As we are wont to do, our familiarity with the Bible can often descend into a blasé recitation of God’s Word. Somewhere near the top of that list, I’d imagine, is the opening statement of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” For the record, there is nothing incidental about the first verse of the Bible. To account the theological profundity of Genesis 1:1 to the happy chance of an inspired, but otherwise capricious biblical author is, at least in my mind, inconceivable.
The Theological Bedrock: God Outside Time, Space, and Matter
I mean, let’s flesh out some of the paradigms at work here. Firstly, for God to have created the heavens and the earth in the beginning of time, then another necessary premise must also be that God was at the beginning of time. Not only that, but God created “the heavens and the earth” which in the Hebrew (הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם … הָאָֽרֶץ”” cf. Genesis 2:1; Psalm 8:1; 33:6, 8; Isaiah 42:5; 45:18) idiomatically represents the totality of the material universe: space and time. God’s agency is emphatic, with the verb “to create” (בָּרָ֣א) used exclusively of divine activity. The biblical author could not express this in any stronger terms: it is God who created the universe at the beginning of time.
In fact, Genesis as a whole is, quite simply, a book of origins centred on the character of God. The entire universe finds its origins in the jussive fiat of God, “Let there be … and it was so”; through the Spirit of God, Man is born and given life, purpose, and stature; Abraham is elected by God to become the “father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:4-5 cf. Genesis 12:2) and a vehicle of blessing (Genesis 12:3). In a marvellous sense, Genesis 1:1 is an anticipatory summary of the entire account of God shaping, filling, and ordering His creation (cf. Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”; John 1:1-3, “In the beginning was the Word … all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”) It is clear that the God of the Bible stands at the centre of, operates in, and blesses His people and His world. Genesis 1:1 is testament to God’s character: the creation of the world was not a product of chance, or the accidental collocation of atomic matter, extreme heat and the necessary conditions to produce the universe as a chaotic happenstance. God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1), resolutely, sovereignly, effortlessly.
The Doctrine of Creation Changes Everything
As with any good theology, the doctrine of creation rightly understood ought to tug at our heartstrings and provoke a response of awe and majesty. But good theology also ought to lead to a heightened awareness of humankind’s unique role in the participation of redeeming creation. So what are the theological principles to translate into practice?
If God created the world (and lovingly so; the Piel participle “hovering, רָחַף” semantically serves as a metaphor for that of a mother bird brooding over her young cf. Deuteronomy 32:11), then the world is important and humanity ought to participate in the care and redemption of it (cf. Revelation 21, 22). The essence of Christian salvation is not that we should abandon the earth and go to heaven, but the very opposite – when Christ returns, heaven comes down to earth! We are taught to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), but rarely do we see a real desire to see these convictions become a matter of substance. But Christians seem to lack any kind of ethical grid when it comes to caring for creation beyond, say, recycling paper products or making a conscious effort not to litter (which, for the record, are great things to do).
For brevity’s sake, I have only really covered a surface-level understanding of the doctrine of creation, particularly in the ethical sense. Nevertheless, it should serve as a helpful starting point for fruitful thought to take place: where do we fit in among the grand scheme of God’s redemptive plan for His creation? To that end, stay tuned for more content on Genesis 1:1-2:3 upcoming on Saturday’s “Bridging the Gap” where we will explore the implications of the six days of creation (I will cover the Sabbath day separately) for you and for me.