The Creation Week >>back home

(i) 'Thus the heavens and the earth were finished'

What does the Bible mean by 'finished', especially in view of its teaching that 'creating' is a continuing activity of God? (see chap. IV and John 5.17). On the material level the meaning could well include something like this; matter has inherent limitations, one cannot go on building bigger and bigger bridges, the strength/weight ratio of materials sets a limit. Animals with exoskeletons like lobsters are limited in size by the diffusion rate of oxygen in water, and so on. It has recently been mooted in scientific circles that the possible computer functions of the brain are limited in the same way. If that is so then man may be the noblest creature possible with a constitution of flesh and blood. With him material creation may reach a climax, and be completed.

There is a theological meaning to be set alongside this. In man God has fashioned a creature 'in His own image' able to render Him 'reasonable service' (Rom.12.1 AV). This is the highest possible life for such a created being, the summum bonum. In man this culmination has been finally reached: but the work of creating continues. There is a biblical parallel to this in the reconciling work of Christ. This was finished on the Cross (John 19.30). but the work of reconciling men and women to God goes on (2Cor.5.20).

(ii) 'In the Beginning' by Henri Blocher1

In this fine scholarly exegesis, Prof Blocher discusses the interpretations that have been given by conservative scholars of the 'six days plus one'. The scheme he favours is a satisfying one: he calls it the "Literary Interpretation". It has a long and honourable pedigree. Broadly, it regards the 'six days plus one' of the narrative as an artistic arrangement, never intended to be taken literally, chronologically or as one of 'scientific type'. Rather, it represents "the great logical articulation of the divine work". As such, the narrative in its 'six plus one' pattern relativises human work; the goal of creation for man is not work, but the sabbath of communion with the Creator. This in fact, says Prof Blocher, sums up the difference between the biblical and the Marxist visions. Logical and anthropological rather than chronological and cosmological: that is the clue to understanding what the author of Genesis took as his guiding principle here.

I greatly appreciate Prof Blocher's view, though it looks rather different from my own2. I don't think they are contrary by any means. My own concentrates on how the account was framed for its firstrecipients, to influence at once the way they now lived in their unaccustomed freedom: how they did this must have been of great importance in view of their calling as the people of God. But having served that function revelation had to speak with authority to subsequent (and more sophisticated) generations also. Why was there a created cosmos at all, and what was meant to be man's place in it? I think this is more the aspect that Prof Blocher deals with so ably.

(iii) Ethical progress in the Bible

The Israelites had been 430 years in Egypt where they had become a nation of slaves. They escaped under Moses not as a cultured and disciplined people ready for good leadership, appreciative of new liberty, and eager to rise to honourable nationhood. It was largely as an ignorant rabble coarsened by hard slavery, quarrelsome and rebellious; the book of Numbers makes this plain. They had therefore to learn much from scratch. Women had fallen to a low status (quite different from Eve's in Eden); hence the Ten Commandments as first given (Exod.20) said to the Hebrew husband, "You shall not covet your neighbour's house: you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, nor his manservant. . nor his ox . ". Forty years later, when Moses rehearsed them again before entry to the Promised Land, this had become "You shall not covet your neighbour's wife: and you shall not desire your neighbour's house, or field . ." (Deut.5.21). Honour has returned to wifehood! Think of the sabbath, given to remind them every week that God meant them to enjoy restful freedom after labour (see Deut.5.15, and cf. Rom.8.31), not to engage in endless work for greedy material 'advantage'.

These are examples of how Israel was re‑taught right ways of living after tasting the misery of selfwill. God's dealings sought to raise them further in each generation towards the real secret of the happy life. Where a command vital for happiness was re‑emphasized like this, it was wise for it (at first) to be strictly enforced; this explains the severity of Num.15.30‑36. C.S. Lewis illustrated the rationale of this. He imagined a generous ruler making fine roads throughout his countryside and then giving his subjects each the novelty of a fine automobile. Unless he imposed also a highway code, his gift (of power) could be a source of wretched misery! This code had to be strict on all. But should obstinate law‑breaking become really widespread he might have to let it take its course ‑ till such misery resulted that his citizens repented. Isn't this all common sense? Biblical history repeatedly illustrates this: see Ps.81.8‑16 in the Old Testament, and Rom.1.24‑32 in the New; the pattern is permanent. Not till mankind changes its ways, the Bible says, will history's long, tragic story of the rise and fall of powerful, domineering, and collapsing civilizations come to an end.

NOTES

1     IN THE BEGINNING Blocher, Henri  IVP, Leicester 1984

2     I noted in chap. I  how a great book like Oliver Twist can be read validly in several different ways (see its note21).