also demonstrates God’s sovereignty. God speaks and it is so. Unlike other creation mythologies, God does not require the cooperation of anything or anyone else. God does not struggle to bring about what he wills. God says “light” and there is light. Fait Accompli.
Think about what “light” means.
The first thing specifically created is light. Light is more than a spot on the electromagnetic spectrum. Light means to enlighten or illuminate so as to give reason and intelligibility to existence. In the Hebrew Scriptures, light means Life (Ps. 56:13, Job 30:33), Joy (Ps. 97:11, Isa. 9:3, 60), Justice (Hos. 6:5, Zeph. 3:5), and Deliverance (Mic. 7:9, Ps. 97:11). All of these alternative meanings rely upon the Light/Dark dichotomy with “dark” being the present state of things – death, gloom, anguish, and oppression – and “light” being those things hoped for as embodied in God and his messiah.
On the first day, the light has no natural source (the sun and stars aren’t created until the fourth day). Throughout Scripture, “light” is first and foremost the Glory of God. During the Babylonian captivity, Deutero-Isaiah proclaims: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Isa. 60:1). St. John the Divine says that the New Jerusalem “has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Rev. 21:23). On the first day, it is the Glory of God that goes forth.
Think about the power to name.
Genesis says that God named the light “Day” and the darkness he named “Night.” According to the JPS Commentary, in the ancient world, things don’t really exist until they are named. Not having a name was equivalent to not having an existence. God’s giving “light” and “dark” names complete their creation. Name-giving also shows the power that the name-giver has over the name-receiver. We see this in the second creation story where Adam names all of the animals. (Gen. 2:20).
But this idea that names bring about existence isn’t limited to the ancient world. Naming allows us to conceptualize reality. Theoretical physics makes up names for theoretical particles. Philosophical systems or schools of thought don’t exist until they are given a name. Medical syndromes don’t exist until they are named. Think about those times when you are unable to say the right word, it is as if the object or concept that you are talking about doesn’t exist. In his dystopian novel, 1984, George Orwell depicts a society under a dictatorship where thoughts and actions are monitored and controlled. The primary means of thought control is the invention of Newspeak which is the official language of the nation and which lacks words and concepts deemed a threat to the governing powers. If there is no word for “democracy” then democracy cannot exist.
Therefore, when we read about the First Day of Creation, it is not a story about the electromagnetic spectrum coming into existence. It is about who God is, who we are, and our relationship. It is about God’s sovereign power to speak light directly into the darkness and chaos and oppression in the world and in our lives. It is about giving us the ability to name and conceptualize this new reality in our lives. The story is about who God is and who we are in Christ.
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.2 Corinthians 4:6