This week’s readings at Mass focus on the account of creation in the Book of Genesis. It is meant to be theology, not history.
The sacred writers were not concerned with getting their details right. So, we have two different accounts of creation in the first and second chapters. The first places the creation of humanity in a list of other creatures, which appear to dwarf the human with their great variety and colour, even though the first humans are said to be made in the image and likeness of God!
No details are given of human creation in that first chapter. It is the second chapter that focuses almost totally on the creation of humanity, with Adam first, then followed by animals and then finally by Eve. Note that in the first story the animals come before the creation of men and women, not after.
And the first account is so positive, with its repetition of the phrase “And God saw that it was good.” There is only order and harmony at this stage. So we may legitimately ask, in the context of contemporary news, “Where do earthquakes come from?”
Are they the result of human sin? Well the second account does imply this because of the introduction of “evil” in the reference to a “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:15-17). There is also a hint of the presence of temptation in so far as God creates “every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat.”
“Enticing” things suggest a challenge in relation to desire, and indeed this will lead Adam and Eve into sin, which is a matter of disordered desires. And then to make matters worse, we get a talking serpent happening along to stoke the fires of temptation.
All of this makes it look as though God is making the Garden of Eden a challenging place, all due to this mixed blessing of human freedom. Another way of putting this is to say that God places risk at the heart of his creation. Living is a risky business! If you build a city to house millions of people, many in high-rise blocks, sometimes with weak foundations, surely you can expect a risk of earthquakes if the region is already prone to them.
It may happen only every hundred years, but when it does, what an uproar it causes. Exactly the same thing can be said about the Covid virus. We don’t expect something like this to have the effect it did, but it is all part of this inherent risk which creation includes and which humbles us in our highly controlled environment.
I have sat on a board of management of a major charity which shows great care in the running of the organisation. It has all sorts of subcommittees dealing with different dimensions of the work. Good governance demands this level of integrity.
One committee has its major focus on “risk management.” The charity has to have a “risk register” to anticipate any challenge to the smooth running and even the ongoing existence of the project.
The aim is not to eliminate every risk as that is impossible, but to minimise risk as far as possible. And all of this is admirable of course, yet fundamentally we live in God’s creation where risk is not necessarily a bad thing. It keeps us on our toes, keeps us humble and ultimately demands trust in God’s providence, even when terrible earthquakes happen.