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RS/MP Lesson 5: “Creation” (Gospel Principles Manual) — RC

Posted by Robert C. on March 7, 2010

This lesson is on creation. Creation forms an important part of the temple endowment, and we have been given two alternative accounts in the books of Moses and Abraham. Despite this emphasis, or perhaps because of it, I feel like creation is one of the doctrines in the Church that I understand the least. So, although the lesson manual raises many good questions and points, I am going to focus on a couple of scriptural passages regarding creation that I am personally interested in, without any explicit attempt to cover the material in the manual. My understanding of (the spirit of) the manual for this year, which has very short lessons but many scriptural citations and “Additional Scriptures” suggestions, is that attention should be focused on the scriptures, with the manual as a supplement.

I want to focus on two changes made in Moses chapter 2 relative to Genesis chapter 1. The first change is in verse 2 in both accounts:

Genesis 1:2: “and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

Moses 2:2: “I caused darkness to come up upon the face of the deep.”

The second change is in verse 9:

Genesis 1:9: “and let the dry land appear”

Moses 2:9: “Let there be dry land”

The creation of light and land

To understand what might be at stake with these changes, consider the following commentary by Moshe Kline on the Genesis account regarding light and land (this is from “The Creation Weave” that I linked to in a previous post):

Light is a direct expression of God’s will. There are no intermediary stages or elements; it comes into being immediately when God wills it to be. It is the only creation of its kind, the only one that God saw individually, “And God saw the light.” Earth, on the other hand, wasn’t really created on Day three. It was discovered. God discovered the earth when the waters rolled back, “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear.” It appeared as part of a process of events. The distinction between the creation of light and the creation of land is the difference between supernatural and natural. God made light directly without any identifiable cause but established the dry land through a natural process. This distinction is emphasized by the difference between the way light separates from darkness as opposed to the way the waters separate from the land. “God divided the light from the darkness”, but He did not directly divide the water from the dry land.

At first blush, I think it is rather ironic that, at least on Kline’s reading, the Genesis account of the creation of land sounds less like an ex nihilo creation than in the Moses account. But Kline goes on to interpret the Genesis account as suggesting a natural vs. supernatural contrast between the way that light is created and the way that land is created. This contrast is underscored by the elaborate structural analysis that Kline works out where days 1 and 4 of creation are structurally parallel to days 3 and 6 of creation. One of Kline’s arguments for this structural reading is the fact that Day and Night are both created and named on Day 1, Heaven is created on Day 2, and then Earth and the Seas are created on Day 3. Thus, there is a 2-1-2 chiastic structure relating days 1 and 3 (2 things named, then 1 thing named, then 2 things named). Days 4 through 6 then comprise a parallel to this structure, with light and dark being the focus on Day 4 and land being the focus on Day 6. So, if the creation of land is different than the creation of light, as in the Genesis account, then it seems Kline’s reading is true to the text—that is, it seems there is reasonable warrant to impute some sort of important distinction between heaven and earth, and the natural-supernatural distinction seems a plausible reading.

If we apply Kline’s structural analysis to the Moses account, however, we have a conforming rather than contrasting parallel between the creation of land and the creation of light: “let there be dry land” in verse 9 and “let there be light” in verse 3. This suggests that light “in the firmament of the heaven” (v. 15) and land of the earth are similar, without there being the kind of natural-supernatural distinction that Kline sees in the Genesis account. That is, heaven and earth cannot be sharply distinguished along natural-supernatural lines.

This seems consistent with many theological strands in Mormonism that reject strong forms of supernaturalism. That is, although God and his work are miraculous, they work according to natural laws that we currently lack an understanding of (I’m thinking of Talmage, for example).

Lights, intelligence, and interpreting the Creation

Continuing with Kline’s structural rubric, if we work out the implications of this insight applied to days 4 and 6, we have a conforming rather than contrasting parallel between the lights in heaven and the creatures on the earth. This is reminiscent of Abraham 3 where God first tells Abraham about the sun, moon and stars, and then proceeds to talk about spirits: “Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits . . . have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after” (Abr 3:18).

This interpretation also adds significance to passages such as D&C 93:2 where Christ declares, “I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Or, consider D&C 93:29, “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.”

D&C 93 goes on to discuss agency in terms of whether one receives light or not: “Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man . . . and every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation” (93:31, 33).

If we take this idea of agency as a mediating relation between light and intelligence, and return to the creation account in Moses 2, the description of the creation of light takes on a new inflection. When we read that God “divided the light from the darkness,” this takes on symbolic and typological import. The first (spoken) act of creation typologically enacts the “last” act of judgment described elsewhere in scripture. Or, with another inflection, perhaps this first act of creation-by-dividing is a (symbolic) retelling of the premortal battle in heaven.

Darkness and the generative theme of Creation

Now consider Samuel the Lamanite’s questioning plea in Helaman 13:29, “Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light?” The passage further deepens this connection between light-vs.-darkness and agency. By refusing to receive the light, as it is frequently described, especially in the D&C, we become “workers of darkness” (Alma 37:28-31).

This idea of receiving light, or responding to the call of God to be “the light of the world” (Matt 5:14), helps bring out the generative theme in the Creation account(s). Once the dimension of time is established on Day 1 (Day and Night), and the dimension of space is established on Day 2 (Heaven), then we read on Day 3 about the earth becoming generative:

And the earth brought forth grass, every herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed should be in itself, after his kind; and I, God, saw that all things which I had made were good.

(For more on this, Walter Brueggemann nicely explores the generative theme of creation in his Theology of the Old Testament, chapter 17.)

We might also understand the word “good” itself as being multiplied: on Day 1, after the light “responds” to God’s word, we have one statement of “good.” We do not read “good” again until Day 3, when we read the term “good” twice. All of this underscores the repeated “be fruitful land multiply” theme later in the Creation account, as well as the repeated image of the plants of the earth and the living creatures above the earth and below the earth (in the waters) to bring forth and multiply after their own kind.

Theologically, this all seems very closely related to the purpose of creation as described in Abraham 3:25, “And we will prove them herewith to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” The central question here is whether God’s word will be generative or not. Those who respond to God’s word effectively multiply and replenish it. God’s kingdom is proliferated by those of us who respond to God’s call, receiving the light that he freely offers, in hopes that we will receive and share this light and joy with others.

Finally, then, I think I am ready to suggest an interpretation of the other verse in Moses that I promised to address:

Genesis 1:2: “and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

Moses 2:2: “I caused darkness to come up upon the face of the deep.”

The difference between light and darkness is that the light willingly responds to God’s word, whereas the darkness must be caused. I think the theological implications of this view are significant, especially in regard to questions of agency and freedom. Those who respond to God’s call, “giv[ing] place for a portion of [God’s] words” (Alma 32:27), are those who will be added upon and be blessed with eternal increase. Those who do not give place to God’s word end up being ensared, losing their agency. They give up their divine potential as agentive beings, able to subject the desires of the flesh to the will of the spirit, to be acted upon rather than to act. But this all opens several cans of worms that I simply don’t have time to get into right now.

I will close then by just quoting a passage from Alma’s sermon on the word-as-seed which I think underscores the symbolic, typological and theological richness that these intertwining themes of light, darkness, agency and generativeness take on, in the Creation account and in subsequent scriptures that proliferate these themes:

Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness. Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away. And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good. (Alma 32:31-33)

3 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 5: “Creation” (Gospel Principles Manual) — RC”

  1. kimmatheson said

    Brilliant, Robert. Helped me realize, all over again, that I haven’t finished studying the Creation. Thanks.

  2. joespencer said

    Thanks for this, Robert. This is a good example of what can be done with these lessons. Unfortunately, I’ve done little more than work through commentaries on the lesson material as it stands in the manual.

  3. kirkcaudle said

    Moses 2:4, strikes me. I have never read that verse as a “possible” illusion to the War in Heaven. Fascinating! In any case, as your notes and D&C 93 make clear, light must be understood as more than light as we know it on earth.

    Hel. 13:29, evil is not what we ARE, but what we choose to become. Creation is perfect because it uses its agency to follow God. Until the fall the same could say the same about humanity. This just underscores the importance agency plays in the creation narratives.

    Moses 2:2, I really like what you have to say about Darkness here, compared with what the Genesis text has to say. I’d also like to connect with verse with the Prologue of John’s Gospel. In John 1:1-5, I think John is saying something similar to what you are saying, that darkness is parasidic. Darkness cannot stand alone, it must have light in order to have life. Darkness feeds on (ie. drains) light in order to gain power. Although, at the same time, the darkness will never understand the light. Much more to say about that, but for now that should suffice.

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