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Two Creation Stories 

Fr. Frank B. Norris, S.S.

There are two distinct creation stories in the Book of Genesis.  The first and the more recent of the two (chapter 1 through chapter 2, verse three) is the work of an artist of consummate skill. The entire account breathes an air of peace and harmony, of sublime majesty and perfect order. It pictures the created universe as coming into being at the effortless and serene fiat, "Let there be ...", of the one, only God, who is the creator of the heavens and the earth and of all they contain. In it the divine work is seen as one of supreme goodness, for after each of His mighty acts God "saw that it was good." In this account the week-long activity of God reaches its climax in the creation of man, who is given dominion over all of lower creation, and who alone is said to be made "in our image and likeness" (Gen. 1:26) .

Man appears in the first creation story as the Prince and, by implication, the Priest of the created universe (for he alone can voice its praise of God)--a universe that has come forth from the one God in perfect unity and untarnished goodness. "God saw that all he had made was very good" (Gen. 1:31) .

The second creation story (Gen. 2:4-25) is of an entirely different literary cast. Here God is called by His proper name, Yahweh-the Lord. Unlike the author of the first account, who scrupulously avoids attributing any merely human trait to God, the author of the second and more ancient story happily portrays the Lord in the role of a potter forming man from the dust of the ground; breathing His own breath into man's nostrils; planting a garden; forming woman from a rib taken from the side of the man; and, later on, walking in the garden He has planted, in the cool of the day. In short, we have a graphic, popular account of man's beginnings. Yet here, too, profound religious lessons are taught. Man, we are told, was placed in Eden after his creation. The details of the garden and of man's condition within it are further indications of the lofty, supernatural state to which man was raised by the loving goodness of his Maker. It was a true garden of delights, abounding in natural blessings of every sort, and with man exercising an easy and unquestioned lordship over all plants and animals, "all the beasts of the field and the birds of the air" (Gen. 2:19) .

Further, man and the woman whom God gave to him know nothing of the turbulence of unruly passion that is the lot of man today. "Both the man and his wife were naked," we read, "but they felt no shame" (Gen. 2:25) . Man was utterly and completely good as he came from the creative hand of God. Moreover, he enjoyed a special intimacy with God, for he was God's familiar, with whom the Lord was wont to walk in the cool of the evening.

Obviously we are viewing the Old Testament with the eyes of Christian faith, and this is a valid procedure. We do not for a moment claim, however, that one who does not have the gift of Christian faith should be expected to see in the creation stories of Genesis an assertion of the supernatural elevation of man as this term is technically used and understood by Catholic theologians. The whole concept of supernatural life is linked with that of the Blessed Trinity, for the supernatural, as this term is understood in theology, has always to do with a participation by a creature in the very inner life and activity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Where there is no understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity there can be no understanding of the supernatural in the strict sense. In the Old Testament there is no awareness that God is triune in personality. Nonetheless, it cannot be overemphasized that, limited though their theological notions were, the sacred writers of the creation stories were very much concerned with conveying religious truths about the origin and spiritual condition of our first parents. The abundant imagery of the Yahwistic account (Gen. 2:4-25 ), in particular, was deliberately employed for theological rather than historical purposes.

Modern Catholic scripture scholars are at pains to underscore this point. "First Man lived somewhere, and it may well have been in the Mesopotamian region--but theology, not geography, is foremost in the mind of the sacred writer. The garden is a device used by him to express what some theologians call ‘original justice.’"

The two creation stories of Genesis, then, give us a picture of the Church in Paradise, for here we see the first Family of God, the first worshiping community of God's children. In the divine plan the family of man and the supernatural Family of God were to be coextensive. Had man not sinned, the transmission of natural life would have been, automatically, the occasion for the transmission of the supernatural life of grace, which transforms creatures into children of God. And the great characteristics of the Church of Paradise were its unity and its holiness. It had unity because the man and the woman made to the image and likeness of God reflected in every fiber of their beings the perfect peace and unity that belong to God himself. It was holy because the man and the woman had, over and above a total natural goodness, a share in the life of God their Father.

But man wrecked the first creation. An inordinate desire for the knowledge of good and evil shattered the unity and destroyed the holiness of the Church of Paradise. Man was no longer one with God his Father. "When they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord among the trees of the garden" (Gen. 3: 8) . Man, too, was no longer one with his fellow man. Casting about for an excuse that would extenuate his guilt, the man meanly exclaims: "The woman you placed at my side gave me fruit from the tree and I ate" (Gen. 3:12) . And, finally, man was no longer one within himself. "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked" (Gen. 3:6).

Most tragic of all, man lost the undeserved gift of divine sonship, the supernatural intimacy with God which characterized his condition before his sinful disobedience. For this fall from grace the man and the woman were excluded from the garden of delights. "Therefore the Lord God put him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the Cherubim, and the flaming sword, which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life" (Gen. 3:23-24) .

But even as we read the tragedy of the first creation which is our tragedy, we see a first ray of hope. Left to himself man could do nothing to regain the paradise that he had willfully lost. He could but compound his misery and his guilt. But in His mercy God did not leave man to himself. He did not totally abandon him. Speaking to the serpent-tempter, the Lord declared that an indefinite period of enmity "between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed" (Gen. 3:15) would follow, but the hint was given that one day, somehow, the seed of the woman would be victorious over the seed of the serpent. The tragedy of Eden would be undone. Man would be restored to divine sonship. There would be a new Church, a New Creation: Paradise Regained. The rest of the Old Testament is the story of God's preparation for that Church.

Condensed from God’s Own People 1962 by Frank B. Norris, S.S., Helicon Press & Garamond Press, Baltimore, Maryland

 

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