Studies in Genesis
The Creator and Creation
Where do you come from? This is a question we often hear in a multi-cultural society such as NZ. When I lived and worked in Hong Kong and China, Chinese people would often ask me where I was from. I told them I was from Africa. Of course they didn't believe me – “but you are not black,” they would say. In NZ we have immigrants from many different countries. Of course we also have many international students - from over 100 different nations. The question of origins, of where we come from, is not limited to asking where we were born or where we grew up. It can refer to our ancestry – going back many generations to our grandparents and great grandparents and so on. But there is a further question – where does mankind come from? Where does the world come from? How did this universe come into existence? The question of origins fascinates men and women. Man knows something about everything but seems to know very little about himself – who he is, where he comes from, why he is here, and where he is going?
In the first chapter of the Bible we begin to find important answers to these important questions.
A Question of Origins
Genesis means “beginnings” or “origin”, and in this amazing book, written nearly 3500 years ago, we have the record of the beginning of the world, of human history, of marriage, family and civilization, and also of God's plan of salvation. Genesis sets the stage for the rest of the Bible. It tells who God is and what He is like. No other ancient book is remotely comparable to Genesis.
So Genesis begins at the beginning – with God. Verse 1 says,
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Immediately we can see the fact that the existence of God is taken for granted. And we can see that God is eternal for He existed before all else. He is the One who brought the universe into existence. The word used here for create is the Hebrew word “bara” – it is used three times in this chapter and in this context at least means “creation out of nothing” (creatio ex nihilo). There was nothing there before God created it.
The Existence of God
The Bible takes the existence of God for granted. It doesn't try to prove He exists – it simply states He is there. In Genesis 1 we can learn a lot about God and what He is like – but the Bible never sets out to prove His existence. Modern secular man has often said, “Only fools believe in God”. Atheists are those who say there is no God. The Marxist view is that believing in God and religion is superstitious. The famous French philosopher Voltaire had this secular atheistic worldview in mind when he said, “If a watch proves the existence of a watchmaker but the universe does not prove the existence of a great Architect, then I consent to be called a fool.” He is being sarcastic of course. Yes, some in our secular world may call us fools to believe in God, but in fact I think it is foolish not to believe in God. This is certainly the view the Bible takes. The Bible says, “The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'.”
Genesis 1 refutes Atheism. It also refutes Pantheism (for God is distinct from His creation), it refutes Polytheism (for there are not many gods, but only One supreme God), it refutes Materialism (for matter is not eternal), and Dualism (for God alone is the Creator), and Humanism (for God, not man, is the ultimate reality). Genesis 1 refutes Evolutionism (for it says God created all things, they didn't simply evolve independent of Him). Genesis 1 affirms God has personality. He is a personal God. Over 30 times the name God is mentioned in this chapter. This sovereign God is and He acts and creates. He is self-existent. You may also notice the use of the plural form. This is especially noticeable in v 26 where God says, “Let us make man in our image...” In fact God is mentioned in verse 1 and the Holy Spirit in verse 2 and you could say God the Son, who John called The Word, can be seen in the phrase “God said”. The fact God spoke is repeated at least 10 times in this chapter. From Colossians 1:16 we know Jesus, God's Son, was active in creation. There is a plurality in the Godhead – only one God but made up of three persons.
A Complex Universe
No one can deny the incredible complexity of our universe. To believe it all came about by chance and then somehow evolved from a single cell into all the array of life forms that we see today, requires a far greater step of faith than to believe in a Creator. Just think for a moment of our amazing universe. Look up into the sky at night (away from the city lights). The beauty and vastness of the heavens is awe-inspiring. Our Milky Way galaxy, which we see as we look up at night, contains 100,000 million stars – i.e. counting one every second would take 2500 years!!! Our galaxy, of which our sun is but one star, is 100,000 light years in diameter. Light travels at 300,000 kms per second. It takes just over one second to reach us from the moon, and takes 8 minutes to reach us from our sun. To figure out the vastness of just our galaxy, which is as wide as light can travel in 100,000 years, is mind-boggling. And yet, our Milky Way galaxy is but one of billions of known galaxies in the universe.
The universe is complex enough, but as Harvard professor Owen Gingerich has written, “...biologists admit that the intricate molecular chemistry of every living thing makes stars look simple in their construction. The human brain is the most marvelously complex assemblage known anywhere in the universe. In some profound sense it seems that humankind was created for the purpose of understanding the cosmos.”
Everything in our incredibly intricate and complex universe fits together in perfect harmony. Dr David Block, a famous SA astronomer writes, “The ancient Jewish writers knew that the God who made the heavens also made humanity. We are not insignificant because we are created for a purpose.”
The Genesis Creation Account
Genesis 1 doesn't tell us how God created but simply that He did create. It also makes clear that God had a purpose in creating and that He gave man a unique status and a special role in the world.
Verse 2 sets the scene for the creation story that follows.
“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
The focus of the creation story is put on this world, though included is the vast universe of which we are a part. God created space, time and matter. What He made was perfect but the earth was said to be “formless and empty”. Now as part of the creation process, the Spirit of God moves over the waters ready to energize the whole creation. The Spirit of God is the giver of life. In the days of creation to follow, God gave form to the universe and then He filled the earth with living beings. There is a kind of balance in the account which various Bible commentators have pointed out. Look at this outline:
Day 1 Light and Dark Day 4 Lights of Day and Night
Day 2 Sea and Sky Day 5 Creatures of Water and Air
Day 3 Fertile Earth Day 6 Creatures of the Land
The work of creation begins with God speaking to expel the darkness:
Verse 3 “And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.” It is enough for the Creator to speak and what He wills to be springs into being.
How Long Did It Take?
The question of how long the process of creation took is one that Bible scholars, not just scientists argue about. Did it all take just six days of twenty-four hours? Or can the word “day” be referring to much longer periods of time, even ages? Well we know that to God “one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day” – in other words, time does not mean the same to God who exists outside of time. It is we who are bound by time and space. We also know that the word “day” can refer to other than a twenty-four hour period. But it is still a difficult question. Of course God could have created everything all in one flash – including the fossils in the rocks. But it is probably not necessary to interpret Genesis 1 in this way. In Genesis 2, it describes God bringing all the animals to Adam for him to give them names – and this happened before God made Eve. It seems unlikely that all this happened in one twenty-four hour period on the sixth day. It implies, to my mind at least, a longer period.
Some scholars suggest God revealed the order of creation to Moses, who is believed to be the author of Genesis, over a six day period. I do not think we can get a clear answer to this. What we do know for sure is that this account is true and succinct. God must have showed Moses the basic happenings as outlined in Genesis 1 – a panorama of words and pictures. Whether or not it all happened in a literal six days of twenty-four hours is, for some, an open question.
The Order of Creation
The order of creation, as outlined in Genesis 1, has long been recognized as being in remarkable harmony with what science has observed. Of course Genesis is not meant to be a scientific description. If Moses had been told to write the account of creation in the scientific language of the 21st century he would never have understood it himself nor would anyone else in all the thousands of years in between. Science is always changing and new things are being discovered while old theories are being discarded. Even the theory of evolution which many take for granted as true, is being seriously questioned, if not rejected outright, by many scientists today. I remember one professor of botany I knew who was a staunch evolutionist, later became a Christian and publicly repudiated evolution as unscientific. No matter how simple the biblical account of creation, it has certainly never been shown to be scientifically inaccurate. The so-called conflict between the Bible and science is greatly exaggerated. In fact many top scientists are strong Christians.
Conflict does come, however, between some interpretations of the Bible and some of the theories of science. We must also remember that the way science describes the world and man can be very different to the way the Bible describes them – just as an artist's painting of man is very different to the diagrams of an anatomist. Both have legitimate descriptions but both are very different.
We do not have time, in one short sermon, to look at each verse of Genesis 1 in detail. It might help however if we simply outline what happened on the seven days of the creation story.
First Day: Light was created – so there was light and darkness, verses 1-3.
Second Day: Sky and water (the waters separated), verses 4-8.
Third Day: Land and seas (waters gathered), and vegetation, verses 9-13.
Fourth Day: Sun, moon and stars - to rule the day and the night, and to mark out days, seasons, and years, verses 14-19.
Fifth Day: Fish and birds – to fill the waters and the sky, verses 20-23.
Sixth Day: Animals – to fill the earth
Man and woman – to care for the earth and enjoy fellowship with God, verses 24-31.
Seventh Day: God rested and declared all He had made was good.
Man the Crown of Creation
One thing we learn from the creation story in Genesis 1 is the fact God has a special place for man. From v 6 we see the earth being made ready for man. God creates the two things needed for a habitable planet – an oxygen atmosphere and a hydrosphere of liquid water. Then in v 9 we have the creation of a fertile earth. Dry land appears and God creates a blanket of fertile soil. He creates plant life and then marine and animal life. Finally He creates man. In v 26 - 28 it says, “God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.' "
Man is made in the image of God in three senses: 1. He is a rational being; 2. He has a moral nature; and 3. He possesses a regal status. We will say more next week about what Genesis teaches about the sexes and the relationship between male and female. All I want us to notice now is the fact God has given man (that is men and women) a special mandate – to take care of the world. We are to care for the environment and we are to be the best that we can be in our living and working – for the glory of God.
Genesis 1 not only tells us about our origins, where we come from, it also tells us something of the reason why we are here.