THE WORLD: GOD'S CREATION
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." These words begin our sacred history; the history of the origin of the world and of our origin, which are the cause for all subsequent events. Moreover, our history records God's plan for us, and the very fact that there is a God. Creation's destiny is to aid man fulfill his destiny. How man in his freedom of will frustrated for a time God's will set in motion the subsequent events of history. Of our history, we shall speak more particularly of the creation of all things, of the setting in which man is placed, for this will inform us concerning our nature, and for self-knowledge, an investigation into the nature and composition of the universe, of which we are a part, is a fundamental requirement.
Knowing the cause and origin of the world appears to be a fundamental need of mankind. There is no culture that does not possess some creation myth or philosophy. This myth or philosophy gives validation for the cultures mores and goals, giving significance to each man's life as being a part of something greater than himself. When a person identifies himself with these cultural values and history, he rises above his individual existence to an intellectual and emotional participation in things which to him possess divine attributes. In short, these myths and philosophies concerning the origin of the world must be considered to have religious value.
We contrast the words of the God-seer Moses with the ancient myths and philosophies and their descendants when we call the first the true revelation of God. Of course, this judgment belongs to faith; yet our Faith can be discerned from how truthful are even it's outward or objective expressions when compared with all other religions or philosophies.
First, in examining other cosmogonies, more particularly the myths, we observe that the world was created by beings who existed or who were born during the sacred time. These gods or beings were man written large. According to the various myths sometimes the world, much as we know it, existed, but more often, it came into existence or was formed by these gods through murder, thievery, dismemberment, coition, or fraud, through mistake or accident or intended catastrophe. Indeed the whole spectrum of human foibles was exhibited in the myths when the creation of the world is related. For example, in the Babylonian cosmogony Bel Marduk conquers the primordial serpent Tiamat. Dismembering it, Marduk uses Tiamat for the rocks and land, its blood for the water, etc. Many myths relate how various gods formed the world from their own substance. Other examples abound, but all of them possess this common feature, matter or beings exist before the creation of the present world, which is of the same nature as those who formed it.
The innovation in thinking made by the Greek philosophers refined the explanations. The ancestral gods pretty much were retired from action with respect to creation. The Ionian philosophers made the elements as principles of creation; one preferred fire, another water, and so on. Democritus taught that the movement of the atoms in joining and parting formed the universe. Plato believed that the world was the reflection of the "ideas", which ere the eternal exemplars.
Without going into much detail or analysis, we observe that the mythmakers and the philosophers think the same way: the universe always exists or the matter from which it is formed is eternal. There is always some pre-existing matter or substance.
The images and concepts of the mythmakers and philosophers were limited by their material substance and existence. When they attempted to explain the origin of the world, the existence of matter, in some form or another is assumed. The ever-recurring cycles of nature on earth and in the heavens, where no beginning or end is readily discernible, give the impression of an eternal succession. This is circular time, the eternal return, which is an important characteristic of ancient myths and philosophies. In other words matter, the stuff of the universe, has always existed and ever shall. Since matter possess the attributes of eternal subsistence and infinity, which attributes only the divinity might possess, the universe becomes in some measure divine. Anyway, it is definitely the substratum or cause of all life.
On the contrary, the revelations of God proclaims a beginning; it proclaims that God alone created the heaven and earth and the He gave them their beginning ; that they are contingent upon His will and not of His essence. This is unique in history; nowhere has any such statement been found like this one as it has been believed and understood in the Church. The first clear scriptural enunciation of this doctrine is in II Maccabees 7:28: "I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of what was not (of what did not exist)"; and so was man made likewise". (Greek text: ek ouk onton) is ungrammatical and so would normally have been (Greek text: ek me onton), "of things that were not", but the ouk (Greek) is used as an emphasis to existence non-existence. Language is limited and couched in material terms, therefore the phrase "of things that were not" would have been interpreted in the pagan manner, that God shaped a formless matter. Although the expressions of language might be limited, the true teaching of creation was known in Israel because God's presence opened the understanding. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church also insures that revelation is not distorted, and that the God's creation out of nothing ex nihilo is affirmed as a fundamental dogma of the Faith.
The revealed dogma that there was no pre-existence of creation or of any matter, but it sprang into existence completely and instantaneously only at the word of God by His will, was impossible for carnal man to conceive. Material man can only conceive of a material universe, since he has had no experience of anything. He is limited by the boundaries of his nature. Even men's thoughts and conceptions are material, both in themselves, since our thoughts are formed in the brain by bioelectrical energy, and in the image which the thought visualizes. Even when we say "created of nothing", an image forms of a black space, but necessarily with a border since the image is contained in our mind. We cannot imagine a void or the infinite, because we ourselves are finite and material.
We are bound by the limits of our nature. All our conceptions and mental images and words are necessarily material, and when conceiving something spiritual or noetic or the divine, the mind objectifies it necessarily. The ancient mythmakers and philosophers, therefore, could not conceive a creation ex nihilo since it was entirely outside their experience. As Plato said, everything is bound by the necessity of its nature, i.e., nothing can surpass its own limitations or the boundaries of its capacities. A dog cannot preach a sermon, nor, to quote a famous author, can a man suddenly grow eighteen inches. We cannot lift ourselves by our own bootstraps. Consequently, the cosmic linear time of the Bible is unique in religion. Creation and matter had a definite beginning, and, therefore, could have an end; a foreign conception, even unthinkable, to the mythmakers and philosophers, who only perceived cosmic time as a cycle of constant recurrence in eternal matter.
We stated that the philosophers and mythmakers made the universe 'God' even if not explicitly, since they attributed divine characteristics to it. There were other religions and philosophers, however, who explicitly deified the universe: who believe that the universe is God itself – the pantheists. Most notable among them are the Hindus, where the substance of all things is the god Brahma, while matter is Maya, illusion. The Gnostics also believed that all creation arises from emanations of a deity or several deities. Their systems are so varied and confused, that it is hardly worth investigating them. Most seem to presuppose the divine sphere and matter which is evil or imprisoning. A deity or emanation falls and is imprisoned in matter and ignorance. It can only return to the divine sphere when freed from matter. This fall and return is also predicated of the individual. In any case, the divinity does not create matter; it pre-exists and opposes the divine.
The philosopher Plotinus taught that divine unity – called the One – emanates from itself and becomes many, and through some unexplained continual process of extension or condensation. This proliferation weakens, defiles, or devaluates the divinity, yet the ontological connection exists; matter has a basic identity with the One divinity. Because of this identity, the possibility exists of a return, of the dissolution of the many into the One. This return is usually the supreme goal of such religions and philosophies.
Modern science, which rejects any consideration of God as factor in the created world, holds to the position of the aforementioned mythologies and philosophies, i.e., creation is eternal. Mater has existed and will exist forever in some form or other. Whether the Big Bang Theory is advocated or the Steady State Theory, always something exists as a ground state to produce the universe. The old belief is restated: the universe is endowed with divine attributes: eternity and creation, and more particularly, the creation of life. Modern scientists may deny any religious content to their theories when challenged, but when speaking or writing, many often express awe and an almost worshipful admiration of creation. The most telling proof, however, is their attributing a teleological principle [or transcendental design] to the universe [itself], either implicitly or explicitly. Although their theories reject any volition or divine intervention in the universe, there is a movement or development in the universe that they tacitly accept although their theories ignore it or reject it. Darwinism is a prime example. It speaks of and describes the impersonal force of "evolution" but that begs the question of the how and why of the existence of this guiding principle Darwinism is forced to assume because the whole of creation is a fly in the nose of their specious theories.
Experiments which have tried to duplicate the creation of life in the theoretical primordial protein soup of the Darwinists have not only been complete failures, but have been powerful indications, if not proof, that no such condition ever existed; and if it did, it certainly did not spontaneously produce living matter.
The grudging or unacknowledged imputing of divine characteristics by most scientists, is lacking in Henri Bergson and Teilhard du Chardin. They present a god who arises from the universe and is developing and not yet perfect. He will be perfected in the future, as the culmination of all creation through spiritual or mental development.
Since these theories have arisen from human reasoning, they are all limited by human nature. Even the theories which try, at least, to account for the history of human religious experience, insist vehemently and dogmatically that God is part of the physical universe. They have the same frame of mind and experience s the ancient mythmakers and philosophers. They are not able to transcend their limits, since they will not accept the revelation recorded in the Scriptures and the Church. Most physical scientists especially are limited because they preclude any sort of metaphysical inquiry or proof by attributing every cause to the material world.
As the myths prove and as many philosophers admit, humanity has in its history acknowledged some kind of supernatural activity. It may be a memory remnant of God's ancient revelation to mankind through angels, or some supernatural activity may have been personally experienced. In any case, something beyond the visible is believed or visible things are imbued with a supernatural power. To a greater or lesser degree, such a description would fit magic, ancient or modern, which credits the physical with some inherent power beyond its physical nature. For example, salt is supposed to purify every evil influence or destroy spells. Sometimes cold iron or the rowan tree, the herbs moly and dittany have the same protective property. Various combinations of herbs and object prepared in a particular manner will produce supernatural effects. In modern witchery or New Age occultism, some supernatural powers are inherent in the earth, in crystals, or in the other elements.
We can conclude that in the myths, philosophies, magic, and the sciences a common factor is that their thinking is not able to transcend the boundaries and limitations of human nature. The ancient dictum of the Holy Fathers holds true for them all: they have abandoned the living God and made created matter their god.
As we have said, creation ex nihilo has been the doctrine understood in the first words of Genesis. The words "beginning" and "created" prove that the world had a beginning and was not from everlasting and is not eternal, for what has a beginning and has been created is corruptible and subject to change and, therefore, can have an end. Creation is not divine but exists because of God's will. He could have not created, because He is subject to no necessity since creation depends upon God's will, which is a divine operation or energy, and not upon His essence; creation in itself can have no divine attributes; it does not arise from the divine nature. God created the world from nothing can be a misleading phrase for us, since both our minds and language objectify everything. However, as we said, real nothing can not be an object or have any substance. The purpose of the phrase is to make us understand that there was no pre-existent matter. Nor does God make a space for this nothing or for creation since He is omnipresent. Creation is completely "other", it is not a difference of space but a difference of nature. The beginning is a boundary, an indivisible limit for created nature, for all the heaven and the earth, which God made all at once, in less than an instant; and time and its succession began, coterminous with created matter. Because of the boundary, creation has no connection with anything preceding except the will of God. Matter did not pre-exist or arise spontaneously.
Since creation is by God's will, the entire Holy Trinity created. St. Irenaeus calls the Son and the Holy Spirit the two hands of the Father in the work of creation. St. John Damascene "By thinking, God creates and the thought becomes the work, with the Word fulfilling it and the Spirit perfecting it" [Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, II, 2} and in another place, "The Father does [creates] all whatsoever He does [creates] through His Only-begotten Son, not as though the Son were some useful instrument, but as through His natural and enhypostatic [distinctly subsistent] Power" …[and the Holy Spirit] through Himself creating and giving substance to the universe, sanctifying it and sustaining it." [ibid, I, 8] The will for creation comes forth from the Father is fulfilled by the Son and is sustained and perfected and returned to the Father by the Holy Spirit.
The first verse of Genesis sets the boundaries of our knowledge, the limit of our nature and its capacity. All mankind could not by itself conceive of anything beyond the phenomenal world beyond creation, both in knowledge and in experience. The prophet Moses was first to impart to mankind the knowledge of the boundary we have spoken of inasmuch as he learned it from God.
Saint John Chrysostom's Second Homily on Genesis
…When God formed human beings in the beginning, He used to speak to them personally, in a way that was possible for human beings to understand him. …And even when all humankind fell into evil ways, the Creator of all did not abandon the human race. Instead when they proved unworthy of His converse with them, He wanted to renew His love for them; He sent them letters as you do to people far away from you and this drew all humankind back again to Him. It was God Who sent the letters and Moses who delivered them. What do the letters say? "In the Beginning God created the heaven and the earth."
Abraham to rich man, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
Moses revealed that man was truly caged in creation by his ignorance of the living God.
Man, however, had unconsciously felt the chains of his imprisonment. God had created in order to draw man towards Himself; such was their destiny; for as Ecclesiastes says, God created man for life. This destiny, thwarted by the fall of our first parents, yet remained as a constituent of our nature, and produced a void, a nameless yearning and need which could not be assuaged by any material creature. This need, being unsatisfied, produced a slowly growing dissatisfaction with the world, a feeling of estrangement, a rebellion against the constraints of this world, a sense of oppression and a need for release, like animals in a cage.
All historical cultures necessarily had opportunities for man to forget or deaden this oppression, to let off steam. Since they could not transcend the reality of the material world, they escaped for a short time from the strictures of their society and culture during various festivals. The Romans had the Saturnalia, where the masters served the slaves, and the slaves took the place of their masters. The Greeks had Dionysian revels. In the Middle Ages, the noble's courts would be governed during Twelfth night by the Lord of Misrule, where all were at his command to perform ludicrous forfeits. The carnival also, from then till now, had a similar function. During these times there was often much license and an overturning of social barriers, with much drunkenness. In this manner, most of mankind attempted to suppress its despair arising from being caged, even though it was unaware of being caged.
We see this universal restlessness all around us now at a level that far exceeds anything before in the history of mankind.
The God-seer Moses revealed to mankind both its origin and its sin and the boundary of its cage. Mankind came from the Lord, Who was its Father and Who also was beyond creation, mankind once had converse with God, yet there was now a barrier between God and man, the barrier of the law of sin and of the carnal mind. Moses gave us the truth of the shadow that darkened our lives, the shadow of the law of our nature and existence.
St. John proclaimed to us the truth of our freedom when he pronounced "In the beginning was the Word". St. John proclaims the New Genesis. He informs of the Word, the Lord, the enhypostatic Truth, Who created all things, has now come to remake us, to give us existence as "sons of God". The boundaries and limitations of our nature have been lifted by the Creator Himself and the wall of enmity and sin has been torn down. "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). The Truth Himself has come and made us free, not simply the knowledge of the truth, but the Son of God Himself. "If the son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). Only the living presence of the Truth in His church can truly make us free.