‘You heavens above, rain down my righteousness; let the clouds shower it down.
Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness flourish with it; I, the Lord, have created it. (Is.45:8)
He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth – the Lord God Almighty is his name. (Amos 4:13)
In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (Jn.1:4)
When creation is first called into being it is ‘formless and empty’ (1:2). The first three days have brought order and structure to what was without form. The second three days are about filling what is empty. The connection between light and life is forged, as is the connection between life and time. Whether ‘time’ existed before creation or not, it is part of creation and is embedded into our experience of life in creation. It isn’t something we invented and imposed onto the natural order of things. It is built into creation by the LORD as He fills the emptiness. And this is not a marginal thing. From our perspective some of the most visible features of creation measure the passing of history. Sun, moon and stars (in an extraordinarily brief understatement) are cast into the vault of the sky. Seasons (sacred times?), days, and years are God-given milestones that mark our pilgrimage through creation. This was declared to be good.
The immense and diverse life that fills the sky and water (Day 5) and the land (Day 6) beggars belief. The account of its creation (vv.20-25) also raises the contentious issues of evolutionary theories, the age of the earth, the interpretation of Genesis 1-2, and the wider questions of the relationship between ‘science’ and ‘religion’ – which our culture often seems to assume are fundamentally incompatible. That sort of claim is of course patent nonsense, and betrays a frightening naiveté and disturbing levels of confusion about the nature of science, religion and our world. We’ll be considering these questions together at our Deep-Church evening on 30th June, although I suspect there will be some discussions in our home-groups before then! The danger is that these discussions become so dominant that we are deafened to any other agenda or insight, such as the deep intentionality and sense of purpose in Creation’s coming into being. It is never a static or immobile phenomena. Creation is itself on a journey, moving from darkness to light, from barrenness to life. It is created with its destiny in view: to be the home of both God and humanity.
The physicality of creation isn’t a problem for us or for God. The ancient pagan philosophers taught that physicality was intrinsically inferior, temporary and ultimately to be done away with. They taught that the ‘real’ world (and the real us) was spiritual, and their great hope was to be liberated from the physical realm so that they could fulfil their potential in a purely ‘spiritual’ existence. No-one reading Gen.1-2 can settle for such dualism. The richness and beauty of physical creation, and the time and attention God gives to forming and filling it teach us that it is much more significant than paganism allows. The physical creation has a future. And it has a purpose and a reason for being. It is not something that God (who is spirit, Jn.4:24) at any point disengages with.
The same God who creates the physical world will become a part of it in His incarnation (and so it becomes a part of Him). After reading these opening chapters of the Bible, that intimacy shouldn’t surprise us; in fact we’d be shocked and confused if having formed it and filled it, He then refused to have anything more to do with it unless directly petitioned. As Christians we can sometimes think this is the case. We assume God is separate from physical creation, but reluctantly re-engages from time to time in response to the prayers of His people, before retreating from it once again.
But the Trinity love being constantly engaged in the life of the creation. Creation only continues to exist as it does because He is deeply involved in its structures, sustaining and shaping them. It wasn’t created as a place for humanity to live in isolation from God, but to be the arena in which both God and humanity could live in relationship. A physical creation is a natural environment for us both (Rev.21:3). God is not demeaned by His contact with creation. He creates such beauty and diversity not just as a gift for humanity in Christ, but also as the context within which He will give humanity the greatest gift of all: Himself in Christ. God will dwell with humanity throughout the everlasting ages of the renewed, physical creation.
Do you think there are godly and sinful ways of relating to time? How does the fall affect our relationship with time? What changes would we need to make to help us live out this aspect of our discipleship with greater integrity before God?
How can we pray for and support Christians who have been called to work in the fields of scientific research and education?
How would you respond to the idea that Genesis 1-2 can’t really teach us anything more than the idea that God is creator? Do these chapters have anything to teach us about how God created, and if so, what?
What do you make of the fact that the vast entirety of creation outside earth’s atmosphere is dismissed in a single sentence, ‘He also made the stars’ (1:16)?
On Day 1 Light / Dark are separated. On Day 4 Day / Night are separated. Why do you think there will be no more night in the New Creation (Rev.22:5)?
How different do you think creation is before the fall, from our experience of it now?
How can the Bible speak of inanimate aspects of creation and animals, plants etc. ‘praising the Lord’ (e.g. Ps.148)? What does this mean?
With the vision of such a vastly creative God before us:
· Is creativity per se a good thing, so that every creative act can be said to reflect God? If your answer is ‘No’, then what criteria does ‘creativity’ have to meet before it does reflect the creativity of God?
· How should we encourage Christians involved in creative arts?
· Should creative arts feature more prominently in our worship? If so, how? Can you think of any example from the Bible of God’s creativity being used to justify ‘creativity’ in worship?
Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above. Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created, and he established them for ever and ever – He issued a decree that will never pass away.
For further reflection:
As with so much, the Tabernacle can help us visualise the relationship between God and the world, and the depth to which He takes up residence within creation (you might find it helpful to listen to the Leviticus sermons series at mie.org.uk).
Isaiah (40:22), and the Psalmist (104:2) both liken God’s stretching out the heavens to a tent (lit: Tabernacle) in which God would dwell. Repeatedly Moses is reminded he must ensure the Tabernacle is made exactly as he was shown it on Mount Sinai (e.g. Ex.25:8-9). Hebrews 8-9 explains why. It is a schematic model of the world, and particularly of how God relates to it. The Father (enthroned in the Holy of holies), sends the Son (Table of Showbread) and the Spirit (Lampstand) from heaven to reveal and redeem earth (which is still called the Holy Place). While God cannot be limited to the experience of creation (I Kings 8:27), there is a deep integrity in His indwelling it. A Trinitarian vision of God shows us how God is both immanent and transcendent (Is.57:15). This also helps us see why Jesus is consistently referred to by Himself and by others as the one sent by the Father, with the Spirit (Is.48:16; John 3:34; Lk.4:18, citing Is.61 etc.). The curtain dividing the Holy and Most Holy Place is of course ripped at the death of Christ.