Genesis 1,v1-2:v3. 18th September 2022.
Also… John 2:1-11
Our values – UP, IN OUT. So our worship, discipleship, serving others, our mission, how is that shaped by God’s creation, his world. Well as Julie Andrews says in the Sound of Music ‘Let’s start at the very beginning!’
When we read Genesis 1, it is easy in our minds to jump to v 26 onward, and the Creator God and humans. Yet we want to absorb and be shaped by the assertions being made in v1-25 as well…
What do we learn about God?
1.No other creator!
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’
So the first thing we need to know is that God, is the sole creator of the Universe – everything in heaven and earth, owes its existence to the sovereign will of God.
Now you may say, well that is pretty obvious. But the writer of Genesis – regularly comes back to this point: God as Creator – and his repeated returns make us ask ‘why?’
For example. V16. ‘’God made the two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.’’ What is the writer doing? Well it is clear that he refers to the Sun and Moon. In fact some bible translations change the translation to simply say ‘sun and moon’. But in Hebrew it is clear ‘it is the greater and lesser lights.’ Why not call them by their names? The most likely answer is that in many cultures around the people of Israel, they were the names of gods. Genesis 1 is attacking this false theological idea, by saying, they are NOT gods, but simply LIGHTS created by the one true God. This idea is reinforced – see how the Sun and Moon have the job of simply giving light to the earth, and ruling the day and night, UNDER God. There is NO suggestion that they have a life of their own or are divine in any way. They are NOT worthy of worship, but they are simply creations of God.
A similar idea in the same v16. The writer says : ‘’He also made the stars.’’ For some, in other cultures, stars would be gods, controlling human destiny, but God here – the one true God – is SO great that he simply, easily, made the stars too.
What is going on here, is a theological attack or polemic. It is taking, well known concepts in popular culture and religion in the ancient Near East, and arguing and declaring them to be mis-guided.
Also, we see how God names various things he creates, doesn’t he – heavens, earth, sea etc. This is significant when we think about the OT – to name something is to assert sovereignty over it.
The message conveyed to the Hebrews and to others listening in, that God is without competitor, he has no rivals, his word is supreme, he speaks and it is DONE!
The Genesis account gives us the picture of God as the great artist.
There is creativity and diversity in abundance!
V2 the earth was formless and empty.
A phrase that can be translated ‘total chaos’ or ‘waste and void’, in Job, the word means ‘wasteland’.
In this disorder, void, God brings contrast, structure, order.
V3, 6, 7, 14, 18 describe acts of separation, show God giving diversity to his created order. We may at times take for granted these differences, but these contrasts add to our sense of beauty of the world – the contrasts of heat and cold, seas and dry land, the brightness of a summer day, the stars bright at night. These all affect our senses and add to our experience of the world as an awe inspiring place.
In these structures, what fills it, is light and life. There is again diversity and creativity. When vegetation is brought forth, v11, it has the ability to reproduce, it has seed. As a child once said: Wouldn’t it have been awful if the only vegetable God created was cabbage!
Even the small phrase. ‘He also made the stars’, is an awe inspiring statement of the creativity of God. To the person of the ancient world, the night sky – unpolluted by street lights and other illumination – was a mixture of constellations and movement. Today, many are in awe of the images from the James Webb Telescope, and the incredible unbelievable vista.
Why such a Universe? People ask why God has created a Universe with more stars than the grains of sand on the beaches of the world. After all human life, could have arisen with the special creation of one star and one planet. Well the night sky would have been very boring, and very few people would have studied astronomy!
Why this kind of Universe?
The answer: the extravagant diversity of God.
Psalm 19 – the heavens declare glory of God.
God is an artist, who creates on a vast canvas, with huge brush strokes. He makes a universe that communicates his greatness, joy, and generosity. This is shown throughout the Bible – in the NT, when Jesus turns water into wine, he provided between 75-115 litres, at party where most of the guests were pretty filled already. God is extravangant in generosity…’the first of his miraculous signs… thus revealed his glory.’ Extravagance, generosity is helps declare the glory of God.
Such extravagance is seen, in v20-25 in the animal world, as well as in the creation of birds and fishes, where different kinds – diversity of species – are emphasized.
Who would ever have thought up the star shaped mole of North America, with its 22 little tentacles on the end of its nose that it uses to find food, or the tiny elusive primate called the tarsia of southeast Asia, with huge eyes, which can turn its head 180 degrees and super long back leg which enable it to leap up to 5 m from branch to branch? Whoever would have imagined the duck-billed platypus, with its duck-like bill and beaver-like tail?
Wherever we live now or have lived in the world, we have or had amazing creatures around us – even if they are not as fancy as I just mentioned – why not weave this into your worship and prayer this week, to think about the animals, birds, fish that are around you or have been, and give thanks to God for such diversity?
We note, in God’s blessing, is the command and opportunity for fruitfulness and increase. So this is s world, where diversity increases!
If the extravagance and diversity of the creation reflects the glory of God, what does it mean to destroy that diversity?
3. It is Good.
If we call God the great artist, is he a frustrated one, never happy with his work? As God creates, gives structure, fills up the wasteland, with diversity, the repeated refrain – God saw that is was good. As an OT scholar put it: God the great artist, is pictured admiring his handiwork.’ God delights in the diversity of his creativity.
God saw that it was ‘good’ is used 7 times, including v31, where he declares all he has made to be ‘very good’. We note these individual pronouncements. They are at the end of each individual day – compared to one statement at the end of all 7 days . It tells us each part of creation has its own value, its value does not depend on other parts. Astrophysist and theologian David Wilkinson reminds us ‘matter, matters to God.’’
The true value of nature is not extrinsic – ie a resource to be used – or instrinsic (in and of itself it has value regardless of use), no the true value of nature is theocentric. The value of the seas, the land, the trees, and of all created things, including humans of course, lies in God and his perception…
Ruth Valerio, writer and worker with Tearfund ‘’To know that God sees what he has created, and in his seeing, gives value to it, and pronounces it to be good, is a deep call to us … to reflect how we view the world around us. If we are really honest, do we perceive the wider world primarily as a resource for us to use as we wish, or do we regard it primarily as something God loves and is precious to him?’’
When I think about it, I want to be for the things God is for. Don’t you?
What is our responsibility to Creation, for that we look at image.
4. The Image of God.
‘’Let us make humankind in our own image, in our likeness…’’
What is the Image? There has been much writing over the centuries.
a)the image – in the created nature of human beings, as Calvin put it, ‘some sparks of God’s image glow’, as the creation does still give visibility to the invisible God, as Paul writes in Romans 1.
b) image has been suggested, eg by Augustine and Aquinas, it refers to human reason, which reflects the wisdom of God.
c) image has been linked to freedom. Being made in the image of God, humans are free, self determining beings.
d) image has been linked to morals – God is holy and righteous and human beings reflect this moral sense – we have a sense of right and wrong.
These are helpful and important but there is more, which gives us, I think, more insight as to what that word meant in the mind of a Hebrew. Archaeological studies point us to the idea of image being a representative. Ancient texts – Egyptian and Assyrian – sometimes describe the king as the image of God, meaning God’s representative on earth. We see this reflected in 2nd Commandment – you shall not make any images. In Isaiah and Jeremiah, what Israel has turned to – that things are made, a piece of wood or silver turned into an image of the god and then the god is prayed to. The image represents the god…
We see that link – made in the image and then God says ‘and let them rule over…’’To rule and in v28, God says ‘fill the earth and subdue it’’ – these are royal tasks.
Ancient thought went further. A physical image of a god or a king, in terms of a statue, in a city, was seen as a representative of the deity or king, even to the extent that the idol was indwelt by the spirit of the god.
The image – the idea – the image represented the one ‘imaged’ and represented the ‘presence’ of the absent Lord / God.
We are that image, and we represent God.
And that word Image – Colossians 1 says – Christ is the image of the invisible God –
David Atkinson says ‘A Christian understanding of what it means to be human begins with Jesus Christ.’’
His life demonstrates what to be human is meant to look like…
Jesus is the only perfect or true human being – the rest of us are damaged, wounded, by our rebellion against God, our sin, and yet we are created in his image and offered salvation by him –
as someone said : we are ‘human becomings’ on the way to ‘full humanity’.
5.A God who gives responsibility.
Image points us to responsibility.
Humans have a representative function or an ambassadorial function. ‘God’s representative on earth’. Humans are told to ‘rule, to subdue.’
The idea, of ‘rule over’ lifted out of the text, causes us to see ourselves as the kings and queens of creation. If the world is seen as a machine, with humans in sole control, with no accountability bar to ourselves, then domination and then exploitation quickly follow.
Yet as humans, we are given authority under our Creator God. Made in God’s image, we are given a unique status in creation and called to exercise authority.
But as royal steward, representatives of him.
We are always accountable to the King for the exercise of our authority . This gives dominion a moral dimension. In that way we see echoes to Matthew 25, of the Parable of the Talents. For what we are given, to do, responsible for, we are accountable for.
It is possible to look after the environment for ultimately selfish reasons. We want to protect our children in the future and perhaps ourselves. This view can be caused by our consumer society in the West – so we act because of what we gain out of it.
But the Bible goes beyond that motive – we care for the environment because God gives us this responsibility, and our care isn’t only about how it affects us, but it also becomes an expression of our love for neighbour.
We are in the image. We are given responsibility. If we are to reflect the image of God, then we must exercise responsibility in a way that reflects the way God exercises authority. God values diversity, fruitfulness, and creativity.
Genesis 1 inspires our UP, wonder, worship.
It shapes our IN – we want to know what it means to be a disciple, and part of that is remembering we are in the image of God, a representative of him.
It moulds our OUT – the world – his world where he calls us to exercise responsibility in a God shaped, in a Christ like manner. WWJD – was an old saying – What Would Jesus Do. What would Jesus have us DO in his creation, for by him it was made, and for him it was made, what would he have us do in and towards it.
Shall we pray.