by: George P. Fletcher on January 25th, 2016 | Comments Off
These four Hebrew words – vyar Elohim kitov. – reveal a deep and engaging paradox.The passage could be rendred as: God saw the lights and therefore it was good, or the opposite: God recognized that the light was inherently good.In the first, God is the exclusive actor and source of reality. The key to this structural ambiguity lies in the connective ‘ki’ which could be translated as “like’ or as ‘because.’ A parallel ambiguity arises in the famous line in Deuteronomy, repeated many times in Christian texts: Love your neighbor like (ki) your self. Does this mean “Love your neighbor as (ki) you love yourself” or rather “Love your neighbor because (ki) she is like you.” The beauty of this phrase is that it packs a powerful message in three Hebrew words, like the four words in our passage. The price of brevity is the resulting ambiguity. Of course, the ambiguity produced in both cases by the connective ki might simply be the way of inducing us to think about the alternative messages.
We have revealed the paradox in Genesis but not resolved it. The first prong is thatGod’s seeing – the gaze itself – makes the light good? This, appealingly, concentrates all power of creation in a single source: nothing exists independently of the Creator’s power. But should we acknowledge that God’s mere focusing ‘His’ (‘Her’ ‘Its’)eyes has a creative force? This would run afoul of Rambam’s admonition not to take seriously metaphoric references to God’s body. Thinking that God has eyes and actually looks at the light would be – in Rambam’s terms – a form of idolatry. Yet it is hard for human beings to resist suggestive representations – witness the explosion of symbolic statutory images in Catholicism.
How is it possible for God to act in the world without a corporal presence? Learnado’s vision of God’s touching of Adam, as depicted in the Sistine Chapel, makes good sense as art but not as theology.The reliance on speech as the medium of creation offers a solution to how creation might occur without – or with minimal divine presence. Speech, like God, is a fleeting as the wind. The creation of light was, in John Searle’s vocabulary, a classic speech act.God said it and eo ipso it happened. The problem, which will become more intense in a later passage, is whether God is talking to anyone.
If we want to avoid to avoid the problem of idolatry, we could take Genesis 1:4 as a metaphor and reason that God sees without eyes. The idea would be that God recognizes the nature of light as good.