READ : Genesis 1:1
What happened “in the beginning”? There are many ideas and theories. Let’s see what the Bible has to say.
Christians, along with all other theists, believe that God is the creator of the heavens and the earth. We believe this because of our faith in the unseen power and presence of God, though we also believe we can see signs and evidences of God’s handiwork in the world he has made. But our faith about the origin of the universe is based primarily on Scripture. The Bible tells us where everything came from. And it tells us in its very first sentence: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Let’s consider in detail what this verse tells us about the origin of the world.
First, it tells us when: “In the beginning.” The important thing here is that there was a beginning. The earth, the heavens, space, time, matter itself – all had a definite beginning; none of them is eternal. Certain philosophies, particularly Eastern ones, assert that the universe itself is eternal, that matter always was and always will be, and that existence can best be depicted as a circle, since it has no beginning and no end and simply goes on and on in an infinite cycle of repetitions.
But the Bible says that everything – except, of course, God himself – began at some point, and that existence as we now know it is not like a circle but rather like a straight line going from a starting point to a predetermined end. Christians have usually expressed this idea by saying that God created everything out of nothing (or ex nihilo, to use the theological term). Before he began to create, there was nothing; after he began, there was something. And the reason there is something rather than nothing is purely because of God’s decision to make the universe.
If you go on to ask exactly when the beginning was, the plain and simple answer is that the Bible does not say. It just isn’t possible to date the beginning of the world from Scripture; that is a question the Bible does not address.
But this has not stopped some Christians from attempting to find such an answer in Scripture. The most famous such attempt was that of James Ussher, the scholarly 17th century Anglican archbishop of Armagh in Ireland. Basing his work on the genealogies of the Old Testament and the gospels, Archbishop Ussher calculated that there were 4036 years between Adam and Christ, and he set the date of creation at 4004 b.c. This date came to be widely accepted among English-speaking Christians, and was even printed in the margin of many Bibles alongside Genesis 1:1.
A contemporary of Archbishop Ussher, a Cambridge University scholar by the name of Lightfoot, took the calculations a step further by determining that creation occurred during the week of October 18-24, 4004 b.c., with Adam being made on Friday, October 23, at 9:00 a.m. London time. “Closer than this,” noted one modern commentator dryly, “as a cautious scholar, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University did not venture to commit himself.”
Today we know that such a system of dating is not correct. Science is able to determine with increasing accuracy the age of the earth, and a very great age it appears to be. A wide variety of scientific tests, from the examination of geological strata to the use of radioactive dating techniques, to the study of light waves from deep space, shows the earth to be apparently hundreds of millions and even billions of years old, and the universe itself to be even older. Almost every single knowledgeable scientist, including most scientists who are believing, practicing Christians, accepts the truth of this evidence. The scientific evidence of the earth’s great antiquity does not conflict with the Bible because the Bible says nothing about exactly when God created the universe.
It is true that some Christians today feel compelled to reject science’s view about multiple billions of years for the age of the universe. Believers in “creation science,” as they are called, assert that the Bible teaches that everything must have been created only a few thousand years ago. These brothers and sisters in Christ are fully committed to the authority of the Bible – which is good! But their interpretation of Scripture leads them to reject the evidence that science has presented for the antiquity of the earth and to assert that all of it is false or misleading, put there as a test to our faith in the truthfulness of the Bible. Some Christians would also say that any apparent evidence for the earth’s antiquity is irrelevant because when God created the world he made it with an apparent history. In other words, God created everything in such a way that it all appeared to have a very ancient origin, like a modern reproduction of a piece of antique furniture.
But surely this is not the way God works. He is not a God of deception, and he never gives us a misleading picture either of himself or reality, not even to test our faith. It is true that he requires us to accept some things by faith which are beyond our knowledge, but he never asks us to believe things that are contrary to our knowledge or the plain evidence of reason and experience. God made both us and the world, and that means we can trust what our senses and the careful reasoning of our minds tell us when we apply ourselves to understand nature and the world that is around us.
This point was wonderfully made in another connection more than 400 years ago by the English church reformer Thomas Cranmer:
Although the articles of our faith be above all our inward senses, so that we believe things which we can neither see, feel, hear, smell, nor taste, yet they be not contrary to our senses . . . [so] that . . . we shall not trust our senses, but believe clean contrary. Christ never made any such article of our faith. Our faith teacheth us to believe things that we see not, but it doth not bid us that we shall not believe what we see . . . with our eyes, and hear with our ears, and [touch] with our hands.
As Bible-believing Christians we need not be afraid of any facts which science uncovers about the earth or anything else. All truth is God’s truth! The facts of science can never contradict the facts of Scripture, more than the facts of Scripture can contradict the facts of science, for the same God is the author of both. If there seems to be any conflict between science and the Bible, we may be sure that its source lies not in the factual content of either one but in human theories or interpretations of that content.
Next, this text (Genesis 1:1) tells us who, who was there in the beginning: “In the beginning God.” Way back in eternity, before the universe had any being at all, God was there. God simply is; he has no beginning and no end. He alone is infinite and eternal, uncreated and self-existent.
The Bible affirms that in the beginning God was there, first as an answer to materialism. Materialism is the philosophy which believes that in the beginning no one was there. Materialists believe that the only reality is matter – what we can see or measure – and the only force is the law of physical cause and effect. The history of the universe is like an endless chain reaction of billiard balls, each one struck by and then striking another, and so going on and on with no apparent meaning or purpose.
Materialism is a reductionistic world view. According to philosophical materialists, all of life can be reduced to biology. There is no such thing as soul or spirit, only organisms. And all of biology can be reduced to chemistry; even the human mind and emotions are just the result of chemical processes and reactions in the brain. And all of chemistry can be reduced to physics, the unplanned, non-directed movement of particles and forces. So we’re back again to the billiard balls.
Now this is not a new philosophy – it had already been formulated by ancient Greek philosophers before Christ was born. But it has become increasingly dominant in the modern world. Writing in 1877, a German scientist named Ernst Haeckel gave expression to the view that has come to be held by much of the secular intellectual establishment:
The cell consists of matter . . . composed chiefly of carbon with an admixture of hydrogen, nitrogen and sulfur. These component parts, properly united, produce the soul and body of the animated world, and suitably nourished, become man. With this single argument the mystery of the universe is explained, the Deity annulled, and a new era of infinite knowledge ushered in.
This is the dominant world view of many western intellectuals today.
Well, it isn’t true. Professor Haeckel has long since had the opportunity to learn first-hand whether or not the Deity has been annulled; as believers, we know already. God is and was and is to come. He was before and behind everything, the whole course of the universe and the whole development of the human race is not a chance process, but the outworking of his wise and loving purpose.
Then, secondly, the Bible affirms that in the beginning God was there as an answer to polytheism, which believes that in the beginning many deities were there. Ancient polytheists believed in all sorts of gods and goddesses, who generally displayed all-too-human characteristics. The creation accounts of some of these idolatrous religions were contemporary with the Bible. But there is a marked contrast between Genesis and the creation stories of Israel’s neighbors. Those stories related the origin of the world to the crude behavior of their gods. In the pagan accounts gods and goddesses quarreled and fought and copulated with one another, and it was out of their struggles and liaisons that the world was formed. For example, in a Babylonian myth, a god named Marduk cut the body of another god named Tiamet in half, and from the pieces fashioned the heavens and the earth. If that is the sort of thing people in the ancient world thought about creation, it seems obvious that the biblical account comes from someplace else – namely, from God himself!
Scripture tells us it was a personal God, the one true God, who created the world through his word and according to his will. The God who was there in the beginning is the God of the Bible. Today a different kind of polytheism is becoming popular. There are many gods, we are told by adherents of New Age philosophy, billions of them in fact. These gods and goddesses are not “out there” but right here on earth. In fact, we are the gods, everyone is his or her own deity, capable of “creating” our own reality.
Most people today, just as most in the Bible’s time, do believe in creation of some sort; so the crucial question becomes this one: which “God” is the Creator? Is it I myself? Is it science? Genesis 1 says the Creator is the biblical God, Israel’s God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible was written not just to show that the universe was created by God, but that it is the God of the Bible who is the Creator of the universe. The God who speaks is the God who created; and the Creator is the Revealer. This is the point of the Bible. God doesn’t care to convince people just to believe in creation; that’s not the ultimate purpose of revelation. He wants people to know him personally and come to him through accepting and believing his Word.
The Bible wasn’t written to make theists of us, but Christians. It isn’t enough only to be a theist, to accept the idea that there’s a God behind it all. The crucial thing is to believe that the God who made heaven and earth is the same God who came into the world in Jesus Christ. He came to save us and restore us to himself through faith in his Son Jesus. The fact is, we can not just know about God but can actually know God himself in a personal relationship through Christ.
The end result of this knowledge should be worship. We don’t just admire the universe God has made, we go beyond admiration of the creation to praise and thanks to the Creator who is also our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.