The Beginning of Creation Week
Do you ever wonder where life comes from? I mean, you put a seed in the soil and give it water and warmth and out sprouts a shoot, when you stop and analyse it, it's crazy. Why does the seed produce life? Where does the life come from, how did it all start? And all living things have it and pass it on – whether it's a live birth or an egg or a seed or even a spore living things pass life on to new living things – some kind of spark of dynamism is passed on from one life to another – but where does that spark of life itself come from?
As far as I can figure out science still can't really get to the bottom of it. I mean we can provide an incredibly detailed description of the process by which the seed sprouts, and we can describe how a living thing passes life on its offspring… but who can define that spark of life itself and its beginnings? Sure we hear a lot about primordial soups and mutations of cells and so on… but that moment when 'not life' produced 'life' – how can that possibly work? What has the power to produce that spark that is passed on from one living thing to another? Mary Shelley's Frankenstein connected up his monster to a lightning strike, but in the real world we know it's not that easy don't we?
It seems to me life is the original miracle, the original mystery.
When we turn to Genesis 1:3-13 as we're doing this morning you get the simplest and most satisfying answer – life was created by God. We'll come onto the creation of people and animals next week, but even today, even in these first three days of creation we see the beginning of living things, as we know them, as God produces vegetation, fruit and seeds and trees to grow them.
The big idea of today's passage is that creation is the theatre of God's glory – and it' s glorious indeed, he made life and every living thing – so we should worship him for it.
But as we come to this passage there are a few preliminary considerations we need to make before to we come to it proper, because as we move from verse 2 to verse 3 we come into perhaps the most controversial aspect of Genesis one – we come to the six days of creation.
And our problem is this: all truth is God's truth. All truth is God's truth. God reveals truth in his word, and his creation is also a form of revelation (remember Psalm 19 – the heavens declare the glory of God, the skys proclaim the work of his hands). So the truth that science reveals and the truth that the word reveals must be compatible – if it's true, it comes from God the source of all truth.
But science and the bible don't seem compatible at this point. Reading the bible very simply here we seem to have an earth that is a few thousand years old. But when we look at the stars we are looking at light that has travelled vast, unimaginable distances – and since we know that light travels at 671 million miles an hour we can calculate that time that light would take to travel from the stars and it's a long time, 13.3 billion years in the case of the galaxy MACS0647-JD.
So how can science and Genesis 1 be reconciled?
Here are some of the options that have been suggested:
1. Old earth creation – God simply made it old – so when God created the stars he made them with the light already reaching the earth, and any other clues that we see that point to an old earth are simply because God made them mature – just like he made Adam and Eve adults, not new born infants. So science simply isn't true when it tries to look back in time, but Genesis is true… but then has God left misleading evidence to fool people?
2. Genesis 1 and 2 happen a long time before Genesis 3. Last week remember we saw that God made it all formless and empty and the spirit of God was brooding over the waters. Perhaps this period of brooding covered the many billions of years that scientists think it took to form the cosmos… but the stars aren't created until day four in Gen 1.
3. Perhaps the days in Genesis are not strictly 24 hr periods, but rather 'ages' – long ages sufficient for all that science sees. After all the sun, moon and stars aren't created until day 4 (so how could they be days as we know them?) and the seventh day hasn't yet ended, there is no evening and morning and Heb 4.1-11 explicitly argues that our hope of heavenly rest stems from the fact that we live in the seventh day of creation 'today'.
So we can understand the days as 'God's days', similar to our days by analogy, just as we understand other aspects of God's character only by analogy – similar to us, but beyond our capacity to understand, because he's God and we're not.
But even with long age days the order of creation days can't be reconciled with physics – the earth would be long ages older than the rest of the universe, not younger as it appears to be.
4. Perhaps the days of creation are not so much an attempt to explain the chronology of creation as more of a poetic framework to help people (from the earliest Hebrews through to urbane scientists) to grasp the more central truths – that God created a carefully ordered universe by the power of his voice. This is consistent with God's accommodation to us – speaking simply in a way we can understand. There are many examples in the bible of imaginative re-tellings of historical events that are true, but heavily symbolic. For instance Revelation 12 tells the story of a woman and a dragon. The woman has a baby which the dragon tries to kill, but fails. At first glance not a true story… but look more closely and its clear that the woman is Israel – or Mary – and the baby is Jesus, and the dragon is Satan. Revelation 12 is telling real history, but in a way that needs to be de-coded, in order to reveal deeper truths than we can see from our limited perspective – Herod and Pilate and the Chief Priests were enemies of Jesus because they were agents of Jesus' ultimate enemy, Satan. Jesus life and death and resurrection were the central drama of all history when God took on Satan and won. Exodus 15 and the song of Deborah in Judges 5 are slightly less dramatic examples where God's victory over evil is described in song in quite different terms than the strict historical narrative of the chapters before. Perhaps Genesis one is another example of such a poetic re-telling… perhaps so, but it doesn't read like one on the surface.
The truth is that each of these suggestions has it's problems. Perhaps none of them are right. Perhaps the truth is some combination of all 4. I think there are enough clues in the text that it is not a straightforward historical re-telling that we are not bound by the text to assert that the first option is the only faithful Christian way to read Genesis 1. We need to be humble and careful here not to say more than the Bible is saying. Plenty of good and godly men – wiser men than I, great defenders of the bible and it's authority and truth – from long before Darwin's time – have held on to each of those 4 different view-points without giving up on the Bible as God's word and true.
I think that the analogy of prophecy might be helpful for us here. The Old Testament is full of prophecy that points to Jesus – but when Jesus came the experts in the law – despite knowing the prophecies intimately, didn't recognise Jesus was fulfilling them. Even the disciples who travelled with him and heard his explanations didn't get it till after Jesus resurrection – when he had to explain it to them. Now that we have their explanations we can explain it to the children in Sunday school. I suspect that it is similar with the things of the two ends of the bible story – the beginning here, and the end in Revelation and Daniel and so on. We do our best to understand them as they're written, but we do well not to hold too tightly to our explanations because we might be wrong, as the experts of the law were wrong.
… for now there is mystery here, which calls for faith in God. This side of heaven we might not get to the bottom of it, but we can be content to trust that God is God and he is powerful to do it all, and however he did it is not really for us to know, so much as for us to trust, and we will find out in due time. So put your faith in God and his power to reconcile these things in the end rather than in any explanation of how they fit together.
With that said I think we're ready to look at our passage in closer detail.
The Pattern of Creation
This part of the Bible very highly patterned, structured. The basic pattern is 7 days of the week, and within that there are three days of forming the creation followed by three days of filling it, then one day of rest, and within that the third day and the sixth day both have two acts of creation. And day four and six both feature a blessing. But day six alone has God creating in his own image and all that goes with that to mark it out as special. And there are more complex patterns – the slightly irregular repetition of the four main ideas – then God said, and it was so, and God saw that it was good, and God named it. And all the main elements are repeated in complex patterns of 7's and 3's – there are 7 words in the first verse, 14 in the second and seven again in the last. The name of God appears in multiples of 7, so do the pronouns, there are only three uses of the verb to create, God speaks 10 times – 7 plus 3… And so it goes on, there is such rich patterning that this cannot be accidental, but what does it mean?
At the very least it suggests a very highly ordered account for a very highly ordered creation. And as I've said it suggests that perhaps this is more theological that a straight-forward retelling of this history, the author has very clearly, and very cleverly arranged the account around these patterns, to draw our attention to them, to help us to remember them and grasp them, and to make his account striking.
And this leads us to consider
The Time of Creation
The days of the week are the main organising principle – but why is that? Why six days of creation? Why not ages and eons as things appear to science? But we might as well ask, why not in an instant? Why is time involved at all when God is creating? At the time of the reformation this was the question of time. Calvin suggests that God takes his time in order to draw our attention to the variety and specificity and glory of the things that God makes in order that we can better appreciate the glory of the one who created it all.
So we look at
The Steps of Creation
So what is God doing in these verses? He is forming the earth – remember verse 2 the earth was formless and empty – days 1-3 form the earth, give it structure, days 4-6 fill it up. And he does it through four repeated step:
Firstly he commands it to be – by his voice he brings forth the things that are needed in this world – he says 'let there be', and it was.
Secondly he separates the various elements that are required for life –
- He separates the light from the darkness – we need light to give life, but we also need rest and relief from the heat – both together – evening and morning – make up the complete day. And
- He separates out water above from water below – both are required for life on earth – this is the creation of the water cycle – producing fresh water for us to drink, conveniently located in clouds overhead, producing rain for crops and so on; whilst also maintaining the seas that perform all sorts of life sustaining functions, not least providing a home for the great creatures God will fill them with; and he
- Separates out the land from the waters – he is creating a habitat fit for us – if he was only going to make fish then he could have left it all covered in water, if he was only making birds he could have made some other provision for them to land – all water birds perhaps – but he was going to make us, and we need land to live on, so he separated out the various elements that we require to sustain our lives.
Thirdly he evaluates – there is a moral character to this, he judges that the creation is good – that it is according to his design, fit for purpose, it is as he wants it to be. And since it is as he designed it, as he wants it, fit for the purposes that he has in mind for it, then it is good.
Fourthly he names all the things that he brings forth – that is he allocates to them the meaning that he has given them – naming is a way of placing in it's place, (remember the Fleet Foxes song from last week– what's my name, what's my station, what's my purpose? In naming things God is declaring their purpose, their role, their station.)
For each of the successive days God will repeat these four elements in various combinations.
The Products of Creation
The starkness of the prose hides great wonders – the passing clouds in their infinite variety and complex properties that would keep water suspended above our heads in vast bands of sky-floating water; The depth and variety of the seas – from the warmth of the Mediterranean to the frozen waters of the arctic and the great southern ocean, the depths of the Marian trench and the shallows of the great barrier reef. What abundance of beauty there is beneath the sea.
And then there is the land and the waters – where did the alps come from? Who thought of the Grand Canyon and the Lake District, who pushed the rocky crags up through the soil and thrust up the mountain ranges and designed the perched lakes and tarns? God's eye saw all these things before they were ever spotted by men, before they ever came to be – he had the idea in mind and he brought it forth into reality, for us to enjoy.
And he brought forth light and darkness, separated them out into distinct entities – just think, before the creation there was no light, there was no dark, there was nothing. Anything that exists had to be brought forth out of the infinitely creative mind of the creator.
This prompts the question of purpose – what is it all about?
The Purpose of Creation
What else does it mean that God forms the earth – it means that he renders it fit for human habitation – this is the end to which all of this is working – that man and woman can inhabit a world formed to fit them, with animals, birds and fish, vegetation, land and sea, rain and dry, sun, moon and stars, light and dark, all in their proper proportions to provide for all that we need, not just to give life, but to fill our souls with wonder and to lead us into pure praise of the great and glorious creator God who made it all and who made us and gives us all these good gifts!
This is the message of Psalm 148 creation should lead us to praise God with all that is in us. To give him the glory. In John Calvin's memorable phrase God made the universe as the theatre of his glory. We're meant to see it's wonder and worship its creator.
And that's why Romans 1:18-23 is such a tragedy – we see the wonder and we marvel, but we refuse to give the glory to God. God is right to be angry with us, because he has made the truth plain to see, but we all suppress the truth and push it down because we don't want God messing with our agenda. And so God is denied the glory that belongs to him. The very purpose of the creation is undone. For a time. But then God's glory is seen all the more clearly when God steps into his creation to rescue and to save.
So what are we to do in response to this passage then? Well I started with the wonder of life – the great miracle that anything lives at all, the strange wonderful power that produces life from a seed, that means that one living thing can pass life onto another. The creation is full of wonders and apparent miracles. And Genesis one tells us that they are not just apparent miracles, they really are the products of God's creative genius. From the glorious stars to the ocean depths all were formed according to his will and for his pleasure. So stop and ponder the glory of the world around you. Smell the flowers, gaze at the panoramic vistas, watch the waves breaking on the shore – slow down enough to recognise the beauty and the wonder in this world that God has made. But don't stop there – remember that at every point these things are not the ultimate, they are pointers to something far better, far bigger, far more beautiful. When you are caught short by beauty, remember to give the Glory to the God who made it.