Teaching about Creation

HOPE IS CONFIDENT TRUST THAT ALL IS IN GOD’S HANDS

“Catechesis includes four dimensions: knowledge of the faith, formation in worship, life in community and preparation for mission. These goals must be pursued concurrently. Unless all four are being cultivated, the others will be impaired.”

Keeping this in mind, how should we approach the teaching of Creation? It is perhaps both the most simple and the most difficult aspect of our faith to teach. With young children, KS1 and below, what could be more rewarding than enjoying the beauty all around, or studying the intricacies of nature, and then attributing all this wonder to God who created it for us to enjoy? And what could be more difficult than trying to explain to older children that science and faith are not mutually exclusive, or wrestling with issues raised in class such as how the human race could have grown from one pair of humans without involving incest?

Of course, before any of these issues can be tackled, we need to make sure that the children know the essential elements of the Biblical account of Creation, and for this it can be useful to look at the points highlighted by the 1909 Pontifical Biblical Commission.

  • That God created all things at the beginning of time;
  • That mankind was specially created;
  • That the first woman came from the first man;
  • That all humans are of a single original race;
  • That our first parents lived in a happy state of justice, integrity, and immortality; That God gave them a command to test their obedience;
  • That they disobeyed the divine command under the influence of the devil;
  • That our first parents fell from their state of innocence and so lost paradise;
  • That they were promised a future redeemer.

This ‘telling the story’ will, of course, take different forms, according to the age and development of the children hearing it, but the elements above need never be entirely absent from the account.

Once the story of Creation is familiar, the business of helping the children penetrate deeper into its mysteries begins. In an age when a completely literal interpretation of Genesis was more usual, popular understanding often tended not to develop beyond this point. Today, when children announce to the teacher that “My daddy doesn’t believe in Adam and Eve”, it is essential that the children, literally-minded though they mostly are, understand at a comparatively young age the crucial difference between a ‘true story’ and ‘a story about truth’. In their schools and in their literacy lessons, books are divided firmly into ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’, with no compartment either in the school library or in the child’s mind for another kind of story – one which tells of absolute truth, but which clothes its message in parable or analogy.

Turning to the Catechism, we find the clarification of these mysteries in terms accessible to all. Based on this, I would like to suggest an important and appropriate emphasis for each part of the story when working with children which I believe will allow for all four dimensions of catechesis to develop and flourish. This, of course, will not represent a complete summary of the Catechism teaching on Creation, but may serve as a useful starting point.

  • God created all things at the beginning of time. ‘All things’ does not only mean what the children can see and experience in the world around them – emphasise that there is another, invisible world of the spirit in which God also created, particularly the angels – and that God lives in this world while holding everything, physical and spiritual, in existence. CCC 326
  • Mankind was specially created. When God created people, he made them with both bodies and spirits, so they are a kind of bridge between both worlds. This is why people feel they want to worship God – they are at home in the world of the spirit too. CCC 327
  • The first woman came from the first man. This is not something intended to show that women are in any way ‘second-rate’; it is intended rather to show that they share the same humanity and that men and women are meant to be together, to help each other through life. CCC 371, 372
  • All humans are of a single original race. Whatever the exact mechanics of the multiplication of the human race – remember, the Bible is not a biology textbook; it deals with ‘why’ rather than ‘how’ – what we can learn from this part of the account is that we are all brothers and sisters – part of the same family, with all the rights and responsibilities that belonging to a family involves. CCC 360, 361
  • Our first parents lived in a happy state of justice, integrity, and immortality. The first people were happy in themselves, with each other and the rest of creation and with God. They worked with God and his creation, not against it. CCC 376, 378
  • God gave them a command to test their obedience. The account of the Fall is an account of a real, though primeval, event; “a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.” CCC 390. God wanted people to trust him freely and this was the test that the first people failed – they would not trust God.
  • They disobeyed God under the influence of the devil. It was not only human creatures who had to make a choice to trust and obey God, or not. The angels also had to choose and the devil is an angel who made the wrong choice and now tries to have everyone else make the wrong choice too. CCC 391, 392
  • Our first parents fell from their state of innocence and so lost paradise. This means that they couldn’t pass on human nature as God meant it to be and so their sin affects all of us. When we talk about Original Sin, we refer to the state that human nature is in now, not personal sins that we have committed ourselves. CCC 404
  • They were promised a future redeemer. The reference in Genesis 3:15 to a future battle between the devil and a descendant of the Woman, who would be victorious, points forward to a Man who would be obedient and a Woman who would listen to the message of a good angel rather than a fallen one. CCC 410. 411

In using these ‘starting points’ to reflect on the meaning of the Creation story for ourselves, for the Church and for the world, we adhere closely to the data of the Scriptures and advance with our children in knowledge of the faith. We should recall that “the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures.” It is no accident that this particular Creation account, from among all the others in ancient cultures, was the one which survived to become part of the Hebrew Scriptures and thus part of our Bible and Tradition.

Our worship, and that of the children we teach, becomes ever deeper as help them to contemplate, not only the beauty and mystery of the visible creation, but also the wonder of the invisible world around us and the presence of the angels who protect us and worship with us.

Our awareness of the whole world as the family of God and of the Church as the community of those who choose to belong to him grows stronger as we realise that all mankind faces the same problems with its fallen human nature and that all mankind has access to the same hope in Jesus Christ.

Thus we can lead our children forward to the centre of the faith which is Jesus Christ and towards their, and our, mission, which is to make him known to everyone, through our lives, our actions and our words.

Amette Ley