The Meaning of Creation

Continuing on the subject of faith and science we are finally ready to take a look at the actual meaning of the creation story of Genesis. We need to begin with the fundamental truths that are revealed in the story – the principal message – before moving to some of the more subtle messages.

First, God is revealed as both the one who creates everything and gives form, structure, and distinction to all created things.

Second, in all the visible creation, man (male and female) has a special status and dignity because he is created according to the image and likeness of God.

Let’s start then with the very fact and reality of creation. In the beginning God created heaven and earth. (Gen 1:1) The Hebrew expression ‘heaven and earth’ simply refers to everything that exists that is not God himself, what we call ‘the universe’, except that finally ‘heaven and earth’ also includes what we refer to in the Creed as ‘all things visible and invisible’.

That means that there is God and then there is everything else.

Everything else is dependent upon God for its very existence; had God decided not to create, nothing else would have existed. Because we exist and because we live in a world of things that exist, day in and day out, we tend to take all these things for granted. We tend to assume that the things that are must be. We are mistaken.

Some modern day philosophers have tried to set this dramatic truth before people’s minds by way of a dramatic question: Why is there something rather than nothing?

The philosopher’s question points us very clearly to another aspect of the meaning of creation: God creates out of nothing.

When we make something, we take materials that already exist and we refashion them. We might reshape things and join them together, as a carpenter builds a cabinet. Or we might make use of the natural properties of things to change the ingredients into something new, like wheat into bread. When God creates, however, he gives existence to the whole thing, matter and form.

So far we have been considering what God creates (the everything else), but that leads us back to God himself, the Creator.

People will often ask, “Who made God?” The question is misplaced. It arises because we are used to the things that, precisely because they were created, demand a reason for their existence. If we saw God face to face, so to speak, we could not even ask the question; it would not occur to us. If we truly knew God as he is, his existence would be self-explanatory.

So when Moses asked God his name, God said, I am who am. (Ex 3:14) One meaning of that cryptic expression is: “I am the one who is, who exists of and by himself, without any cause; I am the one who is existence; everything else has existence and it has existence because I gave it to them.”

Now in this life we do not know God as he is in himself, but only through the things that he has made. That is why he remains hidden from us and why, even though we cannot doubt the existence of the things that he has made, we can actually doubt the existence of the Creator himself.

Yet, once we consider well that there is on one side God who creates and on the other everything that he created, that is completely dependent on the Creator for its existence, then we can also realize that God is not any created thing, nor is he like any created thing. “Between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying an even greater dissimilitude.” (Lateran Council IV, quoted in CCC 43)

The dissimilitude is greater, but “We can name God by taking his creatures’ perfections as our starting point, ‘for from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.’” (CCC 41, Wi 13:5)

What we can name, we can know in some fashion. So even though God surpasses or ‘transcends’ all creatures, we can have true knowledge of him because of the dependence of creature on the Creator, because we know that the Creator is not the creature, and because all that is good, beautiful, and perfect in creatures comes from the Creator and so is found in him in an infinitely higher manner.

So God is not the biggest bully on the block, he is not some extra-terrestrial race that has somehow programed human evolution, he is not some old man with a white beard sitting on a cloud, he is not the greatest super-computer ever made, he is not some mysterious radiance of light, nor is he some hidden energy or force.

He did create all things by the wisdom of his mind and the power of his will. That divine mind embraces in one single simple act of knowing everything that all the scientists of the world have ever discovered and have yet to discover, everything that all the philosophers have ever thought or will think, everything that every single human being from the beginning to the end of time has perceived with their senses, fashioned in their imagination, or thought with their mind, and all that human knowledge is little more than a drop of water in the ocean of God’s immense wisdom. (To be continued)

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.