I thought I’d better start this sermon series on Genesis 1 with a bit of a disclaimer… and no it’s not this wonderful one I found on the internet… it could be but its not… It’s more personal in nature…
I’m not a molecular biologist, like our friend Zach Arden who spoke a couple of weeks ago about belief in a creator God in the evolving world of science. I’m not able to grapple with questions of our origins by decoding the mystery of life at that miniscule DNA level.
I’m not a cosmologist or an astrophysicist, working at the other end of the scale of existence and trying to stare back into the very depth of time as they stare out into the very depth of the seemingly infinite reaches of space.
Often when we look at the creation narratives in Genesis the questions we have and the issues we are asked to explore come from the scientific world.
I am trained and tasked with opening up these scriptures of ours in a way that helps each of us ask what do they say to us and allow God to speak into our lives.
And sometimes I wonder why my parents didn’t call me Forrest as I have to admit, “I’m not a very smart man”… “but”… because of Jesus Christ… “I know what love is!”
So having said all that over the next three weeks we are going to be looking at the creation narrative at the beginning of Genesis and looking at what it says about God, about creation and about us and how we live.
It’s not that we are going to dodge those hard issues, the claims that faith and science contradict each other. It’s interesting I remember Rob Yule, a past moderator of the Presbyterian Church, saying one day that science had made the first step in proving the Scriptures true. AS scientists contemplated the idea of the big bang, they had come to the point of affirming the first words of the passage we had read out to us ‘in the beginning’… scripture and science pointing to a starting or at least a point at which to go beyond was a matter of conjecture. It reminded me of an article I read in a not so illustrious, not so scientific journal… the Reader’s digest… where a scientist reflecting on the big bang theory commented that, “they had climbed the great mountain of human knowledge and as they came to the summit they sat down and stared out into space and time and found they were not alone, but seated around them were philosophers, mystics and religious who had been waiting for them to catch up.” It was also good to reminded by our friend Zach about how many at the forefront of the sciences are people of faith. We are not going to dodge those questions but when we come to Genesis we need to realise that they were not the same questions that the writers of this book were asking themselves. To understand Genesis 1 we need to get our heads around those questions.
We can get caught up with questions of ‘in the beginning and forget that for the scriptures and for us the focus is ‘in the beginning God’. The scriptures focus is on God, not the mechanics and particulars of how it all happened and fits together. The classic illustration of this difference is of finding a well-crafted pocket watch buried in the sand. One person might open it up and look at the wonderful mechanism and the physics and materials used and marvel at how wonderful it is and how it is seen as the end product of smelting, metallurgy, developing precision mechanics, balanced cogs, precision wheel meshing and tensed springs…while someone else might marvel at the craftsmanship of the watchmaker, the care and expertise that were lavished on this item. They may even read an inscription in it that gives them a clue to why and for whom it was made. Both in actual fact may be right about the pocket watch.
In the end however we need to realise that there is are two ways that we find knowledge of God. One of those ways is called General revelation that is things we can understand and know about God from our observation of the world around us. In Romans 1:18-20 Paul makes the argument that people can be held accountable for knowledge of God because of the wonders of his creation, knowledge of God can be gained from the things he has made. But to know more of God we need special revelation that God himself has chosen to reveal to us. Scripture is the record of that and we have to view Genesis and what it tells us about God from that perspective.
In the Hebrew Scriptures the focus is looking back in looking at the origins of themselves as God’s people. They look through the lens of questions like, why should this God, YWHW, have bought us out of our slavery in Egypt to be our God and for us to be his People? Genesis tells that story. It looks back to see it was Because of God choosing to make a special relationship with their ancestors, with Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob. And that begs the question why would God do that? And we find behind that the story of a creator God, who made humanity for a relationship with himself, a relationship that was broken and sin and separation from God was like a disease and infected and distorted all of us and impacted creation itself. That the God who created it all was working out a way of reconciling the world to himself. The choosing of Israel to be his people was a major part of that plan.
Of course we look back at these genesis stories, these origin stories from beyond the cross and the resurrection and we see how in Jesus Christ that story of the creator God, has continued and finds its fulfilment in the incarnation, in the word by which all things were created became one of us living and dying that we who were made for relationship with God maybe forgiven and restored to that relationship. That creator God lives within us by the Holy Spirit and is working and recreating or making a new creation within us. The gospel of John makes that wonderful connection for us by starting not with a birth narrative or a genealogy to tie Jesus to the story of God’s people but by starting ‘in the beginnings’.
The creation narrative in Genesis was also written in a certain context, probably of Babylonian and Mesopotamian understanding of the origins of the world. ‘Enuma Elish’ which archaeologist have uncovered and which is named after the first two words of the epic is one such example. It tells of the creation of the world in terms of chaos and conflict between deities. The Genesis story acts as a polemic against that. WE see that God created the world in an orderly manner with purpose and reason. It was not chance or conflict or mistake, but with thought and concern and in an orderly way. It speaks not of it being discord between dieties, but the sovereignty of one eternal God.
The Genesis narrative portrays God like a king who speaks and whose decrees are carried out, "God said and there was"… the Medes and the Persians believed in the power of the spoken word. A good example is the book of Esther in the bible. In the book of Esther Xerxes is tricked by Harmon to order a decree that on a certain day people could kill the Jews living in their midst. When through Esther Xerxes finds out he has been tricked he can’t rescind his order, as it says in Esther 8:3 for no document written in the kings name and sealed by his ring can be revoked, so Mordiach Esther’s uncle writes another decree in Xerxes name saying the Jews may defend themselves and plunder any enemy that attacks them. This causes the enemies of the Jews to fear them and not to attack. In genesis 1 God acts in that same sovereign way speaking and his commands are carried out.
I always remember my youth group leader in Titirangi, John Stein, who was a science teacher wearing a t-shirt with Maxwell’s equations on them as a way of tying in our understanding of light and God’s spoken words together. general revelation, scientific observation and analysis and special revelation coming together.
The creation stories still act as a polemic for us today in our scientific understanding of the world. Scripture has always maintained that God is eternal, that God existed before the space time continuum. That God created, it was not just a random occurrence, it was not just the chaotic forces of chance, it is made good and has value, that creation has meaning and purpose to it, which can ultimately only be found in relationship with the creator. A relationship made possible through Jesus Christ.