Genesis 1 presents mankind as bearers of God’s image. That concept has elicited much work on the question of what it means to bear God’s image. Without discussing the options here, I will merely continue with one of the options in mind. After God created man in his image, he then gave the man and woman authority over the rest of creation. It has been suggested that in doing so, God was leaving mankind as his vice-regents to care for and rule over the earth in God’s absence. This interpretation works well with the text and also with what we know of ancient Near Eastern practices.
If mankind is left to care for the earth as representatives of God, does it then follow that we are to do the kind of work that God did in creating the heavens and the earth? On the one hand, the question in absurd. We cannot speak things into existence, nor can we make what is from what is not. The idea that we might carry on God’s work in this sense is completely impossible. On the other hand, has God left us a paradigm in his work of creation which we can follow in our work? I believe so.
Just as with the concept of mankind created in the image of God above, our understanding of the six days of creation in Genesis 1 has brought very spirited discussion and strong disagreements among biblical scholars. One of these interpretations looks at the literary structure of Genesis 1 and the pattern of creation revealed in the six days. The six days can be outlined as follows:
· Day One: God created night and day.
· Day Two: God created sky and sea.
· Day Three: God created dry land from the sea.
· Day Four: God created the heavenly bodies.
· Day Five: God created the birds and fish.
· Day Six: God created the land animals and mankind.
It is not difficult to see in the above presentation that there is a connection between the first three days of creation and the second three days of creation. Day one was occupied with the creation of light and the separation of that light from darkness. God concluded by naming the light “day” and darkness “night.” On day four, though, he created the sun, moon, and stars, in effect giving shape to the light and darkness that was created on day one.
On day two, God created the sky and sea. On day five he filled those spaces with the birds and the fish. On day three, God separated the sea and had dry land emerge from beneath. From the land sprang forth all vegetation. Likewise, on day six God created all land animals including the separate creation of mankind.
It would seem clear from this summary that on days one, two, and three, God is making spaces. On days four, five, and six, however, he is filling those spaces. Having said that there are various ways of understanding the time and nature of God’s work on the six days of Genesis 1, no matter what understanding one has of the time involved, the fact of God’s creating spaces and then filling those spaces is still, or can be still, a component of that interpretation.
Now if God has done this kind of work on the six days, and if mankind is created to carry on the kind of work that God has done, could we not see our daily work as one of creating spaces and filling those spaces?
Creating Spaces of Time
On the first day of creation, when God created light and separated that light from darkness, he did not at that point create a space in the sense of a location. Rather, as what was emphasized earlier, he created a temporal space or pattern. God spoke light into existence and separated it from the darkness. The light he called day. The darkness he called night. On that day God created the alternation of evening and morning.
Our first work then might be seen as the creation of temporal space—the organization of time. Now in fact mankind has been doing this sort of thing since the beginning of time. The earliest pagan rituals were organized around the patterns of the sun, moon, and stars. Very early, man recognized the use of the rising and setting sun for the tracking of days. The cycle of the moon led to the concept of the month, which word in many languages is related to the corresponding word for moon. The rotation of the earth around the sun, noticeable to early man by the slowly moving location of the rising and setting sun on the horizon, led to the development of the year. The ease of tracking the lunar cycles led to an early adoption of a lunar calendar. The solar calendar, based on the earth’s rotation around the sun, did not correspond precisely to the lunar calendar, so various ways were developed over time and in different cultures for correlating the two calendars.
In similar fashion, we organize our time. We have our patterns of night and day. We organize our day by hours and minutes and such. When we do so, are we not carrying on the work of God on the first day of creation? And just as God created the evening and morning, he also on the fourth day created the sun, moon, and stars and did so, according to the text, so that we could use these for organizing our festivals and meeting times, and so that we would know the seasons and such. So the creation of the night and day was not done for its own sake, but so that we would then be able to fill that space with meaningful content.
Next Up: Creating Spaces of Place