In the Beginning - The Gospel and Our Response

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Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, 15 billion years ago, there was a lump of stuff, smaller than a pinhead, but weighing as much as the whole universe put together. And by chance, something happened in the lump. And it exploded in all directions. And around one of the billions of stars that formed, a bit of rock became a planet - later called the Earth. And by chance it was exactly the right distance from the Sun to have liquid water. And in the water, by chance, chemicals got together into things later called genes - which could duplicate themselves. And the genes made cells and then whole organisms for themselves to live in - like fish and flies and foxes - all thrown up by chance. And finally an organism called man was thrown up. And he built a rocket and he flew to the moon to try and get some perspective on all this.

That's the story our culture tells about who we are and why we're here. We're here by chance. We've no value or purpose. We're just an accident.

Well, like us, the first readers of Genesis lived among cultures that told all sorts of stories.

In one story, the gods discovered this scene of chaos - like a CYFA members' bedroom - and they had a huge fight to get it under control and make the world as we know it. And the gods had just put their feet up after a hard day when they began to feel hungry. So they made mankind as an afterthought to grow food and wait on them.

In another story, the Sun, the moon and the stars were the gods - and they controlled your whole life from birth to death. (Some stories stick around, don't they?)

And above all the man-made stories, Genesis 1 tells the true story. The Lord Jesus was once asked about marriage. He replied:

'Haven't you read… that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? (Matthew 19.4-5)

He was quoting Genesis 1 and 2. And saying that what Genesis says is what the Creator says. And as Jesus is the Creator's Son, I'm bound to believe that Genesis is the true story. And it's designed to knock every man-made story on the head.

So let me tell you the true story. And by 'story' I don't mean 'fiction'. I mean an account of events that really happened. Would you turn to Genesis 1.1:


THE TRUE STORY (Genesis 1.1 - 2.3)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

So, straight away the 'by chance' story is knocked out. But then, underline 'God.' God created everything. So that knocks on the head the idea of many gods - Allah, Vishnu, Buddha and so on. There's only one real God out there - the God of the Bible. Then underline 'created'. God created everything. So the material world is only a creation. So it's stupid to live for it. So that knocks materialism on the head - living for money, things, sex, kicks, etc. And then underline 'everything'. God created everything. So he controls everything. The truth behind the Universe is not a good force fighting it out with the dark side, and us caught in the middle and not knowing whether good will ultimately win. But a good God who controls everything. So that knocks out the Star Wars story. And notice history has a beginning, just like it'll have an end. Which knocks out the eastern religions' story of history being circular, and of us reincarnating. Verse 2:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Ie, like a house, it needed more 'doing up' before people could live in it. So, v3:

3And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning - the first day.

Now there are several phrases there which get repeated throughout Genesis 1. Eg, 'And God said, 'Let there be… and there was.' It's a picture of a King with absolute power. When the Queen says, 'Let the corgis be fed', she doesn't then start hunting for cans of Pedigree Chum and struggling with the tin-opener, and so on. She speaks and it's done. And that's the picture here. God is King. And he never struggles to get his will done; he's never stumped by lack of resources or unforeseen circumstances (he creates circumstances). He speaks and it happens. And that goes for every promise in the Bible.

Then there's that phrase, 'God saw that [it] was good…' When you admire the shelf you've just put up (assuming it stays up long enough to admire), and you say, 'That's good,' what do you mean? You mean: that otherwise meaningless piece of wood is good for your purposes. It's good for something you've planned. And unless there's a Creator God, then like the scientific story says, there is no meaning, no good, no evil.

And notice the end of v5: 'And there was evening, and there was morning - the first day.' Ie, God created time as well as space and matter. And he created the rhythm of time - day and night. That's just one example in Genesis of the order that God has built in to our existence for our good. I'm sure we all catch ourselves saying, 'There just aren't enough hours in the day.' But Genesis 1 says there are. And if I'm thinking there aren't, it probably means I'm using the time wrongly.

And time is a huge issue for us, because we live in a culture that tells the materialist story - that this world is all there is. If that's true, you've got to get everything you can out of it in the short time you're here - all you can own, all you can experience, etc. And we're caught up in and driven by our culture's agenda. And we end up saying, 'There aren't enough hours in the day' - which there aren't if you're a materialist. Because materialists are trying to feed a hunger that only God can satisfy. Verse 6:

6And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." 7So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning--the second day.

9And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. 10God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good.

At the v2 stage it was 'formless and empty'. By v10 it's got form, and now God can start filling it. Verse 11:

11Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. 12The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening, and there was morning--the third day.

So there's the food supply - the 'larder', which God will explain later. Verse 14:

14And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. 16God made two great lights--the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. [And the great throw-away line of all time:] He also made the stars. 17God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, 18to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening, and there was morning-the fourth day.

And that knocks the astrology story on the head. The Sun isn't god, the moon isn't god, the stars aren't god. They're just things God made to serve us - so we could tell the time, and day and week and month, and year. So it's stupid for us to serve them - reading our horoscopes, living superstitiously as if they controlled us.

Notice at this point: God has created highly ordered space and time. Which is why science is even possible. Science can find regular trends and predict things because God is a regular God. Which is why science grew up in places with a Bible-based world-view. So it's ironic that some parts of science are trying to bite the hand that fed it. Verse 20:

20And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." 21So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." 23And there was evening, and there was morning--the fifth day. 24And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. 25God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

And then we enter the story:

26Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Let me say that 'man' means 'mankind' - men and women, as v27 makes clear. So that knocks racism and sexism on the head. All people have equal value in God's eyes, and should in ours, too.

Well, have a look at the picture above. The crown stands for God; the stick people stand for us, the circle stands for the world. Genesis says that like other animals, we're part of the creation. But far more importantly we're unlike the other animals - because uniquely we are made in the image of God. We're in some ways like God, so we can relate to God, and even resemble God - think like God, speak like God, love like God, work like God, even create like God.

So we're not here to live as we please. It's not 'my life', or 'my time', or 'my money' - or my anything. We're here to live in relationship with God - to look up to him and ask how he wants life to be lived. And the beginning of the answer is in v28:

28God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Ie, we're to rule the world and human society as God would have it. 'Rule' means, 'Rule it as my deputies.' And the basic prayer of someone trying to do that will be: 'Your kingdom [ie, rule] come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'

So we're to live under God's rule - by the Maker's instructions. Which to non-Christian friends sounds dreadful. They think I can't possibly be enjoying life. But since God is the expert on life, it's actually the best life - or to use the Bible word in v28 - the 'blessed' life. As we'll see next week, any restrictions from God are there to protect the fun, not to spoil it.

So Genesis says we're the unique, high point of creation, made to live in relationship with God. But when human beings cross God out of the picture, where does that leave them?

Richard Dawkins says in his book The Selfish Gene. 'We are all the throw-away survival machines for DNA. A monkey is a machine which preserves genes up trees. A fish is a machine which preserves genes in water… We are machines for propagating DNA. It is every living objects' sole reason for living.' You see what a different story that is? How meaningful does that makes you feel? And will that purpose get you through tomorrow, or through a rocky patch in life? ('Must keep going to pass on my genes.')

The truth is: cross God out of the picture, and you and I become no different to bacteria, or flies, or rats. We get rid of bacteria and flies and rats when we don't want them. So why not get rid of human beings when we don't want them - before or after birth? Cross God out and there's no compelling answer at all. Cross God out of the picture and we don't know who we are, why we're here or how to relate together.

Onto v29:

29Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I give every green plant for food." And it was so.

And that knocks on the head that story that we were an afterthought - created by the gods to feed them. God didn't create us because he needed us. He didn't need us. He wanted us. He wanted you. And he's demonstrated that twice over - once by making you; and then, you having turned away from him, he loved you by sending his Son into this world to die for you and forgive you back into the relationship with him for which you were made. You are doubly loved by God. And whatever the state of your other relationships, or your self-esteem, that is something to preach to yourself every day.

Verse 31:

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning - the sixth day.

I've mentioned before the 'Far Side' cartoon by Gary Larson that shows an old man with a long white beard cooking in his kitchen. And it turns out to be God. And he's just taking a cake out of the oven -a football-sized cake; and it's the Earth. But it's all crumbling and bits are falling off it and the caption is, 'Half-baked.' Ie, God didn't make it properly in the first place. Not true, Mr Larson. Verse 31 says God made everything perfect. Everything was good - including human beings. There were no design flaws. Genesis 3 will lay the blame for evil at the door of the human race. 2.1:

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

It's as if in the theatre, the stage has been built and the players are ready. But what does the Director ultimately want? The answer is: we're here, ultimately, for more than working to stay alive and procreation; we're here to know God. 2.2-3:

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Elsewhere the Bible says that God is constantly working to sustain his creation. But this says he rested from his initial work to create. And the implication is that we should likewise rest from our work 1 day in 7 so that we don't get absorbed and forget that the ultimate point of the whole show is to know God. We're not merely what we do: you're more than a student, or a full-time Mum, or unemployed, or a businessman. You're made to know God. Which needs time for God and with God.

That's the true story. Which begs two questions. I've left them to the end because it's more important to hear what Genesis says than to answer the questions it raises. One question is this:

QUESTION: HOW SHOULD WE INTERPRET THE 'DAYS' IN GENESIS 1-2?

Ie, does Genesis mean - does genesis require us to believe - that God created in 6 periods of 24 hours?'

Well, Christians disagree on this - and have down the ages. But simply reading Genesis leads me to think that the author did not intend this to be taken as a chronological account. I say that for several reasons; here are just two of them. One reason is that on day 1 (vv3-5) you have the creation of light, giving day and night. But then on day 4 (vv14-19) you have the creation of, v15, 'lights… to give light on the earth. The other reason is comparing chapter 1 with chapter 2. In chapter 1, plants appear on day 3, man on day 6 - plants before man. In chapter 2, there's another, complementary, account of creation (which serves a different purpose from 1.1-2.3), which we'll look at next week. Look at 2.4:

4This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens 5and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up…7the LORD God formed the man

So, man before plants, this time. Now I take it the author would have been aware of those contradictions if he intended this to be taken as strict chronology. Which is why I believe he didn't intend that. He's out to explain creation-order (the relationships between God and the world, God and man, etc), not chronological order.

So those who interpret the days as 6 periods of 24 hours and Genesis as strict chronology have that problem to live with.

But if you don't take that interpretation, then what do you make of the days? They can't be taken to mean 'eras' - long periods of time - as some say. Because the author keeps saying, 'and there was evening and there was morning' - ie, he's using 'day' to mean day! But I take it he's using it as a literary device. Eg, I've often said in evangelistic talks things like this: 'Even if you ignore Jesus for your whole life, you can't escape dealing with him. You will have to meet him at the end of the day.' By which I don't mean, 'You'll have to meet him at midnight tonight'. I mean, 'Imagining your life as a single day, you'll have to meet him at the end of it.'

And I take it that's the kind of thing Genesis is doing. It's saying, 'Imagine the period of creation as a working week. Well, God worked, got it finished and then rested.' Implication: like God, we should work at our work, get it finished and then rest from it in order to spend time with God.

Now that interpretation does not mean that any of Genesis 1 is fiction. It's talking about real events - God really created, etc, etc - but in my view, using a literary device. Either that or it's talking about 6 periods of 24 hours. Those are the only two viable options; you need to look into them and decide.

The other question is this:

QUESTION: WHAT ABOUT THE 'SCIENTIFIC STORIES'?

The crown stands for God; the box stands for space and time, the created Universe.

One source of knowledge we have with us in the box is the Bible - God's Word through human authors. It's final - ie, God'll never have to change it because it was inaccurate, or he now knows more than he did. And it's completely true.

Another source of knowledge in the box is science. We investigate the world and form models or theories or stories in our heads about what it's really like. And scientific theories are, unlike the Bible, provisional - they change; and they're at best partially true; at worst false.

Now I want to say: the Bible rightly interpreted and scientific data rightly interpreted will not conflict. If the Bible and science appear to conflict, we have to double-check both our interpretation of the Bible and of data. Either way, the problem lies with us, not with the Bible. We must come to the Bible with the attitude, 'I am wrong, the Bible is right.' And the Bible must judge and criticize all other sources of knowledge, not the other way round.

So, sometimes I have to reject a scientific claim because I'm a Christian and it clearly conflicts with the Bible. Eg, 'We are only throw-away survival machines for genes.' False. Other times I reject - at least challenge - scientific claims because the science itself is questionable - and I would question it whether I was a Christian or not. And that's where I stand on evolution - I don't buy it because it's a theory so full of holes. And plenty of top non-Christian scientists would say that. One goes so far as to say,

'Evolutionary theory is a fairy-tale for grown-ups.'

Another - a British University research biologist (again, not a Christian) adds this:

I think, however, that we must go further than this and admit that the only acceptable explanation is creation. I know that this is anathema to physicists, as indeed it is to me, but we must not reject a theory that we do not like if the experimental evidence supports it.' [Both these quotes are in The Creation Hypothesis, ed Moreland, IVP, Appendix]

Very honest, isn't he? Creation is a theory people do not like because it means they're accountable to a personal God. It means they ought not to live in his world as they please. It means they ought to come back into relationship with the God they've so far ignored. But it's not just scientists, is it? Since the events of Genesis 3 - the fall - that's all of us by nature.

So that's the beginning of the true story. And the most important question of the night is the one it asks us. What part are you playing in the story?

Are you playing the left hand role? Crossing God out of the picture and living life as if he wasn't there? Or are you playing the right hand role? Through Jesus, God's Son, have you been forgiven back into the relationship with God for which you were made?

How you began life in the left hand role is what Genesis 1-3 explains. How God has acted to get you back onto the right is what the rest of the Bible is about. So stick with us this year and find out more.

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