Tell them this: “These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.” But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. (Jer.10:11-12)
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth … Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere Him. For he spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
But the plans of the Lord stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. (Ps.33:6-11)
We can sometimes think that God created the world for one purpose, but that humanity somehow threw creation off course when we sinned. According to this way of thinking, there is a sense that the characters in the Divine drama took on a life of their own, and refused to be limited by the script the Author gave them. Instead they wrote their own lines, acted out of character, and the play took an unexpected (or at least an ‘unhoped for’) turn, which meant that God had to re-evaluate the purpose of creation and re-write the play so as weave in the drama of redemption.
In contrast to this, we saw last time that there is in fact a deep continuity between creation and redemption. Creation is structured from the beginning for the cross. We began to negotiate the idea that everything happens in accordance with gracious wisdom and righteous counsel of our Faithful Creator (Prov.8:12, 22-31; I Peter 4:19). Other gods cannot shape this world because they did not create it. God can because He did (Acts 4:27-28). Creation is what it is because that is how God created it, and as such it becomes a means of grace. By the Spirit, it (like Scripture, I Cor.2:10-12) reveals the mind and character of God, and becomes the arena for the revelation of the grace of God in Christ.
As we learn to trace the handwriting of the Triune God through the pages of providence and history, our response can only be one of worship (Rev.4:11; Ps.104; Ps.136; Neh.9:5f etc.). There are no mistakes, wrong turns, or dead ends in God’s dealing with His creation. Everything is, and can only be, as God created it.
This is confirmed for us when we realise that Gen.1-2 forms a kind of overture to the whole symphony of Scripture. It reassures us that nothing slips through the fingers of sovereignty. The whole story of the history of creation is told in these opening days of the life of creation. God creates; but the creation brought into being ex nihilo is not yet the world that God will later declare to be good. In Gen.1:1-2, it is formless, empty, and chaotic. It is barren and desolate, shrouded in darkness (darkness is not called good, yet God creates it, Is.45:7; cf also Ps.74:16). The only sign of hope is the gracious presence of the Holy Spirit, hovering eagerly over the waters. Across this vast and lifeless ocean, echoing through pre-history, the Word of God resounds. Light comes into the darkness, life into the barrenness, order to the formless chaos, fruitfulness fills the emptiness.
What we often think of as the story of creation (Genesis 1-2) is in fact the story of God’s hauling creation out from the experience of the abyss in which it is brought to being. It will not be abandoned to the formless emptiness. Through the Spirit hovering over the waters, and by a second Noah, creation will enjoy a new birth. The story begins in darkness, but out of the darkness creation will be formed, until at last God can look and see that it is very good (Gen.1:31). Many years of creation’s life pass into history before we see again the Spirit hovering over the waters; and again the Voice of the Father is heard; and again the Light shines in the darkness. Christ is baptised with water and the Spirit, and the Kingdom of Heaven has come upon us (Lk.11:20).
But only when all things are renewed (Matt.19:28) and everything in heaven and earth is united under Christ (Eph.1:10), will the Father be able to declare that it is very good. Only then will the darkness have finally been separated from the light, the emptiness finally filled, and the chaos finally ordered.
Of course, once the overture is finished the story proper begins. We see the darkness, emptiness and chaos crawl back into the world that God had declared to be good. Sin and death are born as creation lurches back towards the Abyss. This would always be the opening scene. But those who can read the storyline of grace in the pages of providence wait for the Light to shine in the darkness once more. For we know that darkness cannot overcome it.
Do you think this is the best world that God could have created? We know that He can create a world where there is no possibility of sin (see the New Creation), so why has He not created that world here and now?
If we take seriously the idea that God is in total control of all things, can we believe in ideas like luck, chance, or fortune?
Does this make God responsible for the reality of sin and suffering?
Read Genesis 1:1-13
What was God doing before creation? J
What can we say about God from these opening verses of the Bible?
If the sun, moon and stars were not created until v.14, what is the source of the light in v.3?
If creation is ‘good’ as the Lord forms it (v.4; 9; 12 etc.) should a Christian attitude to creation be to leave it as undisturbed as possible?
How do you interpret the ‘days’ of Genesis 1? Why do you have that opinion?
Do you think it matters whether we interpret the details of Genesis 1-2 literally or not? What, if anything, do we gain or lose depending on how we choose to interpret these opening chapters of the Bible?
If trees, seed-bearing plants and vegetation are created on the third day, how can they survive without the sun (created on the fourth day)? In fact, how can there be ‘days’ (or ‘nights’) at all before there is the sun / moon?
How does the story of Noah reflect the story of creation? What are we being taught through such vivid resonance?
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. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
For further reflection:
The idea that God is in control of everything that happens is often presented as a problem for us. How can we believe in such a God when the world is as it is? Historically though it is handled as a source of great comfort and encouragement for the Church. In a world so fraught with both physical and spiritual danger, it is only the providence of God that ensures our safety. From a pastor of a previous generation:
‘Innumerable are the evils that beset human life; innumerable too the deaths that threaten it. We need not go beyond ourselves, since our body is the receptacle of a thousand diseases… Now wherever you turn, all things around you not only are hardly to be trusted, but almost openly menace, and seem to threaten with immediate death. Embark on a ship, you are one step away from death; mount a horse and if one foot slips your life is imperilled. Go through the city streets and you are subject to as many dangers as there tiles on the roofs … [in the countryside] all the fierce animals you see are armed for your destruction. If you try to shut yourself up in a walled garden, there a serpent may lie hidden. Your house, continually in danger of fire threatens in the day time to impoverish you and in the night to collapse on you. Your field, exposed as it is to hail, frost, drought and other calamities threatens you with barrenness and hence famine. I pass over ambushes, robberies and open violence, which in part besiege us … amid these tribulations, must not a man (sic) be most miserable since but half alive, he weakly draws his anxious breath, as if he had a sword perpetually hanging over his neck?’
We can easily translate this into the language of more contemporary experience.