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September 29, 2023

Religion: As God was creating: Reacting to the Webb Space Telescope

Most Bibles begin with the words “In the beginning.” However, the more recently published Hebrew Bibles offer a different translation: “As God was beginning to create…”  

Rabbi Debbie Israel

A few lines later, we read that the sun, the moon and the stars are created on the fourth day. How could this be? The unit of time called a day is determined by the movement of the sun through the sky. If the sun was not created until the fourth day, how could the bible say there was light on the first day?

I was thinking about this as I looked at the breathtaking pictures recently captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. As described by Time Magazine, “these images…offer some of the most detailed glimpses into the beginnings of our universe ever seen…Webb’s cameras have the capacity to look 13.6 billion light years distant—which will be the farthest we’ve ever seen into space. This image of the galactic cluster … contains thousands of galaxies, some of which are as far away as 13.1 billion light years…We are seeing the galaxies not as they look today, but as they looked 13.1 billion years ago…”

Linking the first words in Genesis, “as God was beginning to create,” to the images we saw from space, I wonder if the primordial light that God called into being in the first line of the Bible is the light emanating from billions of years of creation, a light from distant galaxies that aren’t dependent on our sun and moon. God created this world after billions of years of creation; clearly creation didn’t begin with this world, and clearly it didn’t end here.  

Creation is ongoing. For us, that means we are living in the midst of change. God is still creating this universe we are inhabiting.

Looking at these telescopic images convinces me that this glorious universe is the product of Creation by the Almighty. More than that, my awe in God’s power and imagination leaves me more deeply religious than I can fathom.  

What do we do with this awe other than appreciate it? Recognizing God’s role in creation and therefore in our lives gives us an obligation to live our life following the morals and precepts and values taught to us in our faith doctrines. Our obligation is to protect this creation from our own destruction and to protect the precious creatures who inhabit it.  

These images also give me hope in the future. One day our descendants will be looking at this earth from a distant planet, marveling at it. 

I want to encourage you to bring God into your experience the next time you look at the universe, whether close to you or far away. 

Rabbi Debbie Israel is the Executive Director of Interfaith Activities in South County and Rabbi Emerita of Congregation Emeth. All faith communities of South County are welcome to participate in the Religion column of the Morgan Hill Times and Gilroy Dispatch. To join the rotation of writers, clergy can contact [email protected] or [email protected]

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