Wait! No Sea? (RJS)

Consider the opening chapter of Genesis.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:1-4 NIV)

In this passage we see that God created the land and the sea. Not only did he create the sea, but he saw that it was good.

But the sea is also an image of chaos.

On the other hand, the image of the sea is often an image of chaos in scripture and in ancient Near Eastern culture more broadly. Pete Enns had a post about this several years ago at BioLogos Yahweh, Creation, and the Cosmic Battle. In the Genesis 1 the “deep” and the sea are inanimate objects, but remnants of this image of chaos are still present, if nothing else in the emphasis on them as inanimate objects.

A retelling of creation in the Psalms is somewhat more explicit in reference to the ANE view of sea as chaos: It was you who split open the sea by your power (Ps 74:13). References can be found in a number of other passages as well.

A little later on in Genesis 1 we read that God created “the great creatures of the sea,” that is the sea monsters, as well. And again he saw that it was good. Later Jewish tradition makes this idea of God’s creation of the great sea monsters explicit as we see in 2 Bar 29:4 And Behemoth shall be revealed from his place and Leviathan shall ascend from the sea, those two great monsters which I created on the fifth day of creation and in 4 Ezra 6:49-54. Both of these texts appear to date around 90-100 AD and likely reflect ideas current in first century Judaism.

Psalm 74 specifies Leviathan as well (13-14):

It was you who split open the sea by your power;
you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.
It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert.

It was very good. In some discussions of a Christian view of creation much has been made of the phrase “it was good” in Genesis 1 repeated in verses 3,9,12,18,21. In verse 31 we have the summary: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. One can, of course, take the position that the image of the sea as chaos and the denizens of the deep as creatures of terror are a result of the fall. Prior to Genesis 3 they were “good” in an idyllic sense. If there had been no fall, they’d be good and tame yet. Ken Ham takes this view when he writes on this phrase with the emphasis on “was” – it was good. We err, according to Ham, for example, when we place too much emphasis on the beauty and glory of creation as we see it today. He writes: “In nature, we do see a remnant of beauty, a shattered reflection of the original perfection of Eden. But it’s all in the context of death and destruction . . . all of it.” One solution, I suppose.

But we still have a problem in scripture – at least if we take a literal approach as preferred and assume a motif of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Revelation does not really depict a restoration of an idyllic primeval garden or the reestablished perfect creation of Genesis 1.

The consummation in Revelation 21 begins:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

If the sea in Genesis 1 was good – a part of God’s perfect creation – why is there particular mention in Revelation 21 that there will be no longer any sea? The sea is not necessarily evil, and can be quite beautiful. If the sea, however, represents chaos, the elimination of the sea makes sense. But it isn’t a recreation of Genesis 1.

And in Revelation 22:3-5 we read:

The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Not only is there no longer any sea, there also is no longer any dark. The Lord God gives light everywhere. His face will shine upon them, an echo of Aaron’s priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24-26.

The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.

This is a blessing I think we should use more often. But, if the dark and night were part of God’s good creation of Genesis 1, why is night not a part of the new heavens and earth? Did the Lord’s face not shine on Adam and Eve?

Well, not a problem, but a pointer. I don’t want to claim that this “discrepancy” is a problem for faith. But I do think it points to ways in which an overly literal approach to Genesis and Revelation, without careful consideration of genre and message, can cause problems. I also think it points to a problem with a synopsis that characterizes the story of scripture as creation, fall, redemption, and new creation, as though the consummation is a return to the garden. This reading simply is not consistent with scripture as far as I can tell. Even without Genesis 3 there is a trajectory commenced in creation, and it would lead eventually to the consummation. The command to be fruitful and multiply (1:28) is part of this trajectory.

The role that death plays in God’s creation is a problem with which we must wrestle. But ultimately we have a promise. In the consummation, where there is no sea (however good it was in Genesis 1) and no night or dark (however good they were in Genesis 1), there is also no death.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

This doesn’t look like a restoration of Eden, but it is a restoration of the presence of God and even more. God dwells not alongside the Garden as we saw in the ancient Near Eastern pattern that helps make sense of Genesis 3 (The Garden in Ancient Context), but he dwells among his people. It bears repeating. God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. Isn’t this even better than the Garden?

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

Is the Christian story told as creation, fall, redemption, and restoration (i.e. return to Eden) true to the Bible?

Does it matter?

What do you make of the creation of the sea, the taming of the sea, and the elimination of the sea?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

The pictures in this post, by the way, I took at Caesarea Maritima on a beautiful September day when the sea appeared quite tame.

  • D. Foster

    Great post!

    I was once in a church where I heard a pastor give the “literal” interpretation of Revelation. Where it describes the city coming down from Heaven, he showed a picture of the Earth with a giant gold block sticking off the top.

    He went on to describe how, because there won’t be any sea, then either God won’t have sea animals in the new heavens and new earth or–are you ready for this?–God will equip sea creatures with new biological organisms to enable them to dwell on land!

    –Derek

  • http://jamesdowden.wordpress.com/ James Dowden

    It’s probably worth noting that the Genesis 3 account of the “Fall” corresponds to the Genesis 2 creation account. The Genesis 1 creation account corresponds to the very brief and terse Genesis 6.11-12 corruption account:

    11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

    This leads into the Flood as uncreation, with the waters coming in from above the firmament and below the deep at 7.11: everything becomes sea.

  • Kevin

    Perhaps the image of “no sea” first needs to be read and understood within Revelation before the image is explored in a canonical context. The image of sea in Revelation suggests some level of progression in the narrative/storyline. In Revelation 4 the sea surrounds the throne, acting like a barrier. 4:6‑‑Sea is a divider — Man / Sea / God. In Revelation 15 the “saints” are positioned in proximity to the sea. 15:2‑‑Sea is the Saints — Man / Saints / God. Then in Revelation 21 the sea disappears. 21:1‑2‑‑No more sea — Man / God

  • RJS4DQ

    Thanks Kevin, a good point to add into the discussion.

  • residentoftartarus

    RJS,

    I believe the creation-fall-redemption-new creation narrative is incorrect. Indeed, obviously so since it leaves out the epic of the Ancient Hebrews, which only occupies the majority of the Bible! As NT Wright likes to note, this telling of the biblical narrative can’t be correct as it skips from Gen 3 to Matt 1.

    A more correct summary of the biblical narrative, I think, would be something along the lines of a creation-Israel-new Israel-new creation narrative.

  • RJS4DQ

    I am not sure the sea of glass, or what looked like a sea of glass – later glowing with fire (4,15) is the sea referenced in 21. Perhaps it is though. I’d be interested in what those who’ve studied it more think.

  • Tom F.

    “What do you make of the creation of the sea, the taming of the sea, and the elimination of the sea?”

    Okay, so if the sea is “chaos”, and part of “chaos” is death, a difficult open question to me seems to me how one evaluates the place of death within the creation. Specifically, what is the relationship of human persons to death (theological anthropology)? It seems like death was at one point, then, a “good” part of creation, and a “good” part of human life. Thus, scriptures like in Ecclesiastes that seem to see death (and human death) as having a proper place in creation. Okay, well and good.

    But then, a hope for resurrection and justice develops within the later Hebrew/Jewish tradition, and this hope is revealed in full in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Numerous scriptures claim that Jesus defeated death itself. Straightforward enough.

    The question that is unclear to me is this: *IF death had a natural place in creation (and therefore human life), than why exactly did we need to be rescued from it or why did death need to be defeated? If human death is the natural end of human life, as something that is not against its telos or God’s intended end, than why does it need to be defeated?

    It seems that if one starts “backwards”, than human beings can be fully human even if they die, but if one looks “forwards”, than the fullest expression of their humanity is to reign with God in resurrected, immortal bodies. Which is determinative of our nature then, where we started (and thus our created nature) or where we will end up? Is it possible that human nature changed across the history of revelation?

    It is not as though a young earth or old earth or evolutionary beliefs about creation ultimately matter (I admit to preferring evolutionary accounts, generally). One would be confronted with this problem in any of those paradigms, because this is ultimately a theological question generated by two different perspectives on death that seem to be within scripture.

  • Benjamin Rhodes

    I’m not sure the seas in Genesis 1 should be compared to the seas in Revelation. According to my understanding of ancient cosmology, there is an “Ocean of the heavens” or “sea of the heavens” that seperates the “raqia” (firmament around the earth) from the “heaven of heavens”.

    The sea of the heavens literally separates earth from the dwelling place of God. So, when the Bible talks about the sea being destroyed, I take it to mean that it is this gulf between heaven and earth that is collapsed so that heaven and earth can be united.

    Additionally, in 2 Peter 3 there is talk about the “heavens” disappearing with a roar, and the “elements” being destroyed by fire. If memory serves, both Green and Bauckham’s commentary on 2 Peter stress that these “heavens” and “elements” are parts of ancient cosmology representing those things that separate earth and the dwelling place of God, both of which will be removed so that God can find humans. In 2 Peter, however, he almost uses it as a warning – that when these new heaven and new earth occur, only righteousness can be used as clothing. Everything else will be striped naked.

    In any case, to answer RJS’ question, I see the “sea” as discussed in Genesis as fundamentally different from the one discussed in Revelation. In Genesis, I read it as Enns does. In Revelation, I read it as the gulf between the place where God lives and the place of earth.

  • RJS4DQ

    Benjamin,

    Interesting connections. The point I was trying to make at the end of the post was that the emphasis in Revelation is God dwelling among us. Your take on the sea makes sense with that – if the sea above the vault separates us from God, it will not be part of the new creation.

    And of course, the sea that separated the vault from the heaven of heavens was still part of the creation that God saw was good. The culmination is not a return to Eden and arguments that suggest it is won’t work.

  • Norman

    In Rev there are 2 entities, the Sea and the Land, this imagery is taken from the OT. There are 2 beast, one from the Sea representing pagan darkness and one from the Land representing Israel who had been raised up out of the Sea. The beast denotes an entity who is outside if God, thus the land beast represents a corruptness controlling Israel.
    No more sea is presenting the same concept we see in Eph 2 where the dividing wall between Jew and gentile no longer exist. Later we see no more sun and moon nor temple, this represents the new covenant and dissolution of mosaic Judaism by the writer.


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