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Peter Beck Christian Blog and Commentary

In the Beginning ... God

  • Peter Beck
    Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
  • 2009 Sep 21
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Philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell once said, "There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our thoughts." As so often happens, here the truth is confused with error. The poverty of Russell's thought begins not with the idea that all things must have a beginning but his own failure to see the value of that beginning.

Unfortunately, many Christians today find themselves spiritually impoverished, if not bankrupt, because they, like Russell, devalue Moses' account of the Creation. Impoverishment comes to those who fail to mine Genesis 1 for the theological treasure buried there just below the surface. Bankruptcy falls upon those who, in a bid to be intellectually acceptable, belittle the Creation account, who doubt the veracity of the account, who give the text no more credence than they would Aesop's Fables. Both approaches fail to appropriate the riches of Genesis 1 because they have, like Bertrand Russell, mistakenly assumed that the story of the beginning is valueless.

The account of God's creating the world comes first in the biblical record for greater reasons than simply explaining how the world came into being. The Creation is the opening act of God's redemptive play. The Creation introduces the reader to the key players in this great drama. It sets the theological stage upon which the rest of history will be played out. Thus, there is no understanding the remainder of Scripture, if we don't understand the beginning.

In the beginning God is introduced. God, Moses writes, "created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1, ESV). He is Elohim, the creator God. This is the God with whom the Israelites would have to deal and this is the God with whom we must deal today.

If we stop there, if we think no more deeply about God than the fact of the creation, we've missed the point. Moses has something profound to say about the character of this God who creates.

He is God alone. He needs no help to create.  He requires no consort as did the gods of the Canaanites. Instead, God operates according to His own will and creates according to His own great power. Moreover, this verse tells us that God is preexistent. He was before the universe. He was before time. He created them both. He created them ex nihilo, out of nothing - no big bang, no primordial soup, just God, His divine imagination, and His boundless power. Now that's a God worth worshiping.

Thus, bound up in one short sentence, verse 1, is the majesty of God's character. Therein lies Bertrand Russell's greatest concern. If there was a beginning, there must be a God, a Creator who exists independent of the creation. Russell wants nothing to do with a God who is far superior in every way to himself. Thus, by denying a beginning, he denies God His claim to authority and character. Those things, however, are undeniable, if we take Moses at his word.

In the beginning the Trinity is invoked. While the Israelites of the exodus would have had no concept of the triunity of God, Moses lays the ground work for later theological development when he writes of "the Spirit of God … hovering over the face of the waters" (1:2). This Creator God is unlike any other god. He is plural in Person yet One in nature. He is transcendent and He is imminent.

Later in the Creation narrative, God would announce His determination to create mankind, adam, according to the plural image, "according to our likeness" (1:26). While Old Testament scholars rightly point out that any idea of the Trinity would have been foreign to early Israel, the value of man according to Genesis 1 is determined by his creation in the image of God not the image of an angel. Taking into account the idea of progressive revelation, that God reveals more and more of Himself and His will over time throughout the entirety of the Bible, we find the first hints at Trinitarian theology in the beginning.

The New Testament further adds to our understanding of the Trinitarian involvement in the Creation. John 1:1 speaks of the Word being with God "in the beginning" because He "was God." Paul adds that it was Christ who was the Creative Agent in the Creation: "for by him all things were created" (Col 1:16). As such, with the Apostles, we interpret the Genesis account in Trinitarian terms. To deny the supernatural in the Creation is to deny the Trinity - a thought that is unacceptable and unchristian.

In the beginning the world is created. The Creation provides a marvelous demonstration of God's power and care. He created according to His good pleasure. He created according to His great power. He said it and it was.

In the mind of Bertrand Russell and other naturalists like him, the world is the product of dumb luck, animal instinct, and billions of years. The biblical narrative, however, does not allow for such a scientific leap of faith. The Bible claims that God superintended every step of the Creation and He did so according to His own time line. Moreover, that which God began He completed. He did not create an partial, imperfect world. He did not wind the world up and hope it turned out as planned. Nor did He guide some evolutionary process. God created what He wanted, how He wanted, when He wanted. He created everything according to its own kind. And, it was "good" because God created it.

Moses' account of the universe's beginning does not end there. The creation isn't the end; it is just the beginning. The story Moses is about to tell is greater than the stage that he has set. God did what He did for a purpose.

In the beginning man is introduced. Skeptics today deny the historicity of Adam and Eve. It is another myth, they say, a metanarrative meant to give man a sense of self-worth. Well, at least they got part of it right. The Creation account does give us a sense of self-worth - a very high sense of self-worth. According to Genesis 1, the creation of man is the climax of God's creativity activity.

Every step in the creative process pointed to and prepared the way for God's greatest creation. He perfectly created a world in which man would live. He graciously provided the foods which man would need. All those things, God said, were good. When the time was right, then and only then, God created man. More than that, they are created in God's image, meant to be a human reflection of His divine goodness, His ambassadors here on earth. As such, man is more than an apex animal as evolution suggests. He is the apex of the creation itself. Everything has been done for this purpose.

With the creation of man, the Creation was complete. When God surveyed His masterpiece,  He pronounced His handiwork "very good." No other response was possible as the creation, like man, reflects its Creator.

In the beginning the end is in sight. With His work finished, God rested. The seventh day, anointed blessed and holy by God, set the pattern for Jewish life and worship throughout the rest of the Old Testament as they followed His example. Over the course of the history of the church, Christians, too, have applied the principle, if not the law, of the Sabbath to the Lord's Day.

Yet, such a reading of the final words of the Creation account seems incomplete. The wonder and the majesty of it all are lost, if the seventh day becomes little more than a holiday. On the other hand, if the message of the Sabbath rest is seen in light of the Creation itself, it takes on a greater meaning. God rested, not because He was tired but because His work was complete. He had created that He might be known and worshiped.

The rest of history has been the outworking of God's great plan. The Fall, the Flood, the Covenants, they're all part of this great drama. Then, just as man, created in the image of God, was the height of the creative process, God sent His Son, the God-Man, the perfect image of God, to restore order, to renew hearts, to create new worshipers. Those that trust in Him for their salvation will cease from their fruitless labors. What God has begun will be complete when God's people find their rest in Him. This is the end to which the beginning pointed.

Thus, the creation account is more than a myth. It is greater than a metanarrative. Those who believe do not possess an impoverished mind but a rich faith. The creation is the beginning of God's greatest work in the universe, the redemption of mankind. Those who reject the supernatural reject the God of the Creation. Deny God's involvement and you deny God's power. Eliminate the Divine and you miss the Divine's purpose. Ignore the beginning and you'll miss the end. For without the beginning, there would be no end.