The Beginning of the Beginning -Part 4

§4. The Beginning of Genesis 1

In Genesis 1:1, we read: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." We can hardly come closer to the real beginning of anything than in an original act of creating everything. But what is creation? and how does God proceed when he creates? Genesis 1:3 gives this information: "And God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light" or, in the more literal Buber-Rosenzweig translation, "God spoke: Light be! Light became." The reality light appears in this verse when the divine command calls it forth, into its existential luminosity, by calling it by its name. The spoken word, it appears, is more than a mere sign signifying something; it is a power in reality that evokes structures in reality by naming them. This magic power of the word can be discerned even more clearly in Genesis 1:5 (Buber-Rosenzweig translation): "God called to light: Day! and to the darkness he called: Night! And there became evening and morning: A Day."

Still, the power of the creative word is not yet the true beginning we are pursuing; for the account of the creative process is inherently incomplete. It forcefully raises such questions as: To whom are the divine commands addressed? and who is the God who addresses them? or what is that kind of reality where the spoken word evokes the structures of which it speaks? In the situation created by these questions, a recourse to theological conceptions of "revelation" would be of little help, for even a revelation must make sense as a spoken or written word, a word heard or seen, if the message the word reveals is to be intelligible. The authors of Genesis 1, we prefer to assume, were human beings of the same kind as we are; they had to face the same kind of reality, with the same kind of consciousness, as we do; and when, in their pursuit of truth, they put down their words on whatever material, they had to raise, and to cope with, the same questions we confront when we put down our words.

In the situation created by the question What is that kind of reality where the spoken word evokes the structures of which it speaks? they had to find the language symbols that would adequately express the experience and structure of what I have called the It-reality. How did they do it? The answer is given by Genesis 1:2: "The earth was waste and void; darkness was on the face of the deep; and the spirit [breath] of God was moving over the face of the water." Over an emptiness, over a formless waste of something there moves, perhaps like a storm, the breath or spirit, the ruach, of God, or rather of a plural divinity, elohim. The It-reality, thus, is symbolized as the strong movement of a spiritual consciousness, imposing form on a formless and nonforming countermovement, as the tension between a pneumatic, formative force ( ruach ; in later Greek translation, pneuma ) and an at least passively resistant counterforce.

Moreover, the tension in the It is definitely not the tension of a human consciousness in its struggle with reality for its truth; it is recognized as a nonhuman process, to be symbolized as divine; and yet it has to convey an aura of analogy with the human process because man experiences his own acts, such as the quest for truth, as acts of participation in the process of the It. When the authors of Genesis 1 put down the first words of their text they were conscious of beginning an act of participation in the mysterious Beginning of the It.

In Search of Order , CW Vol 18
Ch 1, The Beginning of the Beginning,
§4. The Beginning of Genesis 1,
pp 33-34.