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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Why did God create the world in six days, and not in millions of years?
My first reaction to your question was to not consider it. I tend to avoid questions that tend to a high level of speculation. But after reflection I decided to address it. The Bible approaches this topic in an oblique way, and requires the student of the Word to pay careful attention to the biblical materials to uncover aspects of the text that are not explicitly stated. The risk of finding more than the text is saying is real, and we should always be willing to listen to the advice of others. I submit the following for your consideration:
1. God and Work: Genesis 1:1-2:3 describe God as a worker, a builder who brings into existence the building materials He will use in this project through a command (cf. Heb. 11:3). Then He organizes those materials according to the master plan He formulated within the mystery of His eternal wisdom. Every stage of creation prepares the way for the next stage as the Builder of the world actualizes His intentions and plans. The text contains a theology of work that cannot be developed here. God is building for the benefit of others. He is preparing a wonderful and beautiful habitat not only for the fauna of the planet but, above all, for the human race.
2. God and Rest: We could say that by describing God as a builder a human characteristic is being ascribed to Him. Yet when He began His creative work, humans had not yet been created. At the end of His work of creation He rested. From a theological angle one could argue that the God who brought everything into existence in an effortless way did not need to rest. Yet He rested.This is what we call “anthropomorphism” (anthrōpos, human; morphē, form)-human characteristics being ascribed to God. He who is not a human being is described as one. The anthropomorphic language is stronger after the Fall when God’s rest is described as “being refreshed” (cf. Ex. 31:17). The purpose of this anthropomorphism is for God to model for humans what He expects from them. It could be said that by resting God is acting like the ideal “Human.” He is telling us that rest is indispensable; that productivity is important for our self-expression, but that there is something as important, or even more important, namely, resting.
Ceasing from work frees time for us to engage in communion with Him. In productivity we can certainly enjoy communion with Him, but it is communion in the midst of work. In rest communion is direct, personal, and exclusively focused on the object of fellowship. By resting God exemplifies a dimension of human experience that is indispensable for humanity’s wellbeing.
3. God and the Week: The six days of work followed by a day of rest also has an exemplary function. The weekly cycle is unique in depicting the way humans will operate. This cycle is not determined by the cycles of nature, because ultimately humans are not under the power of nature but under the direct loving power of the divine will. God created a race that would be spiritually and socially structured in certain ways. Instead of simply informing them about it through the spoken word, He epitomizes it in His work of creation. Through the divine act of creation God models human conduct, His plan for them. The new race He created would function in optimal conditions by working six days and resting on the seventh, by imitating Him (Ex. 20:8-11). God revealed this to them by working six days and resting on the seventh.
Creation in six days means that from the beginning God had the human race-and His intention for it-in mind. He could have created in four days or even a moment, but He chose to do it in seven because He wanted to exemplify for us our role. We are to place ourselves at the service of others through work and find rest in Him on the seventh day. We are to imitate God in our lives. From the very beginning He was coming down to our level to reveal to us who we are.