Sunday, August 5, 2012

What Genesis Can Teach Us about Comparing

The creation story in the Hebrew scriptures has been used to justify many different kinds of order, from hierarchy to egalitarianism, from sexism to equality, from anthropocentrism to theocentrism. Here’s what it teaches me: that when one rightly distinguishes one has no need to compare or judge one as above or below another.

Here’s Everett Fox’s wonderful translation of Genesis 1: 1-21:

At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth,
When the earth was wild and waste,
Darkness over the face of the Ocean,
Rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters—

God said: Let there be light! And there was light.
God saw the light: that it was good.
God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light: Day! And the darkness he called: Night!
There was setting, there was dawning: one day.

God said:
Let there be a dome amid the waters,
And let it separate waters from waters!
God made the dome
And separated the waters that were below the dome from the waters that were above the dome.
It was so.
God called the dome: Heaven!
There was setting, there was dawning: second day.

God said:
Let the waters under the heavens be gathered to one place,
And let the dry land be seen!
It was so
God said:
Let the waters swarm with a swarm of living begins, and let fowl fly above the earth, across the dome of the heavens!
God created the great sea-serpents
And all living beings that crawl about, with which the waters swarmed, after their kind,
And all winged fowl after their kind.
God saw that it was good

In these three creative moments we see what was “waste and wild” being distinguished, the way a painter composes a work of art, separating light and dark, waters above and waters below, swimming creatures in the waters below and flying creatures in the waters above, to create something beautiful that we may enjoy. Distinguishing these pairs does not set up a hierarchy, to show us that the first is best, or that the last is best. Rather, this distinguishing brings forth a beauty that did not exist before. God saw the beauty and recognized the goodness in this distinguishing that led to this beauty—no light without dark, no dark without light; they speak to each other. “Good” cannot be said of light without dark or dark without light. What is “good” must include both light and dark. We are to enjoy the marriage of two distinct ways of being, not choose between them, not compare them.

If the goodness of creation necessarily includes light and dark, above and below, fish and fowl, all that can be distinguished in beauty, how can we human beings, frail earth creatures that we are, compare ourselves to others? How can we not rejoice in the beauty and goodness that depend on our very distinction from one another?


  1. Beautifully said, Mary. Love the Everett Fox translation.

    1. Thanks! That translation is great. It reveals fresh meaning along with capturing the rhythms of the language.