By Michael Kolarcik, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service
The first chapter of the Book of Genesis is more than likely quite clear in our imagination. In six days God creates, separates, names, commands, and blesses, and on the seventh day God rests.
As we read Genesis 1 or hear the story read at the Easter Vigil, God’s word majestically creates and displays the cosmos before our imagination. If there is one word which perhaps best describes the value placed on creation in this story, it would be the word, “good.”
And God saw that it was good! We hear this judgment altogether seven times in the story (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). You might think there is a judgment of goodness for each day of the week, including the seventh. But that is not the case. In fact it is quite interesting to notice where the judgment of goodness in God’s creation is made and where it is not.
We might then see that the judgment of the goodness of creation is not simply an idyllic affirmation of creation. Rather, even despite the chaos and instability of the universe and in human beings, the Genesis story affirms the goodness of the created world.
The unfolding of creation in six days is quite stylized. In the first three days God creates a habitat of spaciousness. In the following three days, God creates inhabitants who are to thrive in their corresponding habitats. Notice the balance of the six days of creation:
Day 1 – Light, darkness; day and night Day 4 – Sun, moon, stars; day and night
Day 2 – The dome above, waters below Day 5 – Fish, birds; sea and sky
Day 3 – The earth, vegetation Day 6 – Animals, humans male/female
Day 7 – God rests; the sabbath is blessed
Notice how each day has a double creation involving one or two of the four various activities of God associated with creation (separating, naming, commanding, and blessing). It is also interesting to notice how vegetation in Day 3, the last created element of the habitats, is both an inhabitant of the earth and itself becomes a habitat for animals and humans on Day 6.
But this is all part of the artistic display of the story which highlights the value of goodness associated with creation.
Now let’s pay attention to the places where God’s judgment of goodness is not made.
On Day 2, we do not encounter the judgment of goodness for the dome. But we hardly notice this since on Day 3, as if to compensate for this lack, we have two judgments of goodness regarding “vegetation.” Why does the story not highlight the goodness of the dome?
The next rather surprising silence of the judgment of goodness occurs on Day 6 regarding human beings. Though human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, the story does not highlight the goodness of human beings.
Even after the animals were created we heard God’s judgment of goodness (Gen 1:24), but not for human beings. Again, as if to compensate for this lack, after the gift of food to animals and humans Day 6 concludes with a general judgment of goodness for all of God’s creation: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).
And so both Day 3 and Day 6 have a double judgment of goodness. Why is the narrative silent on the goodness of the dome and of human beings?
It is not as if they are evil, since both the dome and humans are included in the final judgment of goodness. Genesis 1 knows how the dome and humans are associated with chaos in the stories that follow. Adam and Eve introduce moral chaos and alienation from God in their act of disobedience. Moral chaos spreads to their own children as Cain kills his brother Abel.
Later, because the violence of human beings becomes unbearable to God, the forces of chaos in the flood are unleashed on all life precisely through the dome. Destructive water is unleashed from the portals above the dome and from the depths below.
The story of creation in Genesis could not quite bring itself to name the chaos in the cosmos and certainly the chaos of which human beings are capable as “good.” But notice that even with the instability of the cosmos, where chaos at any point may rise against life, and even with human potential for violence, the Genesis story affirms strongly the goodness of creation.
The silence of the judgment of goodness for the dome and for humans has the effect of inviting us to a stance of humility before the grandeur of creation. Yes, though creation is a good and beautiful habitat for such a variety of creatures, there remain within it forces of chaos.
Though human beings are the pinnacle of the created world, they are equally capable of great love and terrible violence. In fact, in the face of so much violence as that which we see in the flood story, it would be easy to have a view of creation that is dark, violent and miserable. There are such stories of origins in the ancient world. The Genesis story of creation affirms the opposite. It affirms the goodness of creation even with its instability and violence. This is perhaps its enduring value and appeal.
The Genesis story holds up before our imagination our deepest desire for a good habitat in relation to a loving God even as we face our fears of mortality and violence. In this story God is telling us that even with its instability, and even with our propensity for violence within it, creation is good indeed!