The first creation account
The first chapter of Genesis tells us many important characteristics of God, the world, and man and the relationship between God and His creation.
In the first verses, we encounter early signs of God’s omnipotence when the Biblical author tells us that God is the creator and that He alone has the power to create, since he created the world out of nothing. Different from other ancient religions, the creation account in Genesis does not exist in the midst of preexisting matter before God wills to create the world, which emphasizes God’s authority and supremacy.
About the world
Genesis 1 also tells us that an earth before God was a “formless wasteland” (Gen 1:2) which helps us understand that it was through God’s free action that order and form was brought to the world. As a result, we can conclude that a world without God is a world without order and in chaos. Moreover, the author of Genesis tells us that every time after God creates something new on earth, he recognizes its goodness. In simple terms, we can understand this passage as a painter who puts his heart and soul into a painting and after he completes it, he recognizes its goodness, because he can see his efforts represented in his final work of art and he wishes that others who see this creation can recognize its goodness as well. Now back to Genesis. If the earth was created by God’s free action and he affirms its goodness, then this work of creation is where His divine plan is to take place in and, thus, it also shares in His goodness. We are given this world as a gift, which is why the Church teaches us that as Christians we should be stewards of God’s creation and care for His precious gift. We also learn from this first creation account that elements in the world are created in a specific order: first the skies, then the land, the sea, vegetation, the sun, the moon, the starts, animals, and then man. But it will be on this last creature that God will stamp His ultimate and most important seal of goodness.
After the animals of sea and land are created, it almost seems as if God pauses and hesitates for a moment before he creates man. The account of man’s creation differs slightly from the accounts of God creating all the other elements of nature in the previous verses that are all written in a very uniform and similar fashion sharing the same basic structure. However, when he creates man, He says “Let us make man in our image” (Gen 1:26) as if God was perhaps consulting his heavenly court or the other persons of the Trinity to invite man to share in the infinite and reciprocal love of the Three Persons as some other later exegeses suggest. The passage dealing with man’s creation (Gen 1:26-31) is the longest and most detailed description compared to all the previous verses that dealt with the creation of other elements. Hence, these last verses from the first chapter of Genesis tell us something very important about man and about his relationship with the Creator. First of all, he is created in God’s image, but what does that mean? Let us jump ahead and read the following verses when God gives man dominion over all the other elements created prior to him. Perhaps then we can understand that to be created in God’s image means that out of all things that He created, man resembles God the most, because no one other than Him could have dominion over creation. However, in a modern society where man constantly attempts to be God or tries to claim his independence from Him, it is important to underline that man has control over the Earth, but only because it was granted by God first. God’s power over creation is infinite and boundless, whereas man’s power is limited and is preceded by God’s power.
The fact that the creation of man is the highest point of God’s plan helps us understand the unique relationship that God has with man. It helps us understand that because God gave him life, only He can give it or take it away, which is one of the scriptural bases of the Church’s understanding of the dignity of the human person and Her ethic of life. It is in this context of God’s relationship to man that we understand the sacredness of human life from conception until natural death. This means that as Christians we care for life beyond the womb by ensuring that fundamental human rights such as food, shelter, clothing, employment, property, health care and education are true for everyone.
On the first account of creation, we only know that God created them male and female, without any reference to names such as Adam (Gen 3:8) and Eve (Gen 3:20) in the second creation account. Even though this creation account was written much later than the second, there must be a purpose of its final place in the book of Genesis. Perhaps we can infer that the final editor of Genesis wanted to emphasize the universality of God’s creation, because this account does not have any link to later genealogies in the subsequent books such as that of Adam, or distinct names of places and regions (Gen 2:10-16) such as those appearing in the second account of creation, which leads us to think that this relationship between God and man is not limited to a specific people or to a specific region on earth. God created them all equal; hence, we can then appreciate why John Paul II condemned discrimination of any type within human race. From this exegesis, we can also recognize the basis for the Church’s understanding of the universal destination of the earth’s goods, which is the principle of solidarity and subsidiarity in Catholic social doctrine. At the same time, because no specific earthly regions or covenants with a specific people are mentioned in this account, we can deduce that the relationship between man and His creator supersedes any human law as Leo XIII pointed out in Rerum Novarum (no.12).
Also, Henry Karlson has a great exposition at his blog, The Well at the World’s End with a more comprehensive scriptural and theological approach of the Church’s understanding of human relationships, cultures and states.