Friday, January 27, 2012

The Generation of Light, Order, and the Fullness of Life through God’s Word

The Bible teaches that the universe has been created by an eternally existing, powerful God. According to the biblical account of creation in Gen 1, God created the world, but (surprisingly perhaps) he did so in stages.

The first stage of creation involved the creation of the basic content of the universe: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). Resulting from this original act of creation, the earth came into existence, but its original state for a certain period of time was chaotic: “but the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the deep” (Gen 1:2).

The original chaotic state of the earth forces the reader to ask why. Specifically, why would God, when he created the world, initially create the earth to be formless and empty? Surely God with his infinite power could have created a world that was fully formed right from the very beginning. He could have created a world complete in every way in the blink of an eye. He could have, but he chose not to. Why then would a God of order create a world that existed in a state of some kind of disorder for a certain limited period of time? In addition, why would a God of light, the God in whom there is no darkness at all, create the earth only to cover it in darkness at least for an initial period of time?

An important clue to the answer to these questions can be found in the final clause in Gen 1:2 where we are told that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the water.” The initial state of the the earth was formless, empty, and dark; but the chaotic mass was pregnant with the expectation of new life, because the Spirit of God was brooding over the water.

In effect, Genesis 1:2 gives the starting point for the subsequent six days of the ordering of creation. Over the six days of creation God would take the formless, empty, dark mass, and lighten, shape, and fill it. Genesis 1 involves, therefore, a movement from negative to positive, a movement from disorder, emptiness, and darkness (in v. 2), to light (v. 3), order (through God’s work of dividing and naming in vv. 4–10), and filling (vv. 11–31).

Therefore, on Day One, God speaks into the midst of the darkness, and creates light. God not only creates light, but he creates order through dividing and naming. He divides the light from the darkness, and calls the light day, and the darkness night.

On Day Two, God divides the water covering the earth into two layers, and the boundary between these two layers he calls heaven or sky. In doing this, God begins to give order to the original chaotic mass.

On Day Three, God makes dry land appear, and calls the water seas, and the dry land earth. God brings order to the original chaotic mass in order to make it habitable. Having created order and various spaces, God then sets about dealing with the problem of the emptiness of the original chaotic mass. And so on Day Three God also makes vegetation to begin to cover the land.

On Day Four, God continues his work of filling by filling the heavens with the sun, moon, and stars. These objects also have a role in giving light, and in ordering or dividing day from night, and in giving order to time. The sun and the moon are the timepieces in the sky that God has given us in order to be aware of, and to keep track of, time.

On Day Five, God continues the work of filling his canvas. He fills the space of sea with all sorts of fish and swimming creatures. And the great space, the expanse of sky, is filled with birds and other sorts of flying creatures.

On Day Six, God turns his attention to filling the space called earth, the land. He begins by creating all sorts of domesticable animals, creepy crawlies, and wild animals. But the pinnacle of the land creatures is humanity, male and female. And with human beings, God’s work of filling is effectively complete. That is not to say, however, that the world was full. In the beginning there were only two human beings. There was room for more filling to take place, but for all intents and purposes (apart from the human race) the world was full with all of the creatures that God had determined in his wisdom to make.

And then on Day Seven, God rested, not because he was tired, but because his work of creating was over. God started things off, creating the universe, and making Planet Earth fit for habitation. He started the work of filling the world, but handed over the rest of the work of filling the planet to the human race to achieve. The significance of God’s rest on the seventh day is that it is a promise to humanity. God has invited the human race to continue his work of building the kingdom of God on earth (Gen 1:28); and as we follow his pattern in taking the order and life-giving power of God’s word out into the whole world, so too when our work is complete, we will enter the liberation of an eternal rest, which involves enjoying the fruits of blessing in God’s kingdom forever more. God’s resting on the seventh day is therefore a promise of eventual perfection and of our enjoyment of that perfection after it has been achieved.

But how is humanity to build the kingdom of God on earth? The key to humanity’s work of building the kingdom of God on earth can be seen in the way in which God went about building the world in the first place. In particular, God brought light, order, and filling with life into the world through his word. The tenfold repetition of the expression ויאמר אלהים and God said (vv. 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29) in Gen 1 deliberately emphasizes the important role of the divine word in reversing the “problem” of the formlessness, emptiness, and darkness of the original chaotic mass. Ten times God spoke … in order to bring light, order, and life into the world.

The Generation of the World through the Word of God

A key message of Gen 1, therefore, is simply that it is the word of God that brings light, order, and life into existence. God created the world in stages as a lesson for the human race in order to help us appreciate the way in which God’s word is the unifying structure of the universe and the key to life in the universe. Genesis 1 tells not only that God is the Creator of the cosmos, but that God the Creator is the God who acts through the power of his Spirit and word to transform darkness into light, chaos into order, and the absence of life into life. The rest of the story of the Bible is concerned to record the development of the kingdom of God on earth in tandem with the historical response of humanity to the word of God. Obedience to the word of God builds the kingdom of God, bringing light, order, and the fullness of life to the world; whereas disobedience to the word of God brings about a reversion to the default state of the world, the state of formlessness, emptiness, and darkness of the original chaotic mass.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

God the Eternally Self-Generating Ultimate Cause

The story of the Bible starts with God. The Bible tells us “in the beginning God” (Gen 1:1). God just ... is! God is uncreated reality, eternally self-generating, without beginning and without end. He has always been around, and always will be around.

The existence of God is the fundamental starting point of Christianity. Whatever system of religion or philosophy that one believes in, there has to be starting point. When it comes to the question of the existence of the world there are only four major options: (1) either the world is not real, and all of “reality” is unreal (like some kind of dream); or (2) the world is real and eternal; or (3) the world is real but finite in time, and has come from absolutely nothing; or (4) the world is real but finite in time, and has been caused or created by a previously existing power.

The view that the world is eternal was taught by some ancient Greek philosophers (e.g., Aristotle), and it is also taught in Hinduism and Buddhism. The view that matter has come from nothing, that absolutely everything has come from absolutely nothing, is the view of various forms of modern atheism. Despite the fact that many scientific atheists hold this view, this is logically speaking a difficult position to hold in view of the scientific axiom of cause and effect. Science (with the arguable exception of quantum mechanics) presupposes the idea of cause and effect. To hold that the big bang which led to the formation of the universe came from absolute nothingness—the equivalent of saying that the big bang had no cause—is to posit the existence of an effect without a cause. For the view that the world has come from a previously existing power, the major religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all believe in one eternal God who is Creator of the universe.

Which view is the most logical of these options? The major choice today lies between theism and atheism. Out of these, theism is more logical and much more probable. It requires a lot more faith to believe that all of the universe and the approximately 100 million different species that inhabit our earth came about as a massive fluke, totally by chance, from absolutely nothing, than it does to believe that there was a powerful self-generating designer who generated this world for a reason. Both theism and standard atheism hold that everything came from nothing. In theism, however, there is a cause: God.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Summary of the Bible: Generator, Generation, Degeneration, Regeneration

How to summarize the story of the Bible?

A handy way of thinking about the message of the Bible, or what Christianity is on about, is that the Bible tells a story of the history of the universe that revolves around four basic facts. These basic facts are: God, creation, sin, and salvation. Put another way, this gives us the following four basic facts: Generator, generation, degeneration, and regeneration.

God, Creation, Sin, Salvation

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

God’s Word in Human Hearts

The more that I read the Old Testament, the more convinced I am that the Old Testament presents two primary case studies (Adam and Israel) of what happens when God’s word is not present in human hearts. As Gen 1 is concerned to teach, it is the word of God that brings light, order, and life to the world. The whole of human society must be founded upon and directed by the word of God the Creator. Not to do this is to revert back to the disorder, emptiness, and darkness of the original chaotic mass (see my post “The Theology of Genesis 1” for more on this idea).

One of the keys, therefore, to a succesful human life is having God’s word in one’s heart. This is why the new covenant centers on God’s word (torah) being written in the heart (Jer 31:33).

This is also why the psalmist says in Ps 119:11: “I have hidden your word in my heart in order that I might not sin against you.” As the whole of Ps 119 attests, the key to human happiness is following in the way of God’s word: “Blessed are those whose way is wholesome, who walk in the law of Yahweh. Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with all their heart” (Ps 119:1–2).

God’s word in the heart! Simple yet profound.