The Feast of Creation

20140510-225011.jpgA few weeks ago I finished reading God in Creation (GC), book two in Moltmann’s famous series of “systematic contributions to theology”. Like most everything Moltmann, I thoroughly enjoyed this book on the doctrine of creation. It is a breath of fresh air to a conversation that is usually (unfortunatley) dominated by exegesis of two chapters of Scripture: Genesis 1-2 (which, here in America at least, comes front-loaded with an unhelpful debate between “Creation” and “Evolution”). Moltmann seems far removed from that discussion (and actually probably doesn’t spend enough time on Genesis 1-2! Maybe he felt that this was already over done?). In contrast, when the topic of evolution comes up, he does not present it as a conflict with the doctrine of creation. He instead offers a robust theological interpretation, bringing to the forefront again two neglected aspects of God’s creative activity: continuous creation (creatio continua), and new creation (creatio nova), both of which have receded into the background as creation in the beginning, creatio originalis, came to dominance.

Earlier, I posted before some selections from GC relating to the Jewish doctrine of Zimsum that Moltmann appropriates in a rather pantheistic way (space for creation is made by a contraction in God). This is certainly one of the “big ideas” of the book I’ll take home with me. But I felt that the whole book really built up the final chapter, on the Sabbath as the “Feast of Creation”. The climax of creation is not the creation of man on day six, as is sometimes understood, but the coming of God to his rest on the Sabbath. Below are some selections from this excellent final chapter. Enjoy!

Curiously enough, in the Christian traditions, and especially in the traditions of the Western church, creation is generally only presented as ‘the six days’ work. The ‘completion’ of creation through ‘the seventh day’ is much neglected, or even overlooked altogether. It would seem as if Christian theology considered that both the sabbath commandment to Israel and the sabbath of creation were repealed and discarded when Jesus set aside the sabbath commandment by healing the sick on that day. As a result, God is viewed as the one who in his essential being is solely ‘the creative God’, as Paul Tillich says; and it follows from this that men and women too can only see themselves as this God’s image if they become ‘creative human beings’. The God who ‘rests” on the sabbath, the blessing and rejoicing God, the God who delights in his creation, and in his exultation sanctifies it, recedes behind this different concept. So for men and women too, the meaning of their lives is identified with work and busy activity; and rest, the feast, and their joy in existence are pushed away, relegated to insignificance because they are non-utilitarian.
(GC, 276, 277)

If we look a the biblical traditions that have to do with the belief in creation, we discover that the sabbath is not a day of rest following six working days. On the contrary: the whole work of creation was performed for the sake of the sabbath. The sabbath is ‘the feast of creation’, as Franz Rosenzweig says. It was for the sake of this feast-day of the eternal God that heaven and earth were created, with everything that exists in them and lives. So although the creation story tells us that each day was followed by a night, God’s sabbath knows no night but becomes the ‘feast without end’.
(GC, p. 277)

The world is not merely created by God; it also exists before God and lives with God. By coming to his rest, God lets his creation be what it is on its own account. In his present rest all created beings come to themselves and unfold their own proper quality. In his rest they all acquire their essential liberty. By ‘resting’ from his creative nad formative activity, he allows the beings he has created, each in its own way, to act on him. He receives the form and quality their lives take, and accepts the effects these lives have. By standing aside from his creative influence, he makes himserlf wholly receptive for the happiness, the suffering and the praise of his creatures. In the works of creation, created beings, through their existence and their modality, ‘experience’ the power and wisdom of God. But on the sabbath the resting God begins to ‘expereince’ the beings he has created. The God who rests in the face of creation does not dominate the world on this day: he ‘feels’ the world; he allows himself to be affected, to be touched by his creatures. He adopts the community of creation as his own milieu. In his rest he is close to the movement of them all. This closeness of his in the sabbath does not neutralize the tensions in creation, nor does it do away with the possible opposition of created things to the Creator and to themselves; but it thrusts towards their transformation to correspondence and to identity. With God’s sabbath of creation, his history with the world begins, and the world’s history with God.
(GC, p. 279)

In his rest all created beings find their own rest. In the presence of his existence is the blessing of their existence. Everything that is made has been called by the Creator from non-being into being. Everything that exists is menaced by non-being, for it can again be made a nothingness. That is why everything that is, is restless and on the search for a place where this menace cannot reach it – for a ‘resting place’. It is not merely the human heart which is ‘restless until it finds rest in Thee’, as Augustine said. The whole creation is filled with this same unrest, and transcends itself in the search for the rest in which it can abide.
(GC, p. 282)

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