God, The Judge

God’s very first creative act (v 1:3) is to roll the figurative dice[1]Einstein is credited with famously claiming the God does not play dice with the universe (the actual quote is, “I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.” As a side note, renowned … Continue reading and create light.  Here, the author reveals that God must have had a set of expectations to be met. According to the author, God felt compelled to render a verdict as to whether His creation met these expectations.

The necessity of judging, of course, suggests the possibility of multiple outcomes, each of which must be evaluated. Did God not know what would be the outcome of His first creation? Evidently not, for the biblical text demonstrates the possibility that the created light might not have achieved God’s purpose(s). To judge, as God did in this verse, suggests uncertainty – an uncertainty that must arise in God’s inability (or unwillingness) to perfectly control His creation.

Gerald Schroeder, Bible scholar and Nuclear Physicist, writes,

“The greatest point of contention between science and religion rises when believers insist God directly controls nature, while scientists insist that nature can run on its own.[2](Schroeder, 2009)

Those who believe that God controls nature may be right, but there is no biblical support for this position. As a matter of fact, the biblical evidence that God does not control nature (or human behavior, for that matter) is overwhelming. That evidence is first advanced in the 3rd and 4th verses of the first creation story, among others.

In these two verses, God creates light, reflects on its properties, and pronounces the light as “good”.  Actually, the literal translation is “And God saw the light as good”. The Hebrew word used in 1:4 and translated as saw is יַּרְא (yar) and is used here in its figurative sense of connoting a process of inspection and evaluation[3](Harris, Archer and Waltke 2003)ref 2095.0. In the same sentence, the Hebrew word for good, טוֹב (tov) can mean, among other things, a material or practical good, an abstract philosophical good, or a moral good[4](Harris, Archer and Waltke 2003)ref 0793.0. Which is it?

We cannot know by what criteria God judges the light, but a reasonable guess might be that God judges light as good because of its fitness for His purposes, not its own. The judgment makes sense, in retrospect, because its existence serves the needs of the new universe whose creation He has just initiated – philosophy and morality are not in view in these verses.

But the act of judging raises a profoundly important question. Why does God judge His own creation? Was He uncertain of the outcome? If words are to have any meaning, the answer must be yes.

In other words, God must have created a universe that, to a greater or lesser extent, consists of stochastic[5]In probability theory, a stochastic process is a series of related events (a process) in which the outcome of one or more of those events are indeterminate. In other words, such a process can evolve … Continue reading processes. Indeed, science has revealed to us that the universe, at the quantum level, behaves in ways entirely unpredictable – even for God!  Put more precisely, having just instantiated a universe whose properties are the result (in part) of processes whose outcome is indeterminate, God must necessarily judge whether the light He created was as He desired. In verse 1:3, we learn that God approves.

A more direct example of God’s “lack of control” is found in the third day of creation. First noted by the great medieval French rabbi, Rashi, this example deals with the discrepancy between the fruit trees God commanded the earth to bring forth (v 11) and the ones actually created (v 12). In 1:11, the English translations that follow the Hebrew (e.g., the New American Standard, NAS), have God instructing the earth to bring forth “trees of fruit bearing  fruit”.  But, in the very next verse, the earth brings forth “trees bearing fruit”.  Do you see the difference? Why does the earth bring forth trees bearing fruit and not trees of fruit bearing fruit as God requested?

fruit-treesA closer look at the grammar of the Hebrew text is instructive. The Hebrew phrase translated as “fruit trees bearing fruit” is

עֵץ פְּרִי עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי (eytz pəree oseh pəree),

which literally translates to trees of fruit making fruit. In the next verse we have

עֵץ עֹֽשֶׂה־פְּרִי (eytz oseh pəree)

or trees making fruit. The semantics of to make are qualitatively different than of to bear or to carry. Indeed, biblical Hebrew has two perfectly good words that mean to bearיָלַד (yalad) and to carryנָסָה (nasah), yet the author chose oseh. Surely this is significant since oseh is translated in other biblical verses as making, never bearing.

Replacing “bearing” with “making”, we get,

(1:11) trees of fruit making fruit (1:12) trees making fruit

Now, the phrase in 1:12, “trees of fruit” (highlighted in orange), is semantically equivalent to “trees with fruit”[6]Rashi suggested a third possibility – “trees that are fruit”. In other words, a tree the whole of which was edible – bark, wood, leaves, roots, and so forth. so that 1:11 can be rewritten as “trees with fruit making fruit”.

In other words, God’s desire is for trees that make fruit continuously, not over the course of a season. But what does the earth produce? Trees making fruit – ostensibly, like fruit trees everywhere – seasonally. In verse 1:12, the author writes that the earth was unable to honor God’s wish.

The truth claim being advanced is that God does not necessarily receive exactly that for which He asks. In this sense, He is neither omnipotent nor omniscient[7]This is not as heretical as it sounds. Assume that God could have created a determinative universe, but did not. Instead, He created a universe described by the mathematics of uncertainty (quantum … Continue reading. Hence, God’s judgment of the trees He commanded nature to bring forth. Interestingly, God judged the produced trees to be good even though the outcome was not what He had specified.

In broad strokes, we understand that the narrative to portray God as transcendent, creative, and judgmental. But, none of this is really new. What is interesting, it turns out, is how the actual text of these spare 36 verses describe God and His relation to His creation. When you come to the end of the first Genesis creation story, you will never look at the Bible in the same way again. This is not your Sunday school Bible story.

Let’s now turn to the actual text of the first five verses of Genesis – the passage of the first day of creation.  The going may get a little heavy but, if you can recall your high school English grammar lessons, you should not have a problem.

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