Paradox is built into the Bible’s first words

“In
the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”

That
is the first sentence in the Bible (King James version). It sounds
straightforward, but in those ten words are contained the seeds of every
philosophical conundrum, every cosmological question, known to humans.

Consider: If there was a “beginning,” then what preceded the beginning? We do not know, and the Bible does not tell us. Nor does it tell us why God decided to create anything in the first place. Was he bored?

Who
is the “God” who created the heaven and the earth? Who created God? Who
created God’s creator? This infinite regression has been the bane of philosophers
forever; they’ve been—and remain—unable to resolve it.

What is “the heaven” which God created? It could not have been the sky, which God did not create until the third day. Nor could “heaven” have been the stars, Moon and Sun, since those were not created until the fourth day. Ancient peoples in the Middle East seem to have thought of “heaven” as the roof of the world, the firmament; but Genesis 1:7-8 says God created “the firmament” on the second day and called it “heaven.” So “heaven” could not have been created “in the beginning.” Nor could “heaven” have been anything physical.

For
that matter, why did God create two things (heaven and earth) instead of one
thing? The Bible does not tell us, but we can make inferences. Had God created
only one thing, it would have been co-equal with God. Since nothing can be
co-equal with God (“There is none like you, oh Lord,” said Jeremiah),
God could not have created only one thing.

So God created two things, and in so doing, he established the yin-yang duality that seems to pervade the universe. He created also the psychic split that man has suffered from since the Creation. Is man mind (“heaven”) or body (“earth”)? A little of both? Philosophers have wrestled with this dilemma, too. Today, man and woman—all of us—continue to try to understand the mysterious interplay of mind and body. Was this God’s intention in creating a world of duality, to puzzle us?

That
duality also fuels the split between science and religion, a tug of war that
continues to have dramatic repercussions across the world. Science (“earth”)
is one way of understanding reality. Religion (“heaven”) is another way.
Often the two cultures are irreconcilable. Science says the Earth is billions
of years old; religion—at least, the Orthodox Jewish and conservative Christian
version—says the Earth is 5,800 years old. There can be no compromise between “heaven”
and “earth.” (America finds herself on the horns of this dilemma at this
very time, with a faux-Christian science denier in the White House.)

It’s
enough to drive a person crazy, which is why the Book of Ecclesiastes is worth
a read. The authors (and there were probably multiple authors) acknowledge the
impossibility of making sense of anything; and besides, even the quest to make
sense of things is “vanity.” “For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that
increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”

Why bother, then, to try and understand? Yet we’re programmed to do exactly that, which leads to another question: If “wisdom” equals “grief,” then why did God give us the curiosity to inquire, and the mental ability to reason? Surely we would be happier if, like dumb beasts, we didn’t second-guess everything in our fruitless search for understanding. Surely our contentment would be greater if we could revert to a pre-Tree of Knowledge innocence.

The
Bible is curiously silent on this topic of why Man is homo sapiens sapiens: He
who knows he knows. Was it that bite of the apple that made us self-conscious?
Why do we think so much? It just gets us in trouble. Yes, our so-called
“intelligence” has invented penicillin, gotten us to the Moon, given us the
Internet. But it also, as Ecclesiastes explicitly…


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