How the World Began (Part 2)

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Genesis 1:1-25

One of the great questions confronting us is how the world began. The way you answer that question goes a long way toward shaping your basic beliefs and values.

Your world view – the basic beliefs you hold about God, human beings, the nature of the universe and ultimate values – is greatly affected by your view on how the world began. For example, if you believe that the universe is the result of a random evolutionary process with no directing intelligence behind it, you are likely to hold a corresponding view about things like human nature or the existence of moral absolutes. Or if you hold to a New Age world view – if you think, for instance, that humans are spiritual beings descended from Gaia, the Mother-Earth goddess, or that we are animated by particles from the cosmic life force that encompasses the entire universe – then that will undoubtedly lead you to adopt a very different set of values. But if you are a Christian, if you believe in God the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, then you have a biblical world view that will shape how you think about God, the universe and yourself, and will affect the way you live your life every single day. So what you think about how the world began is a most important issue, with very real and practical consequences for everyday life.

WHAT WE DO KNOW

We have been looking at the Bible’s answer to the question of how the world began. The opening chapters of the book of Genesis teach that it began by the special creative act of a personal God, the infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, infinitely loving God who created the universe out of nothing “in the beginning,” and who continues to uphold and govern all things to this day (Colossians 1:16-17). God formed the universe according to his own specific plan, a plan that began with the preparation of a world fit for habitation and culminated in the creation of people, creatures made by God, like God, and for God – in short, us! So let’s look again at what the Bible says about how God made the world.

Before it describes in more detail what God did in creation, Genesis tells us what the world was like at first. After the beginning, when God created the universe, it says, “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep” (v. 2). In other words, according to the Bible the earliest earth was chaotic, water-covered, dark, and empty – a description, incidentally, which exactly matches what scientists say the earth was like long ago. The important point is that the earth was not only void, or empty of any living things, it was inhospitable to all life. As one Christian commentator put it, the world was both uninhabited and uninhabitable. So God’s work of creation was first to prepare the world – to make it “livable” – and then to prepare creatures who would live in it.

God did this work through a double process of separating and filling, according to Genesis. First he separated light from darkness:

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.

verses 4-5

He separated the water in the atmosphere from the water on the earth:

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.

verses 6-8

He separated the land from the water on the earth:

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.

verses 9-10

All along as God was separating the various elements of the created world, he was pushing back and restraining the elements of the original chaos, as symbolized by the darkness and the watery deep. He did not do away with them altogether – that waits for the time of final re-creation in a new heaven and a new earth, where the sea will no longer be (Rev. 21:1), and “night shall be no more” (Rev. 22:5) as the last book of the Bible says. But God in creating imposes order and limits upon these forces of chaos.

As he made the world a livable place, God also proceeded to fill it with living things. He filled the earth with vegetation and every form of plant life and tree:

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.

verses 11-13

He filled the sky with sun, moon and stars:

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.

verses 14-18

He filled the waters with fish and marine life and the air with birds:

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.”

verses 20-23

And finally God filled the land itself with every kind of animal:

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. And God saw that it was good.

verses 24-25

Everything follows a majestic order and sequence as God executes his design for the universe. There is a sense throughout Genesis 1 of a long and careful preparation, of the first five and a half days building up to the afternoon of the sixth, of a stage being elaborately set prior to the entrance of the play’s main character – human beings.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

While this much is clear about the method of God’s creation, some things related to his way of working are not explained to us in the Bible. For example, Genesis does not tell us how long God took to do this work. “But,” says somebody, “doesn’t it say he did it in six days?” Many sincere Christians believe that God did create the universe in six literal, 24-hour days, and some of them even think that if you don’t agree with that, you really don’t believe in the Bible.

But it has been recognized for many centuries that the word “day” also has a metaphorical sense in Scripture, meaning something like “a period of time.” In fact, “day” is used in this sense in Genesis 2:4: “in the day that [i.e. at the time when] the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” A literal, 24-hour day is defined, as we all know, by the rotation of the earth relative to the sun, yet the sun is not mentioned in Genesis 1 until the fourth day (v. 16), which means these “days” in chapter 1 must be extraordinary ones. And this interpretation isn’t just a reaction due to modern scientific knowledge. Commentators long ago pointed out that God’s heavenly “days” must be different from our literal earth-days. The Bible itself says this (2 Peter 3:8). “A day is like a thousand years with the Lord.” St. Augustine, writing 1600 years ago, called the days in Genesis 1, “God-divided,” not “sun-divided,” days; “creative days,” “indescribable days.” Could God have created the universe in six 24-hour days? Of course he could have! But the question is not what God could have done but what he actually did do. And Genesis does not answer that question conclusively. Bible-believing Christians are free to hold different views about the nature of the creative “days” in Genesis.

Nor does Genesis tell us in detail the specific procedures God may have used in his work of creation, including any natural processes he may have employed to shape the earth, to modify its environment, or cause life to develop. But it does add one more supremely important point. Genesis 1 discloses the power by which God created all things. It says that he made everything by the power of his Word. In addition to the repetitive phrases such as “evening and morning,” and “it was good,” here is another refrain that runs throughout this chapter. Again and again comes a word of command, “And God said, ‘Let there be. . . .’” followed again and again by a statement of fact, “And it was so.” The Word of God is the power behind all creation, behind the universe itself. This is not to deny God’s use of secondary, natural means in the creation process. But whatever processes in nature science may uncover and describe, these do not ultimately explain where the world came from or how it came to be. The Bible is the only source that can answer the ultimate question, and it says the world came from God. All that is came into being by the power of God’s Word.

The dignity and effortlessness of God’s creative work is conveyed by the simple grandeur of the language of the Bible. Listen to this passage, for example, from one of the psalms:

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth. He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; he put the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord, let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be, he commanded, and it stood firm.

Psalm 33:6-9, nrsv

I referred a moment ago to the repeated phrases in Genesis 1. This repetition points to the fact that God’s creative work is continual. It’s not as though he threw a switch in the beginning to start the whole thing going, and then walked off to another room somewhere and left the world to develop on its own. God stays involved all along, speaking word after word to shape and order all things.

God is still at work. He is every moment holding up the universe and holding back the forces of chaos and darkness. If God stopped his work for a moment, the whole universe would collapse in on itself. So he continues to order and shape his world by the power of his Word. This sustaining power is what we mean when we talk about the providence of God. Providence is defined as the power by which “God still upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, everything, in fact, comes to us not by chance but from God’s fatherly hand” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 27). God is there from the beginning to the end. Everything that happens – everything in my little life with its cares and problems, its joys and triumphs, everything in the great wide world of peoples and nations, everything in the cosmos itself – everything moves according to the plan of God and by the power of God. And I know this God, not just as Creator but as my loving heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. Sure of that, I can go home tonight and sleep in peace.