Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Why is the creation so important?

Posted by Robert C. on February 19, 2010

We receive an account of the 7 days of creation in the Old Testament, in the Book of Moses, in the Book of Abraham, and in the temple. We are studying these accounts in Sunday school this year, and there is a lesson in the Gospel Principles manual coming up next month or so (and I’m scheduled to teach it, so I have ulterior motives here!). The creation account must be important for us to ponder and study. But why?

Every answer I can think of leaves me somewhat unsatisfied. Please help me! Some ideas I’ve had or heard:

1. Historical account? I don’t think this is a historical account that we are supposed to study or understand in scientific terms.

2. Ponder and rejoice in the gift of creation?Perhaps we are supposed to just ponder the gift of creation, and rejoice in it. I think this is a good partial answer, but what is the significance of each of the 7 days? Why repeat so often this particular 7-day chronology?

3. Hidden symbolic meaning?. One of the more interesting ideas I’ve read on this approach to the creation is this article on “The Creation Weave” where the structure of the 6 days are analyzed as parallel to each other, and ideas from Jewish mysticism are invoked to try and understand deeper meanings of creation. I’m actually quite interested in these kinds of readings, but somehow I worry about the risk of looking beyond the mark and forcing meaning to be there that isn’t there.

As I wonder about this question, I wonder more generally about the purpose of reading scriptures. On the one hand, perhaps this is a dangerous or misguided question. After all, if we could clearly identify the reason that we study the scripture, then perhaps we then wouldn’t need to study the scriptures. That is, the scriptures would then become merely a means toward that greater end, thus instrumentalizing the scriptures in an ultimately perverse way. I think this idea can be related back to #2 above: in studying the scriptures, including the creation account, we demonstrate (and enact) our gratitude for God’s world and word.

On the other hand, I still think we should read the scriptures thoughtfully, and try to understand them better, including the purposes that particular scriptures and scriptural themes might serve. For example, when I contemplate the fall, or the atonement, it is easy for me to find interesting details that force me to rethink my own life, my family, my ward, and the world more generally in terms of how it all fits together, what the purpose of this life is, and how each of these parts help “bring about the immortality and eternal life of man.” After all, sin and redemption are common themes even in popular literature (and esp. in great literature). But creation is not, as far as I can tell. I think the reason for this is that sin and redemption are topics that are obviously productive to study. The better we understand their nature, the better we understand ourselves and things within our immediate sphere of control. But what purpose does studying creation serve? Or, again, is this kind of the point, that creation is a grace, that exceeds all appropriation of this sort, and the details of creation should be read as a kind of repeating reminder of this point, that every aspect of creation is a symbol of this non-appropriable grace?

Or what?!

20 Responses to “Why is the creation so important?”

  1. J. Madson said

    I do like that the genesis and other accounts of creation are very different from many of the ANE accounts, particularly as it speaks to God’s character.

  2. robf said

    Robert, something jumped out at me in what you wrote–what could possibly be more productive than studying creation? Isn’t that the whole divine enterprise?

  3. BrianJ said

    “After all, if we could clearly identify the reason that we study the scripture, then perhaps we then wouldn’t need to study the scriptures.”

    Hah! I love it!

    I’ve been listening to some lectures on ancient literature and the professor makes the claim that what separated the God of Abraham from all the other gods at the time was that he seemed to have compassion for man—that the other religious traditions have gods that aren’t so much interested in a one-on-one relationship that looks more like Father/son than it does God/subject. I’d have to do some more reading to see if I buy this claim, but it is at least intriguing. Anyway, to get to your point: our creation accounts sets up the relationship that we have with our God: did he make us for fun, like little pets? are we accidents? did he just find us? More than anything, I think the answer is that he really cares about us as individuals.

    And maybe it’s hard for us to see just how radically personal our creation myth is (in comparison to other religions’ myths) because we have so much other scripture where we find compassion/charity messages.

  4. Jacob J said

    When I was on my mission I was always looking for people to talk to so I had developed a few questions I would ask people I didn’t know to test if they were thinkers or not. There was no “right” answer I was looking for, but I found that I could tell if someone would be interesting to discuss things with based on whatever answer they gave. The question posed in the first paragraph was one of the questions I used.

    It has been a long time since then and although I accepted the premise at the that time, I don’t think I accept the premise anymore. Just because we have 4 accounts of creation, I am not convinced it follows that it must be important to study the creation. I think it reflects more on the theological importance of the creation narrative historically.

    Assume for a moment that the creation story in Genesis was largely cribbed from the Babylonian creation account and then the Jewish and Christian religions subsequently built a bunch of theology on top of that creation story. In such a scenario, it is the fact that people through the years have built so much theology around this story that makes it important, rather than some hidden mysteries we are supposed to pry out of it.

  5. NathanG said

    I’ve been wondering this since the beginning of the year. I ended up teaching this lesson in Gospel Doctrine.

    I don’t think it’s a particularly useful historical account, but I do think there is value in reading this. The order of the Genesis/Moses account stands out this go around, thanks in part at least to Jim’s notes, and a link within his notes (and I haven’t looked at your link yet). There is a neat parallel between the first 3 days and the 2 three days. In each there is a description of organization (separation for the first three days). Day 1 separate light from dark, 2 separate water from sky, day three separate land from water and plant life appears. Now go back to putting things that “move” and have dominion. Day 4 sun and moon rule over light and dark or Day and Night, day 5 water and air creatures, day 6 land loving animals with man as a culmination of the creation of the 6th day. 7th day rest. First three days create things to be acted upon and second three days create things to act (kind of a stretch wtih our modern understanding of the sun, moon, earth, and stars, but I’m sure it was very meaningful back in the day).

    From this we get lessons of God’s nature and his interest in us as mentioned above. We get a sense of organization and planning (especially with consideration of spiritual creation (whatever that really means) and physical creation). Abraham account throws in this obedience of all things created, except for ironically, man (unless you want to quibble over what it means that the serpent was among many that were led away by Satan). The creation gives the setting for the garden and the eventual fall of man.

    I have to think that somehow studying this is important, given the multiple accounts of the creation. In addition, there are numerous accounts of preaching in the Book of Mormon, particularly the many accounts in Alma, where the creation is the beginning of what is taught to recover apostate Nephites and preach the gospel to the Lamanites. Numerous allusions to the creation account are woven into the story of Noah and the flood, which Jim talked about as a mirror image of the creation.

    And somehow, I think I’m only at the beginning (if even) of an understanding of why we have the creation accounts. I say keep studying. As for the other concerns, I think returning to the temple helps to keep any thoughts of creation and extra meaning focused on an understanding of the plan of salvation and Christ’s central role within the plan.

  6. Why is the creation important to study? Why is it important?

    Can you articulate what dissatisfies you about the answers you’ve already come up with? Sometimes that can help you find better answers.

    What would it be like if we didn’t have the scriptural account of the creation? How would that change the way that we look at the world?

    How does knowing the creation account affect the way you learn natural science? How does knowing the creation account affect the way you view plants and animals?

    Some principles I get from studying the creation accounts are
    1 – It’s important to lay a basic foundation
    2 – Take large projects in stages
    3 – Gradual refinement
    4 – The importance of creating an environment conducive to what you want to happen

    Something I thought of was related to something I read about how things were described not by how they were, but how they acted. This may be a useful way of viewing the creation story—as a way things acted to form this laboratory we call the earth.

    Something I’ve also thought was interesting about the creation is how God says “let there be light” and then calls the light day and the darkness night. The only thing I can think of that comes close to this majestic naming of phenomena is in computer programming. When you first start a new program in C you start with

    Int main void ()
    { And then put everything in these brackets.
    }

    And then you have to start declaring variables of different types and give them names. And then you do things with those variables.
    I don’t know. Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch for you, but I like it.

    Other ideas about the importance of creation:
    THERE IS A PURPOSE FOR CREATION. (Purpose is HUGE.)
    The creation is for us.
    If the vastness and wonder of creation was for us, then our purpose is JUST AS HUGE. (Exaltation)
    Thus, the creation testifies to us of the glory of exaltation, and is a down payment of whatever kingdom of glory we will receive.

    That’s all I can come up with for now.

  7. Michelle said

    I am reading a book that has really enhanced my perspective on the creation account — The Hidden Christ, by James Ferrell. He draws parallels with the creation/progress of the earth and our creation/progress.

    I found it really fascinating.

    I agree with those who think that multiple accounts point to importance.

    I also think it not insignificant to realize that when we first ‘meet’ God, He is in the mode of Creator…sort of along the lines of what has already been said. When a friend pointed that out to me, it brought a whole new level of meaning to the account(s) for me.

  8. Robert C. said

    Thanks for very helpful thoughts, everyone.

    I was looking at the article I linked to in the post again, and there are some great possibilities explored there. Also, I’m going to look at Ferrell’s book and see how he approaches this. I can’t help thinking that there is much, much more I can learn from the creation account (though I’m also sympathetic to Jacob’s point…), and these comments give me several ideas to explore. Hopefully, these efforts will prove fruitful and lead to more helpful future posts on this topic.

  9. rameumptom said

    Brian #3, I agree with the concept that Yahweh offered to be a personal God to Abraham. According to ANE tradition, El Elyon divided the nations among his divine sons during the days of Peleg.
    Yahweh was given the nation of Israel. Well, since Israel did not yet exist, Yahweh had to create the nation. He did this by choosing Abraham to be the founder. He made Abraham his own divine son, just as he was El Elyon’s divine son. In fact, he changed Abram to Abraham, possibly by giving Abraham an “H” out of his own holy name! He shared his own priesthood with him, delivered Abraham from being killed by the priest of Elkenah and traditionally from Nimrod’s fiery furnace.
    The traditions show Abraham destroying the idols of Nimrod and Terah, then claiming the idols killed each other. None of them were able to eat the feasts brought before them, or speak. But Yahweh spoke with Abraham. In fact, Abraham saw El Elyon in vision, when Yahweh, the angel of El’s presence, rescued him (Abraham 1). Abraham understood his relationship as Yahweh’s chosen son, even as Yahweh was El’s Chosen Son.

  10. ricke said

    I personally feel that Farrell’s book is hopelessly naive. I don’t have it with me, but a good paraphrase of his premise is that everything in scriptures points to Christ. He then proceeds to take a few examples from Genesis and other books and forces them to be prefigurements of Jesus’s life or experience. He conveniently skips over the difficult stories such as Lot and his daughters or Levi’s and Simeon’s destruction of Shechem. To me, his book is like reading your horoscope at the end of the day. If you are determined to see something, you can (almost always) force yourself to see it.

  11. kirkcaudle said

    Ricke, that is exactly the thinking I was getting at with this thread I posted a while back.

    http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2010/01/27/christ-in-the-old-testament/

  12. Robert C. said

    Ricke and Kirk,

    I think these are very important issues that you raise. I’ve started reading Ferrell’s book and I think there are some very good points he raises in the book. I don’t find it as good as his book The Peacegiver, but he does make some valiant efforts and points toward trying to understand the existential import and symbolic significance of the creation account. In particular, I like how he tries to think the connection between Abraham 3 and Abraham 4-5. I’ll write more on this when I’ve read more, and have more time.

    However, I agree that Ferrell is not give us the best example of taking the scriptures seriously. But I don’t think the problem is that he’s trying to think about Christ in the scriptures; rather, I think he’s taking his own preformed idea of Christ, and effectively imposing that onto the scriptures.

    Nephi writes that “all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of [Christ]” (2 Ne 11:4). Kirk, my response on your other thread was actually an effort to think about this claim of Nephi’s. I think there’s a danger of seeing only Christ in the scriptures, but I don’t think it’s a mistake to try and see Christ everywhere in the scriptures.

    For example, take the Simeon and Levi story that Ricke referred to. Girard, for one, gives us a great way to think about the way in which this story might be viewed as “the typifying of” Christ: the way of the world is violent revenge, whereas the way of Christ is forgiveness. I think this is also the main theme of the Lot story Ricke refers to also. But only by studying these stories in all of their richness, detail, complexity, and tensions, including their elements that make us uncomfortable, can really come to a robust understanding and appreciation of Christ, and everything that typifies of him.

    If we go back to 2 Nephi 11, we see Nephi delighting in Christ, and that prefaces his return to Isaiah, and the importance of likening Isaiah’s words “unto you and unto all men” (2 Ne 11:8). Now, if we only try to find evidences of what we think the word Christ connotes in Isaiah, as I think several LDS scholars have tried to do in their commentaries on Isaiah, then I think there is much we will be missing. On the other hand, if we attempt to really dig into Isaiah, as Joe is doing in his series of posts on the remnant theme that Isaiah’s writing sets the stage for, and is then continued throughout the Book of Mormon, and basically culminating with the teachings of Christ himself, then I think we will finally be in a position to begin understanding the sense in which the Book of Mormon typifies of Christ (and the sense in which the Book of Mormon can be likened unto us, “and unto all men”). However, without doing this kind of careful reading and study, then I think we run the risk of merely using the scriptures as prooftexts to confirm our own preformed thoughts, without ever really getting over or beyond ourselves. (And if there’s anything that is typifying of Christ, it is love and the need to get over ourselves!)

  13. kirkcaudle said

    I think there’s a danger of seeing only Christ in the scriptures, but I don’t think it’s a mistake to try and see Christ everywhere in the scriptures. -Robert C.

    This a great reading of 2 Ne. 11:4.

    And yes, my concern with contemporary LDS scholorship is the amount of prooftexting that goes on. That is not to say I do not think there are some great LDS scholars, because I do. I think it says more about the members than the scholars actually. I think there is more a market in the LDS community for prooftexing and “Moromonizing” Biblical texts, and less of a market for actual textual analysis.

    Desert Book is full of these types of books. So I do not think these scholars cannot write other books, I am just not sure they would have anyone that would want to read them.

    But I could be wrong.

  14. Robert C. said

    Well, Kirk, that’s precisely the main purpose of this blog, on my view—to try and raise the bar and generate interest in more careful readings of scripture.

    With gratitude to the contributions of previous generations and scholars, I think we can press forward and improve upon what has gone before. Overly dramatic in this context, but I can’t help thinking of Brother Dylan in the wind of my thoughts on this score:

    Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is
    Rapidly agin’.
    Please get out of the new one
    If you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’.

  15. kirkcaudle said

    Brother Dylan fits nicely into any discussion :)

  16. ricke said

    I realize this is a total threadjack, for which I would apologize to you, Robert, if you hadn’t been guilty too :). I just finished listening to Karen Armstrong’s The Bible: A Biography. I have never read anything by Origen, but she claims that Origen, if he didn’t invent it, perfected the art of reading Christ back into the Old Testament. I just mention this fwiw.

  17. KirkCaudle said

    I also just read Armstrong’s book a few weeks back. I really enjoyed it for the most part. And Origen is an interesting guy. He actually castrated himself! So maybe that will peak your interest to read more about him. :)

  18. kirkcaudle said

    ok, so to bring this thread back to the topic at hand, I skimmed through the article posted by Robert in point #3 (“The Creation Weave). I found the following comments (under the section “The Hypothesis) very useful in light of the Temple and the Pearl of Great Price accounts and how they “echo” the voice of God.

    “God gave the Torah to Moses, and Moses in turn gave it to the whole nation. This double giving is reflected in common introductory phrases . . . Nowhere does the Torah itself indicate whether the text is meant to reproduce the voice of God or the voice of Moses. The hypothesis that I want to suggest is that the Torah was constructed in such a manner as to echo both voices. It reproduces Moses’ voice through the linear reading, and a replica of the voice that Moses heard in the non-linear reading. The creation weave has made it possible to read the Torah as a document containing two different strata and to hear both voices in it.”

    I am not exactly sure how to put this all together, but I think this little section might help answer the question about why we have so many accounts of the creation. It makes me wonder if all the account we have of the creation are multiple voices talking at once, where as scripture is mostly the voice of a singular writer. Not sure where to go with this, but I think it could lead to somewhere!

  19. WinnieMae said

    I found this article to be very helpful:
    see here

    It’s an article written by Bruce R. McConkie – (Bruce R. McConkie, “Christ and the Creation,” Tambuli, Sep 1983, 22) and he addresses the very question of why we ‘need’ three different accounts of the creation.

  20. Jim F. said

    RobertC, you say “When I contemplate the fall, or the atonement, it is easy for me to find interesting details that force me to rethink my own life, my family, my ward, and the world more generally in terms of how it all fits together, what the purpose of this life is, and how each of these parts help ‘bring about the immortality and eternal life of man.’”

    That seems to me to be the most important reason for reading scripture. It follows that the creation is important because reading and thinking and talking about it helps us do the same thing.

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