In the Beginning
Today as we begin our Bible study, we start with the book of Genesis. The first four books of the Bible are attributed to Moses, but scholars have discovered that there are different forms and traditions of these books: the Yahwehist tradition, the Eloist tradition, the Deuteronomist tradition. Men of different times added and at times repeated things. There are no myths in the Scripture, but there are stories and legends. In order to reveal to finite minds something of the beauty of God and creation, we now have a written account--but we must remember as we read this that the Word was passed on orally for many, many centuries. Some think that Scripture is as old as creation. Moses merely wrote what had been passed down for generations, thousands of years perhaps--who knows. For the sake of future generations, Moses began to put down in writing the marvels that God had worked. So we have the book of Genesis. In the beginning_._._._(1:1).
Now when you read Scripture, you must first of all read it as a prayer. It is more than a historical document. It is revelation. We as finite creatures have no concept of God, His love, His mercy, or His forgiveness. This book is a revelation of how much God loves you. You must read it slowly, as a prayer, and you must read it with your imagination.
Never read Scripture unless you engage your mental faculties: your memory, your understanding, and your will. Now I want you to do this: as I read the Scripture and comment upon it I want you to picture the entire scene in your mind. And when you read Scripture alone, you must see a picture. You've got to use your mental faculties. The best way to read Scripture is to put yourself in that time. I keep telling you that to God all things are present, so that when you read In the beginning_._._._you are there. Why? Because you were present in the mind of God then! Very often today people say the Scriptures are not relevant. That is not true. Scripture is relevant every day: in the past and in the future. It is because you do not read Scripture properly that you cannot take the nitty-gritty of this day. You can't accept life with its heartaches and problems and mysteries--mysteries that can never be solved, only accepted. Scripture is not something you're going to understand fully. For all eternity we will contemplate and meditate on those first words of Genesis: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
You know, if you use your imagination you can hardly get past that one sentence. Can you imagine going back to a time when there was nothing, absolutely nothing? You cannot imagine nothing, because everything you've ever encountered is something.
The Scripture says: In the beginning_._._._You can just about feel the utter silence of nothing. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God's Spirit hovered over the water (1:2). Isn't that a meditation? Can you imagine just for a moment--just block everything out of your mind for a moment--and put yourself in the past, at the beginning. That same Spirit that lives in you hovered over the water.
Then we like to imagine the voice of God, like thunder, coming out of nothingness and announcing: "Let there be light," and there was light (1:3). From nothing to light. And God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness (1:4). Scholars tell us that this might reference the creation of the angels. The angelic spirit world is pure spirit, pure light. Later on it speaks about the sun and the moon, and many have wondered why He would create the sun and the moon when He had already said, "Let there be light." God separated light from darkness, the good angels from the bad. I like to think of it that way--He created the magnificent spirit world of pure intelligence.
The Scripture says, God called light "day", and darkness he called "night". Evening and morning came: the first day (1:5). Now this may have taken millions of years.
There is nothing in Scripture against evolution, so long as you recognize that God is the Prime Mover. Although in my ignorant mind I've often wondered, "Why are there still apes around if we came from them?" Somewhere along the line if apes became man, wouldn't all the apes be men by now? It's just a question. Maybe it comes from not being too bright, but I'm happier this way._._._._And this "random selection" stuff is wacko. There is nothing random about the designs of God. But let's get back to Genesis.
So God said, "Let there be a vault in the waters to divide the waters in two." And so it was (1:6). God made the vault, and it divided the waters above the vault from the waters under the vault (1:7). God called the vault "heaven." Evening came and morning came: the second day (1:8).
Now some of our intellectual brethren will say to you, "You don't really believe that? From nothing comes nothing." Only God can create. Only God by a sheer act of His will can create. And whether that creation took one day or a billion days or a billion years, it doesn't matter. It is still the work of a Superior Being--God, creating out of nothing. As you read this you must realize that you were in God's mind when He created that vault and the waters under heaven. You want to read this book of Genesis with feeling. You want to read it with your imagination and with yourself present in the mind of God.
I am often accused of not being realistic, of having my mind in the heavens and never dealing with nitty-gritty living--but you know, this is real. To live knowing that I was in God's mind when He made that vault and the dry land, it makes this rat race world livable. This is real. God's creation is real.
God said, "Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night (1:14),_._._._to shine on the earth." And so it was (1:15). God made the two great lights: the greater light to govern the day, the smaller light to govern the night, and the stars (1:16). God set them in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth (1:17), to govern the day and the night and to divide light from darkness. God saw that it was good (1:18). Evening came and morning came: the fourth day (1:19). I think it gives glory to God, because He is infinite, there is no limit to His power. You see, He created this little bitty thing and then, boom, He creates the whole thing.
This book of Genesis is so fantastic when you use your imagination a little bit. The Spirit in you should come in contact with the Spirit in this book so that you can understand something of the mystery within it. How does this relate to you? This is important. The creation of the world must relate to your life. For those of us who are not theologians, we who eat and drink and work, it isn't important how high Mount Sinai is or what they ate in the time of Abraham or what the land looked like. Those things are good information, but for you it is only important that you read Scripture with the mind of God, with great love and affection.
God said, "Let the earth produce every kind of living creature: cattle, reptiles, and every kind of wild beast (1:24)._._._._Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth" (1:26)._._._._Male and female God created them. God blessed them, saying to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it" (1:27). This is important.
So many people think the original sin was sex--obviously not, because the Lord told them to "be fruitful and multiply." The forbidden fruit was pride, as it is today. Pride: "No one will tell me what to do." And God said, "See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food (1:29). To all wild beasts, all birds of heaven and all living reptiles on the earth I give all the foliage of plants for food." And so it was (1:30). God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day (1:31).
You know we have a lesson here: God created the world, He created Adam and Eve. He gave them the world to use; to feed them, to clothe them, to make them happy, to delight in, to walk with God in. They received preternatural gifts: to live without pain, without sorrow, without heartache. Imagine that. They were endowed with a deep intelligence. There was no death. The world could feed them till their fill without toil. These are things Adam and Eve had. We don't know how long they had them. So often in life we strive for things, we exert a lot of effort and work and sweat, and when we get those things, they turn to ashes. They're gone. Then you ask, "Why did I work so hard? What was I looking for?" Maybe Adam and Eve were that way. Maybe they got tired of the abundance of God's gifts. Being grateful for all He gives us is the better path.
Saint Padre Pio was once asked what he thought the greatest sin in the world was today. He said curiosity. I would have chosen at least three or four bigger ones, but he got to the root of everything. Look at how the devil deals with Adam and Eve. He comes as a serpent.
A lot of people today say, "Aw, that's kind of a story, serpents don't talk." Why do we like to split hairs like they did in seventeenth-century parlors? They used to discuss and fight over religious matters. So here comes the serpent (story or not, let's not split hairs; let's get to the point): It asked the woman, "Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?" (3:1). The woman answered the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden" (3:2). Now that was her first mistake: she opened her big mouth, which should teach us a lesson. Don't talk to the devil. Don't even answer him. She made her first mistake. She continued: "But of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, 'You must not eat it, nor touch it under pain of death' " (3:3). Then the Serpent said to the woman, "No! You will not die! (3:4). God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil" (3:5).
Her second mistake was that she listened to the enemy. The first thing she did was to hear his voice and answer. The second problem was: she listened. The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was desirable for the knowledge that it could give. So she took some of its fruit and ate it. She gave some also to her husband who was with her, and he ate it (1:6). Gullible!
The devil essentially asks Eve (and I'm paraphrasing), "Can you eat from that tree?"
She said, "Oh, no, we're not permitted to eat from that tree."
"Well, the Lord God said we couldn't."
"Oh, I know why He said that."
"Why?" (Here we go.)
"Because if you eat from it, you'll be like God. You'll know good from evil." (Whenever you read the word "know" in Scripture, it means "experience." It doesn't mean the acquisition of knowledge. It means experience.)
Eve says, "Really?"
"Oh yeah. You'll have something you never had before," the serpent says.
"Wow." (I'm ad-libbing a little bit here.)
Then perhaps he said, "You know, I think God's very unfair to forbid you from eating of that tree. It's beautiful to behold and it's in your garden. Doesn't make much sense that you can't eat from it." Something convinced her, and I can only imagine that her curiosity got the best of her. Then he would have said, "Well, go on, try it."
So there she is, crunching away. It must have tasted good. If it hadn't she would have thrown it down and said something like, "I can see why the Lord God told us not to eat from that one." But she didn't; it tasted very good and very different from any other fruit. Then I would think Adam comes along and probably yells at her: "What are you doing?"
And she said, "It's very good, and it isn't at all like the Lord God said it was."
"No." See the curiosity coming along throughout the whole thing? There's an insatiable curiosity in spite of everything they had been given, all the gifts they had. Which proves to me that all our bellyaching about the things we want from God, and the good things we "need," and the comfortable "necessities," and all the rest would not solve the problems we have. It didn't for Adam and Eve--and we can't even imagine what they had.
The first thing they did after the fall was to hide from God. They were afraid. The first sign of disobedience to God's will is fear. What does Adam say when God finds him? "I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid," (3:10), Adam says. He'd been walking around naked since his creation. He didn't go around looking for big leaves before that.
And the Lord said, "Who told you that you were naked?_._._._Have you been eating of the tree I forbade you to eat?" (3:11).
The man replied, "It was the woman you put with me; she gave me the fruit, and I ate it" (3:12).
The second sign of disobedience is a failure to take personal responsibility for your actions. What he should have said was, "Eve was tempted and she gave me the fruit and I had an idea that I could resist. But I couldn't resist, and I fell." That would have been an honest answer. But he didn't say that, and neither do we. Today if you're feeling angry, or guilty--who do you blame? Yourself? No. It's always so-and-so. It's this situation. This is unfair. This is unjust. It's never you.
After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they excused themselves. The sad thing is, they knew they should not listen to this enemy. They had no ignorance. They knew that this creature was evil. It wasn't a surprise. The excuse was an excuse: "he tempted me." But if you have clarity of mind and you still give in to temptation, that's the recipe for a mortal sin. Adam and Eve had clarity. They knew. Now, I don't know if they knew the consequences of their sin for all generations--we don't know that--but we do know that when they sinned they had clarity of mind and absolutely no ignorance. God said, "no," and they ignored Him. They even knew why He said no. Still they made the bad choice. And we do that each time we sin.
Excerpted from Mother Angelica's Private and Pithy Lessons from the Scriptures by Introduced and Edited by Raymond Arroyo. Copyright © 2008 by Raymond Arroyo. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday Religion, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.