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Genesis 1-3 revisited
Today we’re going to be visiting the creation narrative found in Genesis 1-3 and we’re going to be looking at it under the classic creation, fall, and redemption scheme. I think this is a helpful way of looking at this section of scripture, but I do not for a moment want to reduce the meaning of a passage to a helpful schematic. Some people can look at the sky at night and see only tiny specs of light, while others look at the same sky and see stars, massive bodies of light that can compete with the sun. Reductionism tends to try and take larger more complex things and reduce them until they’re as small as possible. However, often following scripture will not allow this. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Have I not told you earthly things and you do not believe? How will I tell you of heavenly things?” In other words, there are many things in scripture that have us looking through telescopes rather than microscopes. We may look at small things that appear larger because we are getting glimpses of things much larger than our current comprehension. Some things broaden our horizons so that we can see glimpses of truths from God’s word which are much more than we could ever exhaustively grasp. Here are some things to keep in mind while considering the creation, fall, redemption scheme in the biblical story. These are not meant to be analyzed through a microscope by cleanly cutting and removing other motifs, themes or types in the text, but rather by taking grasp of the main thrust of the narrative which makes sense of the types, motifs and themes to see a larger picture at play.
The creation account and narrative are foundational to the Christian faith. If there is one idea most basic to the Christian, it is that God made us. No, not just a nameless, faceless, impersonal force kind of deity, the triune God as revealed in scripture made us. In our church setting, this is not really a shocking statement to be made. But, make this assertion on college campuses or in the workplace and immediate retribution for your Bronze Age thinking will be enacted in the form of shocked faces and gaping mouths appalled at you. It's the specificity and exclusivity of your claim that shocks them. Doctrines like this one, which once were so easily embraced, have become a real challenge to articulate in a culture like ours. We have made the subject of God, religion and theology a matter best kept to yourself. Sure, we can get into politics. We can talk about work related concerns and education standards anywhere. But, talk about God and it isn't uncommon to hear something akin to, "It doesn’t matter what you believe about God and ethics as long as we can work together to make a better society." I must say that secularism has hit us like a bat from an alleyway. America has thus robbed itself of its biblically revealed supernaturalism of Trinitarian theology in which we all have to think and live, because we are made in the image of God. We have put in its place a cheap substitute of an artificial naturalism that confines reality to atoms in motion. Though this is where our culture is, God says to us as he did to the Roman polytheists that those who refuse to worship the true God of scripture do so not in innocent ignorance, but in the suppression of the knowledge of God. (See Romans 1:18.) All who refuse to worship the one true God are without a defense before him. Zeus worship wasn't because people were just trying to figure things out. Many think of the world as a closed system in which God has put some light, and now men must find the truth on their own. If some find it, good for them. If others don't, it's just because they were in areas where the light didn't reach, and so surely they can't be accountable for worshipping Horus or Thor, right? But, that is not the world in which we live. God reveals himself by working with his own creation, disclosing to mankind the truths of his being and thus our obligation to worship him.
Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth.”
All that God makes is good.
In history there have always been groups that have asserted that nature is evil, that which is immaterial is good, and that anything physical by default is bad. There are some who think of the natural world as anything less than good. The early church faced a heresy called Gnosticism which began with the ringing conclusion that evil is material and immaterial. But, the creation must be understood as essentially a good thing. God made the world good for a good reason, because he is good.
God made the world for a purpose.
We are told that the heavens declare the glory of God in Psalm 19:1-6. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat."
The heavens are fashioned with proclamation power to disclose something about God which is meant to elicit something: Praise. The Westminster Catechism famously says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Creation likewise promotes the glorification of the triune God. Jonathan Edwards wrote a book called The End for Which God Created the World in which he argues and concludes that everything in this world has at its purpose the glory of God. We need to think more about the end for which this world was made, how it might affect our work and how we view our relationships. What is the end for which our jobs were made? What is the end for which marriage, parents, children, siblings, and so on are made? Jonathan Edwards accords with scripture that this whole thing we call the world in which we live, including us, is about displaying God’s intrinsic worth and value, his glory.
Often there is an anthropocentric kind of questioning about the universe. I've heard some question the Christian faith saying, "How can we matter in this grand universe? The universe is massive and we're but tiny specimen. How in the world can you Christians say the world was made for us?" My response: We don't say that! This world is God’s world for God's purpose. It is not our world. It belongs to God and we live in it. Certainly there is fine tuning in the universe, otherwise we wouldn't be here. But, no way are we the chief end of this universe. Its chief end is God. The entire reason for our creation is the same as for the rest of creation: the infinite worth of God put on display for his praise and glory. That is why we and everything else are here. Of course, this is not to say that a giant star has more worth than a human being which is often the hidden premise in the objection, "The universe is big; we're small so we don't matter." This builds on a silly idea that what matters is what's bigger. We all know the difference between a large sack of coals and a tiny diamond. The proper way of valuing has to do with having God's perspective as maker. He is the only true and honest attester of value. Mankind does indeed have a special part in the drama of creation because we are made in God's image.
So, God’s creation was not created as bad or evil, but he saw that it was good with perfect intention by the Triune God.
God and creation are by definition not the same thing.
This may seem obvious, but in this pluralistic society where people can be seen in seminaries confessing their sins to plants and placing nature on such a pedestal that it begins to receive what is due to God alone, the point lands. In Genesis 1, we see various things that God makes: day and night, land, seas, the atmosphere, stars, plants, trees, every kind of fish, cattle, mammals, reptiles, all of the various animals. God made everything. If he created it, he can’t be it, because it is created and he is not.
In Pantheism, God and nature are the same thing. Nature, the physical world, is God and God is the physical world. This can’t be true. God says that he made the tree, but he’s not a tree. God is not like a ghost floating between the particles. (I think C.S Lewis said that.) Rather, we find that God is in a totally different category than what he has made.
In previous lessons we talked about God’s holiness. God is holy. Isaiah 6 is the picture we’ve been placing before us, where the Seraphim keep repeating day and night this fact about God and his being. But, what does that mean? First, it speaks of the fact that God is not like us. Second, he isn’t like anything else, either. He is alone in his likeness. He doesn’t share a category or a degree with anyone else; he has exclusive claim. It speaks to his nature as pure otherness, but also to his position. Think of God placing you wherever you are. We’re not talking about God as the CEO and you as holding a part-time summer job. God is the owner of everything, the one who owns the CEO and everything in between, including you. He’s higher than everything and in a class all his own. It’s a bad analogy, but I’ve had worse. All this is to say, God is transcendent, above us and in a different class than his creation. But, we mustn’t jump to the opposite of Pantheism and believe in a morbid deism that would see God as having made the universe, winding it up like a clock and walking away. A God only less than transcendent could do such a thing. God is at all times upholding and sustaining this world and it is always before him. Yes, God is transcendent, but always immanent. All creation is always before Him and in his presence and nothing could exist if it were not being kept and preserved by him at this very moment. God is above and separate from his creation and it is always present before him.
Palms 139:7-16 “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night," even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
God's creation is built on his being Lord.
God gives commands and things happen. The Lordship of God is inescapable because it shapes reality and made it as you know it. “Let there be light,” is a command issued by God and the command has such authority that it creates the very thing for which the command calls. God is not a mere inventor in a lab who sparks something together and makes some Frankenstein, but the Sovereign Lord who makes the world with clear purpose and intent by his own inexhaustible power and authority which is unparalleled.
Psalm 33:6-18 “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love."
What God makes, he rules. He is the origin, source and sustainer of all that is and if he’s the one who sustains breath and air, that makes him the one who chooses to keep sustaining it or not. He is the Lord of life. Life is in his hands, every bit of it in the world. God as Lord did something incredible in the book of Genesis. He put on display his Lordship in a peculiar way.
God created man and woman.
In Genesis 1:26-31 we find that God made man and gave them a creation ordinance: “Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
We find out first that man and woman are made in God’s image. We are made to reflect God, to put him on display. Some leaders make images of themselves, usually very exaggerated picturing themselves as greater than they are. God did not build an image of himself with stone, but with mankind. He didn’t exaggerate a picture of himself, but more like he built a Lego Eiffel Tower, one that resembles the real thing, yet not even close to its grandeur and height. And, he made them male and female. No matter what cultural madness has to say, the so called gender binary is no social construction, but according to the very nature of our creation. God made humans either male or female. God did this and if you disagree with his two door spectrum, I’m sure he’ll be all ears to your suggested amendments when you give him an account for your soul and life you’ve lived. In the story of Genesis, the newly made man and woman are commissioned to do something that God sees as very good. They are to subdue, reign, multiply and fill the earth.
God, as Lord and ruler of creation, chooses to mediate his rule through man and woman made in his image. This is where the story of mankind begins. I’m tempted at this point to go on a tirade on how wicked neo Darwinian theory is and how it has asserted to people that they are less than valuable, little more than monkeys, that all is nothing more than molecules in motion. The transcendent meaning and purpose which God has instilled in us, his creation, for the purpose of spreading the Lordship of God across the world is replaced with meaningless, empty crusades for subjective purposes that will end in vanity. God made your life not to be wasted, but to have meaning and significance beyond your own peripheral vision.
This is a brief look at a couple of aspects of creation but that is not where we end, unfortunately. Our hope would be that man and woman would do just as God said and would live as kings and queens with God as the King over this world which he made and bring about a whole kingdom of image bearers of God, worshipping their King. But, this is not what happens. Why not? Hence comes the fall.
The fall is the term used to describe the fall of mankind into sin and rebellion against God. In Genesis 2, Adam and Eve are given a garden called Eden, which are the dimensions of their rule, the square inches of their kingdom at that moment. One could imagine, as they spread their rule and subdued the Earth, as spreading the corners of the Garden of Eden across the four corners of the globe. But, they were given one prohibition by their Lord whose rule they are commissioned to spread. They are prohibited from eating from a particular tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You could say in some sense the Garden of Eden was very much like a temple as well, resembling the tabernacle in the book of Exodus and so on. It was a place where man experienced uninterrupted fellowship and communion with God. However, in Genesis 3, man and woman are approached by a serpent. Will they keep the agreement they've made with God, their covenant? The Serpent begins to question God and his word with intent on turning the woman from submission to God to autonomy from him. Instead of rooting this evil blasphemer from their kingdom, they give ear with interest. (Gen. 3:1-7)
Just like that, the king and queen who were to rule under their sovereign Lord, hand over their rule and kingdom to a serpent. Catch the foul reversal. Man reversed the reign God gave him over creation by rebelling in an instant and choosing to let what is created rule over them. So, they challenged the Creator and Sovereign. This is the tragedy: man rebelled against God. Man didn’t just make a mistake or was simply ignorant but, willfully and knowingly chose to try and snuff God’s rule out. The results were catastrophic! Man, who was in fellowship and communion with God, was no longer. Peace was replaced with restlessness, love with hatred, and contentment with jealousy. Sin had come into the world and by the end of Genesis 3 man is cast out of the garden. They are cast out from the place where they worshipped and fellowshipped with God. Adam, the king of Eden, failed in his duty. The princess was attacked by the dragon and he just stood by. She ate the forbidden fruit, so Adam took a piece, too. Adam was the representative of all mankind and head over all humanity. (Romans 5:12-14)
Since that time, we are all sinners, rebels just like our parents Adam and Eve. We were made to reflect God's glory, but now only fall short of it. We’re all born outside of the garden; no one is born in it. We’re on the outside, and we remain on the outside in our sin. Romans 3:10-18 sums up the state of mankind because of this event: “…as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes."
What kind of hope is there now? All that purpose and meaning, where is it? As the result of our rebellion are we to go into the dust from where we came with nothing more to say about the matter? At this point in the story of Genesis 3, there is simple bleakness and lack of hope. God the Lord who has been all about seeing that things are “good” has come onto not just a scene lacking perfection, but smacking of evil and mal intent. What will the eyes that cannot look on evil see? What will he do? First, he judges the serpent. Second, he judges woman, and then man. According to God's judgement, man and woman will now face death as a result of their sin. Death doesn't just mean to die physically, but refers to this whole idea of being cut off from communion with God. To die isn't just to quit breathing, but to be in opposition to God, their creator, and cut off from his grace and favor. This death was passed onto all of their descendants. If we are to be cut off from God as a result of this action by Adam, what kind of hope is there? Genesis does not leave us bleak for long, but with the great sin we find greater grace.
God curses the serpent and condemns man, but he promises to do something. The serpent is the one who authored the conspiracy against God and signed on mankind with him. However, God makes a promise that this serpent will be destroyed in a particular way. He promises that one will come from the lineage of Adam, and he will do what Adam did not. The one who will come will not give a hearing to the serpent; he will have enmity against him. He will crush the serpent, save the bride from the dragon and righteously judge evil for what it is. In doing so, the serpent will strike his heel. This promise is a promise of one who will redeem mankind and save his people. This person is to be the second Adam.
There is a common phrase that I think is quite helpful with this kind of stuff, “What's concealed in the old is revealed in the new.” In the New Testament, we see this all come together at the cross where Christ Jesus, the promised one, comes as the new Adam. He defeats the serpent, who is none other than Satan, by taking upon himself the judgement of death cast onto mankind, securing a right standing before God for all who trust in him. Rev. 12:9-11 "And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death." Christ has brought about redemption for all who trust in Jesus Christ.
A new Adam has come and has accomplished redemption on our behalf. Those who trust in Jesus are the new humanity who has been united to their new head, Jesus, by their faith in him. (Romans 5:16-21) All humanity has experienced the judgement brought on Adam and each one of us says rightly with David, “In sin I was conceived.” I'm not just a guy, who sinned and became a sinner, but I sin because I'm a sinner, and so are my parents and theirs. In a very strikingly similar way, the judgement of righteousness put on Jesus is regarded as the humanity he represents. They say I have faith. Do I have faith because I was born again? At my first birth, I was born in sin. At my second birth, I was born again in faith. When we cling to Christ as we are born again, we are united to him and his obedience is counted as ours. Before the Father, we who were previously cast out of his presence are brought into his communion by his Son Jesus who always lives to intercede for us. So, now the great commission is much like the re-giving of the creation ordinance: Jesus, the new Adam and divine king says, “Go! Make students of mine from the whole world, make disciples who acknowledge my Lordship, who obey my teachings and are immersed in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” With redemption comes this renewal of the image of God in which we are made. That transcendent purpose and meaning for which we are made is fulfilled through the redemptive work of Christ, who promises to bring about a whole new creation that will accomplish once and for all what God had intended with perfect will and purpose. The world and all the enemies of Christ and his church will be subdued. The New Testament ends with this amazing reversal. Adam and mankind fell into rebellion and led the whole creation to groan under the curse. Now, through Christ a new humanity is born, redeemed from the curse, which will live in the new heavens and new earth with blessing and favor in its place.
I'm going to end with a familiar hymn, but set in this distinctly biblical concept, you might understand it a bit differently:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive its King;
Let every heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hill, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sin and sorrow grow
Nor thorns infest the ground:
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders of his love.