The God of the Bible is not a static Divinity – in fact God’s name commonly translated “I am who I am” in Exodus 3:13-15 can and would be better rendered “I will be that which I will be.” God, in the sense of emanations of life force and creative power, indeed is a dynamic Being with options, contingency plans, a manifestation that changes to fit the changing needs of the dynamic world He created.
Looking at the six creation days in Genesis 1, we can see that each event of the universe in the making is driven by the recurring divine command, “And God said … ”. It is then stated that the outcome “was good” or even “very good”, which might imply that at times it wasn’t so good, as we shall see later. On the third day, the earth is commanded to “bring forth” vegetation – the word “creation” does not appear here. This means that nothing new was needed to bring life into the universe – the big-bang creation produced the physical basis for all the materials required. The potential for life was written into the fabric of the universe and God’s command led to its execution.
A closer look at verse 12 with the help of an ancient commentary by Rashi (1040-1105) is enlightening. God’s command asked for “fruit trees yielding fruit” but the earth produced “trees yielding fruit”. The original command was for trees whose bark would also taste like fruit – but the earth failed to comply! The potential was there as in the cinnamon tree which has a tasty bark – but nature rebelled. Nature indeed is able to go against God’s explicit command, having a “mind of its own” as has been observed in quantum physics. There really is what can be called the “mind of the universe” or a mind in the creation with degrees of free choice.
With wisdom being the first cause of creation (see Origin of life), all aspects of creation are imbued or permeated with the potential for mind. And indeed, a brainlike shrewdness is witnessed at even the microscopic levels as those who have fought against bacteria and cancer cells testify. Even the genes and enzymes “are but cogs in the greater communal machine, the microbial mind.” (Frank Vertosick, Jr., neurosurgeon). Even atoms behave like active agents making unpredictable choices according to the laws of quantum mechanics.
If mind (wisdom) is indeed the inherent essence of all existence, even though it is the product of God, it can conceivably rebel and deviate from the command of God. So free will and hence the potential for rebellion, generally only attributed to humans, is possible throughout the creation. The laws of nature are not entirely fixed, and mutations – both beneficial and harmful – allow for progressive change, sometimes not in a good direction.
The truth is that God has chosen not to control all events. Time and chance take place and affect lives and destinies of individuals and even nations. God has the eternal option of stepping back and allowing nature and people to take their course. The divinely imbued autonomy at all levels of nature, narrow though it may be, provides the potential for paths to be followed that may not always be beneficial. Events occur that God would rather not have occur. With this comes the latent possibility for undeserved and unexpected tragedy and even evil to enter our lives.
From the human perspective, looking from the physical side of creation, the universe as described in Genesis came about from a nonphysical source – the Eternal Creator. From the Divine perspective, this is quite different. The prophet Isaiah gives some insights in Isaiah 45:6-7. The word create regarding darkness in contrast to forming light, and again regarding evil in contrast to making peace, implies a withdrawal of God’s presence or spiritual contraction. The Hebrew word for creation indeed entails a lessening of God’s manifest presence and control – hiding God’s face. What once might have been a unified whole becomes multifaceted, moving in a multitude of paths, not all of which are spiritually compatible.
The first “creation”, or spiritual contraction, occurred as the heavens and the earth came into existence (Genesis 1:1) with the physical world of time, space and matter – a single fabric interwoven by the laws of nature. There are predictable laws, but sequestered within them is a quantum slack apparent at the subatomic level where identical causes do not yield identical effects. From this original creation (the Big Bang of science) resulted in all that exists as is confirmed by the discoveries of cosmology. It shattered an undifferentiated whole and produced the potential for the variety seen in the world.
The second “creation”, or spiritual contraction, took place on day five of the six Genesis days (1:21) with the creation of the ethereal nephesh, the spirit or soul of animal life. This gives animals choices not existent in the plant world and is driven to maximizing pleasure, survival and progeny.
The third “creation”, or spiritual contraction, is with the human soul/spirit or neshama. This gives people the potential to grasp the spiritual unity that pervades and unites all existence and eventually grasp the Oneness of God (Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:29). Each person has a choice through their actions to move closer to or further from that Oneness of existence.
At each step of the creation or spiritual contraction there was a withdrawal of absolute divine control and allowing of ever more freedom in the manner by which God’s commands were executed. At the human level, our free will is at such an advanced level that the divine leeway of spiritual contraction has granted us license to choose between life and death – that of others or even our own (Deut 30:19). While life would seem the obvious choice, humans have not always gone that way.
With degrees of autonomy woven into all existence, and more than anywhere into the human soul, God was learning as well and needing to change the divine management of the world. The first few chapters of Genesis attest to the change of God’s approaches and even speak of divine repentance. Perhaps this divine learning process is God’s very essence, the core meaning of “I will be that which I will be”.
Based on: God According to God, Chapter 4, by Gerald L. Schroeder (HarperOne, New York, 2009).
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