By: T. Ashton Reynolds
There is a natural human longing to understand where we came from. Finite as we are, we fear where we are going and demand understanding of where we came. For this reason, theologies, doctrines, and dogmas become not frameworks around which we develop, and to the best of our abilities, answer the questions of our existence, but rigid courses of supposed understanding. Standing from the bluff above the river we declare that it has always run here, even though the plain that stretches out beyond our vision insists the river was not always here. In humanity’s rebellion against the thought that our finite existence is encapsulated by divine infinity, it allows itself to be falsely comforted by the illusion of linear history. History started at point A and got moving…what happened at point A is done and will never happen again. The outcome of the future is dictated by prophecy oh so clearly dictated to mortals.
And yet, the human mind is still driven by wonder and curiosity. The politicisation of the Biblical creation account had the effect of rendering it a cold medium in the battle for orthodoxy. In such battles wonder and curiosity have no place, because for those who fuel the argument wonder and curiosity disrupt the desired reaction. Hence the tendency to rigid theological, doctrinal, and dogmatic thought patterns. This is to the detriment of Christian understanding.
“‘Perhaps this is Charn,’ said Digory, ‘only we’ve got back in the middle of the night.’
‘This is not Charn,’ came the Witch’s voice. ‘This is an empty world. This is Nothing.”
And, it really was uncommonly like Nothing. There were no stars, It was so dark that they couldn’t see one another at all and it made not difference whether you kept your eyes shut or open. Under their feet there was a cool, flat something which might have been earth, and was certainly not grass or wood. The air was cold and dry and there was no wind.”[i]
It is appropriate that C.S. Lewis’ remarkable description of creation is found in a book parents read to their kids starting around the age of six or seven. Chapter Eight of The Magician’s Nephew finds the story’s protagonist and antagonists all transported to a place before creation. There they, paradoxically, experience something of an ex nihilo existence. One can only speak apocryphally, but when the author was a child he was fascinated, confused, and even scared by the thought of what was there before anything was there. Indeed, the author’s six year old daughter has the same questions and curiosities. Nothing existed, but God was there to create something.
Lewis captures the Biblical rendering of creation by describing a void, a place without form where darkness prevailed because there was no light yet to be had. The place in which Digory and his companions found themselves was a place without order, definition, or resolution. They find their feet on something that can only be guessed as to what it might be, but can be said for certain what it is not. A place without sound, without light, warmth, or energy. This is a place not yet created and thus devoid of the necessary elements of creation or expression. In essence, there is nothing existentially inspiring from which humanity understands and expresses their tie to creation.
The rush to get through six literal days of creation, or to over-emphasize the mythical nature of the two creation narratives of the Bible both force us away from a careful lingering reading of creation. It forces the discussion to “what” and “how” and “where,” when it was, is, and always will be about “Who”. Creation was not then, nor is it now, a cold passionless event. It is beautiful and motivated. Beauty and motivation relate far closer to Truth than do component facts.
“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But, it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it…
Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by the other voices; more voices than you could possibly count They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars…If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.” [ii]
In the beginning of creation before the first elements of creation, order and light, there was presence and sound. Digory and his companions’ experience reflect two clearly, if not oft overlooked, truths presented in Genesis 1: God is present in creation and active in creation. The Spirit of God hovered over the chaos of the waters; God was not remote to creation. Then, creation itself coalesced behind the reverberating waves of God’s beautiful and mighty Voice. The Earth and all that was created with it found order and meaning behind the passage of the sound of the Word of God.
The tone and tenor of Creation is set by God’s Voice. Creation from the start sings in harmony with God’s Voice, which means that Creation has an inherently dependent and relational existence. God looks at each step of Creation and declares it “good” because each step resonates with God’s voice echoing back His beauty and glory. This is the purpose and glory of Creation. Each step of creation is not good because God got that step right, but because God alone is good.[iii]
It is readily apparent that the pure harmonious perfection of Creation was not borne out through the course of human history. For every gorgeous view of the stars in the Davis Mountains and the peaks of the Grand Tetons, every instance of two beautiful first graders – one white, one black – hugging each other good-bye until the next day oblivious to the racial strife that rages in the world around them, there are as many if not more pictures depicting the opposite. Good and evil pass so close to each other to the point that one can not be faulted for thinking it an absolute miracle when good isn’t obliterated in a collision with a great evil. It is worth remembering that Lewis fought in World War I – a horror in and of itself, quite possibly beyond our present day comprehension. The discordant tones of humanity’s awfulness to each other and poor stewardship of the world appears to drown out what song is left from the initial moments of creation.
On Christmas Eve of 1968 the first people to orbit the moon, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders closed out their live television broadcast with a message. William Anders began,
“For all the people of Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message it would like to send you…’In the Beginning God made the heaven and the earth. And, the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.’”
Then Jim Lovell continued,
“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”
Frank Borman concluded,
“‘And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called Seas: and God saw that it was good.’
And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”[iv]
The good Earth. Our home. Hatred, greed, and fear must seem to evaporate in the void of the firmament, and from the moon the harmony of Creation echoed above the ever circling and encroaching chaos of the broken world. The song of Creation is that what is created is beautiful even as it is broken. It still sings in enough harmony to remind us that what God made, He calls good. The harmony still rings enough to remind us God remains faithful to us, even as we are faithless to Him and our fellow man.
As beautiful and fresh the Earth looked from the moon Christmas of 1968 there was no shortage of evil raging across its surface, unseen from that great distance. Anders, Lovell, and Borman surely were not ignorant of that. It is significant that these astronauts shared such a positive message, but not one that is overtly of redemption. They did not express hope that one day the world would be good again, but affirmed its existing goodness. The Christian’s understanding of the goodness of creation rests in the Voice that created it. It is that same Voice that gives creation its continued being in spite of humanities violence against each other and rebellion against the very Voice who breathed life into them.
Therefore we see in the actions of God in Creation the pattern of divine relationship with creation. Our very present God is active in sustaining Creation while bringing resolution to the discordant harmonies that plague creation’s relationship with the Divine. Creation is good, because God says it is good. Not because it acts good, because we see it does not. Due to this the world sings a tune the ebbs and flows in and out of harmony with the Voice, where at one point God returns man to dust then calls out “Return, O children of Man!”[v] But, Creation tells us where God stands in relation to us allowing us to dispense with the shame and fear that otherwise prevents us from being taught to “number our days that we might get a heart of wisdom.”[vi] In essence, we can pray that God will restore to us the understanding of where we stand in relation to him and be blessed for it.
As Digory and his companions experienced the beginning of a new world, they very much brought the troubles and worries of their broken worlds with them to that pure place. They struggled for understanding and position in their conflict with each other (Digory and Polly verses Digory’s uncle and the Witch), let alone understanding what was happening around them. It was the one, seemingly incidental, member of the party who finally figured it out. The Cabby, in response to Digory’s Uncle blathering on says,
“Oh stow it, Guv’nor, do stow it…Watchin’ and listenin’s the thing at present; not talking.”[vii]
A great many truths get run under by incessant talking about how to use those truths, to the point they cease to be truth and become the most misleading kind of lie (hence why truisms are so dangerous). This is why the Bible admonishes the faithful from engaging in foolish and stupid arguments.[viii] In avoiding such things while taking care to watch and listen we then find ourselves positioned where we ought to be in relation to the Divine. We, in essence, at least in part, recapture our position in Creation. Then the work of our hands, the song we sing in harmony with the song that is sung over and through us, is established and blessed as it is a part of God’s creative work.
[i] Lewis, C.S. The Magician’s Nephew New York: Harper Collins Publisher, 2004, p 60.
[ii] Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew, p 61.
[iii] Matthew 10:18
[iv] Anders, Lovell, and Boreman, The Christmas Eve Broadcast, https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/apollo8_xmas.html, accessed 9/19/17
[v] Psalm 90:3
[vi] Psalm 90:13
[vii] Lewis, p 65.
[viii] II Timothy 2:23