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The first sentence of the Bible—“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”—reports the initial act of creation. In an instant, before Genesis begins to count days, God creates two regions: the heavens and an unformed, liquid earth. After Genesis 1:2, the author focuses on earth, but he doesn’t forget heaven. Heaven is the crucial backdrop if we hope to discern the flow of the creation week and the trajectory of history.

In Genesis 1:1, “heavens” doesn’t refer to the visible firmament, the blue dome with its sun and puffy clouds or inky night with its moon and stars. The firmament isn’t created until the second day. The first heavens is the “heaven of heavens” or “highest heavens” (Deut. 10:14; 1 Kings 8:27), God’s created temple and “holy habitation” (Deut. 26:15; Psa. 11:4), sanctified by the uncreated radiance of the Spirit. This heaven has “hosts” (Gen. 2:1; cf. Neh. 9:6) who attend the Lord’s throne—sons of God who sing as he lays the foundations of earth (Job 38:1–7), fiery seraphim who incessantly chant the Sanctus (Isa. 6:3), cherubim who praise the Lamb to the accompaniment of harps (Rev. 5:8). Heaven is a concert hall, a songscape.

Earth is destined to join in. Psalm 148 calls stars, sun, and moon, snow and sleet, trees and mountains, beasts and birds, kings and children to praise God along with the angelic hosts. When heaven comes to earth in the Son, earthlings hear the songs of the angels and begin to sing back (Luke 2). The 144,000 martyrs learn the song of angels (Rev. 14), and when they ascend above the firmament, they sing the song of Moses and the Lamb (Rev. 15). 

As Augustine saw, the end is implicit in the beginning. During the creation week, the visible sky becomes a copy of the heaven of heavens. On the fourth day, God fills the firmament with luminaries who rule, govern time, and send heavenly messages to earth, just as the angels do in the highest heaven. On day five, he makes birds to fly across the face of the visible heavens, figures of the winged cherubim and seraphim around the Lord’s throne. Not coincidentally, birds sing, so that the sky echoes the sound of the heaven of heavens. Earth also comes to resemble heaven. Heaven is bright with glory from the outset, and with his “let there be light,” the Creator shines heaven’s light onto earth. On the third day, dry land emerges from the sea. In the highest heavens, the Lord sits enthroned before a sea of glass (Rev. 4:5–6); on earth, man, the image of God, is enthroned in the midst of the sea. Over the final three days, God makes rulers for the sky and sea and land. By the end of the week, earth as well as heaven has “hosts” (Gen. 2:1). Before the Creator enters his Sabbath rest, he’s begun to “heavenize” the sky and the earth.

The Spirit is the implied agent of the heavenization process. As the glory of the Trinity, the Spirit communicates heaven to earth, so that earth exists as an emergent image of heavenly glory. Specifically, the Spirit fills earth with sound, which Walter Ong recognized as the true sign of life. Throughout the Bible, the Spirit is a source of music. Saul prophesies in song when he’s overwhelmed with the Spirit. Inebriated by the Spirit (as Anselm put it), we sing psalms, hymns, spiritual songs. At Pentecost, the Spirit creates a company of prophets, which is to say, a company of singers. At the creation, the Spirit is a rushing, mighty wind, the breath by which God speaks, the musical accompaniment to the royal fiats of creation, the life breathed into the earth so earth can breathe back praise.

The Spirit won’t stop until all creation is heavenized, until all things unite in praise. Then, the vision of Psalm 148 will be descriptive rather than predictive and earth will be a songscape, harmonizing with the music of the heavens. In the meantime, whenever we sing, earth rises to heaven and we anticipate the sonic glory of the new heavens and new earth.

Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute.

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Image by Giovanni di Paolo via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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