31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
At several points in this creation story God has pronounced His work as being good. This is the first time it is emphasized as being “very good.” Sometimes when we look back at our creative work we are also flushed with a sense of pride at what we have accomplished, surprised that something so good was able to come out of us. Other times we feel disappointed at how inferior the end result is compared to what we had imagined, either the result of lacking necessary skills or of having rushed things. In either case, we all feel that yearning to create something significant and pronounce it “very good” as our Heavenly Father did.
And this brings us to the conclusion of Genesis: Chapter 1. As we move on we will find that all this earth’s creation was merely a backdrop for the drama that would play out on it: the story of all mankind.
28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
These verses describe the relationship between man and nature with some very impactful language. The Hebrew root for the word “dominion” for example means “to dominate,” “to rule over,” or “to tread under.” I have brought to mind the image of a horse being broken so that it will obey the will of its rider.
And admittedly these are some hard words for me to digest. I’ve always sought to have a more peaceful relationship with animal life. I come from a state where hunting is a regular fall-time activity, one that I have absolutely no interest in taking part of.
I’m sure part of these more mellow feelings is that the animals around me are already domesticated. When I view a kitten curled on my lap for a nap I hardly feel any need to take it down a peg or two! Our relationship with animals is far removed from that of our ancestors who lived in the wild, hunted for their food, and were ever fearful of an apex predator taking their lives!
On the other hand, I do look at a mountain and feel the need to dominate it by climbing its defiant peak. I have that urge to row across a great lake, just because it’s there. I see a stretch of land and I want to break its soil and sow it with crops of my own. That yearning to surmount nature still exists, though we should keep that passion within reason.
25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
One of the greatest assaults against all mankind is the academic classification of us as a species of animal. This notion that we are essentially the same as any other type of creature, just evolved differently, is one of the most damaging ideas I can think of. It is debasing. It denies our sacred and divine nature. It willfully ignores the self-evident fact that there is no other creature like people.
Yes, we are creations and animals are creations, but it is readily apparent to anyone that makes the most basic of observations that people are of a different order from animals, just as animals are of a different order from plants, and just as plants are of a different order from rocks and minerals. Even if we discard any religious argument we still have to tie ourselves in knots to deny what is self-evident: that humanity and animals do not fit in the same box.
But why we are different is only made clear when we embrace the biblical record. That indescribable quality that separates man from beast is detailed in verse 27, it is that man is created in God’s own image, male and female. This same claim is not made of any other creation, only of mankind, and it is this fact that lays beneath every elevated aspect humanity possesses.
20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
There is an undeniable joyousness to God’s creation. “Bring forth abundantly,” “fowl that may fly above the earth,” “be fruitful, and multiply”…in these I hear a command to spread out, to explore, to uncover the beauty that God has hidden in nature.
Notice in these verses how God created the sea and populated it with vibrant life, the skies and populated it with vibrant life, the earth and populated it with vibrant life. He wanted every nook and cranny of His creation to be appreciated and adorned with life, and He instructed that life to propagate and fill the whole space around it.
After the fall animal life would become defined by a vicious struggle of life-and-death, a survival that was based on the termination of others. But as originally designed, life was meant to be a peaceful, joyful flourish.
14. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
It amuses me how casual the wording is in these verses when describing the creation of worlds without number! You know, God just put some lights in the sky, simple as a parent painting stars on the bedroom ceiling, right? The phrase “he made the stars also” doesn’t begin to capture the magnitude of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone, each of them an entire world or star, each meticulously suspended by a complex web of gravity. And all of it described as little more than set dressing to the other work of creation that was happening down on Earth, a garnish to the main course.
And perhaps there is some truth to that, for as incredible as massive bodies of rock and gas in infinite space might be, they are surpassed by the wonder and intricacy of plants, animals, and people. When we turn from looking to the heavens above to the world around us we find the careful balance of nature, the micro-universes of cells and proteins, and the inexplicable miracle called “life” which animates it all. God’s crowning achievement of creation is not to be found in the vastness of space, but within us smaller things.
2. 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.
Here we see the natural state of this world: without form, void, darkness upon the face of the deep. It wasn’t for millennia after this passage was written that science became aware of entropy, the phenomenon that suggests the entire universe, if left to its natural devices, will dissolve itself into a evenly distributed, stagnant void. Everything will be made uniform until there remains no variety, and with in no variety there is also no catalyst or process. That fits the description of this verse remarkably well, doesn’t it?
Life and individuality can only occur as God moves upon the face of this world. He doesn’t just make our existence good, He makes it possible.
1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Many have pointed out that the Bible begins in media res. Even though it is “in the beginning” of our story, it is also in the middle of another larger story: God’s story. Humanity and animal life and the mountains and the sea do not yet exist at this point, but God still does. He is already an entity, already all-powerful, and already commanding legions of angels to do His will.
And the lesson that stands out to me from this is that we are fundamentally different from God and we need to appreciate that fact. He exists before, outside of, and after our own little sphere. He is therefore mysterious and He always will be. He is not mortal, and cannot be understood in mortal terms. And yet we often try to do just that, stripping away the parts that exceed our understanding and remaking Him in our own image. That is folly.
Yes, there are parts of Him that are connected to us. There are things that we learn about Him by examining ourselves. He is our Father and we are His children, we have the same basic desire for good, and the same natural repulsion for evil. But still we are not entirely the same as Him, and we never can be so long as we live in this smaller, mortal story. Thus we will get along much better if we do not try to project onto Him our opinions of what He “should” be like, and instead rely on what He has personally revealed to us about His nature.