The Genesis:3 Project
And God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)
The first thing God creates is not light. The first thing God creates is creating. And the way God creates creating is by speaking.
We know a little too much about vocal cords and sound waves and anthropomorphism to be swept away by this simple assertion – my guess is you read it as I do, as a metaphor – but please suspend your sacred skepticism for a moment to consider the implications of this lesson. And bear with me if I seem to be very literal for a paragraph or two.
A thought pops into God’s head – perhaps randomly, perhaps after much reflection. “Let there be light.” God being God, why must that thought be translated into words? Isn’t the intention to create light (whatever that is in an unformed void) in the mind of the Divine sufficient?
Apparently not. The thought that rattles around inside, a sort of wishful thinking, has no creative power. In order for light to exist, it must escape from that private realm of consideration and be set free. When God speaks, “light” is no longer just an idea. It is a reality. As the early-morning prayer affirms, God spoke and the world became.
Mystics, charlatans and entertainers have been trying to capture that power since, I would guess, the sixth day of God chattering. “I will create as I speak,” goes the declaration or, in Aramaic, “Abra-cadabra.” Spells and incantations, the secret syllables revealed, were supposed to be able to turn a man into a newt. (He got better.) Chants could impact inanimate objects – you know someone, maybe yourself, who has stood over a telephone and begged it to “ring, ring, ring.” Maybe yelling “hey, batter batter” at the ballpark will subtly encourage a decision at the plate, but yelling it at the television, um, won’t.
The attempt to out-God God with spoken magic is the stuff of fantasy. The ancient brass lamp imprisons a genie who can turn three wishes into reality, and just by saying it, it happens. We know it’s not true.
But we overlook that the creative power of speech is part of the image of God in which we are formed. The thoughts that rattle around in our brains have no creative power (though it is delicious to consider what the internal landscape of God's musings are, given what our daydreams produce). But let them loose and, like the first light on the first day, they create a new reality.
At their most magnificent, our words are transformative. You remember the lecture your heard or the play you saw that changed your heart. You can recall the excitement in your life when you shared an insight with a friend or mentor. And you remember at least one time that your world was an unformed void and a kind word let there be light.
At their worst, our words are agents of destruction. You have heard in these immediate times how words that describe a dystopian vision of Mexicans or Muslims have created fear and loathing where none existed. You can recall a time when someone's cruel assessment of your appearance stripped away your sense of self. And you remember at least one time when your world of light became an unformed void with an utterance: we need some time apart; the diagnosis isn't good; I regret to inform you...
I am as guilty as anyone of squandering this creative power. Every word creates a world, some for better, some for worse. Being careless or profligate with our creative power is as troubling as promiscuity or bullying. But when that idea in your head is just the thing that is needed to dissipate the darkness in your world or in the life of a friend...abracadabra.