Genesis 1:1 – 2.4a ~ The Big Word Theory
There’s a TV show called “The Big Bang Theory,” about some science nerds trying to make sense of life and love and friendship. But what I want to talk about today is The Big Word Theory. Genesis gives us The Big Word Theory. The Book of Genesis declares that God created the heavens and the earth with nothing but God’s word.
But what does this have to do with Father’s Day? Consider this: last Sunday we recognized our graduates. Two of them will be going on to study college biology or zoology. All of them will be exposed to some science. Tomorrow, Jennifer Ricks will defend her doctoral thesis in cancer research at M.I.T. As faithful fathers, how do we prepare our graduates for life in the modern world which depends so much on science?
Do we expect them to keep on thinking that the world is but a few thousand years old? Do we tell them they have to choose between what they learn in the science lab and what they read in the Bible? How can a faithful father prepare a smart daughter or son to integrate what she or he will learn from the Bible and what they will learn in the laboratory? How is a thinking person to read Genesis? As a science textbook? Or as a myth? Or as something else?
GENESIS AS SCIENCE?
I’ve read a few science textbooks. Thank God Genesis sounds nothing like them. It was never meant to be read as such. Neither the Lord who inspired these words nor the writers who were inspired by the Lord meant this account to tell all the details of how creation happened. What do these words sound like to you?
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
The earth was a formless void
And darkness covered the face of the deep
While a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said, “Let there be light.”
And there was light.
This is no science text. It practically sings with joy. Genesis 1 is a chapter full of divine poetry. There is nothing in science that contradicts this divine poem. There is nothing in Genesis that contradicts science. Science is about what happened and how it happened. Genesis is about Who made it happen and why.
But someone might say, “Well I’ve heard that all Darwinists are atheists.” Charles Darwin was not always an atheist. In fact, for a short while he studied to be a pastor. But years later, when his dear daughter fell sick and died despite the most fervent prayers for her — that was a mighty blow upon her father. Charles Darwin was estranged from God. Did they ever work that out? I don’t know. I just know that his casket is buried under the floor of Westminster Cathedral. But besides Darwin, many of the first pioneers of the concepts of evolution were Christians. In North Carolina, William Louis Poteat was the first teacher to introduce microscopes into college classes in the South. He taught the concepts of evolution in the lab Monday through Friday and then on Sunday he taught the gospel in church, and never saw a conflict between the two.
If you want to know the latest understandings about how the world began, go to science. But if you want to know the “who” and the “why” of creation and what does it mean for us, then go to Genesis. The Book of Genesis takes no stand on any scientific theory. Genesis is no science text.
GENESIS AS MYTH?
But neither is it a myth. Now, people who say Genesis is a science text argue with people who say it’s a myth. They both argue over it, like the two mothers who came to King Solomon, arguing over the child they both claimed ( 1 Kings 3), nearly ready to have the text destroyed in order to control it. (Walter Brueggemann)
Creation in Genesis is neither science nor myth. A myth is a story that is created to explain why things are the way they are and why things will always be that way. Myths are written to explain a closed and unchanging universe. But in creation, something happened that changed everything in a wide open universe. Something happened that put an end to the endless chaos. A word was spoken that transformed reality. Creation is not science. Creation is not mythology. Creation is something else.
GENESIS AS GOSPEL
It is gospel. It is good news to be proclaimed. Some of the first hearers of Genesis were desperate for good news. When Israel was invaded by Babylon, the enemy destroyed the Temple and took all the temple vessels and equipment back to Babylon. They were put on exhibit in the temples of the Babylonian gods. The message was plain: our gods have whipped your god. Now your god serves our gods. Not only did the Babylonians take away the Temple vessels, they took hundreds and thousands of Israel’s leading people as exiles. Those exiles had to bear the humiliation of seeing the symbols of Yahweh put down before the Babylonian gods, their sun god and their moon god and their gods in the stars.
It was total psychic and spiritual domination. The lives of the Jewish exiles were in chaos. The gods of Babylon, gods of sun and moon and stars, seemed to control the world. What did the God of Israel control? The people of Babylon told creation myths about how their gods made the earth. What did the God of Israel make? It would have been natural for the exiles to give in and to give up on their God. Their priests were desperate for some word for the Lord, some inspiration. And the Lord sent it:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…
Their God Yahweh was the one who brought order out of chaos. Yahweh was the one who made the sun, who made the moon, who made the stars. So they were not gods. They were creations to serve the one God. So God and the account of God’s creation stood way above the myths of their captors. God is different from these other gods. God is separate from creation. God is more than the sun and moon and stars. The God of Israel was far, far above any part of Babylon’s mythology.
So the account of creation in Genesis wasn’t a science book. It wasn’t a myth. It was gospel to a group of hopeless exiles.
GOOD NEWS TO US EXILES
And it’s good news to us exiles. Even though we may have grown up here, you and I are exiles. We are strangers in a strange land that worships strange gods. Sometimes you and I feel that our God looks weak next to the gods of this land, next to the gods of wealth and power and pleasure. We can see those gods. We can touch money and things. When you are caught in the chaos of life, when you are hit by sickness or poverty or loneliness, when you feel abandoned, can you trust God despite what you see to the contrary? Can God do anything for you that a big bank account and good connections cannot do? The answer is not always easy.
But here is the good news, here is the gospel: our God created everything. God made all the wealth of the earth. God is the source of all power. And when our lives are chaos, God says “let there be light” and brings order into our chaos.
And here’s more good news. Everything that God made was good. That means that all creation is lovely, beautiful, pleasing to God. God made it all for the sheer joy of it, armadillos in the desert and humpy-backed whales in the sea. Psalm 104:26 says, “There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.” God made them all for the sport of it, the joy of it. The ground on which we walk, the air that we breathe, the water that we drink — they all are gifts from God. They all exist because God spoke them into existence.
Last Wednesday night we took the ROCK kids to a Mudcats game and got rained on like I’d never been rained on before. When I looked up at the rain coming down, the lights of the stadium were lighting up each individual rain drop. Way up in the sky I could see these luminescent pearls drifting down toward me in no particular hurry. They didn’t look like they were falling. They were floating down, down, down. And they were full of light. They were beautiful. God spoke and made the rain. And it was very, very good. In fact, it was awesome.
More good news: God spoke and created all that is, and that includes us. God made the birds of the air and the fish of the sea and every creeping thing on the earth, and God made you and me, human beings. And the most amazing thing: God made us in God’s image, that is, free, yet also responsible. Of all the creatures that God created, God spoke directly only to the human creatures. Made in God’s image, God addresses us, and we respond.
And it gets better: after God made us, God blessed us. Now that’s something that didn’t happen in the Babylonian creation myths, but that’s what God did for us: blessed us with life and fertility and well-being. God provided us with food to eat, “every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.” (Genesis 1:29)
And remember the responsibility part: along with God’s blessing, God gave us instructions. We are to have dominion over the world and all the creatures in it. Not dominion like the Babylonians had over Israel, not dominating and exploiting, but God’s kind of dominion: like a shepherd tending and feeding his animals.
So God tells us, PROSPER! REPRODUCE! FILL THE EARTH! TAKE CHARGE! (Eugene Peterson translation) You can tell God is totally excited at the thought of all this. Then God breathlessly steps back to see what we will do with the earth. And here is where we get to be good fathers, (we were speaking of Father’s Day, weren’t we?). Isn’t one mark of a good father the ability to provide for the future? A good father will do all he can to provide his children and his grandchildren with the best possible world that he can give them. A good father will be a good steward of the earth, so that his children will have a world that will be as good or better than the world he received.
Every day you and I make decisions that have effects on the world, from what kind of car we drive, to what kind of laws we make. The scientists tell us we’re not doing so well, that we need to change some of our ways of living. Others scoff and say that global warming is just a theory. Tell that to one pastor in Norfolk who now has to consult the tide tables before scheduling a wedding or a funeral!
So the story of creation gives us hope in the face of the chaos of our lives and the false gods of our land. And the story of creation gives us God’s blessings and also God’s instructions to take care of God’s world. But one more thing happens at the end of the story. God rested.
GOOD NEWS: GOD RESTED (2:1-4)
God rested from all that heavy duty speaking and creating. And that is good news for you and me too. In the kingdom of Babylon, the poor Israeli exiles may have had to work every day. But in the kingdom of God, there is a day of rest. In today’s kingdom of materialism, we are pressured to work every day. But in the kingdom of God, there is a day of rest. There is a day when “life does not depend upon our feverish activity.” (Walter Brueggemann) We can pause, and enjoy life. The sabbath is a day to remember that the world is safely in God’s hands. The world will not come apart if we stop working. God holds the world together, not us. And if God is confident enough to rest, than certainly so can we!
This is the story of creation. The story began with God confronting chaos. It ends with God resting serenely and joyfully.
- If you read it as a science text, you will be reading with zeal but without knowledge.
- If you read it as myth, you will reading with agnostic skepticism.
- But if you read it as gospel, then your heart will soar to hear the good news that God spoke.
Your heart will soar to hear how heaven and earth and even you came to be. And you will hear God speaking to it all, speaking even to you, saying that all of it, is very good, is just lovely. Including you.
The chaos you may deal with now is not the way it will always be. God speaks, and new beginnings come. And the thought of that is more than science or myth can explain. Only divine poetry can express it. We hear the poem of creation, and we praise God, the God who spoke all that is into being — the God who spoke us into being. We praise God with unceasing joy.
- Douglas E. Murray
Two people whose thoughts have been helpful for this sermon are Tony Cartledge (www.nurturingfaith.net, see the adult study video and materials) and Walter Brueggemann, whose 1982 Anchor Bible Commentary on Genesis is a classic.