Written by Pastor Aaron Decker. Posted in Light and Life

When the ancient rabbis read the creation story, it caused them no end of wondering.  One example comes in a debate over the nature of the first verse of Genesis 1.  “In the beginning,” it says, “God created the heavens and the earth.”  But which did God create first--the heavens, or the earth?

The debate, as recorded in the Midrash Rabbah on Genesis, was a good one, and one which took place between the two major schools of thought in the ancient world, in the century before Christ.  The school of Rabbi Shammai declared that heaven was created first, and then earth.  After all, in Isaiah 66:1 we read, “Thus says the Lord:  Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool.”  And who would build the ottoman before the chair?  No, clearly one would build the throne first, and so heaven must have been created first.

The school of Rabbi Hillel disagrees.  They insist that one reads in Psalm 102:25, “Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.”  And so, Hillel compares the heavens to a building, and the earth to that building’s foundations.  One must, of course, lay the foundation first before making the building.

The first time I read this bit of 2000-year old wisdom, I couldn’t help but laugh aloud.  (Yes, I literally “LOL’d.”)  After all, who in their right mind would lay dispute over such a silly question?  Who cares which was created first?  It’s certainly not the sort of thing a scholar in today’s world would say.

Claus Westermann, author of our time’s most important commentary on Genesis, has this to say about the first verse of Genesis:  “[The heavens and the earth] together mean the universe.  But there can be an important difference when a given totality is described by one word or by two opposites.  It is common to all languages to describe totality by two words...Even though we know that our earth is but a tiny fraction of a myriad of systems, nevertheless it is only from our situation on earth that we are capable of grasping the limitless sweep of the universe.”  And on and on, in like language.

Which of these responses to creation resonates with you more?  I think, when one really carefully examines the two, they really end up saying the same thing in very different language.  In the ancient world, one was driven to questions, to rhetoric, to metaphor in seeking knowledge.  Today, in our post-enlightenment society, we have a tendency to fill space with long, wordy explanations to designate a precise answer.  But for both, the answer is the same.

Whether one wonders at the “limitless sweep of the universe,” or dwells in the joyful, playful imaginings of how it all got started, one cannot help be amazed at creation.  When we proclaim God as Creator, we proclaim something far beyond our comprehension.  We cannot understand how God managed to put all this together--from the tiniest subatomic quarks to the widest galactic clusters.  We can only praise God in wonder for His incredible works, and laugh out loud with joy at what God has done.  And is doing every day.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Aaron

O, God!  You made me, and all that is!  What wondrous joy!  Amen!