In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Back of all, above all, before all is the God of Genesis. First in our thoughts; first in rank and station and power is the God of the Bible before whom we float like specks of dust on his eternal vision. He is the Almighty One, the self-existent One, the One who gives being to everything else, all things existing by him and through him and for him, the only one worthy to receive glory and power and honour. He has created all things and for his honour and delight they were created.
Every soul is God’s and exists by his pleasure, God being who and what he is, and we being who and what we are. The only thinkable relation between us is one of sovereign lordship on his part and total submission on ours. We owe God every honour that there is in our power to give him. Our everlasting grief will lie in giving him anything less. Throughout this brief lifetime of ours we Christians will make it our duty to bring every thought into captivity to him, and conform our whole being to his purity. We shall spend our moments and our days freely exalting this living God. We will give him his proper place over us.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” With these words the Scriptures begin. God is both the subject and the author of all that follows. He is responsible for everything, both seen and unseen. These ten words in verse one, translating just seven Hebrew words, are a kind of formal introduction to the work of creation. The sentence tells us four things
i] It was in the beginning that the uncreated God created. When everything else began God was already there. Time and space and dimensions and matter all commenced, but God did not commence. He was the unbegun one; the unoriginated one. Everything else of which we’ve had any experience had a beginning. There is nothing that exists that did not have an origin; all things can be traced back to Genesis chapter one and verse one. This is the ultimate explanation of the beginning of everything, of all creatures great and small. The Creator, however, is different from every other kind of being. He never began. We can compare him to nothing at all. He is sui generis, and in the beginning he gave to everything else form and substance, structure and life. So our world’s history had a starting point. In other words, its history is linear not cyclical. This first verse of the Bible is saying, “The beginning of time and space and matter came about in this way, God created the heavens and the earth.” And if it had a beginning will it not also have an ending?
We are told nothing about the origin of our God. The child asks, “If God made us who made God?” and he smiles at himself for being smart, but nothing at all created God. The living God is without beginning or end of days; he is from eternity to eternity. He himself had no cause; he has no birthday, and he has no external life-support system; he is self-sufficient. You notice that there is no family tree, no divine genealogies, spelled out in the first chapter of Genesis. “Of course not,” you mutter. That would be unthinkable to you because you either have a Christian biblical mind or because of an earlier grace in our nation, but that was not the case with the cultures and civilizations surrounding Israel. Their gods went back and back, not to a beginning but to perpetual relationships. There were lengthy family trees of gods and goddesses, with feuds and power struggles. Gods stole the wives and daughters of other gods, and begat yet other gods, but it was not like this with the God of the Bible. He is the eternal self-existent one, before everything else there was God alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He was the God who had made men in his image and likeness; he spoke to the patriarchs and redeemed the fathers from Egypt. He became their Father and Saviour; he would send them a Messiah. This was the God who in the beginning acted and made everything, the Lord of Israel who at a specific time was solely responsible for creating the whole universe.
ii] God was solely responsible for creating. God devised it and its entire engineering was his alone. Both the plan and the accomplishment of the universe was his. There was nothing and nobody else making any suggestions to him, let alone helping him. There was God alone purposing, designing and finally firing the starting pistol and the human race within God’s creation began. That was it. God said to Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world?” Job was absent as were we all. God did it because he chose to do it. The common name for God is elohim, and it is the masculine plural form of the Hebrew el, and it means ‘strength’, and ‘might.’ Although the noun ‘God’ is plural in the original language the verb ‘created’ is singular. So right from the beginning there is the suggestion that there is more than singularity in God. There is ‘withness’ in the Godhead. We flood Genesis chapter one with the light of John chapter one, where the first three verses echo our text and amplify it in this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” While in Genesis 1:2 we are told, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Here is the God who speaks in verse 26 and says, “Let us make man in our image.” The Father, the Word, and the Spirit are solely responsible for creating all things. Here is a personal God; one who speaks, and loves, and is compassionate. He is the one who makes himself known like this, “I am the God of Abraham.” The God of human beings. Yes this God created the heavens and the earth. Whenever this word ‘created’ is found in the Bible then you will notice three remarkable features;
i] It is used only of producing something new. That is why it is used so sparingly, even in the story of creation. In fact, it occurs only three times in Genesis chapter 1, referring to the primary act of creation (1:1), the creation of conscious life (1:21), and the creation of man (1:27). It is also used in the summary statement in Genesis 2:4, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” This verse marks the boundary of God’s creative activity. He creates only sparingly, and with the creation of man his creativity ceases.
ii] God himself is the one creating; he is always the subject preceding the verb ‘create’, in every single case. The word is never used of an action of men. Man cannot create; this is an incommunicable attribute of God. The reason for that is that God alone can create out of nothing. Out of nothing comes nothing, but when God acts in the beginning, addressing this nothingness, the heavens and the earth are born. Someone has said that God stepped from behind the curtain of nowhere, and stood on the platform of nothing & spoke a universe into existence Man (as God’s image) is a maker, but his making is only a pale shadow of the creativity of God.
iii] Thirdly the word ‘create’ is never used with any reference to the materials used. We are never told that God created with such and such materials. It is as if the materials were irrelevant. When man ‘creates’, he is always restricted by the medium in which he works, be it stone or bronze or paint or words. But God was completely uninhibited, creating with total freedom and spontaneity, and giving perfect expression to the idea in his own mind whether the brain, the atom, the sun, the galaxy, gravity, light, water . . .
iii] Every single atom in the cosmos was created by God. There was nothing at all before Genesis chapter one verse one except God. Is the anti-creationist view of the origin of the universe credible in any shape or form? “In the beginning was chance plus a speck . . .” – that is their creed. Yet we have this world of order and interdependence and beauty. We affirm that in the beginning there was nothing whatsoever save for the living God. We can’t imagine nothingness, the absence of a millionth of a proton . . . . simply nothing whatsoever. A proton is an infinitesimal part of an atom. A proton is so small that in the dot on top of the letter ‘i’ on your hymnbook could be gathered something like five hundred thousand million protons – just in that dot. The anti-creationist speaks of the eternal existence of a billionth of a proton referring to it as a singularity, and says that in the beginning that singularity was all there was. There was no space, no darkness, no dimensions. There was no time. There was just this speck in the beginning, and then one day it exploded, so he claims, in a big bang and that made the universe. In that speck was Mozart, and Einstein, and Hitler, and Leonardo da Vinci, and Shakespeare, and Jesus. In that speck was love and patience and forgiveness and hatred. In the beginning was the speck, and today Wales is worshipping that speck.
The Bible says that in the beginning there was nothing whatsoever. There was God alone, and everything that man has discovered, all that is known, and all that is yet unknown, was made by acts of the living, speaking God. No speck is eternal; no speck was there in the beginning, and every speck there is was made by God. Today there is not a single proton in the entire universe that can pipe up and claim, “I at least was not made by God.” The Lord God made them all. The Bible has no word for ‘universe’ or ‘cosmos’ it simply talks of, “the heavens and the earth” and that embraces all there is everywhere whether you go out and out and out, or down and down and down, or in and in and in. Outer space as well as all that’s in this world, everything in heaven itself and everything on, under and above the earth was created by God.
iv] This world was the special focus of God’s creation. That is what these opening words grammatically are emphasizing, that in the beginning God created the heavens and especially the earth. That is the meaning of the opening words of the Bible. We have all been made aware that our earth, considered in terms of size, is an average sized planet encircling the sun. The earth is dwarfed by the size of four of the other planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, which are all gas giants. Neptune is in fact 318 times bigger than planet earth, and yet it is not Neptune but the earth that is the focus of God’s attention. Then consider our sun which is a part of great galaxy of similar suns, and this galaxy is called, of course, the Milky Way. Nobody knows how many stars or suns there are in the Milky Way; estimates range from sixty billion to perhaps four hundred billion stars in the Milky Way. The Hubble telescope has so far detected 80 billion other Milky Ways, galaxies in the universe. So it is not a hyperbole to compare the number of planets in the universe to the number of grains of sand on the seashore. Yet Genesis chapter one and verse one says that in the beginning God created the heavens and that especially he created the earth. God has given man a geo-centric view of reality. God’s interest was focused on our world and its inhabitants, the men and women whom he made in his own image. The rest of Genesis chapter one and the remainder of the Bible concentrates on this unique planet of ours, the only living people in the whole universe, as far as we know, and Scripture looks at the rest of the cosmos as the back cloth to ourselves who inhabit a divinely created world which has been planned, and tested, and spoken to and visited by God’s angels and by God the Son.
Such a geo-centric view of reality is deplored by many non-Christian intellectuals today. Carl Sagan, the American astronomer who steadily opposed the Christian view of creation, was interviewed on the US TV programme Dateline by Ted Koppel. That interview was to be only a few days before Sagan’s death, though Sagan didn’t know that he had less than a week to live. Koppel asked him if he had any closing remarks, any words of wisdom he would like to share with the people of the earth and this is what he said; “We live on a hunk of rock and metal that circles a humdrum star that is one of 400 billion other stars that make up the Milky Way galaxy which is one of billions of other galaxies which make up the universe which may be one of a very large number, perhaps an infinite number of other universes. That is a perspective on human life and our culture that is well worth pondering.” Those were his closing despairing words. They are saying this,
We came from nowhere.
We are going nowhere.
There is no purpose in anything that we see around us.
‘Life’ is meaningless.
Humans are not special in any sense.
How different is the perspective of Genesis chapter 1.
There is a Creator.
Mankind has a Maker.
God designed the universe with the world at its heart.
He especially made the earth amongst all the billions of stars in the cosmos.
Humans are very special, made in his image.
Our maker is not silent but speaks to us by his servants and his Son.
When you believe that then you have a very different outlook on life. You say that the lives of men and women count in the sight of God their Creator and Judge, and they had better know him and do his will. So our world is being confronted by two opposing world views.
If you are searching for a reason for your existence – and you should – and the explanation for mankind’s incredible achievements, his spirit of self sacrifice and creativity, and also why the world is in the state in which it’s in, then you must read the opening chapters of Genesis. The New Testament is fascinated with the book of Genesis. It refers to it about 200 times and half of those references are to the first eleven chapters of Genesis. The Lord Jesus Christ quoted or referred to each of the first seven chapters of Genesis.
So the Bible begins with these inexhaustible ten words, the most widely read words in all literature. If you really believe that they are truth then I think you will have little difficulty in believing the rest of God’s word. These words are the end of atheism; “God was in the beginning,” they affirm. They deny the polytheism of Hinduism and its many gods. There is one God alone. They refute the pantheism of the new age movement which makes everything we see to be god. They blow to pieces the theory of dualism, that there are two gods, one good and one evil, at war with one another. These words challenge humanism because they enthrone God as King of the universe not man. This God of Genesis One is the true and living God, and he has not left us without instruction as to how to respond to him.
2. GOD TEACHES OUR RESPONSE TO THE CREATION.
i] Let us be mute with wonder at the handiwork of the God who created our world.
Since God designed and made it all you would expect to see evidences of his wise handiwork everywhere, and we do. Consider the way God fixed the exact distance of the earth from the sun; it is just the distance it must be to support life. If the earth were further from the sun, the planet would be too cool for a stable water cycle. If the earth were closer to the sun, the planet would be too hot for a stable water cycle. We are alive today because of that.
The air we are breathing at this moment has the correct mixture of gases: 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, .93% Argon, .035% carbon dioxide and .035% other gases. If the atmosphere had 25% oxygen or more, spontaneous fires would break out because oxygen encourages flammability. If the atmosphere had 15% oxygen or less, we would suffocate. If the atmosphere had more carbon dioxide, the earth would become warmer. If the atmosphere had less carbon dioxide, plants would starve.
Or again consider the tilt of earth’s axis (23.5 degrees) which gives us our moderate seasons. If the tilt was greater – for example, Uranus has a 98 degree tilt – such a tilt on earth would cause periodic continental flooding and long periods of darkness. If the earth’s tilt were less – for example, the planet Venus has no tilt then that lack of tilt would cause equatorial areas to grow much hotter and the ice caps to expand.
Again the proximity of moon is exactly where it should be. If it were a fifth of the distance away, tides would completely submerge continents twice a day. If there were no moon, the earth would wobble, as the planet Mars wobbles. The moon stabilizes and anchors the earth.
The rate of the earth’s rotation is exactly right. If it were a tenth of the present rate, plant life would burn during the day and freeze at night. If it were faster, wind velocities would rise to catastrophic levels. For example, the planet Jupiter has a 10-hour rotation period and thousand mph winds.
The thickness of the earth’s crust is correct. If the crust was thicker, or thinner the oxygen content would either be too small or too great. If the crust was thinner, volcanic and tectonic activity would be tumultuous.
The water vapour level in the atmosphere is exactly as it has to be. If the water vapour level was greater, a runaway greenhouse effect would develop. If water vapour level were less, rainfall would be too meagre for advanced life on the land.
The colour of the sun is correct. If the sun was more red, the photosynthetic response would be insufficient. If the sun was more blue, the photosynthetic response would be insufficient.
The force of gravity is exactly right. If this constant force were just a bit stronger or weaker, we wouldn’t have life as we know it. This is because the existence of stars depends on the gravitational constant, and without stars, there would obviously be no sun, no light, and no heat. The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. If this speed were a little more or less, then the stars would be either too bright or too dim, and life as we know it would be greatly altered. We imagine God turning from one area to another ticking them all off according to his plan, distances of earth from sun and earth from moon . . . the composition of the atmosphere . . . the thickness of the crust of the earth . . . the colour of the sun . . . the actual speed of light . . . the tilt of the earth . . . the rate of its rotation . . . the time it takes to move around the sun. What an extraordinary combination of fine-tuning at the micro and macro levels. As the famous former atheist professor Antony Flew recently said, “I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries. I think that the argument from design is enormously stronger than when I first met it.” Yes. Here is the planning of a personal God and his wonderful accomplishments.
What are the chances of one planet having these parameters which are all necessary for life-support (and there are hundreds more) just by chance or by luck? The odds are infinitesimal, like an explosion in a junk yard causing the creation of a Boeing 707, or a shower of ink on staff paper produces Beethoven’s Eroica. The Lord Christ, Son of God and great Designer, has set the earth in its place in preparation for the creation of man. This is a God who is incredibly wise and also wonderfully kind.
Ten years ago in a debate at the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Birmingham University Professor Peter Atkins, the Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University, argued that science had ruled out belief in God. The newspapers reported this and one correspondent wrote in this letter, “Sir – Professor Peter Atkins’ diatribe (report, Sept. 11), which included the claim that it is impossible to believe in God and be a ‘true scientist’, contrasts interestingly with the following quotation: ‘The religious feeling of the scientist takes the form of rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law – which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.’ The source of these words? Some scientist by the name of Albert Einstein. Prof. Atkins may have heard of him.” (Daily Telegraph, 11 Sept. 1996). Let us admire God’s handiwork.
ii] Let us enjoy his creation.
God made it not only for his own good pleasure, and his praise, but he made it for his people. God made all of this for us in a very real sense of the word. Paul can say, “All things are ours.” He gave it to us and he has told us to have dominion over the world and enjoy it.
Now, you know what the devil wants to do. The enemy of our souls plans to get you thinking negatively about God. Satan wants to get you thinking that God is not a good God. I want to say with all of the emotion of my soul that the mighty Creator of Genesis 1 is good. God is a kind and loving God. God made the world for his glory and also for your good. For his praise, but for his people’s delight.
I want to give you three words in Scripture as a sword of the Spirit to resist the devil’s attacks on the beautiful character of God. I want to live by these words myself, because their truth will help us all. You understand how sin begins to gain the mastery over us when we think negatively about God. The serpent spoke to Eve in the garden and he immediately put God in the worst possible light: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Gen. 3:1) What a harsh and mean-spirited God he was made out to be, keeping all that fruit for himself! It was a lie; God had said they could eat from all of the trees of the garden with the exception of one only, but that lie is still believed today. “We don’t want to go to church because it would take away all our fun and we would be loaded with a lot of guilt and moralism.” Let me give you these three swords to kill that serpent:
i] Psalm 37, verse 4; “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Isn’t that breathtaking? The desires of your heart. Not what you need he will provide for you; we know that God fulfils our needs every day; “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,” we sing, but to those whose delight is to know and love and serve the living God the Lord says he will give us our heart’s desire. How loving and magnificent a God he is. Let me give you another verse.
ii] Psalm 84, verse 11. “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favour and honour; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” Did you hear that? No good thing whatsoever. If it will make you more like Jesus Christ, more useful as a Christian, wholesome, loving, contented and joyful then God says ask him for such favour and honour. He bestows it; help yourself; “I love you, I made it for you,” God says. God loves you men and women. I believe that I have all the authority of God to assure you of that today, that he has blessed you through your lives with all the things you love most. God wants for you what you would want for yourself if you had enough sense to ask for it. God is such a good God. God says, “Help yourself to blessedness.” The Lord God is a sun and a shield. The Lord bestows favour and honour. No good thing will he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. He is not talking about a sinless walk but a person who wants to honour God in their lives. Let me give you a third verse;
iii] In I Timothy chapter 6, and verse 17 it tells us of the “God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” Why did he make so vast and extraordinary a universe? For our enjoyment, the New Testament says. God has made you to enjoy today, the sight of Cardigan Bay and the Welsh mountains. God has made you to enjoy the sound of the birds, the clouds of starlings with their aerodynamic flights, the dolphins in the bay and the sunset. They are all yours; God has made them for your enjoyment. Sometimes we think because we’re Christians such delights are illegal, but when God made it, he said, “It is good.” If it is good for God then it can satisfy our conscience, and the same God made our Sunday lunch of roast lamb, and that is the reason why we pray and thank him for the meal before we eat it. God is such a generous God. He’s a wonderful God. He is a glorious God. What a privilege to know him.
iii] Let us glory in God’s creation.
Professor John Murray visited California for the first time and one day he was taken to a valley and hillside where there was forest of the giant redwoods, the sequoia trees. As he was led across to them he said in wonder; “Aren’t they grand?” again and again. John Murray was glorying in his Lord’s handiwork.
Here is the journal of a Christian writing about a walk through God’s creation which he took early in the year in the Quantock hills. He writes, “I shall remember Saturday 20 January 2006. What it was like elsewhere I do not know, but in west Somerset it was the perfect winter’s day. A great surge of happiness ran through me as I set off for my walk in the hills and coombs. It had been sunny the afternoon before but blustery. Now all was still and the sun was majestic in the cerulean sky, summoning his court. And they came! I swear a multitude of things had happened since the day before. In my garden were irises, peeping through the foliage, and japonica had just appeared, and winter jasmine and its coeval, honeysuckle. I found the first snowdrop in the churchyard. Then I spotted a whole ancient grave covered in these touching tiny white bells, harbingers of a mass of flowers which in company and succession cover this hallowed ground throughout the late winter and spring, with yellow, white and purple crocuses, aconites, primroses — my favourite flower for its colour and endurance, as it was Disraeli’s — and regiments of varied daffodils. Oh, the daffodil! The sun has brought out the first of these perfect flowers in the garden, a brave, minute spark of pale yellow perfection, catching an imperceptible puff of wind and dancing gravely.
“It is wondrous how quickly nature responds to the first gesture of warmth from the long-absent sun. You can almost feel the earth, thawing fast, stir with subterranean energy and begin to heave with growth. In the first big field I cross, a young mare, still in her winter wrappings, is rolling over the ground with joy. At the bottom, by the stream, appears from nowhere and nothing a cloud of gnats, released from months of confinement — or perhaps just born, I do not know — and they, too, whizz about with delight in the sunbeams. Best of all, above my head, a dense flock of seabirds gives an aerial display . . . a sudden flash of silver-white as they expose their bellies, then vanish as they turn on the wing. Perfect formation; exultation to be alive and warming; wheeling and swooping and darting, changing direction, following their invisible air marshal’s commands, and with no mundane purpose to their magical manoeuvres save to give and receive pleasure in the act. It is a dance, as surely as the rhythmic motions of my little daffodil.
“The sun is still low on the horizon, though it is noon, immensely bright, dazzling to the eyes. I plan my walk so that it is mostly at my back, and bathing what I see in solar power, picking out every minute detail of the winter scene. The colours are light straw and dove grey, the palest of olive, washed-out seashore greens, watery limestone, the highlights picked out by the deep evergreens of the woods. There is glitter everywhere, multitudes of tiny pinpoints of light, each struggling to reflect the maximum of the sun’s rays. . .
“Suddenly, I become aware that I am being watched. A dozen very young, woolly and densely black bullocks, with shiny wet noses, and big, interested and lovable brown eyes, have crowded round the gap in the hedge at my back, and are looking at what I am doing. They are still, silent; I can hear their heavy breathing. Inquisitive creatures, aren’t they? Bored, perhaps, with their bovine existence. I feel a comradely regard for these handsome young fellows, enjoying the sun as I am, glad to be living, the execution sheds of carnivorous humanity unknown on the horizon. I turn to get a better look at them, perhaps to do a quick sketch. But my sudden movement alarms them — timid creatures only a few months old — and they scatter clumsily, bumping and banging each other as they spread for safety
“I resume my tramp through the leaves, and rejoice at the stillness of it all. . . What’s this — bees? Can’t be. But it is — making for the wintry flowers on the honeysuckle. Nature snatches the good days and is grateful. I say a prayer of thanks for a grand winter walk.” (P. Johnson, “A Winter’s Day Walk in the Quantocks”, The Spectator, 4 February 2006).
No one stands on the promenade in Aberystwyth and watches the sun set, or climbs Snowdon in order to increase his self-esteem. This is not what happens in front of a scene of oceans and skies. We stand and silently wonder because the centre of the world is not the self and its happiness. In awesome moments of illumination there is a witness in the hearts of all men that the world was made by a God of great glory and majesty. Seek him in the Son by whom he made all things, Jesus Christ our Lord.
10th August 2014 GEOFF THOMAS