Thanks Dave. AND Good morning everyone.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
That is a quite magnificent start to the Bible, isn’t it? What an opening line!
• Along with Shakespeare’s: “To be or not to be?”
• AND Arnold Schwarzenegger’s: “I’ll be back!”
• The first sentence in the Bible is one of the most well-known sentences in the world.
BUT, here’s the thing – it might be that as soon as we read this, as soon as we hear we’re doing a series in Genesis this term and we open up Genesis chapter 1 – a whole load of questions start flying around...
Genesis… hmm… interesting...
• How does it all square up with evolution?
• And was the world really just knocked together in 6 days?
• And can we even believe in God in a scientific world like this?
BUT folks, what if they’re not quite the right questions? What if they’re not the questions Genesis is actually trying to answer?
I mean, we’ve got to remember the golden rule of reading any part of the Bible – or any type of literature for that matter. The first question we always need to ask is: ‘What genre – or type – of literature is this?’
Like is Genesis 1 a historical or scientific account?
Well, no – for the simple reason that there was no human eye-witness to the events described.
• Adam and Eve don’t arrive on the scene until day 6.
• And Moses, who most scholars believe wrote this, wasn’t born until quite some time after that wasn’t he?!
So, we mustn’t assume that Genesis 1 is like the breathless account of a small child when you ask them what they’ve been up to, “First up we had English, and then we had break, then it was PE, and then we had lunch and I had chicken nuggets and chips… and a muffin, then it was double Maths…”
No! Genesis 1 reads more like a song than a scientific text book. And so, it’s my opinion that we shouldn’t really read it as God creating in 7 periods of 24 hours.
Not least because when we do actually read it, we find the 7th day – in which God rests from having finished creating his universe – it never ends. Which means we are living in day 7 right now... as God sustains and relates to what he has made.
BUT I say that also because we often use the word “day” metaphorically to stand for a period of time, not a literal 24 period – like:
• When we say to a teenager struggling to get down to their school work (Like my dad did with me all the time!): “Look, if you don’t pull the finger out soon then at the end of the day, you’re going to get terrible GCSEs.”
• OR when we hear a report on a football match which says: “At the end of the day a depleted Liverpool just couldn’t find a way past a stubborn Real Madrid…” We know that doesn’t mean the match finished at midnight, don’t we?!
“The end of the day” in both cases is figurative.
And I think the best reading of Genesis is to assume the author has done likewise here. So that if day 7 stands for the whole time after God has finished creating his universe – then each of days 1-6 stands for a period, or periods of time, in which God was creating his universe.
There’s more I could say about all that, but my main reason for mentioning it at all is to try to clear away any unnecessary baggage that we may bring to Genesis 1 – so that we can see that the emphasis of it is not the HOW, but the WHO of creation.
I mean, the author seems to have little interest in the mechanics of creation. But his silence there, only underlines his real emphasis… GOD!
>> IT ALL STARTS WITH GOD
“In the beginning, God…”
Before anything else began – God was. He was already there. God is the one thing that doesn’t have a beginning.
So, to ask “Who made God?” as some folks do is to completely misunderstand the very nature of what it means to be God. He’s in a different category to the rest of his creation. He wasn’t made – he is eternal. He was already existing “In the beginning…”
And because God is in a different category it seems to me that the: “But you can’t prove God exists empirically?!” objection is also irrelevant. Because he is independent of creation – outside of time and space.
So, he’s not scientifically “discoverable”. The Hubble telescope will never pick him up, even on a good day.
Here is the eternal God and, in the beginning, – at some point in time – when was that? How long ago? Don’t know. It doesn’t say. But that’s not what matters.
What matters is that there was a beginning – and that our beginning… began with God. It all starts with him.
And so therefore…
>> IT’S ALL ABOUT GOD!
Statistically the “God” word appears 35 times in Genesis 1.
• “In the beginning, God…
• And God said…
• And God made…
• God called…
• And God saw… that it was good.”
God is the dominant figure here – almost more so than the creation itself.
As one writer has said, “To read this chapter with any other thought than God as your primary interest, is to misread it.”
In just the first 4 words the Bible tells us that God is the hero of our story. Which is an incredibly important thing to note – Because too often we like to think we’re the hero!
Our view of the world is profoundly self-focused is it not?
Like when someone shows you a group photo – like this one which many of you will be in from when we had a “Big Day Out” what seems like ages ago – whose face do you look for first in a photo like that?
“Where am I? Do I look like an idiot?” Or as I am increasingly asking these days “Does my bald spot show?”
And we so we talk about ‘my time’, ‘my day’, ‘my week’, ‘my life’, ‘my body’, ‘my money’. And try to figure out “my goals”, “my ambitions”, and “my plans”, for “my future”. Because we’re naturally self-focused.
Whereas Genesis 1 shouts out: “IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU! It’s all about God.” God is the hero of the story! You did not create yourself – God did. You are only here because God willed you to be here.
You see everything that exists, exists for God, for his purposes, to do what he wants it to do. Just like our galaxy only works centred around the sun, so our lives only work centred round God.
He is the starting point and the source of all life. AND we were made to worship him.
So, every morning when you wake up and start your day – whether heading to a work place (if you still do that), or working from home, or working on the home managing a household and nurturing children – you’re not there primarily to earn money, or further your career, or even to serve the needs of others. You’re there to live for God and to bring him glory in the eyes of those around you.
Life is all about Him.
So, here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to dive into Genesis 1 verses 1 & 2 – looking at it to see what we can discover about God. But first let’s sing a prayer asking God to speak to us through his word…
GENESIS 1v.1-2 – It All Starts with God [PART 2]
Ok, let me just briefly underline 4 key truths about God from that we need to have as the foundations of all of our thinking and doing. Here’s the first and most obvious one…
1. GOD MADE EVERYTHING
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
When we talk about “the heavens and the earth” – that really means “and everything in between too”.
So, if you have kids, and you were to say to them: “I love you from head to your toes.” Ok, that’s maybe not the kind of thing you’d say to child – but it’s the sort of affectionate chat my kids had to put up with when they were younger.
And when I said it, they never looked back at me and said: “But what about my tummy. Don’t you love my tummy?” Because they knew what I meant... and so do you!
And “the heavens and the earth” has that sense here too. It means that there is nothing outside of what God has made. God created everything.
Which means that…
2. GOD IS THE PROVIDER OF EVERYTHING
We see this even more clearly after God makes the first humans later in the chapter as we read: “God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”
If God created everything, he is God of all departments of life – and provider in all departments. AND so, we are totally dependent on him for everything.
And again, in our person-centric understanding of the world…
• If you don’t depend on God… who do you depend on...
• Which alternative god do you turn to when you need things or things go wrong?
• Who is at the centre?
• Who is in control (or at least pretending to be)?
The answer is: me, isn’t it?
I try to control things and make things happen. AND when they’re things that are beyond my control – which most of them are – I do the only other thing that’s left to me: I worry.
And worrying is trying to control events, and people, and the future by thinking about them and willing certain things to happen and certain things not to.
Which is why Jesus said in his famous “Sermon on the Mount”: “...do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”
And he tells us to look at nature to make his point –
• the Birds don’t need to busy themselves building barns to store up provisions for the future.
• And the flowers of the field don’t need to toil and stress over how they look.
“…if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
In other words: “Don’t you believe that your heavenly Father, who provides for every other department of his creation… will also provide for you? Don’t you believe – like Genesis 1 tells you that – he made everything?”
Folks, God is so gracious, he gives us everything we need – and much more!
So here is his antidote to anxiety: Prayer. Cos through prayer we express our complete and utter reliance on God. We say, “I can’t do this. But I know you can. I trust in you.”
So, if you find yourself being caught up in your own thoughts – eaten up by worries – don’t turn inward and try to make sense of it by yourself – turn outward and take your thoughts to God in prayer.
AND be thankful. I think many of us have fallen into the trap of focusing so much on what we have been denied during this pandemic that we’ve failed to see how much God has still given us. You may have had quite enough of going on walks for one year – but next time you do why don’t you use the time to just name all the good things he’s given you and say “Thank You.”
He’s given you everything. And he is also therefore…
3. GOD IS LORD OVER EVERYTHING
Take another look at verses 1 & 2: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
So out of nothing – now there is something. Now there is time. Now there is space. Now there is stuff.
And for the original readers of Genesis, that knocked on the head the prevailing thought that in the beginning there was a material world, but it was just chaos – like a teenager’s bedroom.
BUT Genesis 1 paints a picture of a God who is effortlessly in control. That’s the point of the way he creates by his Word: “And God said… And it was so.”
And as we read through the chapter there is absolutely no struggle, no unforeseen problems, no failure to deliver. God commands it and it happens.
The upshot of that is that nothing happens in God’s world that God couldn’t help, or that he didn’t see coming. Everything that happens is in some way willed by him, allowed by him.
Now that doesn’t remove the problem of why bad things happen. But knowing God is still in control – especially in a pandemic like we’ve been through…
• Does remove the terrible burden of just having to shrug our shoulders in despair and say: “Well, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.”
• And it does give us the comfort of being able to say: “I don’t really understand why this is happening, but I know God is allowing it to happen and that it’s somehow serving his purposes.”
• And it does give us hope of restoration and renewal for the future. Which is a hope we cannot have without a sovereign God.
So, God is in control. And verse 2 tells us that having created the universe, by his Spirit he’s present and active moment by moment inside his creation. Ordering it and sustaining and relating to it.
And that sense of order is really significant.
Steve Fuller is a sociology professor at Warwick University – and although he describes himself as a secular humanist – he acknowledges historically how religion has motivated people to study science. This sense of order means there is something to explore and investigate. We don’t have a random chance world – because if we did then science couldn’t tell us anything.
“We wouldn’t have science as we know it today if it weren’t for monotheism,” he argues – reading off references to Newton and Mendel and other scientific colossuses who were Christians. “Dawkins,” he says (meaning the Oxford professor Richard Dawkins) “Dawkins says religion is the root of all evil. Well even if that were true, it’s also the root of all science.”
And folks – not only could I keep throwing quotes like that up from non-Christian scientists all day. I could also name hundreds of top-class Christian scientists who seem to have no problem engaging in their field of study while believing in a God of creation.
So, it’s incredibly ironic then that people make science sound as if it’s atheistic by definition – because it’s only the fact that, moment by moment, God stands behind all the regularity we see… that makes science possible.
Ok, one final foundational plank to put in place…
4. GOD IS PERSONAL
I mean, WHO is it who is actually involved in making the world?
• Well, durr, it’s God! Verse 1: “In the beginning, God…”
• BUT then in verse 2: “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
So, there’s God outside his creation and the Spirit of God inside it. But then skip onto verse 26 – As God comes to the moment of making humanity – what does he say? Not “Let ME make humans… in MY image.” BUT “Let US make man in our image, after our likeness…”
Now the ‘us’ there could just be like the royal ‘we’ – as in Queen Victoria saying, “We are not amused”. But the very next verse suggests that there is more to it than that: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
In order to create something that would be ‘in his image’, that would reflect his ‘likeness’, God made not just one single human being, but 2.
And sure, enough the New Testament reveals that he is ONE God in 3 persons – Father, Son and Spirit – together in perfect loving relationship.
And that’s an important final thing to highlight, because it’s the only thing that makes sense of why we think of ourselves as persons – and not just “animals” or biochemical “survival machines”.
And it also explains why we are such relational beings. And why pretty much every person and every culture believes that this is a personal not an impersonal universe. Or to put it in the words of a cheesy pop song – that “love is the greatest thing” – even though we can’t prove that statement under a microscope or in a test tube.
But we can know it – we experience it… Because the God of creation is not only Lord over all that he has made, but he has the capacity to love it – and loves us… AND gives us the love that we need every day… because he has himself lived in perfect loving relationship for all eternity.
Let me pray: “Father God, You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till we find our rest in you. So, help us this day to know you, to rest in you, to trust in you. AND as we come to know you better may we discover who we are, and what we’re here for, and how to live well and for your glory. Amen.”