181. Creation: God and Darkness in the World

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. [Genesis 1:1-5, RSV]

 Genesis Day 1

In the beginning, God created all that there is – “all things visible and invisible”.

There was at first a soup of nothingness, a bottomless void, an emptiness that was an inky blackness. God’s Spirit hovered like a bird above the face of this watery abyss. The conditions before creation, before the commencement of space and time, the inspired writer(s) of the Book of Genesis tried to say, were hopelessly blank. And yet, somehow, such conditions were exactly ripe for God to intervene, for where there was a silence and emptiness that was utterly impoverished, it was by the same token completely receptive. Then, God began to impregnate this utter nothingness with His wisdom, break this darkness with His light, and pierce this silence with His Word. God began His creation. It was the dawn of an utterly never-before-new day. Out of darkness, God created this universe of breathtaking beauty and magnificence. God is the Creator, the Source of all there is in the universe.

Once, the Chinese Emperor Kangxi (康熙皇帝, 1654-1722) was taken seriously ill. Restored to health by a Spanish Jesuit missionary, the Emperor performed a few acts in appreciation. First, he at once relaxed the previous restrictions on Christian missionary activities in China. Then, he wrote a profound message in four Chinese characters on a plaque (匾額) as a gift to the Catholics – 萬有真原. In recognition of the Creator-God as the Alpha and Omega, Emperor Kangxi declared that for all that there is in the universe, there has got to be a True and Original Source who has no beginning and no end. Later, the Emperor went on to pen a message in a couplet. In praise of this True and Original Source, Emperor Kangxi disclosed a theological comprehension that spoke of the benevolent and righteous power, the ultimate true King, without beginning or end, which brought salvation, mercy and justice to the world. Where a replica of the plaque is displayed in any Chinese Catholic church today, it usually runs across as a horizontal beam and is accompanied by a couplet (对联) that stands vertically like the left and right legs of a door frame. They read:  萬有真原 – 無 始 無 終 真 主 宰. 宣 仁 宣 義 大 權 衡. Light, one might be justified in saying, dawned pretty brightly on the earth where Kangsi reigned.

Once again, however, looking around the world, one is prone to exclaim that darkness on earth is scary these days. As brazen as it gets, ISIS pours across the Middle East and into the rest of the world, burning and looting, raping and decapitating. Its slogan-shouting and gun-waving visibility indoctrinates effortlessly the mindless youth of both genders from across the globe suffering from a distorted zeal. In ways that are as dark as they are shocking, these youth of a so-called Islamic faith rise up to the call of insane violence in the name of religion. And the world suffers from this utterly dark reign of terror.

While we tremble at the thought of dire consequences to the world from what we all conclude is a visible blood-thirsty movement like ISIS, however, we cannot turn a blind eye to the build-up of aggression from other seemingly milder quarters and consider them legitimate and benign. These include the perseverate progress on nuclear capabilities by existing nuclear powers and others bent on extracting equal recognition (North Korea, Iran), and “invasions” under different guises in the Middle East (by the Americans) and the Balkans (by the Russians). In particular, the world must always cast light on what America, the self-named leader of the “free” world, is actually doing. In ways far darker and more insidious than what is publicly affirmed, the Americans operate a trouble-instigating strategy around the globe as they unabashedly try their darn best to maintain world dominance. The original culprit of currency-manipulation in the world, and hands-down the biggest and most blatant currency-manipulator in the world still, America manipulates world politics, notably in the Middle East and in South Asia currently. In the latter region, the Americans are deep in their frenzied attempts to rally south Asian countries – particularly the historically aggressive Japan which has yet to come clean on its war crimes – all aimed at stalling the inevitable rise of China as a world superpower.

There is suffocating darkness in other fronts too these days, Pope Francis laments in Laudato Si’, in the way language has grown harsher and appetites have grown bigger. While technical knowledge is vast, wisdom is lacking. Pleasure is pursued as much as moral purpose is abandoned. As the world turns itself over to reckless consumption and a throw-away culture, creation is held captive by mindless extraction, all in the name of “progress”. Darkness once again reigns, as humanity is in thrall to an abusive spirit that wreaks ecological crisis both in the natural as well as in the social environments.

We are hurting the present and the future generations. How did we become so clever and so spiritually indifferent at the same time? How did we get here? How did we allow things to get so dark? We might try three reasons for a start.

We are forgetful

We have forgotten God. Priding ourselves as the makers of our own future, we have neglected or even chosen to forget the Source from which we came. We take, as we forget that everything has been given, while our appetites determine our path. Humanity has allowed a belief in “nothing” to take precedence over a belief in “creation”. There is an evident forgetfulness of the work of the Creator.

We are not listening

In this information-saturated age, there is no quiet anymore. Whether or not this information-saturation translates into knowledge, it seldom converts into wisdom. Pope Benedict XVI puts it well: “There is not only a physical deafness which largely cuts people off from social life; there is also a ‘hardness of hearing’ where God is concerned, and this is something from which we particularly suffer in our own time. Put simply, we are no longer able to hear God – there are too many different frequencies filling our ears… Along with this hardness of hearing or outright deafness where God is concerned, we naturally lose our ability to speak with him and to him.” We have stopped listening.

We do not live in Truth

If we do not listen, we do not hear the Truth and we stop living in the Truth. With our true compass missing, temptations get a better foothold in our lives. The more we desire honour, pleasure, power and wealth, the more we sink into the darkness of self-absorption. When Christ the Word gets disincarnated in us, Christians soon experience the cause of our misfortunes. From a different cultural context, Laozi the 6th century B.C. Chinese sage, said it well to a frustrated warring prince:

  • He who chooses fame and wealth will lose himself in the sea of desire. The more you desire, the more painful you will be. The desire for power has led you into a mess.

Translated to the Christian existence, when we stop opening ourselves up to the Grace of God, we estrange ourselves from the Creator of all there is, and we stop living purposefully the life of dignity and calling in God’s creation.

The path of return

Genesis 3 has it that our separation from God stands at the origin of our earthly woes – our separation from the environment and from ourselves. The Creator God who created breathtaking beauty and magnificence out of darkness and nothingness can recreate our lives, if we let Him.

To find a way out of the abyss, self-reliance and self-sufficiency must give way to a willing embrace of God’s redemptive offer of grace. The path of return mapped by Christ the Son is a life of dignity and co-humanity, full of purpose and hope, respecting God’s command on fruitfulness and rising to the full stature of accountable stewardship.

Insisting on the unity of the Bible as a criterion for its interpretation, Pope Benedict in his book, In the Beginning, points to the Old Testament as representing, “in its totality, an advance towards Christ”. Thus, the God of the Paschal Mystery knows it all – the mockery, the scourge, the crown of thorns, and the cross. The God of the paschal journey is a God who moves from darkness to light, from pain to hope, from death to new life. This is a world He has made and has conquered (John 16:33). This is the Truth. The Truth has prevailed in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and raised to life and made Lord and Christ. It will prevail for each one of us who sees darkness in and around us and turns to Christ the light.

Image result for images for 萬有真原

康熙御赐“万有真原”匾额及对联

Copyright © Dr. Jeffrey & Angie Goh, August 2017. All rights reserved.

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