It is beautiful. The account of the creation, simple, majestic and glorious, occupies no more than one and a half columns in the scroll of the Torah, perhaps two pages at most in printed books. Yet it describes the unfolding of all things.
The story grips me year by year. I can see it all unfold before me, as if I had got up before dawn and was watching the first light emerge to dissipate the darkness, clarifying in lines and patches of black and grey the vague distinction between land and sea, revealing the sharp edges of rocks above the water. The branches of nearby trees solidify in the waning dark, moist with the cold night’s condensation from the last day’s humid air. Among the twigs the birds begin to call, crying out to each across the vibrant waters into which the tide has begun to flows in waves which throw back the sun’s first strident, horizontal light. The last stars have long faded and now the moon too disappears. In what had seemed before like black, empty space stand sheep on the muddy grass and a horse looks up from its grazing in the field below. For a few minutes this green and grey calm of birdsong and sheep cries feels like the entire universe. Then a door opens, a child emerges with scarf and satchel and a voice calls out ‘Have a good day and don’t leave your lunchbox at school’.
Could every day be the wonder of creation? Could that same God who, according to the Bible, spoke and the world came into being, and who said of each day ‘that it was good’ still be speaking within that same creation and remain insistent that it is both beautiful and good?
Of course, the modern mind, used to assessing materials for their accuracy, their correspondence to empirical verifiable reality, has question. ‘Is it true? Did it actually happen that way?’ Immediately the battle of the interpretations begins: the Bible doesn’t really mean six days, but six periods of time. Hasn’t if, after all, got the order broadly correct, beginning with light and moving on through the increasing sophistication of organic matter to the emergence of the human being as the final stage of evolution so far?
These issues are by not unimportant. But compared with the simplicity, beauty and wonder of the Biblical narrative they feel as if they have missed the point, rather like when someone asks their partner ‘Do you love me?’ and he or she answers by enquiring ‘What’s the time?’
I was recently given a book called Missing Lives. It describes people, of all faiths and all sides, who were murdered in the Balkan wars and who simply ‘disappeared’. The book contains many photographs of the locations where these killings are understood to have taken place, mountains, pretty villages, riversides, waterfalls. I wonder whether, had they heard the voice of God within the glory of these landscapes, in the flowing waters and the living trees, and in the hearts of their victims, the perpetrators could ever have brought themselves to commit such acts of desecration.