We need a sense of identity – identity not that we discover or decide for ourselves but identity that is given to us by the only one who can instill identity in us – a creator.
You might think that the modern age has liberated humanity from the stifling oppressive idea of an identity imposed upon us from the outside – but you have to ask, if this “liberation” has led to freedom, or bondage – if it’s led to greater clarity, or confounding confusion – about the question of who we are.
You can’t have any real sense of purpose/meaning in life, if you don’t have any real sense of identity.
Questions of Identity (Origin and Purpose) are unavoidable, and utterly necessary. Genesis 1 is answering those questions.
It’s telling the people of God – and all humanity – who they are – where they came from, and so, what their purpose in life is.
last week we focused on the points of contact and contrast between the Genesis creation account, and the creation myths of the surrounding cultures in that day; now we’re going to look more at the creation account in and of itself, and then consider some scientific questions related to modern science which often are at the center of focus when modern readers consider Genesis 1.
1. Genesis 1 is intending to show us who we are in relationship to God, and to the rest of the creation.
Last week, focused on Creator/ creature aspect; this week, what we see looking at the structure of Genesis chapter 1, is a similar thing but from a slightly different perspective: God is King of all creation, and we are his representatives – servant-rulers underneath him.
Last week I said that I believe Genesis 1:1 to be the initial act of Creation – in the beginning, there is God and only God, until his initial act of creation – where all the heavens and the earth appear by his will and command out of nothing.
But, God is not finished with creating, and the chapter describes God’s creating as a process rather than an instantaneous event:
EX: pottery, throws the lump of clay on the spinning wheel – but it’s not yet formed and shaped to conform to the vision of the artist.
God’s initial act of creation of all matter from nothing, is like the artist throwing the clay onto the spinning wheel in an unformed block, and then 1:2-31 describes the divine artist’s forming and filling of that work of art.
The earth is described as formless and empty – these are the key words of the chapter.
A word on the literary nature of Genesis 1. It’s not a laboratory-report… but what is it?
Now, people often say that Genesis 1 is poetry. I don’t believe it is, because with the exception of v27, it otherwise lacks the primary distinctive element of Hebrew Poetry: Parallelism.
So, it’s not poetry, but at the same time, when you read it it does seem to have some type of rhythm to it – it’s not normal prose – “exalted prose” is probably the best way to describe it. And, so, chapter 1 is unique – it doesn’t quite fit into poetry or prose – and that uniqueness of literary genre matches the unique event which it describes.
But, the important element of the chapter in literary terms is the literary structure – which people then where much more aware of and sensitive to than we are.
And the literary structure of chapter 1 is guided by the key words I mentioned: formless, empty.
If you noticed, the rest of the chapter is concerned with God’s forming of that formless earth, and God’s filling of that empty earth.
In fact, that general structure gets more specific as we look closer: Days 1-3 describe specifically God’s responding to the problem of formlessness: he is forming of that initially formless earth; and then Days 4-6 describe specifically God’s responding to the problem of emptiness: God is filling that initially empty earth.
In fact, the structure gets more specific as we look even closer:
Day 1 and Day 4 correspond to one another; Day 2 and Day 5 correspond to one another; and Day 3 and Day 6 correspond to one another. And the correspondence is that those latter days fill with “rulers” those “realms” which were formed on those former days.
And, so, realms and rulers are the response to the formlessness and emptiness of the earth.
On day 1, God forms the realms of light and darkness (named day and night).
Then on the corresponding day, day 4, God fills the realms of light and darkness with the rulers of those realms: sun, moon, and stars – which, are specifically said to “govern” (v16 – the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night).
On day 2, God forms the realms of sea and sky.
Then on the corresponding day, day 5, God fills the realms of sea and sky with those who rule the sea and the sky: fish and birds
On day 3, God forms the realm of land.
Then on the corresponding day, day 6, God fills the realm of land with that which rules over the land, wild animals, livestock, and land creatures.
But, on day 6, something unique happens. Day six breaks the general pattern in a number of ways in order to present the sixth day as climactic, and to draw attention to the prominence of humanity in the creation:
- you have the only creature which is given special dignity, identity, and mission which is absent from everything else in all of creation: Humanity – both male and female – are created in the image of God (v26)
- You have God making a special announcement, using the plural address – “Let us make man in our image”. We’ll look more at that in future weeks, but at least in part, God is speaking to the heavenly court – angels – saying, something like: “pay attention to this!” – to draw attention to the uniqueness of this next act of creation.
- You have the evaluation of God heightened from plain-old “good” to “very good”, when God has in view the totality of creation as opposed to it’s individual parts.
- This sixth day is given prominence as a climactic event up to this point. in the enumeration of the 6th day, you find it stated for the first time, the 6th day. I’m not sure why virtually no translation brings this out, but every other day in the Hebrew lacks the definite article – day one; a second day, a third day, a fourth day, a fifth day, the sixth day. (for emphasis – to highlight the 6th day as climactic)
- Most central to the point here: in humanity, you have the first creature whose filling and ruling isn’t limited to their corresponding realm, but they are explicitly told to fill the whole earth, and to rule over the other creatures in other realms – v 26 & v 28.
And, being called “images” – we’ll look at this more in future weeks when we consider the biblical theme of “image of God”, but most direct corollary would be how ancient kings set up statues of themselves throughout their realms – as representative of their reigns
So, you see, in humanity, God is setting up his images to represent his rule throughout his realm.
and so, though humans rule over the earth, they don’t rule absolutely. Though they have prominence, they don’t have highest prominence.
So, humanity lives out it’s true identity and calling and purpose – not when it tries to be it’s own King, but when it submits itself to God’s rule, and seeks to represent his rule.
Genesis 1 is primarily concerned with the religious ordering of the universe.
Astrological bodies rule over night and day; birds rule over sky; fish rule over sea; animals rule over the dry land; and, Humanity rules over the creation; But God rules over all. He commands all, he gives humanity it’s position and it’s provisions and it’s agenda – God is King.
God is King, we are little kings, not our own kings ruling on our own, but ruling underneath God – in obedience and deference to him, extending his agenda and kingdom and glory, not our own.
And, this structure/order is important to the what follows in Genesis and the whole rest of the bible.
Because by Genesis 3 – 2 chapters, and that order it’s flipped upside down on it’s head, and disorder – chaos – misery, suffering, sin, and death result.
Because, Humanity, instead of submitting to God’s rule, and ruling as his delegate, & representing him, tries to live as his own god. And in fact, we see the serpent (creation) ruling over humanity (Adam & Eve), who is trying to assert their own rule over God.
And, just as Genesis 1 is God’s unfolding creation – establishing the proper created order; all throughout the rest of the Bible is God’s unfolding redemption – re-establishing that proper created order that had been turned upside down in humanities’ fall into sin.
That is the primary purpose of Genesis chapter 1. But, it’s still a fair question to ask, how does this fit into modern scientific consensus & theories about say, the age of the earth, or the evolution of species.
I’m not a scientist. I’m a theologian. And, my job isn’t to tell you how to weight the different scientific evidence or theories.
But, my job is to try to teach Scripture, and how we can come to a right understanding of Scripture.
8 things, from general to specific, that I think help us to navigate the questions that often arise:
- Answering this question is not a matter of “compromising” on the truth. We believe scripture is the Word of God, and no one is interested – well maybe some – but most people are not trying to abandon God’s word as a compromise to modern science or secularism or anything. The question isn’t, “is God’s word true?” The answer to that question is always: Yes. Rather, the question is: What is God’s word actually teaching? The bible is true in all it affirms. But, our job is to figure out what it is the truth which the bible affirms.
- God has revealed himself in 2 ways: General revelation (how God reveals himself and his truth generally – in natural world all around us) and Special revelation (how God reveals himself in his spoken and now written word specifically – in Scripture). A proper understanding of these two ways always agree – and so they help us understand one another. They are not in conflict as though enemies: God made the world – and modern science clearly has it’s roots and it’s basis in the Christian world-view – science can’t exist without the presuppositions of a theistic world-view. And, so, they agree with one another – which means that if we find them in seeming disagreement, then we should consider if we have misunderstood one or the other:
- Scripture is never wrong, but we can be wrong in our interpretation of Scripture – and we need to have the humility to consider if we have been wrong in our interpretation of Scripture. If natural revelation seems to contradict our understanding of scripture, then we can re-examine our understanding of scripture to make sure it is correct. And, Christians have been wrong in the past when it comes to reconciling biblical interpretation with scientific evidence.
- Just as we can be wrong in our interpretation of scripture, so can scientists be wrong in our interpretation of scientific findings. Facts – even scientific facts – are not always bare, self-evident things that require no interpretation, and are prone to no bias.
- Science itself isn’t the problem: but rather, a commitment to naturalism is the problem: being committed to the idea that everything in reality has only a natural cause – never a supernatural one – that obviously contradicts scripture – but also, it can’t be arrived at scientifically – it “jumps from the observation that natural laws can explain some things, to the conclusion that the material world is all that there is to explain.” It is simply a presupposition which insists that one knows the range of possible answers at the outset – it is only assumed, not proven – which only excludes certain types of questions, rather than letting the evidence go where it leads. It’s very convenient to assume that the material world is all that there is, and then by default to rule out at the outset the primary alternative that has seemed most plausible to people all throughout history and even today.
- This is faith: and, it takes quite a lot of faith, in my opinion, to think that the complexity, beauty, and bare existence of anything can arise from a naturalistic cause or through random chance. That takes a type of blind faith, that as a Christian I don’t think I’m capable of – we ought to be able to follow the evidence wherever it leads. And, our world is stamped unavoidably, with intelligence and design and stability and rationality and morality that can’t be accounted for without a source of intelligence – a designer – an almighty creator. Many people al throughout history have thought that the scientific inquiry leads us reasonably, and unavoidably, to God, since the natural world shows his existence, power, wisdom, and glory. (Look at this more next week).
- Scripture and science are often speaking different languages. Scripture uses quite a lot of phenomenological language – language as it appears to the observer. So, when the bible speaks of the earth being firmly established and not moving and having foundations – it doesn’t in fact mean the earth doesn’t move – it’s making a point about the relative stability of God’s world and our experience in it, by using the language of appearance – we don’t see the earth spinning & hurling through space; but that doesn’t mean the bible is making a statement about physics or astronomy. We still use phenomenological language – whenever we talk about the sun rising or the sun setting – and no one calls someone a pre-scientific ignoramus for using that language – it’s simply understood that their speaking in terms of appearance. And, so, the bible doesn’t answer every technical or scientific question that we might have. It’s likely that there’s some phenomenological language here:
- – the picture of the vault between the upper waters and the lower waters – since there are seas below, and rain comes from above, ancient people pictured that rain being suspended in the air by some kind of vault and let out intermittently in rainfall.
- “according to their kinds” – we often assume this is scientific language about the fixed nature of species, but those aren’t the questions that would have been on the mind of the first audience of this text. And, it’s possible that this was simply referring to the predictability of reproduction in the natural world. Those first readers knew, and needed to count on the fact that “oat seeds led to oat plants, olive seeds led to olive trees, and goats gave birth to goats.” And, so, it’s possible that all this is saying is that: “you can count on the fixity of kinds when you are dealing with the next generation, and the observable generations after that, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us what may or may not happen over millions of years of generations.”
- Calvin: “For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception – it is the book of the unlearned.” Genesis uses ordinary language that every observer – not just those who would understand technical scientific theory – would understand.
- Natural laws, are not divine, nor absolute – they tools in God’s hands, which show us how he usually governs his world. But, he can work without, against, or above them as he wishes. And, even when he does what we would call “supernatural” or “miraculous” things, even then he often uses means. God’s supernatural working does not exclude natural explanation, and natural explanation does not exclude God’s supernatural working. But, God is the primary cause of all things – not just certain miraculous things – everything; and he often uses means – secondary causes – to accomplish his purposes.
- Example: Many; but one very clear: Exodus 14:21. How was the Red Sea divided, such that God’s people walked across on dry land, but then the waters receded back at just the right time to destroy Pharaoh’s army? Exodus 14:21-22: “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.”
- Of course, this was – had to be a miracle, with God’s hand directly and immediately involved; but that it was miraculous, or supernatural, does not exclude that God used “means” – does not exclude that there was a natural explanation concurrent with the supernatural.
- And, so, this seems to raise the question as to whether God could have used some sort of means in his creation of species. in my opinion, Evolution is a theory which appears more plausible when it has to be plausible because there’s no other explanation. But, I don’t think Christians need to fear that it disproves God or invalidates the bible, because I think it’s possible that God used some sort of means – progressive creation, or theistic evolution (granted some exceptions – most importantly the exception of Adam and Eve as special creations in the image of God). Genesis doesn’t require this view, but neither does it contradict. It tells us of the means God used to create Adam and Eve, but not if, or which, means God used to create or form other life on earth. It’s silent about that – in order to focus on the main point and not get distracted with secondary questions.
- Now, that brings us to the time Time/Speed up natural processes. What’s in view in Genesis 1 are 6 days of God’s creating and 1 day of God resting from his work of creating – 1 week. And, I think the text does indicate they are sequential and consecutive days – and the refrain of morning and evening does seem to exclude the suggestions that the days are actually millions of years worth of days. They are days. But, they are divine days, and there’s no reason to insist that God’s days are identical to our days. Rather, they create an analogy between God’s days/week to ours and establish the pattern of work and rest for humanity.
- First, the seventh day doesn’t end – it’s the only day that doesn’t include the repeated formula of – “it was evening, and it was morning, the seventh day”; and, Hebrews chapter 4 makes much of the fact that the seventh day of God’s rest continues, and extends into eternity, and that when we enter eternity we enter God’s seventh-day rest. So, if God’s seventh day of rest is an eternal day, not identical to our day of sabbath-rest, then it’s possible that God’s other days of creation are not identical to our human days.
- One step further, how long is a day, when there are no human observers, no clocks, and when the sun hasn’t been created yet? How long is a day when there’s no sun? When there is no objective standard of measurement in the creation? It can’t be identified with our 24-hour days.
- And, here we seem to reach our creaturely limit as to knowing exactly how God’s creating took place and what it involved. After all, God is the Lord of time, and the Lord of history. Time is his creation, and so he is not bound by it, and he can let time progress or slow or hault as he wishes – such that a million years worth of history could occur in his 1 day; or, he could speed up natural processes such that in 1 day, 1 seed grew to one tree and reproduced countless times and covered the face of the earth.
- Now, if you do think that the text requires 24-hour days, which I don’t believe it does, but if you do, then although that would require a young view of the earth, and my understanding is that that simply doesn’t reconcile with the scientific evidence, then I still think you can harmonize that view as the idea of a “Mature Creation”: In the case of special creation, it is unavoidable that the apparent age of something would contradict its actual age. We see this most obviously in the creation of Adam and Eve, who weren’t created as embryos who developed into infants who grew up into adults – no, we’ll see in chapter 2, they were created as fully matured adults. So, on the first day of their existence, when they were one day old, if a scientist came along and examined them as to their age, they would conclude that they were 20? years old – however old, certainly not 1 day old. 20 years old would be their apparent age, though their actual age was 1 day. And, it seems unavoidable that when God created the earth, those rocks which later became the dry ground after the seas were gathered to one place, those rocks being fully formed would have had an apparent age different from their actual age – rocks filled with fossils and soil filled with decomposing organic matter and fossil fuels in order to provide the resources to sustain life. Same with the stars and sun – certainly there’s no requirement that God made only infant stars, but some that were mid-life or nearing the end of their life.
So, if I haven’t confused you, I hope you see my point that science and scripture don’t need to be set at odds with each other as much as they often are, but in both we need to recognize the limits of our knowledge – there is just a lot we don’t know – on the side of scripture and on the side of science –
But, many of those questions in the end don’t matter too much. And the questions that God’s word answers for us are the questions which matter most:
Who are you? Are you the accidental result of random mutation, from nowhere, going nowhere, here without purpose or plan, answerable and accountable to no-one and no different from an animal or the dirt of the ground?
Or, are you placed here by a powerful, wise, loving Creator? For a purpose, with a plan, answerable and accountable to him – and able to find meaning and identity in the fact that you are made in his image? And can find freedom, joy, and peace by living under his good and perfect plan?
Next week, we’re going to investigate some of those questions further. But, for now, I hope you see that those questions are anything but inconsequential – they make every bit of difference.