And God said, “Let the waters be gathered below the heavens into one place and let the dry land be seen,” and it was so. God called the dry land earth and the collected waters God called seas. God saw that it was good. And God said, “Let the earth sprout young vegetation, plants that scatter seed, and fruit trees making fruit according to its kind together with the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth the vegetation, plants that scatter seed according to their kind, and trees making fruit according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, day 3.
The creation narrative has been reduced to, in my opinion, two main functions to the average reader: A philosophical proof of the uncreated God creating all things and/or a scientific argument of what and how quickly God created. Both of these readings make the content of each day of creation into unnecessary fodder at worst and a tedious inventory list at best.
But if we slow down, we begin to notice the sights and the sounds. We begin to notice the sound of the wind through the trees and the difference between the sound of the whip-poor-will and the chickadee. When we slow down, we begin to notice the things that have always been there, but have never been aware of.
The biblical languages have called me to slow down. I wonder a lot more as I read. I’m more attentive to word choice and to verb tense. I’m more curious. But ancient Hebrew and Greek is not required of you in order to slow down. To be clear, I would recommend these classes to anyone and everyone. What I mean is that being attentive to the text does not require specialized training. All you need is to slow down. If you need something to call you into that slow-down, consider this your call. Begin to wonder. Begin to wander. Read it like you’re reading poetry – poetry rarely gives up its thesis without a little wrestling.
So what could we notice about Day 3? What has been there all along that we perhaps have never observed? Would you believe me if I said that there is theology in grammar? A shift occurs that is a bit harder to see in english than it is in hebrew, but you can see it. It’s a shift from passive action to active action. What are the waters doing in verse 9? They are being gathered by something else. The waters are not doing the action, they are being acted upon by God. This is passive. But look to verse 11. What is the earth doing in verse 11? The earth is sprouting. The earth is not being acted upon, it is being called into action! There is an active verb form here.
There is theology in this grammar. Up until this point, God in power has crafted and created and made. But now? God has empowered creation to craft and create and make. God has imbued the earth with the power to continue the creative process. What might this mean for our conversation with the sciences? Is evolution unbiblical after all? How might this alter our perception of the natural processes all around us? Might we begin to see God’s abundant blessing and power spilling out of every fruit-bearing tree and seed-bearing plant? That, my friends, will preach.
Slow down with the text, and let the text slow you down. Reflect today on the earth beneath your feet. Wonder at its aliveness, expressed through the trees and the air you breathe. Wonder what it is longing to create even there under the concrete.
In A Country Once Forested
by Wendell Berry
The young woodland remembers
the old, a dreamer dreaming
of an old holy book,
an old set of instructions,
and the soil under the grass
is dreaming of a young forest,
and under the pavement the soil
is dreaming of grass.