Creation: The Symbolism in Genesis

In Genesis, the serpent and the trees that grow in the Garden of Eden can be understood as being plot devices that move the story of Mankind’s creation as a perfect creature, who falls and is saved and redeemed by its Creator. The Serpent is symbolic of the cunning wickedness of evil.  We are tempted to usurp God’s authority by appropriating what belongs to Him, to become gods by our own power, eating from the tree that holds the knowledge of good and evil.

Science, which expands our knowledge of the world around us, presents us with a vision that can also be considered a literary device. The images that we manipulate are symbols that people may take for reality. They are the means by which we connect with what is physically around us, entities as molecules, quarks, space-time.

In Genesis, human attributes are represented by the concept of trees; the ideas, the symbols and theories of science are all fruits of a tree in the Garden that would represent the reality of our participation in the world. The trees also include art, music, philosophy, sports and festivals, and their fruit are God’s gifts of which we partake and which now cause us suffering in their absence. They manifest themselves in time and space, spiritual in nature and taking physical shape within the relationship that is our being in the world. They too are grown from the dust of the earth, in the very structure of our brains, which when they are intact, may allow for their expression as mental phenomena. As we contemplate such things, we are eating of one such fruit whose origin is the spirit, actualized here and now in the world. What better way to visualize that truth of our existence.

With his first choice and subsequent acts, the serpent, evermore rejecting the eternal Divine Source of existence, has relinquished his arms, his capacity to love, to give and create. He silently slithers in the dust, that to which we will all return and which he is said to eat for his sustenance, the purveyor of transient and illusory goods. As God’s messenger destined to bring us news of the Light, Lucifer cannot but fulfill that destiny in spite of himself; turning from God, he does so by seducing us from that heavenly light, only to reveal the true depth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.

Contemplation of the Unity that is the Person

Maybe we can get closer to the mystery of what it is to be human, a person, contemplating the nature of our experience in this moment.

The experience we are having here, right now is a whole: the monitor in front of us, thoughts, keyboard, words flow into one another within a single consciousness that cannot be defined, but contains various elements having different qualities.

Let’s focus on one system or structure: the physical. This monitor is physical as are the colors and letters it displays. The visual experience exists for us because of neural processes that communicate with one another – from the cells in our retinas to the neurons in our cerebral cortex. If any part of this is disturbed, we will be blind – the display as it exists in our visual world will disappear. Consider that the functioning nervous system that we can imagine out there, part of the physical world, is actually the phenomenon that is being experienced this moment. At the same time that this display is our nervous system, it is also the physical display itself. Within this experience there is a unity of what we are and what we are observing. 

This leads us to consider a second system of structure that constitutes this experience: that of mind. What is happening, although it relates to physical processes that can be chemically analyzed and otherwise measured and described, includes seeing, thinking and feeling. Through our senses, we enter into a relationship with the world around us. Mind brings our world into existence as the frame of reference giving us our particular understanding of the universe. The “information/data/input” is cognitively organized; the world we experience is shaped through learning that occurs through direct contact and societal teachings. So I am whomever, living wherever, working as whatever. (This is pretty amazing stuff.) The monitor in front of us is perceived and understood as an object having particular components, out there, being observed by us in here. The mind generally makes sense of things in terms of what it knows, but can see things afresh. We note that body and mind do not control one another – moving the physical entity that is the keyboard and the perception of its movement exist as a unity, they are a whole. Thinking also takes place as neurons fire in particular patterns. One person, two ways of understanding him/her.

This of course leads us to the spirit. We exist, understand, know beauty and goodness; we act and our actions/lives have meaning. The wholeness that is this experience that we each are experiencing individually, is situated in the now, a now which is finite, in that it does not encompass the All, but has no dimensions. It is ever still, as time, events and experiences pass through it. It is God’s breath, making this moment be. The tiny dot that skims the page and gives life to these words, gives them meaning, emerges from He whose Being is within all, encompassing all time and space, eternal. We can therefore love Him and love each other, perceive and participate in the creation of what is beautiful. We can exercise our will in accordance to His wish for us: the Good, Himself. We can also choose otherwise. 

An Existential Understanding of Matter

Matter exists; it is a form of being. An atom, itself exists as a whole, exhibiting specific properties that arise from its constituent parts, particularly protons and electrons, The number of protons define it as a specific element, having a place on the periodic table.

Science long ago separated compounds into elements that exhibit individual properties. Elements have been reduced to the smallest unit that exhibits the elements properties – the atom. Atoms and other forms of matter and energy have been broken down into quantum events. Subatomic events such as the photon, we have discovered, can exist as individual particles or merged, in this case as a light beam, where they behave as waves.

The simplest atom is that of Hydrogen, which fuses within the sun to form  heavier elements. Atoms come together as molecules. These forms of matter, atoms and molecules, interact by means of their electromagnetic properties, the electrons and protons of which they are constituted. These interactions have an associated shape. The Carbon atom has a tetrahedral shape. This allows for the complexity that is found in the myriad of different organic molecules.

Proteins are one type of organic molecule that provides for the structures and functions that make up living organisms. The role that a particular protein plays in a living organism has to do with the particular shape that is formed by its electrostatic forces. Proteins provide structure such as the toughness of skin or sturdiness in bones, allow for movement in muscles, carry out communication between organ systems, as hormones and transmitters, transport nutrients such as oxygen in red blood cells, assist in the balance of fluids by drawing and maintaining water in blood vessels, and protect the body from disease as antibodies.

The complexities of matter in time and space grow as the events, from the smallest to the largest, coalesce. The subatomic allows for existence of atoms, which join to form molecules, combining as intracellular organs, making possible cells, which are specialized to make possible organ systems, all of which together constitute the bodies of animals. Diverse animal species are possible as a result of their particular physical make up.

In addition to their material structure, living things exhibit behavioural characteristics, which are beyond the basic and elemental forces of nature. We can describe the over-all organization of matter as a particular soul that makes a cat, for example, a cat.

Even if catness were an illusion rather than a revelation of a kind of living thing, it would be a feature of mankind’s soul or existential being, an attribute that brings together the matter, which we are and to which we relate on the outside, through our senses. To varying degrees and in different ways we manifest the human capacity to understand the world’s physical and moral foundations, and act upon that knowledge. Our physical being includes that of matter at each level described above, subsumed by the human soul, which allows for all those processes to express that humanity in time and space.

The Unconscious

Just as with the physical dimension of the person-in-the-world, where an infinitely complex series of material events are involved in the production of each moment, there are patterns of mental functioning which are not available to reason. Each action, thought or feeling is the product of a complex network of meanings which involves the totality of the person and stretches back beyond her birth and out into her family, community and the world in its entirety. An action affects the other who in turn is changed by that interaction and who then goes on to affect others. Just as all particles in the universe exert some influence on all others, persons reverberate to each other’s actions. The person is clearly unaware of the myriad of events that have come to play in even the most trivial of experiences.

Included in the unconscious are elements that we actively do not wish to acknowledge. In the service of self-preservation, at early stages of emotional development, dangerous and unacceptable ideas, impulses, and feelings were dealt with in such a way as to prevent them from becoming conscious. Remaining unconscious, these childish wishes and fears are unable to mature; they remain untouched by experience and continue to seek their infantile aims. According to the Psychoanalytic topographic model, therapy permits growth by rendering the unconscious, conscious.

One’s perceptions and actions are determined by factors that are not immediately evident to one’s rational mind. There is an unconscious aspect to the mind. At this moment one may have a series of opinions regarding this statement. What one thinks of the idea of the unconscious and other concepts does not exist as a static reality but rather emerges as a series of associations. One realizes how one feels about a subject by contemplation. One comes to know one’s thoughts, attitudes, and reactions toward given phenomena by allowing oneself the opportunity to ponder them. The reality of oneself is revealed as one (acts/thinks/?) in the world.

Matter and Mind: An Old Joke

Someone tells a joke; their breath passes through their vocal cords and mouth and emerges as a set of vibrations in the surrounding air. These vibrations, in turn, produce a series of changes in the tympanic membrane of the listener. The pattern is transformed, within the middle and inner ear, into one of neuronal communication through cellular membrane and synaptic changes. In this case, light is elited from the monitor as a pettern of spectral frequencies, seen as colours and shapes. In both cases the sensory messages are further processed within the various midbrain, limbic, and cortical areas of the brain. The effect is, in turn, felt throughout the body as blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory, and muscular changes ensue. This happens because the joke has a meaning; it is funny and the person laughs . . . or groans.

Without an understanding of what “funny” means the activity we observe makes no sense. This very looking for sense or meaning to behaviour, itself reflects our being psychological beings. We organize events in terms of their meaning or significance. Even if one observes that all seems purposeless (especially in this case which touches upon the spiritual, existential reality of the person), the reality of the person as a being that structures experience into systems of meanings is clearly evident.

The Person: A Spiritual, Psychophysical Unity, Suffering and Healing

Stothard, Thomas; The Fall; Glynn Vivian Art Gallery;

The person can be described as multidimensional. The person firstly exists and does so as an individual participant within the larger universe. The fact of her existence would be a concrete, living truth which is a creative and dynamic unity. Ultimately a person becomes who one is through the free expression of their will. One’s actions make the potential a reality. The person participates in their creation from a universal basis which is the spiritual, existential reality of their being a psychophysiological unity. This unity is relational with the person as a separate, individual participant in the world. The separateness of our reality is felt as aloneness and in the experiences of anxiety and despair. We are anxious of the possibility of, and despair at the realities of death, condemnation, and meaninglessness. Our ills have physical, psychological, and ultimately spiritual dimensions. They are ultimately spiritual because suffering involves the totality of the person and brings us to a recognition of our existential aloneness. Healing’s aim is to re-establish the wholeness of the person in the world, involving the right relationship with it. Physically this means an intervention involving matter: surgery, pharmacotherapy, prosthetic devices and so on. Psychologically, it involves a recognition and resolution of conflicts. Spiritually speaking, healing involves the development of an attitude of acceptance and thankful dependence. In psychiatry these three separate healing roles are adopted through the administration of medication and the “talking cure” both of which are carried out in an atmosphere of understanding as two persons share their solitude.

Creation: Reflections on the Book of Job

Gerhard Seghers

God tests Job, who proceeds to accuse and question God. In reply, God reveals His power and wisdom through the grandeur and wondrousness of this universe He has created and maintains in existences. We are humbled and can hold him only in the deepest of reverence. Although we cannot always see the reason behind divine providence, especially in the case of suffering, we trust that God is good and wise. We submit to His divine will, in faith that creation is justly ordered. Jesus Christ is the final answer to Job, through and in Him we come to know God as Love.

The Book of Job

Job1-1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.

His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.

One day the angels[a] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan[b] also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Job 42:1  Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 

Thoughts on the Six Days of Creation

These exists a depth of meaning contained in the creation story in the Book of Genesis. With respect to what it says about how everything within time and space has come to be, we can ascertain certain key facts:

  • Creation, while maintained in existance by God, does so in itself, as other to which God relates and loves. It is configured in accordance with a set of universal rules, which can be revealed by reason. It has a beginning, brought forth by an act of God from nothing. It is not God, nor a configuration of something eternal, say emanating from God as would a dream. 
  • It was created in a sequential order, from the general to the specific, the simple to the complex, utilizing what had previously created to bring into existence something new. 
  • The stars, plants, fish, birds, animals and animals are different kinds of being. They exist as themselves and when we get to living things, they multiply themselves and exhibit increasingly complex behaviour. 
  • We are each of us an individual expression of one humanity, beginning with Adam, who individually and as an expression of what is fundamental to human nature, committed the original sin, which brought suffering into the world. 

Yesteryear’s Science

The first chapter of Genesis reads like a chronological record of what occurs as volcanic islands emerge from the sea, first filling with vegetation, then surrounded by sea creatures and occupied by birds, and only later by animals. Written in terms of today’s rather than yesteryear’s science, we might speak about how God created a singularity, followed by its transformation into an amorphous universal plasma, from which He made atoms and so forth. People then observed the the way things evolve on islands that pop up in the Mediterranean and elsewhere under the canopy of an awesome blue dome above, separated from the blue sea around us. If one can envision Hubble images in the night sky, it is not that difficult to see what we saw in earlier times. It just takes some letting go of the belief that our images are the world rather than the means by which our mind allows us to connect to it. 

Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Genesis 1:

> 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good,and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

> 6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

> 9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.> 11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

> 14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

> 20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

> 24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

> 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

> 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

> 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

> 29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

> 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Reflections on Genesis and Science

By William Blake – The William Blake Archive, Public Domain,

Depending on one’s interpretations, Genesis does not contradict the facts of science.

These facts, however, would not include evolutionary theory as it is commonly understood, asserting that all this diversity and complexity is the result of random physical events selected on the basis of survivability. Although stated as such, Darwinism is not fact, but rather a way to put together facts into a coherent piscture that we can easily understand. While it clearly can explain microevolution and how many genetic conditions have emerged, it falls short in helping us understand how this wondrous world has come into being.

A major contradiction between these two descriptions about our origins is a superficial, marked discrepancy in the timelines. Is the earth is thousands or billions of years old? One should bear in mind that this being the year 5781 according to the Jewish calendar has little relevance to the practice of Jewish faith, which is very much interested in the order of holy days as they occur during the cycle of each year. The date was determined by a Rabbi Yose ben Halafta who made the calculation in the 2nd century, that creation had occurred 4000 years before. It is not revealed truth, but rather an opinion based on an understanding of Genesis, against which science has irrefutable arguments.

There are some minor differences in translations, but essentially Genesis asserts that we were moulded from the slime of the earth. In terms of how we understand the physical world today, we would imagine that at some point God created atoms, and organized them into organic molecules, to then bring them together in the creation of life in its most primitive, unicellular form. From that basis, He created animals and ultimately us. We did not evolve from slime; it did not transform itself into persons. The slime, the dust, the earth was used to form our bodily nature.

As to the six days, we are not distorting the message to consider that Genesis is speaking a collection of activities that comprise a day’s work, rather than the earth measuring time as it spins on its axis. Since it has not been generally revealed, it seems arrogant to claim that one knows what God considers one day. One cycle of creation might be how long it takes the earth to spin full circle, but it could be any, even different lengths of time, from a human perspective, that encompasses His progressive creation of the universe. Each of the six “days” sees the bringing into existence of each successive layer, which constitutes the substrate of the next. It must also be remembered that the division of the day into numerical figures, seconds and hours, although invented 5500 years ago, is something new to most people’s lives, popularized since the coming of train schedules and clocks. And, now we know that even the time that clocks keep varies between them depending on their relative velocities.

At this point, it is important to reflect that the focus on quantitites, strips events of their inherent meaning. The abhorrence that materialism can evoke, has to do with the contemplation of existence without beauty, without goodness, without purpose. The quantifiable is actually merely one small, usually the most insignificant, part of any being. Modern Physics and Mathematics are elements of our spiritual nature, trees in the garden that is the totality of our relationship with the world, bearing much fruit. Consider that our relationship with matter is ultimately a faculty of the spirit, involving material interactions, within and around us, permitted by our physical nature and utilizing our mental capacities. While we try to formulate a coherent unified picture of reality, there does not exist one large physical experiential universe. What we have is a multitude of persons, one in themselves and one with the world, sharing our experiences of the moment. Within the totality of the world about ourselves, each physical process and each living being exists as itself, and as a potential other to which we may relate, through our capacities to perceive, to understand, to feel about and to act upon. Unfortunately, that formal reality, filtered through a mathematical grid, may be experienced as merely a shadow of what is.

What we see in the world around us is a hierarchy of being, each layer existing in its own right, constituted by that which exists below, while participating in what is above. At the bottom lie the subatomic, and at the top, we ourselves, who, in Christ, are destined to meet God in the Beatific Vision, encompassing everything, everywhere and in every time, the infinite Divine Fount from which all springs forth.

Where the term evolution is another, rather poor way, way to speak of creation, then it describes the truth, the successive bringing into creation a hierarchy of being. However, if it is proposed that elementary particles came together solely by virtue of their inherent properties, it goes off-track. Where it would stray into absurdity is to claim that the fundamental properties of nature acting randomly resulted mathematics and what we are doing here, discussing these matters.