Text: Genesis 1:1-2:4
This evening we begin a series on the first part of Genesis called, “Starship Genesis.” This series will begin with creation and follow salvation history through Abraham. It will build upon the work I did some years back in a series called “Before” and offer opportunity to explore and then to discuss some of the most wonderful and disconcerting things in the whole of Scripture.
- The first five books of the Old Testament; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are foundational to the Christian faith. They are called the Books of Law, the Books of Moses, the Pentateuch or the Torah. In my opinion, Genesis is the most significant of the five and in everyone’s opinion it is the most problematic. Genesis opens with primordial history. It explains who was here before anything was here, how we got here, why things are so fouled up, sets the stage for the complex chronicle of salvation history and gives an early look at what was, what was lost and what will be gained again. Be clear, this is messy work but at the end of the day, each individual Christian is going to have to make some early calls on how they will handle the text and live with them.
There are many ways to interpret Genesis but for our purposes we are going to assume five things:
- People of faith will interpret Genesis differently Many of you were raised in homogeneous religions traditions were all were required to hold the party line on the interpretation of scripture whether they agreed with it or not. In my estimation, the Bible neither demands a fundamentalist approach to pre-historical Genesis, nor does it offer such an unrealistic scenario that it demands a place in the annuals of mythic etymology. Here is the big idea: We don’t all have to see this material the same way and for some of you that realization will be your most significant gain from this series. Yet, we have to start somewhere and since I have probably spent the most time on the material over the past twenty-five years, we will use my understandings as a starting place.
- Early Genesis is not myth but it is also not history or science. Walter Brueggemann in his commentary, Interpretation argues that we must resist the temptation to make the creation account historical on one hand or mythical on the other. Since creation predates both science and history, it simply cannot be held to the rigors of either discipline. It is something else entirely or as theologian Karl Barth would say, “Wholly other.” The primordial accounts in Genesis were gathered from oral traditions; it is not literary material, it is story in all its splendor and wonder. Though stories certainly contain elements of both science and history, they seek to convey truth much more than disseminate facts. Traditionally authorship of Genesis has been credited to the hand of Moses. Today, most scholars believe the stories relayed in early Genesis were written by at least two hands and a final editor, perhaps Moses, weaved the narratives together. If the text seems sometimes jagged, it is because it is. If something seems to pop up out of nowhere, it is because it did. If you don’t get something, perhaps it was not to be got. If you are disturbed, perhaps it was meant to be disturbing. Story seeks to both inform and entertain and there are clearly aspects of both in Genesis.
- Genesis will outlive its critics. There is such a thing as good and bad science and good and bad theology. Bad science and bad theology are the work of demagogues far more interested in propagating their personal agendas than discovering truth. If good science is the search for truth and good theology is the search for truth; then on the day ultimate truth is revealed the two disciplines will be united around…God. For those who honestly seek truth, time is always on our side! Howard F. Vos in the Everyman’s Bible Commentary states, “Probably over no other part of Scripture have so many battles been fought than over the book of Genesis. Theologians, scientists, historians and students of literature have subjected it to minute examination and criticism. But with all their attention, they have been able neither exhaust its contents nor destroy its message.” I assure you Genesis will still be on the best sellers list shining like a new dime when all critiques of it are out of print.
- We must seek to engage Genesis without modern bias. If we are to discover what God is trying to say to us, we must approach this literature as an ancient staring at the autumn sky in wonder rather than a Millennial staring into an I-Phone, never looking up at all. It is a walk through the mountains, not the city; a visit to the slaughterhouse and not the restaurant. John C. L. Gibson said it well in the Daily Bible Study Series on Genesis, “It knows nothing about abstract doctrines or the findings of modern science and it ought not to have questions put to it that presuppose such matters. We are much more likely to get through to its message if we try in our imaginations to stand alongside its first Hebrew audience and listen to it with their ears.”
- It says what is says. The serious Bible student will often have to admit Genesis has stumped the band. That is when I invoke the “That’s what is says” clause. I believe the Bible to contain the word of God and it has proven accurate, faithful and inspiring for the long haul. As Methodist people we say it contains all that is necessary for salvation. Sometimes I just have to trust that even though a particular passage three-quarters blows my mind and I have no idea what to do with it; it is in the Bible, it has always been in the Bible and it will be in the Bible after I am dead. When I read about the sons of god mating with earth women and producing giants in Genesis 6:4, I smile and say, “That’s what it says” and move on…quickly.
Holy Scripture is God’s gift of self revelation so our focus for this series will be to probe what Genesis teaches us about God. Now for our opening question: Is early Genesis myth, history or science? My answer is, “None of the above.” It is simply true. That being said, let’s jump head first into primeval waters and attempt to get our hearts around Genesis because there is no way we will ever get our heads around it.
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth The first verse of the Bible is about what God did, not whether God is. If you are spending energy debating the existence of God, I want to suggest you are using what limited time you have in this world poorly. Genesis demands that we start with, “In the beginning God” and if you can’t deal with that you may as well stop right there until you can. The first verse of the Bible calls to each of us to finally move past our questions, doubts and issues and embrace the reality of a creating God! And since God is the same “yesterday, today and forever” we can know that God is still creating. Are you hearing me? God can’t just fix broken things, He can create! God can take an addicted person and create sobriety. God can take a sick person and create health. God can take a troubled soul and create peace of mind. God can take a desperate scenario and create hope. God can take a broken heart and create wholeness. God can make a way where there seems to be no way because God is the creator of ways! No situation in which you find yourself is beyond the reach of God!
2 The earth was empty and the Spirit of God hovered over it The ancient Babylonian creation accounts are about the gods ordering a chaos already existing; but the God of Genesis created something out of nothing! Creation began because God just couldn’t sit still; there appears to be a restlessness to God. Singer Rich Mullins called it, “The restless, raging fury they call the love of God.” I believe God to be a verb.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light and there was light.” The most powerful force in the cosmos is the Word of God! When God speaks the sun shines, blue skies appear, gentle breezes blow and oceans form. When God speaks trees grow, flowers bloom, lions roar and fish swim. When God speaks mountains soar, rivers rage, life emerges and sunsets take our breath away. God spoke the earth into existence with words. Words are powerful things. Words can bring life or death, blessing our cursing, healing or disease, victory or defeat. What if we decided to only use words to create, to encourage, to build up, to evangelize, to equip, prophecy and to praise God? I guarantee you that we would see some light!
25 God made all sorts of animals, each able to reproduce more of its own kind Jesus commanded the church in the Great Commission to go into, “All the world, make disciples, baptize, teach and keep before them the living memory of God.” He told us in the Great Commandment that we are to love God and love people. If we do these things we are going to reproduce! There is no Biblical understanding of the church apart from growth. There are no plateaued or dying churches in Acts. Since 1997 we have welcomed 1,775 new members, received 1018 on profession of faith and baptized 672 at Christ Church. Can you stand with me in faith and prayer believing that we haven’t seen anything yet and the best is yet to come? Now for the big question, will you join me in inviting people to Jesus? A simple invitation to attend worship with you could change a life forever.
26 Then God said, “Let’s make people.” This is the worst idea God ever had but we will talk much more about it in the weeks to come.
31 God looked over all He had made and saw that it was excellent in every way I love the Smoky Mountains and love nothing more than coming to a majestic overlook on an exhausting hike. It is like you died and went to a John Denver song. I am utterly amazed by the beauty I see and I don’t think I could take it all in if I sat there forever. There is not one fiber in my being that can fathom the beauty of nature as the result of a cosmic accident caused by random forces. How could these misty, blue, mountains possibly come from anywhere but the skillful hand, the infinite intelligence and wild imagination of God?
Chapter Two, V. 2-3 On the seventh day, God rested and God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy Was creation literally finished in six, twenty-four hour periods? Here is my definitive answer, “Who cares?” What matters is that God exists, God creates, creation is excellent in every way and when He was done, he took a day and set it apart. Holy in the Old Testament means to be set apart for a special purpose.
4 This is the account of creation There is so much I didn’t talk about today but if I had a year of weeks just to deal with the creation story alone, there would be so much I didn’t talk about. So now for the ultimate primordial question, the thing you all most want answered, “Which came first the chicken or the egg?” The answer is the chicken. God came first.
The big idea of the Creation is not about whether there is a God, it is about what God has done. The question is not who is in control, God is in control. We did not create God, God created us.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, a Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois