Last week I began a sermon series on Creation. We explored the reality that nothing else existed with God when God began to create—not even the dark empty space of nothingness. There was only God. Because of this, God’s first act involved God’s self withdrawing and becoming humble in order to create the space within God’s being in order for there to be the room in which to create. This contracting and limiting of God is called zimzum; God making space inside God’s very being for creation. God formed a womb into which God could speak forth the entire universe.
A sermon based on Genesis 1.
That’s a lot to take in, I know. But it is the only thing that makes sense to me about how God created, because if anything existed alongside God—even a dark expanse of nothingness—then that entity would be eternal like God. Zimzum explains how there could be only God, and that God acted out of self-giving love in order to create.
Now the one thing I didn’t mention last week was the Trinity. We firmly believe that God exists in three persons in mutual and loving relationship one with the other. Father, Son, and Spirit mutually indwelling in one another and are probably better understood as Lover, Beloved, and Love. Between and among them exists a continual relationship of unity and self-giving love. And that love is too big to remain within God alone, so God embraces zimzum, forming the space—the womb—into which all of creation can emerge.
Which is what the book of Genesis describes in our reading this morning. We hear in the poetry of these verses of how God calls forth the land and vegetation and trees and flowers. And then God sees the need for the sun and moon and the stars and all the galaxies. God next calls forth into existence all kinds of swimming things including the sea monsters and then insects and birds. And then finally, God created all the animals that roam the earth, cattle and all sorts of things, and God looked on all this and declared it good.
In about a dozen verses, the entirety of the world and all that we know and understand came into being through God’s utterance inside this womb. It’s so quick that we might not begin to fathom how truly remarkable this whole thing is. First, consider that “vast expanse of interstellar space,” as the Prayer Book puts it. Let’s ponder our own Milky Way Galaxy, whose name comes from the fact that when you see it in a dark sky, it looks like milk was spilled across the sky. The so-called milk is of course stars that we cannot make out individually, and they are bright enough to cast a shadow in the right conditions—if the sky is dark enough and the moon is not out. (A reminder that the night was indeed dark enough for this until light pollution began to creep in during the 1950s.) While astronomers don’t know exactly, they estimate that there are 100 billion to 400 billion stars in our galaxy. Even the concept of 100 billion is hard to imagine. 100 billion dollar bills stacked on top of each other would reach 6,786 miles—or the distance to the orbiting International Space Station 28 times. Or laid end to end, those 100 billion dollar bills would circle the globe 387 times, some 9.6 million miles.
That’s just our average sized galaxy, a barred spiral galaxy with arms radiating out from a center point. Our own solar system is out on one of those arms in the Milky Way, with its 100 billion or more stars. Within the Milky Way itself, scientists know of at least 5,000 solar systems—that is stars with planets orbiting them. While they know of those 5,000 planetary systems in the Milky Way, they estimate that the number is in the tens of billions. Imagine that: tens of billions of other solar systems in our galaxy alone. That is mind boggling.
And that’s just small potatoes in this enormous expanse that God spoke into being within God’s self. NASA’s Hubble telescope has opened our eyes to the reality that there are at least 2 trillion galaxies in the known universe. 2 trillion more galaxies than the one we are situated in with its 100 billion stars. That math suggests there are roughly 2 septillion stars out there, or 2 to the 23rd power—give or take a 100 trillion—and that’s what we know about in that unfathomable space. Even the radius of the known universe is numbing in its grandeur, estimated at 46.5 billion light years. It would take a ray of light more than 46 billion years to get from one side of the universe to the other. All of that God created on the fourth day according to the writer of Genesis.
And now let’s turn to the planet we know, the things the poet of Genesis describes God creating on the fifth and sixth days of creation. Let’s talk bugs. Scientists estimate that there are between 6 and 10 million species of insects in our world. We know of 5,000 different species of dragonflies, 12,000 species of ants, and 170,000 different kinds of butterflies. At any given moment of time, there are roughly 10 quintillion insects alive, 10 million trillion. They pollinate our plants, produce food, and make silk. They break down and decompose organic waste. They help control other pests from destroying gardens. While we might freak out when a stink bug lands next to us inside our homes, even these bugs provide an ecological boost to other species—they create holes in leaves, producing small drops of sap that provide nourishment.
We know more about the universe than we do about the ocean depths. The oceans take up three quarters of the earth’s space, and yet 80 percent of that area remains unmapped, and unexplored. We know that more than 33 thousand species of fish swim in those waters—from sea bass to the yellow box fish, the goblin shark to the stargazer, which buries itself in the sand with bulging eyes and a mouth filled with razor sharp teeth on the top of its head. Marine invertebrates—the earliest animals on our planet—also dwell in the watery depths including sea sponges, lobsters, jelly fish, and sea anemones. Mammals can be found in these waters too, like dolphins and orcas and sea lions and manatees.
Speaking of mammals, there are some 5,500 species found throughout our planet. The voles that help aerate our lawns while also driving us mad, and the African lion that keeps the gazelle population in check. We all have our favorites, of course, like the hippopotamus—did you know there are 5 different kinds of hippos?—or the llama, a member of the camel family. There are the bats that feed on all those insects, and the kangaroos with their pouches for their young.
Or birds. Some 10,000 species of them. Or reptiles with nearly 11,000 different species. And here’s the thing: all of them, from the chirpy cardinal to the harmless garter snake, have a role to play in this earth of ours. Together with the extensive vegetation—and I haven’t even made mention of the vast variety of trees and flowers and grasses and moss—they work together in relationship with one another. They each depend on one another for life and sustenance. Plants thrive with the nutrients that animals leave behind in their excrement and from those that break down organic material. The honey from bees feed bears and other animals, and sea cucumbers help to filter ocean water. Together they live in relationship. Does that sound slightly familiar? Perhaps like the members of the Trinity in connection with each other?
And it’s amazing, isn’t it? And so very good. All of it imagined and spoken into being by God. And because we know through science that we human beings are late on the scene, it’s clear that, as pastor and nature enthusiast Brian McLaren puts it, “for 245 million years, and for 99.999 percent of the 66 million years since, God was happy to have a good universe that included neither a single human, nor a single religion.” God opened up space through zimzum in order to give life to the cosmos and all the immense variety of flora and fauna on this planet just to be in relationship with it. And it was good.
Friends, let us take the time to embrace this good earth and the awesome spectacle of outer space just to be enchanted by it. God loved all of that into being. Even as things grow and die, they do so in connection—in relationship—with one another. Before we get to the creation of humankind, let’s just realize all that is around us, and let us find delight in exploring and learning and soaking up all of that beauty. Out of the humble and self-giving love of zimzum, God created everything that we know, and it is indeed good.