Genesis: God Makes a Start,              Catholic PerspectivesGenesis: God Makes a Start, Catholic Perspectives
Kevin Perrotta
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Genesis was written in a culture different from ours, but deals with universal human issues. In Genesis 1-11, God Makes a Start, you will discover from stories you may already be familiar with, more about God, the world, and human beings that you might not know. Thought-provoking questions for group discussion or personal reflection  appeal to beginners as well as to those familiar with the Bible.

Six sessions take about one hour and twenty minutes each and include everything you need: Bible text, questions for discussion and application, background notes, insights and quotes from Church fathers and saints, and suggestions for prayer. All combine to help you grow in understanding God's word and your relationship with God.

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Week 1


Questions to Begin

15 minutes
Use a question or two to get warmed up for the reading.

1 For you, this last week has been

_ ordinary
_ unusual
_ boring
_ great
_ a time of grace
_ a week to forget

2 Describe a memorable beginning in your life. How did it turn out?

3 If you could make a fresh start in some area of life, what would it be?

Opening the Bible

5 minutes
Read the passage aloud. Let individuals take turns reading paragraphs.

The Reading: Genesis 1:1—31

The Universe: Act One, Scene One

1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

Creatures of Sea, Air, and Land

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saving, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. 24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

God’s Masterpiece

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Questions for Careful Reading

10 minutes
Choose questions according to your interest and time.

1 How does God’s evaluation of his work in verse 31 differ from his previous evaluations? What might be the significance of this difference?

2 What are animals and humans given the freedom to eat? By implication, what are they restricted from eating? What might be the significance of this restriction?

3 What picture of God could be drawn simply on the basis of this reading from Genesis?

4 Most ancient Near Eastern people thought of the sun, moon, and stars as gods. What would verses 14—18 say about such a belief?

A Guide to the Reading

If participants have not read this section already, read it aloud.
Otherwise go on to “Questions for Application.”

Picture a movie scene that includes the use of cartoon-type animation. An artist sitting at an easel begins to paint. She sweeps her brush in broad strokes back and forth across the canvas. Through animation, at each stroke objects magically appear. With one stroke of the brush, a tree springs into view. Another stroke and a meadow surrounds the tree. Two dabs of the brush put a sun in the sky and a child beneath the tree. Suddenly the picture comes to life. The tree’s branches sway in the breeze. The child runs across the meadow.

Genesis 1 is like that. God calls forth the universe in six days, each day an effortless stroke of an artist’s brush. The account does not describe the processes by which the universe took shape and life developed, any more than the animation shows how an artist actually paints a picture. But Genesis teaches us things we cannot learn from astronomy or biology.

A narrator must say when and where the action begins. This requirement poses a problem. Before creation there was no time or place. Nothing had been created. Yet verse 3 cannot stand as the beginning of the account, so the narrator describes the “situation” before creation: a shapeless emptiness, a watery darkness whipped by storms (verse 2; “wind from God” is probably a Hebrew way of describing an extremely violent wind). The narrator describes what cannot really be described, because it did not exist. (While Genesis probably had several authors and editors, for the sake of simplicity I will refer to “the narrator” or “the author” in this booklet.)

The author does not describe creation from nothing in quite the way that later theologians have come to understand it. Yet neither does he say that anything existed before God created. When the author describes God performing operations on the watery darkness (1:6—10), he does not mean that God formed the world out of preexisting matter, for the dark ocean of verse 2 is not neutral matter in our modern sense. It is chaos, sinister nothingness, and absence of any possibility of life. The account of God’s illuminating darkness and dividing waters (1:3—10) is a way of conveying that God called into existence an orderly universe.

It seems strange that God creates light on the first day, while sun and stars appear only on the fourth, but the narrator is pursuing a logic of his own. The purpose of the light is to inaugurate time, as indicated by the naming of what is created: “Day” and “Night” (1:5). Next God creates space. He establishes vertical space by engineering the sky, which ancient people thought of as a hard, transparent dome holding up a vast, blue ocean (1:6—8). God makes horizontal space by clearing away water to expose the land (1:9—10).

Calling earth “Earth” and seas “Seas” (1:10) seems an exercise in the obvious. But in the culture of the time, name-giving indicated possession (see Isaiah 43:1). Thus the account shows that the universe is God’s property; it belongs to him. Notice that God does not name the animals (keep this in mind for next week).

After creating various creatures (1:20—25), God reaches the climax of his efforts. Here he does not merely utter a “Let there be.” God deliberates with himself—” Let us make” (1:26)— carefully considering his greatest undertaking.

God creates humans in his “image” and “likeness” (1:26—27). In the ancient Near East, kings were considered images of the gods. Thus for humans to be made in the image of God means, as scholar Nahum M. Sarna says, that “each person bears the stamp of royalty.” God has made us with the intelligence and freedom required to carry out a royal assignment. God assigns us as his viceroys to govern the earth and its creatures (1:26).

Being made in God’s image means even more than this, for it also means that we correspond to God. We are made like God in order to interact with him. There is a fit, a match, between God and us that makes a relationship possible. Scholar Claus Westermann writes, “The creation of humanity has as its goal a happening between God and human beings.” In our entire physical and spiritual nature we are created for a relationship with God. As soon as the first human couple stands before him, God activates this relationship. We read for the first time, “God said to them” (1:28). Among earth’s creatures, with humanity alone can God carry on a conversation.

Questions for Application

40 minutes
Choose questions according to your interest and time.

1 Where is there disorder, disintegration, or absurdity in your life? What are the dangers and threats posed to you and those you are close to? Where do you long to see God bring order, peace, and protection? What effect can this week’s reading have on your trust in God in these areas?

2 What difference should knowing that the universe belongs to God make in how we treat the earth? If you were to consider the tiny part of creation that God has put in your hands as his personal possession—your house, your car, your bank account, your yard, your dog— how might you relate to it differently?

3 What might this week’s reading say about the belief that the movements of the stars and planets determine the course of people’s lives?

4 When have you become particularly aware that God is seeking a personal relationship with you? What do you intend to do to respond more fully to his invitation?

5 God gives the whole human race the mandate to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (1:28). How could parents and those who are not parents work together more effectively to foster the development of the children God has given your church community?

“Clarifying the members’ motivations and expectations early in the life of the group saves you from countless aggravations.” - Neal F. McBride, How to Lead Small Groups

Approach to Prayer

15 minutes
Use this approach — or create your own!

Now that you have read the repeated divine declarations that “it is good,” it is your turn to reflect them back to God in a litany of thanks:

First recite Genesis 1:31 together: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

Then allow participants to mention things for which they are grateful, pausing after each item for the group to pray together, “Thank you, Lord, for the goodness of your creation.”

Recite Genesis 1:31 together again, and close by praying Psalm 8.

Saints in the Making

God and Our Chaos

This section is a supplement for individual reading.

Genesis 1 depicts creation as an ordering of chaos. God shatters the darkness of nonexistence by creating light, then joins darkness as a subordinate to the light in the alternating rhythm of night and day (1:1—5). God rolls back the life-negating deep; assigned now to a place beside the land, the tamed waters become the bright sea (1:6—10).

While God imposes order on chaos, tendencies to disintegration and absurdity are not entirely eliminated from creation. In the Israelite view, night and ocean continue as zones of danger, symbols of the destruction that lurks at the edges of life. Creation constantly needs the creator to keep bringing the dawn, to keep holding back the floodwaters from the dry land.

The sense that life is not a neat, ordered whole is probably common to all of us. Bernadette McCarver Snyder suggests that chaos is as near as the kitchen sink. “For many of us across the land,” she writes, “the dawn does not come up like thunder. It comes up with the rattle of dirty dishes. No matter how late you stay up sanitizing the kitchen at night, the next morning there will be DIRTY DISHES somewhere. Either they regenerate themselves, or somebody up there wants me to have dishpan hands.”

With a little self-knowledge, we recognize that disorder is within as well as without. Dom Helder Camara, bishop of Recife, Brazil, told an interviewer, “At two in the morning, I always wake up, get up, get dressed, and gather up the pieces I’ve scattered during the day—an arm here, a leg there, the head who knows where. I sew myself back together again; all alone, I start thinking or writing or praying, or I get ready for Mass.”

At times, the hammer blows of loss smash our lives into meaningless fragments. Antoinette Bosco writes, “Divorce made me yearn for the miracle of reconnection, the gift of being able to pick up the pieces of a shattered life and build a new, radically different one.”

At every stage of our journey, the Genesis image of a chaos-ordering God stands before us as a sign of hope. The God who spoke light into being, who divided water and land to make a beautiful world, is with us each day as we make our way toward wholeness in his presence.

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