[In Genesis 1] the words ‘God said’ appear ten times… in this way the creation narrative anticipates the Ten Commandments… [they are] an echo of creation;… not arbitrary inventions for the purpose of erecting barriers to human freedom but signs pointing to the spirit, the language, and the meaning of creation.
In the Beginning, 39
Reflection – Here we have in a few short sentences the substance of Catholic moral thought and our natural law tradition. The moral law springs from the very God-given structure of created reality. God says, and it is so, and it is good. Good human action, then, corresponds to the creative design and purpose of God’s created order. We are part of that order, and find our happiness and freedom within it.
We also have a good lesson by example here on how Catholics read Scripture. The creation account in Genesis is not a science textbook nor is it in the strict sense of the modern word, history. It is a work of theology and poetry, and its truth claims must be understood in light of the type of work it is.
This is not some insight of modern Scripture study; the fathers of the Church read Genesis this way. And so here we see that the author of Genesis 1, inspired by the Holy Spirit, links the creative will of God with the law revealed on
Mount Sinai. The creation account is a relatively late writing, probably written in the Babylonian exile. The law codes with the Decalogue at their center are much older.
So the human author assisted by God is communicating something very deep here, as he meditates on God as the source and absolute master of all that is. Human moral behavior—obedience to the law—is an act of faith in the doctrine of creation. God made the world, not us. The truth of life and of the world comes from Him, not from us. Our commitment to that doctrine entails obedience to the moral law as revealed to us.
But there’s more to it than that. God said, and it came to be. Ten times God spoke, it happened, and it was good. God says to us what to do, and we do it, and it is good. Moral behavior, then, is our entry into being co-creators with God. You want your life to be creative and not destructive? Don’t steal. You want to be building up the world and not tearing it down? Don’t tell lies. You want to live and not die? Don’t kill or commit adultery. You want to be friends with God, and walk in his presence and do his work? Worship Him with great reverence and keep holy the Sabbath.
By obeying the moral law as it comes to us in the Decalogue and, yes, as it comes to us through the Church’s 2000 year tradition of reflection and consistent teaching on that Decalogue, we both live our faith in God the creator and enter into his creative work.
I have meditated for years now on why Jesus said in Matthew 5 that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Perhaps here we have something of the answer. If the law springs from the heart of God’s creative will, then we see that Jesus came not to abolish creation but to fulfill it. Jesus came to heal and bring to completion the work the Trinity began ‘in the beginning.’ And so Christianity is not a religion that abolishes all the rules and regulations and reduces everything to a sort of anomic niceness. ‘Just love everyone—that’s the only law now!’ Well, no. Christ did not nullify the created order that He, the Logos of God, established in the beginning. And love of God and neighbor will always mean serving and honoring that created order.
But he did come to fulfill the law. That is, we experience the law without Christ as an extrinsic thing coming at us. Rules imposed from on high, and we all know this is an unpleasant experience, even if in our faith and love of God we choose to accept and abide by ‘the rules’.
Christ came to make this something much better. He came to live in us and make His life our life by the power of his Holy Spirit in us. And so the Law and its demands is no longer to be something extrinsic and heavy, something we bridle under even as we may choose to obey it out of fear or even out of love.
Rather, we are meant to be son with the Son, so much in God in Christ that the Law becomes our law, something personal and intimate and joyous. We don’t tell lies, not because we’ve been told not to and are afraid of hellfire, but because in Christ we are truth. We don’t fornicate, not because of a heavy burden of unpleasant commandment and shame, but because in Christ our very bodies are taken up into covenant love and fidelity. We don’t kill because in Christ we cannot imagine treating a human being with violence and hatred.