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There is perhaps nothing more fundamental to faith in God than our ideas, traditions, and assumptions about creation. After all, “Creator” is our most descriptive synonym for God.
For most of its visible history, much of humanity has subscribed to a literal belief in creation stories. These stories were critical stepping stones that infused cultures around the world with ideas that would guide their development. These ideas included the notion there was a divine entity who engineered the creation of the natural world and who bestowed on humanity a special gift: free will, knowledge of good and evil. This gift carried with it unique privileges — indeed dominion — but also grave responsibilities.
Just as a child learns best through the use of stories, these myths or poetic ways of understanding our place in the universe served a vital function in the growth of human consciousness. But you can already tell by my use of the past tense where this is heading.
As a child grows, her vision of the world broadens and becomes more sophisticated, and her new questions are not so easily answered by the tales she learned in youth. At this point, her worldview must change; either it evolves to a higher understanding or it mutates into a pathology that holds her back.
The same process seems to be at work collectively in our conception of God and creation.
Among those who believe in God but reject a literal interpretation of Genesis, the most popular belief seems to be that God indeed created the universe but did so much earlier than we once thought: 13 billion years instead of 6,000. But this widespread view, while seeming to better harmonize with modern science, also misses the mark.
I believe that the idea of a God Who created the universe in the past – whether 6,000 years ago or 13 billion – is at the subconscious root of much of the rejection of belief in God we see today. Because to say that God created the universe implies a time before creation. It conjures an image of God simply sitting in a dark room, twiddling His thumbs and waiting for a good idea to strike Him. If we perceive that our choice is between no God and *that* God, it’s little wonder that “no God” is the answer that often wins out.
But that is a false choice.
The Baha’i Faith teaches that — while creation stories can convey profound spiritual lessons —creation was not a historical event with a hard beginning, like Napoleon’s invasion of Russia or the Wuchang Uprising of 1911 — much less an event that occurred in six days.
Rather, the Faith affirms what becomes obvious upon reflection: that if the universe is an emanation from the mind of God, and if God is sanctified above time and place, then the universe itself must be both infinite and eternal, in both directions. To limit the universe in terms of time or space is to limit God, Who, by definition, can have no limits.
But what about cosmologists and their 13 billion years? Here, we must be both patient with the process of discovery and modest about what we can know, even of the physical universe. The Big Bang theory, accepted as fact in mainstream society for the last several decades, is but one of a number of plausible theories, and theoretical physicists are forever pushing the boundaries of our knowledge and in doing so exposing cracks in theories once presumed airtight.
For instance, our universe might be “breathing” in an endless succession of Big Bangs and collapses, which would replace the 13 billion year figure with a mighty question mark. But even if the Big Bang is eventually affirmed as one-way trip, one can never claim that the observable universe is all there is. Indeed, everything we know and can ever observe may simply be as one atom in an infinitely larger and mind-boggling universe of worlds within worlds, just as in our own world we continue to discover other “worlds” that are smaller and smaller. (To use some modern mythology, perhaps Dr. Seuss, whose Horton Hears a Who depicts the entire world of Whoville existing on a nearly invisible speck, was righter than he knew.)
Understanding that creation is ongoing and eternal in both directions removes a barrier to modern humanity’s belief in God. It also infuses our daily reality with a sort of awe. There’s something in us that says, if creation is now instead of way back then, then I’m not just the aftermath of a creative act, I’m right smack in the middle of it, and what could be more important than that?
In The Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, writes in the voice of God speaking to humanity, and He expresses God’s mysterious condition and eternal existence with a brief but mind-bending re-ordering of the creation narrative:
I loved thy creation, hence I created thee.
Are the lives and world we are creating (what God is calling “thy creation”) justifying that love?
You, I, and everyone we know are indeed “present at the creation” — His as well as ours. Let’s act accordingly.
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