By telling the story of how his people responded to God in various situations of the past, we can discern what our best response to him in the present situation might be. James McPolin SJ explains
God is our Creator not only because he brought the world and man and woman into being. His activity of creation continues. Creation is an event of the beginning and also of the present. God is not to be imagined as a giant clockmaker who constructed the world once upon a time and now lets it run its own course according to the laws he gave it then.
God continues to sustain and preserve us and our world: “How could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? You make springs gush forth in the valleys. You cause the grass to grow for the cattle to use, to bring forth food from the earth. Creatures all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away your breath, they die”(Wisdom 11:25; Ps. 104).
Creation and sin
In communicating his vision of faith in God the Creator, the author of Genesis faces a problem. On the one hand, the world created by God is good: “God saw everything he made and indeed it was very good”. But how can creation be good if there is so much evil and sin, especially sins of violence, vengeance and disharmony (as described in those chapters following the positive accounts of creation, e.g. Chs. 3, 4, 6, 11)?
Cain murders his brother Abel. He becomes fatally jealous and a vicious circle of guilt and revenge among human beings is set in motion. There is a fall away from faith in God. The author sees a total disintegration of humanity. People do not understand one another; they are always fighting with each other and trying to get the upper hand. People live on the defensive, in a state of siege. He sees the reality and universality of the hostility which human beings show towards God.
He cannot say human beings were created evil by God; nor can he say they are in a harmonious relationship with God. He is convinced that the blame cannot be placed on God. His faith tells him that God does not will the present state of affairs. Why, then, is the world created by God, exactly the opposite of what it should be? Who is responsible?
His response is provided by his account of the fall and “original sin”. The story is told in images and language of the culture of the time. The story of eating the forbidden fruit means that man and woman wanted to be like God, to usurp God’s power, to have complete mastery over their own destiny, not to obey God any more but rather decide for themselves what the criterion of moral behaviour in life is. Taking the forbidden fruit is a way of describing the abusive use of liberty against God, hence, against human beings themselves. By their rebellion, they distort their relationship with God, with one another and with the world. This is the way the author explains original sin.
St Paul clarifies it further by reminding us what life would be like without Christ. It is he who delivers us from the power of evil and enables us to lead a good life (Romans Ch. 5).
Sin affects us down to our very roots but it does not eliminate our capacity for doing good. Original sin is the reverse side of the Good News that Jesus is the Saviour of all, that all of us need salvation and that salvation comes to us through him.
Baptism enables us to face up to evil and involves us in the Christian community who hope in God and expect God to help them overcome evil through Jesus Christ. The new Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a person back towards God but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in human beings and summon them to struggle against evil”.
Now it is time to consider briefly how we must respond to creation and to our Creator.
Thanksgiving and praise
Constantly the Bible, especially in the Psalms, invites us to thank and praise God for his creation: “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you” (Ps 145). The entire creation, heaven and earth, sun, moon and stars, dew and rain, lightening and clouds are invited to praise God. Thus even animals, living and material things are given a voice with which to thank and praise God.
This is a way of stating that the love, goodness, wisdom and power of God are manifested to us in all creation in its rich diversity.
We meet this kind of praise of creation in later Christian spirituality, for example in the Canticle of the Sun of St Francis Assisi, who calls all living creatures and material things his brothers and sisters because they reflect the love and power of our Creator.
Praise be to you, you Lord of mine, with all your creatures, especially the Lord brother, the sun. For he is the day and bestows light on us through himself. And he is beautiful and radiant in great splendour. Your emblem he bears, you, Most High.
We are called to respond to God as Creator in a spirit of trust as he lovingly upholds and keeps us and all creation in being: “They all look to you to give them their food in due season” (Ps. 104).
We recognize in our Creator the basis of solidarity of all human beings.
All of us are created by God, by the one Father. Therefore, we are all equal and of value before him. An offence against a brother or sister is an offence against our Creator.
Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why, then, are we faithless to one another? Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honour him (Mal 2:1; Prov 14:31).
The creation accounts show that God created the earth and its fullness (its rich diversity) for all the people of the earth. Human beings are not given full ownership because “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Ps 24). They have secondary care of it. They are not owners in the sense thaf they can do with it what they want. The resources of the earth are not meant justt for those with the economic, political or military power to take them for themselves. The goods of creation are intended for sharing. Both the Old and New Testament are definite about this.
Care of the earth
Man and woman are made in the image and likeness ot God. This means that they enjoy a share in God’s power over the world. They have a dignity which enables them to act as God’s representatives in the world, maintain order in God’s creation, be partners with him in the ongoing developmentof the universe. In this context we must understand the words: “Fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish, the birds and every living thing” (Gen. Ch 1).
This power over tbe earth they share with God. It is not a license to kill, or destroy the world, or pollute the environment, the atmosphere, the sea and the rivers with their own chemical inventions, thus endangering not only the life of our planet but also the lives of human beings. Neither is it a permission to strip the earth of forests, thus damaging the land in many ways, nor does it permit richer nations, who seek cheap natural resources, to exploit the poorer nations and make the poor even poorer. Rather, it is a call to care for our earth not as absolute owners but rather as partners, cocreators with God in the ongoing development of the universe.
The new creation
The New Testament deepens even further our understanding of God our Creator and his creation.
Jesus confirms what Genesis teaches us about the complete oneness of man and woman, their physical and spiritual unity, their mutual belonging in relation to marriage.
The early preachers, especially St Paul, found it important to tell those who were not Jews (called Gentiles) and who believed in many Gods, about the one, Creator God. He states that creation manifests the invincible power and divinity of God and that the world sometimes serves creatures instead of the Creator (Rom Ch. 1).
In one important respect the New Testament perfects what was implicit in the Old – that God the Creator, with whom Israel was acquainted, is now revealed as the Father of Jesus Christ. Jesus is closely associated with the Father in all creative activity and, therefore, is the “one Lord through whom all things exist and by whom we are”.
A new creation has begun with Christ who died and rose for us and who communicates new life to us through his Spirit, his word and sacrament. If we live according to the Spirit of Jesus we are ‘new creatures’, a new creation.
This article first appeared in The Messenger (April 2000), a Jesuit publication.