I want to get into the first two verses of Genesis 1 as we begin to look at the opening chapters of the Bible and their implications for our current cultural context. But before we get too far, I want for us to remember what kind of text we are dealing with so that we know what we can expect to glean from it. These are the conclusions I outline in my last blog that need to be remembered now.
We must realize the danger of misunderstanding these chapters of Genesis and asking the text wrong (read present day scientific) questions. Often we ask these verses to speak to historical or scientific questions that it was never intended to answer. Doing this brutalizes the text! These verses don’t speak to the issue of the age of our universe or earth (millions or thousands of years old). In fact none of Scripture does. Nor do these verses speak to how (by what process) God created the universe and the world. In fact, none of Scripture does. Nor do these verses speak to the manner in which God brought forth life and various species. We are simply told that when God spoke stuff came into being.
The first 3 chapters of Genesis as a unit speak instead to deeper, and frankly more important questions; questions of cosmogony, that reveal to us the nature of God’s character and his relationship to his work of creation. It puts us as human beings in our place as the creature and not the Creator, as the subordinate and not the ruler, and as such lays out for us very clearly how we need to respond to being in such a position.
So let’s delve into Genesis 1:1-2.They are the key to getting Scripture right. But before we do let me clarify my position on these verses. I don’t see them as part of the first week of creation, but as an introduction to God’s creative work.
God is eternal and everything else had a beginning – v. 1a, “In the beginning God…”
This means a couple of things:
- There was a beginning – Whether you are a secular scientist committed to naturalism or a Christian theologian or a philosopher, or an animist, or whatever, few if any believe that our past existence did not have a beginning; that our universe is nothing more than a series of infinite regressions. Scientific theories abound as to when this beginning happened, what caused it, what the conditions were surrounding it, etc. but what is not usually debated is whether or not there was a beginning. The Bible doesn’t tell us when this beginning began and thus we should not spend too much time on questions with which the text is not concerned. What is more important for is understanding the 2nd aspect of the early part of v. 1 by noting that. . .
Before the beginning and at the beginning God was there – when Genesis 1:1a says, “In the beginning God…” we are being reminded of a few simple truths. First, God’s existence does not need to be argued for; he simply is. What is interesting about the beginning of the Bible, and the rest of it for that matter, is that no author undertakes to ‘prove’ that God exists. Nowhere in Scripture are we offered any apologetic for God’s existence. It is a simply stated truism. (Cf. Rom 1:18ff). Second, God is the only God. There is no quorum of gods whom he has to consult before creating the universe and everything in it. No other gods from which the true God created the universe. Nor is there evil against which God has to fight so that he can do what he wants to in creating. None of that. God is just there by himself, doing as he pleases. Third, God is eternal and independent (he is a se), existing before the beginning and dependent upon nothing for his existence. Here’s the thing, you and I and everything else that exists requires something other than itself for its existence. But God is not dependent upon anything else for existence, but has eternally existed without any eternal or prior cause – God exists by his very nature (Grudem).
God is the creator – v. 1b, “In the beginning God created…”
We must note that the word translated ‘create’ is the Hebrew word bara. I mention this not to impress you with my knowledge of Hebrew (which is limited), but because it is significant. The subject of the word bara in Scripture is always God. This emphasizes quite significantly that it is God alone who creates, he alone brings into being.
What God creates, we are told, is the “heaven and the earth.” This phrase is a merism (a statement of opposites to indicate totality; eg. ‘head to toe’) and its meaning is quite simple – God created the entirety of what exists. But let’s be careful not too make this say too much. This phrase does NOT allow us to say to an evolutionist, “Genesis 1:1 says that God created the heavens and the earth so it could not have evolved!” This is NOT the point of this verse. The point being made is only this, “In the beginning God created everything” with no mention of the process God may or may not have used. Remember it is not the authors point to make a scientific claim. His goal is to make a theological claim; a claim that will ground Israel’s and our worldview and cosmogony. God created everything. What we learn from this verse is that the reason why there is something rather than nothing is because God created that something – whatever that something may be.
God is sovereign over everything – v. 2, “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.”
This verse interesting, even to the point of being out of place. Why talk about an “earth” that is “formless and void” and speak of the Spirit of God as “hovering over it”? At this point in the narrative, God has not yet created a formless earth or darkness or water so how can Moses speak of these things already existing? It is only a problem if we think incorrectly about this passage. As mentioned earlier, we should not expect scientific or historical details in this passage, nor should we expect a chronological timeline in this passage. We must remember that there is great danger in looking for too much detail or sequence in Genesis 1:1-2:3. The author is constructing a cosmogony and worldview foundations for us; we must allow him to do so.
This verse shows us that God is in sovereign control as he creates and over what he creates.The Holy Spirit “hovers” over it all even before God starts to form and fashion the universe and its inhabitants. We could expand God’s sovereign relationship to creation by saying that God in his sovereignty is,
- completely free to create or not to create;
- completely free to create that which he wants to create and to not create that which he does not want to create;
- completely free to create in whatever way he wants to create (eg. use a process or not, and what that process will be). This is not identified in Genesis or elsewhere in Scripture. Science will tell us if there was a process.;
- in complete creative control of the “formless and void”, whatever it might be;
- in complete creative control of the formed and filled that we will read about later in the creation account.
- We must avoid idolatry at all costs – If God is the ONLY God then we must be very aware of the warnings, which are legion, in Scripture not to pursue other gods. He alone is God and to pursue anything else other than him is not just foolish, it is the rebellion against God.
- The world (including that which is in it) is not to be worshipped – created stuff is not semi-divine, it is created and as such it is separate from God himself. Everything that we have worshipped or continue to worship – the sun and moon, fire, water, wind, ourselves and our creations have all been created by God. The created world, and us as part of it, is created and not Creator. We may not be animists anymore, but our society has gotten its order of creation out of whack. We not only worship ourselves, but we elevate the animals around us to our level and worship them as equally valuable. We have forgotten the order of creation and God’s sovereignty over it. The case of the killing of Harambe at the Cincinnati zoo and the reaction to it is evidence of our society’s misguided thinking.
- The world is dependent – There was a time when only God existed and there was no time when stuff stood outside of God’s creative and providential control. Mind-numbing stuff to be sure, but the Scriptures are clear – until God created nothing existed. But let’s be more specific, we are dependent on God. When we begin to act as if we are God and displace him, we have already taken our first step toward disaster. We may be the pinnacle of creation, but we are not the Creator.
- God is the Lord over creation – God is distinct from his creation, he brought it into being and is Lord over it, and he alone has right to make laws for it. He sets the rules and parameters of his world, which includes both the ‘laws’ of nature and the moral ‘laws’ to which his creatures must obey. We are the creature, he is the Creator. We are, as we will discover later in Genesis 1-2, the pinnacle of creation, the goal of God’s creative acts, and a co-regent over creation, but we are still a part of the creation. Here is where balance is needed in our thinking. We are creature and not Creator. We are valuable, but we are still merely potter’s clay and not the potter. We have the ability to make stuff and do stuff, but all as the creature who has been given his place by the Creator.
God can be seen in that which he has made – Paul tells us in Romans 1 that, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Calvin comments, “the skillful ordering of the universe is for us a sort of mirror in which we can contemplate God, who is other wise invisible (Institutes, Vol. 1, 53).”
Soli Deo Gloria