Where do you come from?
I wonder how many times you’ve been asked that question, or you’ve asked it of someone else.
Where do you come from?
The thousands of fresher students about to land here in Southampton are soon going to be heartily sick of that one, I’d imagine. But we keep on asking it, don’t we? I guess we care about roots. I guess deep down we have this idea that where we’re from says something about who we are.
Some, of course, get fairly obsessive about the question. I’ve got a distant relative who I’ve never met but he’s clearly very keen on the whole genealogy thing. Thanks to his efforts, I’ve got my ancestry documented – going back generations. One of our children was given a year 6 homework project a while back. Draw your family tree. I guess the teacher was expecting brothers, sisters, parents. Grandparents at a push. I’d love to have seen that teacher’s face when he was presented with the entire history of the male Saer line going back to the late 1600s!
Where do you come from?
The thing is: the question only gets bigger, the more you think about it. Families are one thing. But Biologists – well they want to know ask it about life itself. Where did the first proteins come from? Cosmologists want to ask the even more basic question: where did matter come from?
It’s inevitable we would want to ask these questions. Because if there’s one thing every one of us wants to know, it’s not actually ‘what’s your story’. It’s ‘what’s my story?’ What’s the story I’m living? Who I am and what I’m here for, and where I’m going – it all follows presumably from: where I come from. My identity, surely is – in part – a function of my origin.
Well, this term we’re going to be opening up the Bible’s very own book of Origins.
That’s what Genesis means: beginning or origin. It takes us right back to the beginning of things, apparently in order to give us something to go on when it comes to all the other big questions we have. Do you see? In order to help us with who we are and what on earth we’re doing and why we are the way we are, it takes us back to where we’re from.
And it all starts, here in Genesis chapter 1, with the world itself.
A series of truths emerge from this chapter. All of them quite simple, but maybe deceptively so – because as we’ll see, they have profound implications!
So let’s pile straight in with the first of them. And it’s this:
God created the entire world.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Those words crackled through the airwaves on Christmas Eve 1968. The Apollo 8 crew were orbiting the moon – the first humans in history to do so – and for the first time they were able to look back and see this world from the outside, as it were. And they read those words to a listening world.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
It’s a statement which changes everything about the way we see the world around us, and in fact the entire cosmos.
There was a time when there was nothing. And then there was something.
Scientific thinking and the Bible are actually on the same page on this point at the moemnt. Wasn’t always the case; a few decades ago scientists were loathe to say the universe had a start point; but the Big Bang theory has become widely accepted now.
But the Bible goes further than even the Big Bang theorist can. We’re provided here with the ultimate cause of the cosmos. ‘In the beginning God created’.
That’s not to say nothing happened before creation.
• In John’s gospel we hear of the members of the godhead enjoying one another before creation. In fact Christ, the Word, was himself involved in the act of creation
• In Isaiah, we read of God mapping out history before creation.
• In Ephesians, we learn was God choosing his people before creation.
But the point is: against what some worldviews held when Genesis was written, or indeed today, God tells us his creation did have a fixed beginning point. And that beginning point lies in the decision of God to bring it into being.
That word ‘create’ is only used in the Bible of God. Which I suppose makes sense. Because really only God can create, can’t he? You and I can make things out of other things. We can assemble, and construct and process and so on. But really we’re just mixing existing things around!
When God creates, he makes things out of nothing.
And more specifically, he makes everything out of nothing. All of it. ‘The heavens and the earth’ – which is just a way of saying everything that exists that isn’t God. It all finds its origin in the divine act of creation.
Now that has a number of implications. But there’s one real biggie. It’s hinted at a little bit further down, when God starts naming the things he’s made and deciding what role they’ll play. But it’s the apostle Paul who spells it out for us.
When he spoke to the Athenians in the Areopagus – this is Acts 17v24 – he said: ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is… the Lord of heaven and earth.’ You see the logic? He made it – so he has the title deeds to it. It’s all his!
My sister’s a musician. She spent some years writing music for TV shows. And you know how it works. Once she’s written it, it’s hers. So every time the BBC play the theme music to one of her programmes, like Click – the technology programme, that’s one of hers – even years later as it is now, they have to credit her and they have to pay her. Big fat cheque every year. She made that music, and that gives her all the rights to it – and those rights need to be acknowledged.
Well Paul says: God made the world, every bit of it, and that gives him all the rights to it – and yes, those rights need to be acknowledged.
For you and me and everyone else, God is our maker and therefore he is our master. This cosmic reality very quickly gets very personal.
We are his. Our lives are not our own.
And I guess that explains why so many try their hardest to break the link between creation and God. That’s what Dawkins and Hitchen and that crowd were doing, isn’t it? Trying to break the link between creation and God? And why? Presumably because they just hated the implications.
Can I say: when I hear of someone who’s minded to give up on their Christian faith, who’s struggling to own their Christian convictions, it’s very rarely an intellectual reason that’s driving them. It’s often a mental health issue. Most often it’s a moral issue. They’ve set their heart on something which is incompatible with God being Lord.
They’ve made some other desirable thing Lord of their heart, and that recalibrated heart of theirs is demanding that their head falls into line.
This creator is Lord of the whole world, which makes him Lord of you and me.
So I wonder: is that the story your calendar tells. Is that the story your bank statement tells? Is that the story your parenting priorities tell? Is that the story the line-up of your recently watched, or watch next episode lists on Netflix… shows?
It’s a cosmic reality. But it’s got very personal implications.
Time for the next truth from the dawn of time:
God created an orderly world.
This chapter has got a lot of people scratching their heads over the years! What are we actually being given here in this chapter?
Think of it this way. If you’ve ever had to travel across London, you might have had use for a tube map. Well, here is the most geographically accurate tube map I could find.
It may not look very familiar, but that is the exact route of every underground line currently in service. Absolute geographical precision.
Now is that the kind of representation of creation that Genesis 1 is trying to give us?
Some say yes. Those who subscribe to the ‘literal history’ theory hold that what we’re being taught in Genesis 1 is that the world was built literally in 6 periods of 24 hours – 144 hours – in precisely the order given here.
Verse 2 – light. Verse 6, do you see, – 24 hours later – the sky. Verse 9 – land and sea. And so on.
Here’s another tube map, though.
You see what they’ve done here. They’ve put the stations in the right place, so they match up with the observations of a pedestrian walking around London, but smoothed the routes out, I guess to make it a bit more user-friendly.
The so-called ‘long day’ theory of Genesis 1 takes this kind of approach. It wants to match things up more with the observations of scientists about the what the age of the earth seems to be, so it suggests each ‘day’ here actually represent a very long period of time. But still, it says, things happened in the sequence given here.
The most confronting problem with both those approaches, though, is that sequence. How do you get light on day 1 – verse 3 ‘there was light’ – when the sun and the stars don’t appear until day 4 – verse 16? Doesn’t make immediate sense!
But what about this map?
This looks a bit more familiar. Gone is any desire to get the GPS co-ordinates of the stations or the exact route of each line. There’s just one simple purpose to this highly stylised version: to make the network easy to navigate.
As I read Genesis 1, that kind of highly processed, limited objective approach seems to be much more like the approach the writer is taking. The exact details and processes aren’t the point here. This is a very stylised passage. More poetry than history. It seems to be interested more than anything else in just the orderliness of God’s world
Now why do I say that?
• The first clue is in the numbers. In the original language, there are 7s everywhere. 7 words in verse 1. 14 words in verse 2. 7 days obviously, 7 times we get ‘and it was so’. 7 times ‘ it was good’, 21 mentions of heaven and earth. 35 mentions of God. There’s a clear pattern! A literary structure. As he writes these words, Moses seems more interested in the big picture than details and processes.
• The second clue to the non-literal intention here is in the rhythm of these verses. Look at the repetitions.
o Verse 3: And God said. Let there be. There was. Was good. Evening morning. First day
o Verse 6. And God said. Let there be. It was so. Evening morning. second day.
o Again and again we get slight variants of the pattern:
o And God said. Let there be. It was so. It was good. Evening morning, …next day.
o It seems like the days are being described in such a way that they rhyme with each other?!
o This is poetry!
• And then there’s the third clue. The order of events.
Look at verse 2. And the description of the earth at the beginning, back on day zero. Do you see it? Formless and empty. In other words, it’s in need of… form; and it’s in need of filling.
Now look at what is created on each day. On days 1-3, the earth is given form. On days 4 to 6, it’s given filling.
On the first three days, God is like an artist, charging his pallet – getting the colours with which he’s going to paint – and preparing his canvas.
But in the second half of the week, he actually paints the picture.
So on Day 1, God creates the form of light. You might say: the concept of light and darkness. On day 4, the equivalent spot in the second half of the week, he fills: he creates the actual sun and stars which will bring light into the darkness of the world.
On day 2, God creates the form of sky and water. You might say: the environments, the habitats. On day 5, he fills those environments: the birds and the fish are made to inhabit those places.
On day 3, God creates the form of dry land and plant life. Another environment. And day 6, he fills it: animals and people are made to live there.
Do you see? It’s Form, then filling. Context then content. Paint and canvas, then the picture.
As Moses pens these words he’s not really interested in geology and biology. He’s just reflecting on the mind-boggling order God has brought into this world. No more formlessness or emptiness. No more chaos. Everything is beautifully distinct and organised. Orderliness is everywhere.
Do you recall what Paul had to say as he reflected on this reality?
He said this beauty and order is so obvious you can see in creation not just that it must have come from God, but even what the God it came from is like!
‘Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…
Now I don’t know how you personally are doing today. But for many of us the struggles of the last few months have impacted our faith. We’ve been knocked off balance. Our confidence in God has been shaken. We’re not quite as sure of what we believe as we were.
Where do you go with that?
Well, here’s one place. Look at the world around. And look beyond the mess human beings have made of things. We really do seem to be making a lot of mess. But look beyond that. Look at this creation. Look through a telescope. Look through a microscope. And allow yourself to say to yourself what I’m sure you’ve said in the past: ‘Wow – that’s just amazing – what a great God!’
One more truth from the dawn of time. Just a quick one. We’re going to rewind and focus on the verses about humanity next week. But for now, just this:
God created a good world.
Again and again in this passage, after each aspect of creation, we’ve been told ‘it was good’. But now in verse 31 comes the step-back-and-see-what-you’ve-done moment. Anyone who’s mowed a lawn or painted a wall or tidied a room or completed a project knows all about this. You look back and smile. It’s a job well done.
Well here is God at the end of day 6 of creation itself. Verse 31
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
There are all sorts of worldview realities that come through in this chapter.
• Time has a beginning
• Matter is not ultimate; God is.
• God is separate from creation, not part of it.
And so on.
But look at this last one. The stuff of the world is not evil. It’s good.
Should be a surprise, given it was made for Christ, according to Colossians 1.
But we Christians have often struggled with this one, haven’t we? We’ve felt guilty about having stuff. Or if we have it, we’ve felt uncomfortable about enjoying it. We’ve made out that to be truly spiritual you should give up stuff.
But once again it’s Paul who helps us as he reflects on this verse here and draws the implication.
1 Timothy 4:4
‘Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving’
So by all means, enjoy that glass of wine, that holiday, that hobby, that sexual intimacy you have with your spouse if you’re married.
(Acknowledge it as a gift from God, yes. Be generous in sharing with others, yes. Be careful it doesn’t become an idol, yes. Avoid it if God forbids it, yes. But otherwise…) enjoy it. Because God made it and he made it good!
This is where you are from. This is how it all began.
God created the entire world. God created an orderly world. God created a good world.
They’re big truths, aren’t they? Almost too big. So let’s make them personal.
Let the creator God be your personal master.
Let the creator God be a source of personal wonder.
Let the creator God be a provider of personal enjoyment