Today, we're going to look at a passage in the Bible that is going to create a lot of questions for us. If you know about this passage already, you probably have some opinions formed. If you don't know it, as we read it, you're going to have either a lot of questions or a lot of doubts. It's fairly well known, but if we're completely honest, it's one that creates some dilemmas for us today. It's found on the first page of the Bible, Genesis 1, and it begins this way: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).
Well, it doesn't get any easier to understand. As we read the chapter, we discover that God formed the creation over the period of six days, with one day off at the end for rest. It's easy to understand, but it does raise all kinds of questions. Is that really what happened? Did God really take six days to create this earth? What about evolution? How do we read this passage with what we know today?
This is pretty controversial. A lot of people have taken this passage at face value, and say we just have to accept what it says, no questions asked. One bishop went back and dated the creation as having taken place just a few thousand years ago. I was with a group of ministers this week, and a lot of them said, "This is simple, no questions necessary. The earth is young, and God created it in a week. That's all there is to it." I've even heard someone say that any evidence that seems to contradict the creation account is from Satan to try and confuse us.
Others are ready to dismiss the biblical account as pure myth. We know way too much, and we're not ready to accept what this passage says.
Or, you may have questions. You don't want to doubt what the Bible says, but it just doesn't seem to mesh with the evidence. You believe that God is the God of all truth, and you would expect that the evidence wouldn't contradict the Bible.
Genesis 1 is an easy passage to understand, but that doesn't mean that it's easy to interpret. It's time to take a fresh look at what may be a familiar story to many of us.
Understanding the Story
Here's the key question we face with this passage, in fact the key question that we should bring to every passage we study: what was the author trying to communicate? This passage isn't here by accident. The more that you study the book of Genesis (the first book in the Bible), the more that you discover that everything is purposeful. There are all kinds of literary devices and techniques used that give us clues about the purpose and the type of story that the author is trying to communicate.
Before we look at what this story has to say, we have to back up and realize that we have to let the story speak for itself, on its own terms. One of the challenges of this passage is that we bring our twenty-first century questions to this text and don't let it speak for itself. We read this account through a scientific grid. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's a grid that's relatively new. For thousands of years, people read this story through a completely different grid. Part of our challenge is to understand that it's very hard to let this account speak for itself, because we all have sets of questions that prevent the text from speaking on its own terms.
The story we're looking at today wasn't written to communicate scientific ideas. It doesn't use the language of science, nor is it concerned with scientific issues. When we pit science against this passage, we're actually doing an injustice to the text. It's part of our worldview, which has a hard time talking about the origins of this universe in anything but scientific terms.
The Bible frequently communicates in terms that the audience understands, just like any good communicator does. Something similar happened to me today. I give my kids allowance on Sunday mornings, because I want to teach them to give part of what they have aside for ministry. Josiah gets twenty-five cents, but it's a lot more exciting to him if it comes in nickels rather than quarters. This morning I gave him his five nickels, and asked him how much he was going to give to God. He said, "Two of them," but then he looked a little puzzled. He asked, "How can I give this money to God?" I said, "You put it in the offering." He looked even more puzzled. "And then God comes by the church and picks it up?" At this point, Christina got involved and explained how the church then gives money to me. I could see where this was heading: cut out the middle man and give the money directly to God. I tried to keep it simple, because a four-year-old doesn't need to know the intricacies of church finance, of budgets and deposits and audited statements. All he needs to know, at this point, is that we shouldn't spend all that we have on ourselves. We need to invest in ministry as well.
When we read the creation account here, it's important to remember this. God is telling us what we need to know. There are all kinds of clues that he isn't explaining the intricacies or giving a blow-by-blow account of what happened. He's telling us what we need to know to understand the identity of the Creator, and to shape our worldview as a result.
Is it true? Absolutely, it's true. Is it strictly historical? There are hints that the author is not presenting a strictly historical account. The author uses metaphorical language and speaks of God in human terms, speaking with words, and uses poetic techniques such as symmetry. The author is telling us something very important: that God created the earth, and that the earth is good. It's an artistic, literary representation that helps us understand who God is, and what he has done.
When we get hung up on the whether the days were literal days, and which was created first, and how young the earth is, we're missing the point of the passage. The passage isn't about those things. This is not so much the story of creation as it is the story of the Creator. It's a revelation of God.
A lot of the cultures of that time had theories of the origins of the universe that were similar in many ways. In many of the myths of that time, the raging sea and darkness were forces of chaos. The gods demonstrated their power by keeping the forces of chaos at bay, although it was hard work. Their gods were needy and moody.
Genesis informs us that the God who was active in the life of the people who read this account is the same God who brought this world into existence. The God who invites people into relationship is the same God who spoke this world into existence, and who had no trouble bringing order and goodness out of the forces of chaos. God is at the helm, and he's masterfully guiding everything in creation. This is the corrective that the people back then needed to hear. The gods weren't in charge of the universe. The God who had entered into covenants with them was the same God who created and sustains all things. He is in control.
The passage here speaks to us today, and corrects our worldview as well. It's tough to rise above the common views that are held. Our world sees things scientifically. Even if we believe in God, as most of us do, we tend to reduce his role and see him standing back somewhat from the laws of nature. He's in charge of some things, but pretty removed from areas like science. It's like we separate the world into spiritual realities and physical realities. God's in charge of the spiritual side, but the forces of nature run the physical side.
The technical term for this is deism. Probably a lot of us tend to be functional deists. We believe in God, but it's like he's wound up this world like a clock and left it to run by itself.
Genesis corrects this view. The God who's revealed in the Bible is the God who not only created this world, but who sustains it. If God stopped sustaining everything, it would all cease to exist. This is God's creation, and the world depends on him at every moment. Everything begins and ends with God.
We won't look at every detail of the Genesis 1 account today, although I do encourage you to read it completely sometime this week. Let me give you an overview before I try to bring this home. Verse 1 is a summary statement of the entire chapter, right to verse 3 of chapter 2. If you want to reduce this whole story into a nutshell, here it is: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
Verse two gives us the negative statement, showing us where things stood before God went to work. It's interesting what this verse doesn't say. This account doesn't give us an account of the creation of matter, and there are a lot of things that it doesn't cover. It assumes the pre-existence of God, and that matter existed before God began to shape this world. Here's what things looked like at the beginning of the Genesis account: "The earth was empty, a formless mass cloaked in darkness. And the Spirit of God was hovering over its surface" (Genesis 1:2). Before God started, the earth was inhospitable to life. It was disordered and chaotic. It was not capable of producing or supporting life.
The rest of the chapter follows a pattern. There are three days of forming, and then three days of filling what God had formed. On day two, for instance, God formed the waters into bodies of water, and then on day five he filled it with marine life. The pattern on each day remains pretty consistent. God speaks, commands ("Let there be"), and separates what he forms (such as the day from night). The passage then describes what happens and ends with God's evaluation, "It is good." Then you have a description of the chronological order: the first day, the second day, and so on.
Introducing the Creator
When I've looked at this passage before, I've got so lost in the details that I've missed the big point of the chapter. It's easy to read this and get hung up on the creationism-science debate. We can't afford to miss the point of this passage. When we look at this universe and how it came to be, it all goes back to God.
The God who created everything around us is the same God who is in covenant relationship with us, who knows every one of us by name. The God that we met to worship today - he is the God who holds everything together. It's not a struggle for him, either. He doesn't have to battle the forces of darkness and chaos. He speaks, and it happens. God is masterfully guiding the course of all creation. The God of all creation is the God who knows you by name.
This gets very practical. Isaiah 40:28-31 says:
Have you never heard or understood? Don't you know that the LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth? He never grows faint or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to those who are tired and worn out; he offers strength to the weak. Even youths will become exhausted, and young men will give up. But those who wait on the LORD will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
The very God of creation, who doesn't lack anything, is the same God who invites you to draw on his strength. He knows you. He desires relationship with you. He holds everything together and yet he knows you by name.
Later on, the Creator comes even closer. The God who creates and sustains all things enters the world, and becomes one of us. Colossians 1:15-17 says:
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before God made anything at all and is supreme over all creation. Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can't see-kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through him and for him. He existed before everything else began, and he holds all creation together.
This is the God that we worship. He's above all things, and yet became one of us because of his great love for us.
There's something else. Do you ever look around and ask why the world is the way it is? This story tells us that when God created the world, it was good. Some people are so spiritual that they make it sound like creation is bad. It isn't; it's good. 1 Timothy 4:4 says, "Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it. We may receive it gladly, with thankful hearts." Sunsets, smells, tastes, textures, it's all good. God said it was good. Enjoy.
But the world is messed up to. Genesis helps us understand that the world was good when God created it. Later on, we're going to read how it became bad, but it's enough to understand today that it didn't start that way. God transformed chaos into cosmos. He took a place that couldn't sustain life and formed it into something good.
God didn't just leave it there. You know the condition the world is in. You know that everything good that you have automatically gets worse over time. You have a car? Just leave it in the driveway for ten years, don't even drive it. It will rust out and become useless. You have a garden? Plant it and cultivate it, but then just leave it for a couple of months and see what happens. You have a marriage? Yeah, you see where I'm going. Get married to the best person ever, and then do nothing to cultivate that marriage and see where it goes. We live in chaos, and a lot of us have tough questions about the chaos we're facing in our lives.
God is the God who transforms chaos into something good. We can trust him to transform us as well. He promises to give us new hearts, and make us new creatures.
Even in Genesis 1, before evil, there is still darkness and the dangers of the deep waters. But God is making all things new. In Revelation 21:5, God says, "Look, I am making all things new!" God is transforming everything. He promises a new heaven and a new earth, one without darkness and one with healing waters. God makes all things new.
The God of creation knows you. He is making everything new. He is making you new. This is the God who wants relationship with you.