How the World Began (Part 1)

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Genesis 1:1-25

Humans build with stone, wood and metal. When God “built” the universe there was no stone, wood or metal. What did He use then?

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters. Then 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 God said “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it.” And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night -and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:1-25, nrsv

One of the great questions confronting us is how the world began. Science seems to have one answer, the Bible another. Can the two be reconciled?

WHEN AND WHO

Last week we studied the opening sentence of the Bible to discover what it could tell us about the origin of the world. We found that it tells a number of things.

It tells us when: “In the beginning.” In contrast to those who say that matter is eternal and that time is an endless cycle of repetitions, the Bible declares that everything except God had a definite beginning, though it does not give us any dates for that beginning.

It also tells us who: “In the beginning God.” In contrast both to those who say there is no God in the universe and those who say there are many gods in the universe, the Bible says it is the one true God, the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jesus who created all that is.

WHAT

What else do we learn here about God the Creator? This opening verse of the Bible also tells us what, what it was God made in the beginning. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” When the Bible says “the heavens and the earth” it means simply everything. There is nothing, anywhere, on earth or in space, that is not God’s creation, God’s creatures. All things were made by him, from the tiniest sub-atomic particle to the most immense galaxy – and everything in between.

The whole of Genesis 1 is devoted to describing in an orderly and systematic account all the things God has made. The great lesson the Bible draws from this is that God alone is worthy of worship. Only God is supreme; everything else derives from him and is part of his creation. Therefore, to offer worship to anyone or anything but God is idolatry.

Notice, for example, the way the creation of the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon and stars, is described on the fourth day of creation in Genesis 1:14ff:

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night -and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

These heavenly bodies that were the object of God’s work on the fourth day are not even named in the Genesis account. They are simply called “lights” or “lamps,” almost in a casual, dismissive way.

Ancient peoples, except for the people of Israel, were idol worshipers. Israel’s neighbors all worshiped the sun, moon and earth as powerful deities. The supreme god was usually the sun-god, while the earth was the mother goddess. In most cultures the names of the moon and sun were divine and held in awe. But God doesn’t even specify these heavenly bodies by name at all in Genesis 1. He simply describes the sun and moon as lamps which he has strung in the heavens to light the day and the night. Verse 16 adds, almost as an afterthought, “he made the stars also.”

Every ancient culture was obsessed with a belief in astrology. This idea filled all of life with dread and despair; even the gods were thought to be ruled by a fixed and unalterable destiny, by fate which was determined by the motions of the planets and stars. And with one little phrase Genesis 1 sweeps it all away as rubbish. The stars control our lives? Nonsense! God made them too, and he hung them like ornaments in space for us to admire and to use as markers for the seasons. Far from ruling us, the heavenly bodies actually serve us by helping us to order our lives for God’s praise and service and regulate our work in his world.

All this being true, to worship some other person or thing in God’s place is not only unlawful but unnatural, i.e. it goes against the very nature of God’s created order, and it has terrible consequences, as the apostle Paul describes in Romans 1. This is what happens when people give in to the unnatural impulse to worship something other than God:

. . . although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

Romans 1:21-25

The mistake of idolatry leads to all sorts of unnatural and disastrous consequences. Rather than repeating that tragic mistake, we should, when we consider all of God’s astonishing creation, be moved to worship and honor only him, only the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

HOW

To those three revealed elements of when, who and what, we can also add a fourth – how. Genesis 1:1 says that in the beginning, when nothing else existed, God created all that there is. The rest of chapter 1 tells how he did it. Verses 2-31 are, in a sense, an extended commentary on the word “created” in verse 1. Leaving aside for now the last few verses of this chapter describing the creation of humanity (our subject in a future message) let’s turn to this account for answers to some of our questions about how God created the universe. A careful reading of Genesis 1 reveals the pattern according to which God worked.

First, some preliminary points. Our attention is drawn to the earth, to the world we inhabit, in verse 2: “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.” Notice the change in perspective from verse 1. Verse 1 talks about the creation of the universe – the heavens and the earth and everything in them, including all energy and matter. Verse 2 talks about the formation of the world, the planet we call earth. Our viewpoint is now shifted from “out there” in space to “down here” on the earth.

The language used in the first chapter of Genesis to describe the creation of the earth is phenomenological. That means it is the ordinary speech we use to describe natural phenomena, or how things appear to look and act from our perspective here on earth. So, for example, when God says “Let there be light” in Genesis 1:3, it doesn’t mean that he created light, or energy, after he created the earth in verse 2. It means that, from the viewpoint of the unformed watery chaos that was the early earth, the first thing that God did was to cause the light to shine through to it.

It is also important to say something about the perspective of the people to whom God first revealed the truth about his creation of the world. The book of Genesis was originally given to the people of Israel, traditionally through Moses. That means that it first had to make sense to Moses. God does not reveal himself to people in ways they cannot understand. Therefore we should not expect Genesis to incorporate a modern scientific model for the universe, since that would have made no sense to anyone living in a pre-scientific world.

Nor does the book of Genesis provide a complete detailed account of God’s creative work. In fact, there are many details that are omitted here in God’s account of how he created the world. So, for example, Genesis does not mention the creation of bacteria or molecules, things that were unknown to Moses and his contemporaries and were only discovered by modern science. But then, neither does it specifically mention the creation of insects, which were very well known to Moses. So what Genesis wants to give us is a true though incomplete description of God’s creative work in simple, non-scientific terms.

Modern sceptics say that if Genesis were truly an inspired revelation from God it would include a scientifically exact description of the creation of everything, including things like the structure of DNA or an accurate plan of the solar system. But Christians understand that in speaking to us, God accommodates himself to our level. The great theologian John Calvin once said that God speaks to us like a mother lisping to her little child. In effect, he talks baby talk to us. Why? So that we can understand him. God moderates the amount of truth he reveals to us. He adjusts it to our capacity for receiving and grasping it. So we should expect Genesis to be a general picture of creation that is true as far as it goes but that’s also consistent with an ancient understanding of the world. We should not expect a modern, computer-precise description of the universe. And we should also expect that since it comes from God, the God of truth, Genesis would not be grossly misleading or mythological in the way most ancient pagan creation legends are.

And this is exactly what we find Genesis to be. In language that is simple yet sublime, poetic but not mythological, true though non-technical, popular and understandable, the first book of the Bible tells us how God created our world.

One last point in closing. God did his work of creation from a plan in his own mind. Before he ever made a thing, the Lord God had a complete idea of the world and even its inhabitants, including you and me. It was as if he had a master blueprint from which he worked. We know this from elsewhere in Scripture, for we know there are a number of passages that speak of the plan God had before the foundation of the world. But it is implied here in Genesis 1 as well in one of the refrains that runs through the chapter, “And God saw that it was good” (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). Each day after making a new thing, we read that refrain: “God saw that it was good.”

Why did God call everything that he made “good”? Well, this is partly an aesthetic judgment – all of nature was beautiful as made by God, and he took delight in it; he enjoyed the goodness of his creation during those first perfect days. But it’s also a moral judgment. In the Bible, the concept of goodness is primarily related to the will of God; that which is “good” is that which obeys or conforms to God’s plan and purpose. When God “saw that it was good,” it means that the various things he created in the world matched perfectly his design for them.

The world is no longer like this, as we all know from sad experience. Things have broken down somehow, beginning with us. Life so often isn’t good. We no longer naturally follow God’s plan for ourselves or his world, and we know pain and frustration as a result. But the Bible holds out hope. What’s gone wrong can be put right; in fact, it already has been, in and through the person of Jesus Christ. As we live by faith in Christ, we have the firm confidence that one day God will again look at his creation -including us – and say once more that it is all “very good.”