Genesis 1:2 tells us that when God created the heavens and the earth, “the earth was without form and void.”
If you take that literally, I’m not sure how it could have existed. Everything that exists needs a form in which to exist and its existence is what fills that form. So to say that the earth was formless and empty, implies that while it existed in some way, it was in a way that we can’t understand. Or else it just means that it’s form was not yet “formed”. I’m inclined to think of it the latter way – that God had roughed out what He was doing. I’ll come back to why I think that in a moment.
The point right now is that if the earth was without form and it was empty, there was really nothing Adam could do with it.
However, over six days God proceeds to create forms and to fill them. First, He makes “time-forms” that He calls day and night. He puts them in a pattern of seven, six for work and one for rest.
Then, within each time-form, He makes “space-forms”: above and below the firmament, water and land, earth and sky.
Next, he fills these forms with content. He puts stars, sun, and moon in the sky as signs to guide us (which is the first Biblical passage on how to find God’s will).
He draws plants and animals from the earth and the sea, and He tells them to reproduce after their kinds.
And then He makes the man, after His Image and in His Likeness. He gives Him extraordinary authority over the earth, making it His stewardship and making him His representative or priest.
When we come to chapter two, God gives the man his first task. He tells him to name the animals. This is not an arbitrary task, but is one for which God has been preparing the earth and for which He made Adam. By engaging this task, Adam is being prepared to fulfill his duty.
Now imagine that Adam had tried to name the animals, but they had not been blessed to reproduce after their kind. Imagine if animals could bear offspring of a different kind. How could Adam have named them?
Of course, the answer is that he could have given each an individual name, but imagine the chaos. He could not have blessed such a world because our ability to bless the world is tied to 1. our ability to know things according to their natures, 2. our ability to name things rightly, and 3. our ability to enable things to flourish based on the kind of thing they are.
That is one of the main reasons God instructed Adam to name the animals. To give something a name that fits demands close, attentive study. You can’t rightly name something you don’t know. But a name is also a promise and an expectation. It is a way of “sub-creating”.
An extraordinary thing happens while Adam names the animals. Remember that he has been given this huge job of serving as the lord of the creation. While getting to know the animals, he is ordering them and noting what each is able to do. But he also notes that in this great hierarchy of creatures, there is not a single animal that is suited to his particular needs as a man. No animal can help him govern and bless the creation.
Amazingly, the man realizes that he is not complete. So he willingly submits to surgery, having a rib removed from his side.
Try to imagine the full meaning of the words he uttered when he saw the woman after having a very clear demonstration that he needed her. No other animal satisfied him. But now, this is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.
This is a depth of intimacy that was always God’s intention. And I might add that we are not encountering in woman a “divine afterthought”. Instead we are encountering a master teacher.
I am summarizing what you probably already know so well because I am thinking about it from the perspective of God as teacher. I said the other day that we teachers have four master tools: forms, questions, names, and analogies. Each of them is drawn from this Biblical account of the creation.
Notice that God does not bring his student into the “classroom” until He has designed it. And note that He has designed it so that the environment will bless the student and the student will bless the environment. Adam interacts with his environment and that is the primary way that he learns.
Notice that it is by learning about his environment that Adam learns about himself. He learns that he has limits and needs a partner that is appropriate to, suitable for, him. He learns that no other animal will do. He learns to be grateful by first discovering the need and then being given the solution. Each of these lessons is essential to a cultivated love of learning.
Notice also, and this is crucial, that God made the kinds that Adam was to name. Had God not made animals and plants as kinds, there would have been nothing to name. The metaphysics of this makes my head spin, but I can’t explore that right now.
What I want to emphasize here is that we have in the Genesis record a complete pedagogy in which the master teacher of master teachers shows us how humans learn and how to teach. We cannot go wrong if we pay attention to it.
One, God makes forms, without which there can be no creation or teaching. To give something form is to make it by limiting it. To accept the forms is to accept the thing and to love it.
Two, God gives Adam a job: name the animals. This job necessarily raises questions that will draw out Adam’s raw abilities. He has to pay attention, to note, to remember, to compare, to apprehend, and then to re-present what has been presented to him. In so doing, he practices each of those faculties and moves them toward virtue.
And finally, in that task of naming, Adam sees by analogy that he needs something analogous to himself and we see a perfect analogy of perfect instruction.
I intend to spend a lot of time in the days to come exploring the riches of this passage. It will be part of the conference presentations, of course, but more and more we’re weaving it into our teacher training. This passage can guide us out of the confusion of post-Christian thought that leads us toward informality, resistance to purpose-directed questions, ignoring and therefore ignorance of the nature of things, and failure to delight in the analogous nature of the whole created order.
All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Christ. I remain determined to explore them!