Creation: Who, When, How, and Why

May 12, 2024 Speaker: Jad K. Series: Independent

Scripture: Genesis 1:1–3, Genesis 1:26–27

In a time when Science is often pitted against Scripture, we ought well to be reminded that theology was – and still is – one of the most important sciences, and Christianity has been at the center of scientific advances for centuries. Many mistakes have been made throughout history in the name of Scripture, but such mistakes stand condemned by this same Bible. Indeed, it was not the Bible that was mistaken, but rather those who misunderstood it, misinterpreted it, or worse, misused it for their own ends. For example, when scientists claimed earth is the center of the universe, they misread their own ideas into Scripture, bending it to fit their lenses. But good future scientific discoveries corrected such misunderstandings of Scripture, which never spoke falsehood.

The Bible still speaks today, and it speaks truth. In the 1st verse of the Bible, we see the concepts of time (in the beginning), force (God), action (created), space and spirits (the heavens) and matter (the earth). These concepts are essential to science, discovery, observation, and experiments, just as the Bible is essential to guide our understandings, while not being intended as a scientific publication.

Many in the ancient world thought the earth was flat, and warned of going beyond the western horizon for fear of falling off the edge of the earth. That was what science taught, but more than 2700 years ago, Isaiah 40:22 said God “sits enthroned above the circle of the earth.”

Many believed for years the mythology that earth was resting on the shoulders of Atlas, yet we read in Job 26:7: “He stretches out the north over the void and hangs the earth on nothing.” Job believed 4000 years ago that earth was hanging in mid-air. This was not declared to him by human wisdom, but by the Spirit of God.

Throughout the centuries, astronomists would say there is a finite number of stars in the universe, which progressively increased in number. Every new number would become the truth claim to a new standard. In 1610, Galileo invented a telescope with a high power that blew his mind; and now we know there are billions of stars that we cannot even count. Yet in Genesis 15:5, God tells Abraham: “Look toward heaven, and number the stars if you are able to number them.” He declares to Jeremiah (33:22) that “the host of heaven cannot be numbered.” But God himself numbers them and calls them all out by name (Ps. 147:4; Isaiah 40:26). Numbering them and calling them by name is too small a task for the One who created them all in what might appear to be an afterthought on a Wednesday afternoon as Genesis 1:16 tells us that “he made the stars also.”

As we get ready to go on a journey through Genesis, we must understand Scripture in its context. While it speaks of human organs, it is not intended to be an anatomy book. While it contains scientific ideas, it is not intended to be a scientific encyclopedia. While it contains dates and some very specific details (Pharaohs, kings, Augustus Cesar and others), it is not intended to be an exhaustive history book. The Bible is a library of different genres, written primarily to people within its different contexts. This should help us stay humble when we try to understand it from our own context in human history. It should help shape the lenses we look through, even as we focus today on the beginning, the act of creation, and try to grasp: who made it all? When? How? And for what end? A single sermon is not enough to delve deeply into each aspect, but may hopefully whet our appetites to look more into these aspects, encourage good, meaningful conversations, and increase our joy in God, our desire to study the depth of his word, and our worship of him in splendor and holiness.

Who?

In the beginning there was God. In fact, before what we call the beginning. God is! He is the only being in the world whose reason for being is himself. Everything else depends on him for being, but he depends on no one else. There is none like him, and there was none before him, for he made the heavens and the earth. When God confronts Job, he asks him whether he knows how he made the world and everything in it: “where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? (38:4)” In Acts 17, Paul declares that God made the world and everything in it. Yahweh – Elohim – is sovereign in creating and bringing this world into existence. The Father made the world and all that dwells in it. And the Spirit who was hovering over the face of the waters was there from the beginning, the spirit of governance, of power, of sustenance, of control; of the same essence as the Father: the Father eternal; the Spirit eternal.

We read in John 1:1 that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh. The Son – the second person of the Trinity - was there from all eternity, with the Father, and was indeed of the same essence as the Father. When God made the world, he spoke it into existence. When God spoke, he uttered a word through the Word, which was the power of God to create and give life. The Father was there at the beginning; the Son was there at the beginning; the Spirit was there at the beginning. The Father Eternal; The Son eternal; the Spirit eternal. The Father Holy; The Son Holy; the Spirit Holy. The Father majestic, joyful, loving, everlasting; the Son majestic, joyful, loving, everlasting; the Spirit majestic, joyful, loving, everlasting. Father, Son, and Spirit co-equal, co-eternal, one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, created the world and everything in it by the will of the Father, the power of the Spirit, through the Son in whom we live and move and have our being. Of old our Triune God laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of his hands (Psalm 102:25).

When?

In the beginning; of old; what does this mean? When we raise the question of time in Genesis, we must do so within a few guardrails. Moses wrote this book as an introduction to the next 4, presenting God’s primacy in creation, the place of man, the fall, and how God intends to redeem the world for himself. The goal of history in Genesis is to explain to a Jewish context of shepherds and sojourners how their story is linked to God and to the first human couple. It does not intend to give every detail nor an exact timeline. In fact, there is no Biblical writer who brings all the dates mentioned together and sets a line on which every event is recorded precisely. Genesis is not intended to explain to the modern reader and today’s scientist every part and parcel, but it intends to make the reader understand and the scientist feel that we can be at home within the explanation that Genesis offers, and the details it leaves out.

And so we come to read that God created the world and everything in it in 6 days, and he rested on the 7th. This statement is central to the 4th commandment (Exodus 20:11) to keep the Sabbath holy. People have differed in trying to explain this: is it a 24h day? Is it a day-age? Is there a gap between Gen 1:1 and 1:3? Throughout the years I learned to think through both a young earth and an old earth, through the fossil gaps, to seek to learn how floods and earthquakes and volcanoes change geology. Is God able to create it all in 6 24h-days? Yes he could; and I see no reason to doubt he didn’t! The word “day” is the same word used in other places – and still used today – to indicate a human 24h-day. Yet can God make a young world look old? Do we have enough information on earth, vegetation, animals, and other species to dissect and deduct every thesis? The glorious verses of the beginning of Genesis appear meant to make us in awe of God as they offer us large brushstrokes, rather than seeking to enable us 21st century enlightened critics far-removed from the story itself to deduct with certainty the exact details of every statement written by Moses who wrote this book when other theories and codes were circulating.

In our attempts to understand the when, we may lean in different directions: we may not care at all; or we may make a 6 24h-day creation a matter of prime importance; or we could lean toward an old earth to try to explain some of today’s scientific theories; we may put much into what is not said between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. The words darkness, without form and void have indeed referred to consequences of God’s judgment in other places (Isaiah 34:11; Jer 4:23), which some people take to mean that Gen 1:2 happened after God judged Satan and his angels who were made in Gen 1:1, long before God said let there be light. But on the other hand, if God made the light in v.3, then what else could there have been before?! Darkness! Yet darkness does not mean evil here, just like it does not mean evil every other night of creation, and every night of our lives. As for the other two (without form; void), my observation here is that what was made was not yet fit to be inhabited until God later made the lights, seasons, fauna, flora, and eventually he made us at the tail end of creation to be the epitome of his created order, allowing us to trace our genealogy back to the first couple whom he created to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

And maybe one more note here that is convincing me more and more against a gap theory, is that God saw everything he made and it was very good (Gen 1:31). And I get the sense that “very good” would not include a time gap where sin already took hold, which would have already undermined the created world we know before it was even made.

How?

Hebrews 11:3 says: “by faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” God did not become the product of something that was there, nor did he come across material that already existed and turned it into the world we know. God made it all ex nihilo – out of nothing.

It seems far easier nowadays to believe in the existence of aliens or of life on other planets than to believe in the existence of God. It seems easier to believe in a flying spaghetti monster, or in a primordial slime that exploded into the universe we know, or in the infinitesimal probability of preexisting material progressing into a single cell from which we all came, than to believe in God’s sovereignty over this universe. There are many theories on the beginning of life. There are many claims on how God created. How can we think through them?

The heavens and the earth mentioned in Genesis 1:1 mean the entire created order, visible and invisible, as Paul says in Colossians 1:16. Psalm 33:9 says: “He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” He never needed a second word to complete what was intended by the first word he spoke. When God speaks, his word is final, and the resulting action is complete.

Both Old (Neh 9:6) and New Testaments affirm this creation, all the way to Revelation (4:11). And within this, there is a special account of the creation of human beings in the image of God, first Adam from the dust of the earth (Gen 2:7), then Eve from Adam’s rib (2:21-22), and from them all of humanity.

Humans and animals have similar cells and organs with close function. In some instances, an animal organ or tissue can be so biologically close to that of humans that it can be used in their stead: think for example of heart valves from cows; or even lately of [genetically modified] transplanted pig kidneys. Outwardly, there is a varying degree of resemblance between humans and various primates. Yet mere resemblance does not indicate a singular ancestor. Inwardly, we share large parts of our DNA with organisms that we do not resemble at all. We may share 97% of our DNA with chimpanzees, but we also share 90% with cats, 80% with cows, or how about this: more than 60% with bananas. All humans share 99.9% of their DNA: 0.1% makes us look gloriously different! And I think the only origin this explains is that Someone made us all.

From a scientific standpoint, creation is not a readily reproducible process like other experiments. That is why theories abound but laboratory proof lacks. There was no human being there at the beginning to witness creation. God did it, he witnessed it, and we have his word for it, which we should take at face value. This should help us sift through the various theories and weigh them against the truth proclaimed in our Bible. Any theory that excludes God from being the creator is a theory that is against the truth of Scripture. A Big Bang theory where nothing exploded into something requires enormously more faith. A theory of primordial slime does not consider who put that slime there in the first place. A theory of panspermia where aliens or other beings directed organisms to grow also goes against the agency of God in creation.

But what about the various evolutionary claims and theories? This is where I confess that I do in fact believe in evolution. I do! And guess what? You do too! Look at the ways people adapted throughout history: we have developed immunity against many diseases; athletes have evolved to be faster, more agile, with better endurance; the bodies of certain people groups learned to retain salt in order to preserve water because of constant exposure to droughts; mutations continue to bring about change, like bacterial resistance to antibiotics. We may refer to this process as adjustment, change, acclimatization, conditioning, or even domestication in the case of animals; but a true description would be called microevolution, a process of adaptation.

However, when we generally talk about evolution, we typically refer to what Charles Darwin postulated in his theory, which is macroevolution: that a single cell or a unique species make up a common ancestor that can gradually evolve and progress through multiple random mutations that happen over millions of years in order to lead through a process of natural selection to the development of a completely new, complex, distinct species that is better, more adaptable, of higher intelligence and of a fitter disposition to live. There are many scientific issues with this theory (lack of empirical evidence; lack of transitional fossil forms), which are beyond our focus today. However, the process described as natural selection of stronger traits that change the characteristics of a species and turn it into another may only be what we just described as adaptability, or the conservation and even improvement of traits and functions for the sake of the health of the species itself, rather than its macro-transformation into another. Simply because some species have similarities, and one appears “lower” than the other does not mean that the other species evolved from the first one. Cars and planes do not evolve on their own from an earlier model to a higher model: there is someone responsible for this progress. Even more, an evolutionary scientist (Harold Morowitz) formulated a model to calculate the probability of the formation of the smallest likely living organism by random processes, and found the probability to be 1 in 10 with 340 million zeros after it.

The issue with evolutionary theory goes again to the very beginning: where did the material that evolved come from? How can the beginning of life be explained? And this is where many believers, some of whom are way smarter than I will ever be, have settled on what is called “theistic evolution.” This theory agrees largely with Darwin’s – sans the atheism – but posits that God guided the process to bring about the result he intended. Some proponents have adopted it for fear that abiding by our common belief in the historicity of Genesis 1 will make us appear less credible in light of today’s scientific claims. At its most refined level, this theory offers God as the creator of the original material, then intervening at crucial points to guide the evolutionary process toward the creation of simple life forms and then the creation of man; all this within the framework of Darwin’s evolutionary theory.

We do not have time to dissect things to the bone. Is theistic evolution theoretically possible? Yes. But is it theologically reasonable and biblically compatible? When Scripture says God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2:7), the action seems one and done; complete. It does not suggest the process took millions of years or was the result of random mutations throughout millennia that eventually led to the development of a single-cell organism which through another process of change and evolution eventually led to the development of life on earth. We even have a clearer statement in Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib. She was made from him, without human parents, and without primordial ancestors, distinct in the image of God bestowed upon us.

The purposefulness of God’s words and actions do not go hand in hand with the randomness of evolution. God creates immediately and purposefully. Evolution’s core is randomness and haphazardness. The distinctiveness of man’s creation in the image of God and his elevated status over all other creation makes it implausible that God would evolve him from another form: it is true he made animals and people from the dust of the ground, but each distinctly rather than evolutionary, and all to be under the dominion of man.

And then there is the problem of sin and death. In Romans 5 we read that sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, with both sin and death spreading to all people, and then all creation groaning. An evolutionary process based on millions of years of random mutations and natural selection would not set apart the dignity of man – made separate from all other creation in the image of God. It would have to have had death for all these years before sin introduced death to creation, which seems to contradict Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired words, and would not be compatible with the reality of Christ coming in the likeness of the flesh of Adam’s race, rather than the animal race. Evolution promotes the survival of the fittest and the perishing of the weak, in a process where power is primary, and love and justice are not. While in God’s world we can find love to be primary, coupled with justice, equality, dignity, and hope – especially to the weak.

Why?

God had no need to create this universe, including us. There was nothing lacking in himself that needed to be fulfilled. The 3 persons of the Trinity knew unity, intimacy, love, and all the attributes of God through all eternity – past and future. The created universe proclaims the presence of God, but also his power, his goodness, his glory, his beauty, his creativity, his providence, his wisdom, and his holiness. He created everything for his pleasure (Rev 4:11), not to be entertained by creation, but to manifest his pleasure in creating, and in that we can find pleasure in knowing him. The goal of existence is the glory of God. According to Isaiah 43:7, all he formed and made he created for his glory, and v.21 further clarifies that he formed us for himself so that we might declare his praise. The chief end of man is to glorify God by obeying him and praising him forever. His love should awaken our love for him, which – once awakened – should desire to please him (Packer, 172). All things were created by him, through him and for him (Colossians 1). God is at the center, and when we are with him, when we seek the praise of his glory, we too are at the center with him, at the center of his will, his joy, his pleasure, and his truth.

***

As we ponder and reflect on creation, and as we seek to learn and understand the depths of God’s works, it is good for us to remember the essentials: God created a beautiful world that declares his glory – a work of art from the hands of the Great Artist. God showed his generosity in creation, a generosity that is disposed to give to others not with a mercenary motive, nor is it limited by what we deserve, but it consistently goes beyond it (Packer, 203). God made the world good and put us in it to enjoy this goodness. God made people in his image and for himself, and gave us dominion over creation to steward it for our good and for his glory. The rest of the Bible tells us how we fell short of this glory, but does not leave us under the curse.

Within this framework, Phil Ryken considers the historical Adam (and Eve) essential to give us confidence that the Bible is the word of God, to explain humanity’s sinful nature, to account for the presence of evil in the world, to clarify the biblical position on sexual identity and family relationships, to assure us we are justified before God, to advance the missionary work of the church, and to secure our hope in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

For God is continuing to show us how he loved us and pursued us, taking on our human nature, recreating in us a new story where we return to him and know the glory which he intended us to be made for. Because God who said ‘let light shine out of darkness’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord (2 Cor 4:6), by whom, through whom, for whom and in whom all things were made and hold together (Col 1:15-17), to whom be all the glory now and forever.

References

More in Independent

July 7, 2024

Rebuilding Together

March 31, 2024

Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?

January 7, 2024

Disciple Makers of the Nations