Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, we pray now that by your Holy Spirit, you will open your word to our minds and hearts, and our minds and hearts to your word, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
We are starting tonight a new series of studies in Genesis, and we begin, appropriately, with Genesis 1. I am not going to go too much into the conflicts over Genesis chapter 1. However, by way of introduction I will simply say two things. First, that heated debates about Genesis 1 have not just been in the modern world and since Darwin and his theory of evolution. For there were debates in the ancient world as today. You need to read Basil of Cappadocia and his book on the six days of Genesis 1 and also the great theologian Augustine of Hippo, both in the 4th century. The second thing I want to say is this, about why we should consider Genesis 1 to be believable. Well, our New Testament reading suggests why (Hebrews 11.3):
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
So it is by faith we come to the conviction that, rightly interpreted, Genesis 1 is absolutely true. But that is not any old faith, or blind faith, but faith that understands as you use your mind. For we are not to be irrational. No! We believe it is those that deny God and his word that are irrational. Let me explain. This faith is (Hebrews 11.1):
…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
And that assurance cannot come from natural science by itself. For natural science doesn’t deal with the unseen and the spiritual dimension of our existence or the meaning of our existence. For all that you need theology which is the science of the law of God and the unseen working of God. And such faith, Hebrews talks about about in three stages: one, is when you know what has been claimed about God and his ways; two, is when after you’ve thought about that claim and are sufficiently sure it is true; and, then, three, is when you trust yourself to God your creator after learning about Jesus Christ, whom God raised from the dead in that amazing Easter ‘re- creation’ moment. And that re-creation – the resurrection of Jesus - with the risen Jesus seen not only by apostles but also by 500 people on another occasion, helps you to be more convinced of God, your creator. Well so much by way of introduction. Now I have just two headings. First, Knowing God and, secondly, Knowing Ourselves.
1. Knowing God
Genesis 1.1 is like the heading for the whole chapter:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth [that is to say, everything].
So there is no ‘pantheism’ in the Bible, that is where God is identified with the created order, and in it, and all part of it. No! He is not part of the creation but its creator. Genesis 1.2 then shows how God started with the earth lying waste, unstructured, dark and wet:
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.
But then Genesis 1.3-5 tell you what happened in the first day:
And God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And that teaches us three things; first, that God is a speaking God and that is so fundamental. God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light’. Secondly, it tells us that God is a righteous God who distinguishes the good from the bad. Genesis 1.4:
God saw that the light was good
And, thirdly, it tells us that God created time. He set the world clock ticking and the universe’s clock ticking. Genesis 1.5:
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
So God is beyond time, but creates time, and that, too, is so important. For we cannot conceive of such a state. All our thinking is conditioned by space (the notion of physical extension) and by time (the notion of physical duration). (By the way - I have written about God and time in “Time beyond the Grave” in the October JPC Coloured Supplement – it’s on our website: you may find that helpful). So analogies and other ways will be needed to give us sufficient understanding of how God (in his eternal order outside time) interfaces with us in the created temporal order and explains to us what he has been doing. And what he has given us is Genesis 1.
So we need to take it as God’s word, however we interpret it, and, as the pre–Reformer, John Wycliffe, would say, his ‘incorrigible’ word. It cannot and must not be corrected. But keep in mind that 4th century theologian, philosopher and bishop, Augustine of Hippo and his words on Genesis:
In these questions two things are to be observed. First, that scriptural truth be unshakenly maintained. Secondly, that since the Divine Scripture may be expounded in many ways, it is not right to attach oneself so strictly to any one interpretation as still to maintain it after sure reason has proved that what we suppose to be contained in scripture is false.
So as we do that, we note that seven times (in verses 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24 and 26) God’s creative words, And God said, were reported – underlining God is a speaking God. And each time there was a new phase in creation. There were created: Genesis 1.6, the expanse of the sky and the sea (the second day); Genesis 1.9, sea and dry land together with Genesis 1.11, vegetation (the third day); Genesis 1.14, heavenly bodies including the sun and moon – so they are not pagan deities, but just light givers (the fourth day); Genesis 1.20, fish and fowl (the fifth day); and, Genesis 1.23, animals and insects, and separately the creation of man (the sixth day). And all was good Genesis 1.31:
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
So this gives the lie to Gnostic philosophers and cults, who teach that matter is evil and only what is spiritual is good. No! The whole material universe, says God, is very good.
2. Knowing Ourselves
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every
creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
This is the high point of the chapter. Yes, God still speaks, but it is no longer, just, and it was so. No! Here, there was a new act of creation. In Genesis 1.27, the same word is used three times to emphasize the fact:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And the human is unlike the animals which were made according to their kinds – that is the phrase used. But the man now created was not according to his kind. He was created in the image of God! So Christian believers and everyone else, to be human as God intended, need to be like God in significant ways. For we are all created in God’s own image. So we should reflect him as much as we can. But what can we list as the characteristics of God the maker of heaven and earth that we should seek to reflect. Well, scholars differ. But I find convincing the five-fold list of rationality, creativity, dominion (not domination), righteousness and community.
So, first, comes rationality or using your mind. God clearly had a plan and an orderly plan in what he was doing, in creation. And as he is a speaking God, he obviously wants us to use our minds to listen to him and think about what he says. To be human, therefore, as God intended, we need to use our minds, and not just rely on our feelings or fashions.
Secondly, comes creativity. That is the ability to make or help make or produce things. For the whole of Genesis 1 is God creating or making. So let us make man in our image means true humanness involves being creative or helping others to be creative. Much comes under this heading; gardening, cooking, painting, writing, performing skills, homemaking, and daily work – they are all creative. And daily work is why we must reduce unemployment.
Then, thirdly, there is dominion. Genesis 1.26 says:
let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
So God wants us to control and keep the environment, in which we live, in good order. And Genesis 1.28 says we are not only to fill the earth but also to subdue it. That implies developing industries and harnessing nature and managing nature well and developing cultures and civilizations. But it also means not abusing the environment God created.
Then, fourthly, there is righteousness or doing God’s will, which certainly is required in reflecting God’s image and being human as God intended. Note the first commandment to the couple, the male and the female. It was to have sex! Genesis 1.27-28:
…male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”
As Genesis 2.24 makes clear, this was a command for the married pair, Adam and Eve. And the rest of the Bible makes it clear that sexual intercourse is to be reserved to a heterosexual married pair. How sad, therefore, that sexual relationships are now in such chaos. And how sad and how wrong that, these days, too many deny the sex with which God created them and seek to deform the good bodies God has given them. And with children being devalued, and adult pleasure maximized, how sad the world therefore is facing a crisis of depopulation. So how sad homosexual marriage legitimising infertility is now celebrated.
But how has all this happened? Definitely one factor is the loss of the Sabbath. Through its commercialisation fewer people are in church to hear God’s word about sexual relationships. So look now at the conclusion to this Creation account in Genesis 2.1-3:
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
If God needed a rest after seven days work, certainly all those created in his image, will need a rest too. And society needs a rest as well. That is why the day of rest needs to be nation-wide, and for rest, worship and good works.
But, now back to Genesis 1, and our fifth, and final, characteristic, community (or being together with others) reflects God’s image. Note Genesis 1.26 says:
Then God said, “Let us [plural] make man in our [plural] image, after our [plural] likeness.
Is this a suggestion, as some Christians have said, of the divine Trinity which becomes clear in the New Testament? May be! But certainly, our God, is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – there is plurality in the Godhead. So being together with others is essential to the well-being of our humanness because it reflects the image of God. How, therefore, we all need to work at that, at this time of lock-down, as wisely and legally as we can. Working at being together over Zoom or the telephone or by other means. And if God’s image is to be reflected in human community, our togetherness should cover not only our families, but especially the church, but also the wider society. And because all those other people in those associations are made in God’s image, how we should treat all the people we come across, in the Church and outside, with respect, and particularly those we find difficult.
And because all are made in the image of God we must respect all, of all backgrounds and ages. That is why we have to oppose all racism, abortion and euthanasia. And, with this I close. Because of God’s community being Father, Son and Holy Spirit, let’s thank God not only for his good creation
which the Father planned and in which the Son was the agent, with the Holy Spirit involved as we saw in Genesis 1 Genesis 2. But also when we fail to live up to our true human identity, let’s remember as the New Testament makes so clear, there is forgiveness through the cross of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to live more as God intended, if we repent.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for your wonderful world that you have created with its millions of stars, and we thank you that you have made each one of us down to every hair of our head.So once again we pray at this difficult time that we may humble ourselves under your mighty creative hand, and that your Holy Spirit will help us to cast all our anxieties on you, knowing that you care for us, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.