Original Artwork Elysium by Jeffrey Bedrick
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day.
And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning--the second day.
And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the third day.
And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. God made two great lights--the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the fourth day.
And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." And there was evening, and there was morning--the fifth day.
And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I give every green plant for food." And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Jesus said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the earth produces grain--first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But as soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."
From the literal meaning of the first chapters of Genesis, no one realizes that it refers to anything besides the creation of the world, the Garden of Eden which is called "Paradise," and Adam, the first human to be created. Who thinks anything else? However, these things contain mysteries that have never been revealed until now. . . . In this inner meaning, the first chapter of Genesis is about new creation of a human being--in other words, it is about our rebirth.
And God said, "Let there be light." And there was light. (Genesis 1:3)
For those of you who are used to following along in the printed sermon, there isn't one today because the Youth Worker's Conference that I just attended took up that time and I didn't have a chance to write it out. So what I would like to present to you this morning is some thoughts from Swedenborg, and some of my own thoughts, about what this Creation story means for us in our spiritual life.
It is a wonderful story to start out with in the Bible. You know how there is often a preface in a book, and the preface will tell you what the book is going to tell you. They always told us that in school: when you write a paper, first you tell them what you're going to tell them, then you tell them, then you tell them what you told them. The Creation story is God telling us what he's going to tell us in the whole Bible. He is summarizing the entire Bible, which is really, Swedenborg tells us, about our own spiritual growth. It's about our process from when we first start to awaken spiritually to the time when we become angels in heaven. The Creation story is a wonderful summary, in just a little over one chapter, of the whole Bible story. So if you don't have time to read the whole Bible, at least read the Creation story!
I'm hoping to give you a little enlightenment this morning about what this story means in terms of our own growth toward becoming angels--as we talked about with the little children. I'd like to go through each day, and tell you a little bit about what Swedenborg said was the spiritual meaning of these verses.
First of all, to look at the whole creation story, Swedenborg tells us that the first three days talk especially about the growth of our mind: about our thinking, our understanding, and our faith; and that the fourth through the sixth days speak especially about the growth of our heart: about the love that we have for God and for one another. So this is a wonderful summary, and it is very well organized to show us how we grow.
We start first by understanding. That's why God said, "Let there be light." Because before there is light, there is darkness and void. Swedenborg tells us that the first state, which is the state that comes before our spiritual growth, is a state that starts from our earliest childhood and continues on through until the time just before we begin to consciously decide to grow spiritually--just before we consciously invite the Lord into our life, and decide that we want to not just be material beings, but to be spiritual beings.
That first state can last well into adulthood. There are people who don't decide to have spirituality in their lives until they reach thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years old. So this period of darkness can last a long time. We may be very intelligent, but we are dark spiritually in that we don't see that God is working in our spirit; we don't see that there is a higher purpose to life.
When God says "Let there be light," that, in us, is our first realization that there is something higher than all this material realm that we have been dealing with. There is light: there is deeper understanding. Light is a universal symbol of truth. When we say, "I see," we mean, "I understand." So the very first beginning of our spiritual growth is when the light dawns in our mind that there is a higher purpose to life; that there is something more than this material existence; that there is something more that we need to look to, to go for, in our lives. "Let there be light." This is the beginning of our spiritual growth.
"And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day." It is very significant that every day starts from evening, and goes to morning. Because this is how our spiritual growth happens. We start from not understanding so well, from a state of darkness and obscurity, and we progress toward daytime: toward understanding and knowing what our life is for, and what God wants for our life. We progress from evening to morning each stage of our spiritual growth. So "there was evening, and there was morning, the first day."
On the second day, everything begins to get cleared up. We were kind of confused about this "spiritual" thing before. But now the Bible tells us that God created an expanse, or a "firmament" in the heavens, to divide the waters from the waters. There would be the waters above the firmament, which are the clouds, and the waters below the firmament, which are all the waters on the earth.
Here we begin to realize that there is a spiritual truth that is higher than all this material knowledge that I have. Maybe I'm good at building things; maybe I'm good at figures; maybe I'm good at preparing meals; maybe I'm good at raising children. There are all different things we can be good at on this material plane. The second day of creation is when we realize that there are higher things. There is a higher truth, and it has everything to do with how we care for one another; how we understand each other; how we respect each other; how we love God; and how we show God's love to each other. These are the higher truths that we need to distinguish from just being able to get along in this world.
We do need to be able to get along in this world; that's very important. But as we begin to follow a spiritual path, we realize there are also higher truths that we need to follow--truths that relate to God and to heaven and to our relationships with each other. This is the second day: distinguishing the waters above the expanse--the spiritual truths--from the waters below the expanse--all the material, worldly truths that we need to get along in this world. "And there was evening, and there was morning, the second day."
After we realize that there are higher, spiritual truths, this is when our mind begins to grow and blossom spiritually. On the third day, God separates the waters (the ones below the expanse) from the land and lets the dry land appear. This is when the plants can first begin to grow. These are the growing spiritual awareness in our mind: first the tender herb, the grass--at first we have a very sketchy idea of what this spiritual life is all about. But soon there are the shrubs, and then there are the trees.
The trees are fixed principles of living; those principles that we live by, such as that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Trees are the idea that we should always guide our life by a principle like that: that we should love our neighbor just as we love ourselves. That whatever we would have our neighbor--other people--do to us, we should do to them. These are fixed principles of spiritual living that grow up as strong trees, which we can then be sheltered by and be guided by as we live our life. So now we are beginning to develop a real understanding of what it means to live in a spiritual way, and not just in a material way. "And there was evening, and there was morning, the third day."
All of this, as I said, is more or less the development of our mind. We're realizing that there is a higher life. We're distinguishing between the spiritual truths and the material truths. We're beginning to develop those principles of spiritual living--and we are applying them. On the third day, there are fruits that come from the trees, and the fruits are the good deeds that we do for others.
But Swedenborg says that up to this point, it's still a struggle--and it continues to be a struggle--because up to this point, we still think that we're doing these things by ourselves: that we're the ones that understand, that we're the ones that love, that we're the ones who are producing those fruits. And so, Swedenborg says, those fruits are not really alive yet. And the reason they're not alive yet is that all goodness and all truth really comes from the Lord. And as long as we think that it's coming from us, it's relatively dead because we don't have that living relationship with the Lord so that we can feel that everything good in us, all the love we have, is God's; all the truth; that everything we know is God's.
This is what begins to happen on the fourth day. It's a little bit strange, isn't it, that God says "let there be light" on the first day, but it's not until the fourth day that we get the creation of the sun and the moon and the stars. I like to think of this, in a physical image, in this way: up to this point, those waters above the firmament were pretty thick. In other words, there was a pretty thick cloud cover, and the light was actually coming from God, but we didn't realize it. Now the clouds are clearing, and we can see that everything good we have is actually coming from God, and we begin to feel that in our heart.
This is the fourth day, when God creates the sun, which is our love for the Lord and our recognition that God loves us in a living way. And the moon, which shines at night. In our dark periods, our times of difficulty, we have our faith, our knowledge that God is there. Even if we can't feel God right now, we know that God is there for us. That is the moon, shining in the dark periods of our lives.
And it says he also created the stars: those fixed spiritual principles that we guide our lives by through the difficult times. For example, if we are involved in some business dealing, and before we had been content to cut corners a little bit and figure that nobody is going to notice the difference. But at this particular point in our life we've decided we want to follow God, and yet God feels distant right now; we're not really feeling God close to us--it's a nighttime period. At that point, we may say, "Well, it wouldn't be so bad if I went back to my old ways, and did my business the way business the way I was doing it before."
But then we think about something that we read in the Bible that said we shouldn't cheat our neighbor, that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. And we realize, "Even though I'd like to do this, my principles tell me that I shouldn't." And so the stars guide us through the night just the way the stars guide sailors through the night when otherwise they might go the wrong direction. Those principles that we have learned and we have put in our "heavens"--in our higher mind--guide us through the times when otherwise we might weaken and do what we know we shouldn't do.
So God gives us the sun: in our better times we feel the love of God in us, and that gives us life. And God also gives us the moon and stars to guide us through our darker times. "And there was evening, and there was morning, the fourth day."
And now we're beginning a living relationship with the Lord: really feeling God in our life. That is the point at which living animals start to come. On the fifth day, we have the ones that populate the sky and the land: the birds flying in the air, and the fish swimming in the sea. These are the first living, feeling thoughts of doing goodness that are coming, not just from believing that we ought to, but from feeling in our heart that this is what we want to do from other people. We care about people, and therefore we really want to do good for them from love.
These are the living creatures. The living creatures represent our feelings, our loves; and these develop later on. After we've gotten our mind more or less straightened out, then we develop our heart. Then we begin to act from love. And this is the first time that we really can be said to be alive spiritually: when we begin to act from love.
The birds are the living spiritual thoughts that we have, and the fish are the living material thoughts that we have. And one of the nice things about this is that we don't believe our spiritual life is separate from our outward, everyday life. We believe that our spiritual life comes down into our material life, and all of the knowledge that we had before about how to get along in the world now comes alive from spiritual motivations. Everything we learned before about how to run your business, how to take care of our home, how to raise our kids; all of those things that we learned now come alive spiritually. We do our work, not just because it's what we have to do, but because we want to love and serve one another. And all the knowledge that we gained before helps us to do that, and makes us effective as a person of God's kingdom working in this world. So we have both our spiritual and our material knowledge working together to make us good and useful people here on earth.
As we get those in line, then, finally, on the sixth day we have the warm-blooded animals. We have all the land animals, and finally human beings. These are when we really begin to do things from faith and love together. Not just because we believe we ought to but because we really love to. We begin to take joy in serving other people. We begin to like it when we can do something for another person. We don't do it because of a sense of obligation. You know: "God says I have to do it, so I'd better do it." That was before. Now it is: "I really enjoy doing what's good and right. This gives me happiness inside, and I have pleasure and happiness from serving others."
These are the land animals, and finally the human beings. This is when we become truly human. When we're acting, yes, from faith, but especially from love in our hearts. When we're acting because we care about other people and because we love God, and when we get joy from serving one another. This is when we become truly human. At that point, we finally reach the seventh day. There is evening, and there is morning, and then there is the seventh day.
What is like when we are acting and serving and loving one another because we love? There's no conflict in us anymore. We don't have to say, "I'd really like to do that, but I'm going to do this anyway because that's what God says." Now everything flows from within. We do what we do because we love one another, we love our work, we love God, and we're completely at peace inside of ourselves. When it says "rest" in the Bible, it doesn't mean we're not doing anything; it means we have no conflict within us about the things that we're doing. That we do everything because we love to and we know how to. We can be very busy outwardly, doing all sorts of things, and yet be at perfect peace inside of ourselves, because this is the life that we love.
And that is what the Lord holds out to us as true human life. When all of our conflict on this earth is done; when we've gone through our struggles, when we've--with the Lord's help--reformed ourselves and grown ourselves into people who do good because we love to, then we have the peace and the rest of the seventh day.
This, of course, is the state that the angels live in. They do good for one another. They live useful, busy, happy lives because they all love one another, and they don't have to fight about it anymore. They can simply do what they love to do.
This is the promise that God gives to each one of us if we are willing to go through the struggles of the other days. And it's a promise that we can feel little bits of here on earth, at the times when our life is just flowing along. We all get these foretastes of heaven at the times when things are working out for us and we're enjoying what we're doing. This is the state that angels are in all the time.
And this is the promise that God gives us: if we go through all of these seven days of creation, we will be people who love one another, who enjoy living in a good way, who understand what we need to know in order to serve other people and serve God in the way that we love best, and that fits our talents the most. This is the promise that God gives us. And it's the promise of these seven days of creation. Amen.
Music: Velvet and Diamonds
(the star-filled sky)
© 1999 Bruce DeBoer