Monday, January 18, 2016

Creation and Eternity 1

I started an overview of the Bible a little over a week ago. Here was the first installment called "The Story of the Bible." The second installment is on Creation and Eternity.
The very first verse of the Bible in the very first book of the Bible says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1, NIV). Christians and Jews alike have long understood this verse to say that God created the world out of nothing. At one moment, nothing existed, not even space itself. Then God made the space, matter, and energy of the universe. [1]

If God created the world out of nothing, then there is nothing in the universe that he does not only know thoroughly but there is nothing over which he does not have power. After all, he not only cooked it; he created the ingredients. Indeed, he designed the ingredients. Christians do not believe that God is just another being. He is the Being. He existed without the universe, but the universe would not exist without his existence.

Christians believe that God is everywhere present in this universe he created. We often say that his Holy Spirit is here and everywhere. We believe that he loves what he has created. Nothing about it surprises him.

Genesis 1 is perhaps something like an introduction to the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. These books were first written for Israel, an ancient group of people with whom the Bible says God decided to have a special relationship. His relationship with them paved the way for the relationship Christians now believe God wants to have with everyone in the world.

As these ancient Israelites read Genesis 1, hundreds of years BC ("before Christ"), they would probably have thought of other creation stories they knew. Some features of Genesis 1 would no doubt have been striking to them. For one thing, there is only one God involved in the story. Apart from Israel, almost every other nation worshiped many gods, and their creation stories often involved a war between the gods. [2]

However, in the creation account in Genesis 1, God alone creates the world. He does not have to fight any other deity to get the job done. He is not reluctant to give good gifts to the people he has created. He effortlessly speaks, and it is done.

A second aspect that stands out in Genesis 1 is that God is a God of order. The Israelites might have seen in Genesis 1 a God who brings order out of chaos. [3] God brings light out of darkness (1:3). He provides safe ground out of destructive and chaotic waters (1:9). He takes emptiness and fills it with life everywhere--in the seas, in the air, and on the land.

After each act of creation, God pronounces that everything is good. At some points of history, various thinkers have suggested that the world or matter is evil, that it is the source of humanity's problems. But Christians believe that the world, no matter how twisted it may currently be, does not have to be that way. God did not make it that way.

In Genesis 1, humanity--men and women--are the climax of creation. God makes humanity as the peek of his creative activity, and then he rests. Christians and Jews alike have long understood his resting, his "sabbath" to be a model for us as humans. We need rest. Jews set aside Saturday as a day of rest, following the idea that God rested on the seventh day. Christians have often rested on Sunday, combining the day they celebrate Jesus rising from the dead (the "resurrection") with the sabbath of the Old Testament.

After God creates men and women, he tells them to multiply, to fill the earth (1:28). He also tells them to subdue the earth. He meant for them to do what they needed to do to survive and thrive, not least through farming and raising crops. Of course, God did not mean to destroy the earth.

Christians often see in this command a duty for humanity to take care of God's property. The world remains God's possession. "The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it" (Psalm 24:1). It would be irresponsible for us to trash God's world after he placed it under our care.

[textbox] "What are human beings that you are mindful of them... You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas" (Psalm 8:4, 6-8).

You may wonder about this wonderful picture of the world in Genesis 1. There is still much beauty in the world. Yet would God say that everything in the world today is good? In other words, what happened? For that story, we need to look at the next couple chapters of Genesis.

[1] As science has expanded our sense of how big the universe is, the Christian understanding of the scope of God's creation has expanded as well.

[2] I will follow the typical practice of using a lower case g when referring to the idea of many gods and a capital G when referring to the idea of the one God of Christianity and Judaism.

[3] There is debate over whether they would have heard Genesis 1:1-2 to say something like, "When God began to create heaven and the earth--the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep..." (Tanakh, Jewish Publication Society). In this interpretation, God does not create the world out of nothing but he creates order to the world out of primordial chaos.

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