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The doctrine of beginnings

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Archives / 1981 / May

 

 

The doctrine of beginnings

Warren H. Johns
Warren H. Johns is an associate editor of MINISTRY.

 

The way we perceive God, the way we look at the world around us, and the way we understand our own selves all have their roots in the opening verse of Scripture: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). Theology, like a many-faceted jewel, can gain its full radiance and resplendency only from the opening pages of the Sacred Word. Just as the Creator's words "Let there he light" (verse 3) provided the first dawning upon the natural world, so the opening chapters of Genesis provide the first rays of light upon God, the Creator, and His plan for all created beings. Here the many facets of Christian theology all gain their greatest significance and deepest meaning.

Every major doctrine of the church finds its bedrock foundation in Creation. To establish a correct doctrine of God as well as of man we must begin with Genesis 1. There we see, in contrast to all the ancient Creation myths, a God who is distinct from nature, a Creator who is above and beyond His created works. There is no confusion here between Deity and matter, as in the case of paganism or pantheism. If a pantheistic interpretation were forced upon Genesis 1, then we would have to say that God is His own Creator and that the account of the first seven days is a record of how God created Himself. Moving on from Genesis, we find a composite profile in Scripture of a Creator who has infinite wisdom (see Ps. 104:24; Isa. 40:28) and great power (see Jer. 27:5), whose entire creative activity is a sign of His love (see Ps. 33:4-6) and who desires the companionship of beings who can love and be loved (see Isa. 45:18; Deut; 6:4, 5; Jer. 31:3). Creation also unveils other aspects of God's character such as His glory and deity (see Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:19, 20).

Man is more than a machine

Likewise, Genesis 1 portrays a doctrine of man in which man is distinct from his Creator, as well as from nature. If man were not distinct from God then it would have to be said that man created his own God, in his image and after his likeness. This would be humanism, which elevates man as the supreme being in the universe. When the record states that "the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7), it informs us of the paradox that man is separate from nature as well as a part of nature; he is more than a collection of molecules, more than a skillfully designed machine with a computer for a brain. He is distinct from the animal world, because he is given a kingly dominion over the rest of the creatures (see chap. 1:28). Yet, like the animals, man was not created ex nihilo; God did make use of preexisting materials in the creation of both (see chap, 2:7, cf. 1:24). Therefore, we might expect to find physical, biochemical, or physiological similarities between man and certain members of the animal world, past or present. According to this significant clue in Genesis we should not be shocked to find extinct hominids exhumed in Africa that have a greater likeness to man than do the living apes. This does not prove common ancestry, according to Genesis, but a common Creator, using common materials and a similar blueprint.

Genesis also teaches us that man is endowed with a moral nature, for he is fashioned in the image and after the likeness of God, who is a moral Being (see chap. 1:26). To man is given something given to no other creature—the power to make moral choices (see chap. 2:16, 17). This would suggest that man's intelligence is on a higher plane than that of any of the other creatures. Contemporary scientific studies, however, try to demonstrate that man's reasoning and thinking processes are basically no different from those of the animal world; evolutionary studies try to close the gap between man and the animals. This stands in sharp contrast to the tenor of the Genesis record, which shows the uniqueness and distinctiveness of mankind, at least on the mental and spiritual level.

Salvation itself has its roots in Creation. According to the synonymous parallelism of the following poetic passage, the designations "Maker" and "Redeemer" are equivalent: "For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called" (Isa. 54:5). Other Old Testament passages show that salvation is predicated upon Creation (see Ps. 124:7, 8; Isa. 42:5, 6;Jer. 33:2, 3). A comparison of the two versions of the Ten Commandments shows that one gives Creation as the central pillar undergirding the fourth commandment, while the other cites redemption (see Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15). Likewise, God's redemption of Israel from Babylonian captivity, using Cyrus, a second Moses, as His instrument, is based upon His power as Creator (see Isa. 44:24-45:4, 12, 13).

Christ, the center of Creation

The New Testament adds a new dimension in the inseparable relationship between Creation and redemption. Significantly, the Gospel of John, the only one of the four Gospels to discuss the preincarnate state of Christ, begins with the same words as Genesis 1:1. * Christ is presented as the Creator not only here but also in Colossians 1:16-18 and Hebrews 1:1-3. The New Testament adds the dimension that the work of Creation centers around Christ. Because Christ is our Creator and a special tie exists between Creator and creature, how could He ever abandon us to the onslaughts of sin? Just as it is unnatural for a mother to abandon her suckling child (see Isa. 49:15), so it is unthinkable for Christ to abandon to eternal doom those whom He brought into existence.

Christ's ability to save is predicated upon His power to create. If Christ did not have a part in our creation, then He cannot be considered our Saviour, for only the Creator has the power to save. It takes as much divine power to produce life in one whose heart and mind has been deadened by sin as it does to call to life an inanimate form made of clay and lying upon the ground, or to produce an entire being from a man's rib.

Some feel that the Creation account is a legend in keeping with the style of other ancient Near Eastern myths. Let's follow the implications of such reasoning: If Adam and Eve were mere legendary figures having no existence, then there was no historical garden named Eden, nor a tree named the tree of knowledge of good and evil, nor the eating of its fruit and the subsequent fall into sin. If there was no fall into sin, there is no need of a divine Saviour man must become his own savior. Sin, then, would be a myth and an incarnate Christ unnecessary. This runs directly antithetical to the plain teaching of God's Word, depicting our need of a creative power working from within. David's prayer was, "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Ps. 51:10), and Paul describes the one who has already experienced the answer to that prayer as being a "new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17, R.S.V.). The work of Creation and the work of redemption have essentially the same goal—the production of the image and likeness of the Divine within the human (see Gen. 1:26, 27; cf. Rom. 6:5; 2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10).

Creation is inseparably tied to eschatology. If we minimize the importance of the one we invariably detract from the importance of the other. The strength of the one lies in the strength of the other. The foundation of modern geology as a science is often dated from 1785, when the Scottish thinker James Hutton appeared before the Royal Society and ended his treatise on earth history with the words "The result, therefore, of our inquiry is that we see no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end." Hutton was not denying the possibility of a beginning and an end to earth history; rather, he was saying that the geologist is not confined to the Biblical concept of a definite beginning in space and time for earth's history, nor a catastrophic end. Hutton stood in diametric opposition to the Biblical concept of a God who sits above the circle of earth and who sees the end from the beginning (see Isa. 40;22; 46:10). The same power that was exercised in calling the world into existence must also be administered in the eventual destruction of the world and the creation of the new heavens and new earth (see Isa. 65:17; 2 Peter 3:7-13). God indeed is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning of the first Creation and the beginning of the second (see Rev, 1:8, 3:14; 21.-6).

The methodology one applies to the book of Revelation and the general nature of the conclusions he draws from it will differ very little from one's study of Genesis, and vice versa. If we say that the Apocalypse is viewed merely as a book of symbolisms without actual historical fulfillments, then we will likewise say that the first few chapters of Genesis are mere symbolisms unrooted in historical facts. If we say that the last book of the Bible no longer holds relevance and value for twentieth-century thought, then we will do the same for the first book. If we apply the Apocalpyse in a strictly literal fashion without consideration for the symbolism involved (i.e., the "mark of the beast" is a literal mark or brand on the forehead), then we will most likely treat Genesis 1 and 2-as literally as possible ("There could have been no rain in the Edenic world"). Also, if we treat the Creation record in a deistic fashion ("God does not intervene directly in the affairs of the world, but uses secondary or tertiary mechanisms") then we will use the same approach for the Apocalypse. On the other hand, if we say that the Creator indeed intervened directly in history and brought the Edenic world into existence in six sudden steps, then we will most likely view the present world's demise as being also rapid and catastrophic, brought about by the Creator's direct intervention in human affairs. The beginning and the end cannot be separated either theologically or methodologically.

Christ is the one who gives the greatest significance and the deepest meaning to the beginning and the end. He adopts the title "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end" from His Father (see Rev. 1:8, 17; 21:6, cf. 16:17; John 19:30). The cross spans all of human history from beginning to end; its arms point both backward to the time when man had face-to-face conversation with his Creator, and forward to the time when His followers "shall see his face" (Rev. 22:4). Thus, the cross is the focal point for both Creation and the last acts in the drama of redemption.

Creation, the basis for doctrine

Many other teachings of Christianity have their roots in Genesis. The foundation of the Sabbath and its weekly rest (to be discussed in a later installment) goes back to Eden, and not merely to Sinai. When Christ rested in the tomb, He was honoring the Creation-Sabbath and indicating that the work of redemption upon the cross was complete, just as His rest on the seventh day of Creation week indicated that his creative work was complete and perfect (see Gen. 1:31; Heb. 4:3, 4). His cry upon the cross, "It is finished," parallels the finishing of His labors at the end of Creation week (Gen. 1:31; 2:2). Just as "God . . . commanded the light to shine out of darkness" (2 Cor. 4:6) on that first day marking the beginning of human history, so Christ, the Light of the world, arose from a darkened tomb on that Sunday morning, marking the beginning of a new era for mankind. The time sequence of Creation has been preserved at the cross, and the Sabbath is a weekly reminder to us of Christ's creative work during the premier week of history, as well as of His creative work in our hearts now.

All true worship has its source in Creation. As far as the Biblical record goes, the very first choir and worship service are mentioned in connection with this earth's creation—"when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7). True worship can take place only when man humbles himself before his Maker, when the creature acknowledges his creatureliness and the greatness of the Creator. Such a spirit is captured for us in many of the psalms: "O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker"; "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him?" (Ps. 95:6; 8:3, 4). When we contemplate the magnitude and complexity of the universe, as well as the mysteries locked within our own planet, it causes our spirit to thrill with amazement that the Creator should lavish so much time and attention, love and concern, upon us in His work of redemption! Are we not like an atom in comparison with His vast domain?

The foundation of the family is also found in the setting of Creation. No better rationale can be derived for the fact that marriage itself has the seal of God's approval than the knowledge that the Creator performed the first wedding ceremony on the same day that Adam and Eve' came into existence, and that the Creator incarnate recognized its divine origin by performing His first recorded miracle at a Jewish wedding service (see John 2:1-11). The future of society hinges upon the integrity of the home, and the integrity of the home depends upon our recognition of the divine origin of marriage and our willingness to pursue it according to the divine blueprint.

The survival of society in the face of a perilous future will also depend upon the recognition of the brotherhood of man, which likewise stems from the fact of Creation. The apostle Paul, who was perhaps the greatest champion of human brotherhood in the first century outside of Christ Himself, declared to the Athenians that God "hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Acts 17:26). An acknowledgment of the fact that we are all brothers both literally and spiritually makes it imperative that we treat one another with love, respect, and a caring concern. A failure to do so brings us under the rebuke found in Malachi 2:10: "Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?" The ethics for proper human relationships have their roots in Creation. Thus it can be shown that the great doctrines of Christianity, as well as the practices of Christian living, all have their foundation in Creation. Destroy Creation, and the heart of Christianity itself is destroyed.

Why did the Creator create?

In addition to viewing its importance in a doctrinal sense, we can discover the importance of Creation by analyzing the reasons why the Creator created. According to Scripture, man was created expressly for the glory of God (see Isa. 43:7), for the habitation of an empty earth (see Isa. 45:18), and for the purpose of performing good works in the service of Christ (see Eph. 2:10).

Genesis 1 and 2 suggest two additional, but complementary, reasons for the existence of man. First, man was created for service. Just as light and soil were fashioned as the prerequisites for the existence of plants, and plants were made for the existence of animals, and animals for the service of man, so man was made for the service of the highest form of being, God Himself. The stair-step structure of the Creation account suggests that each level is a servant to the next higher level. God did not end His work on the sixth day, but on the seventh, as stated in Genesis 2:2, which suggests that man was not the climax of Creation but that he was made for the service of God. The parallel structure of Genesis 1—the first three days corresponding to the next three, and the last day being the capstone of the whole week—leads us to conclude that the law of service is written across the face of Creation then as well as on the face of nature today. This is the exemplification of true ministry!

Second, man was created for companionship. Genesis 1:26 implies companion ship among many other things: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Full companionship can come only when two beings have a common bond, when there are many more likenesses than differences. Adam, when first created, could not become overly enthusiastic about fellowship with mere animals, so God created a being who, like Adam, was in His image. When Adam began to enlarge his family after the tragic death of his secondborn and the flight into exile of his firstborn, the record states that he bore "a son in his own likeness, after his image" (Gen. 5:3). This again was to enlarge the circle of fellowship, which had been previously ruptured. Just as Eve was created for the fellowship of her beloved, and Seth was brought into the world for fellowship with his sorrowing parents, so Adam was first created in the image of his Maker so that he could enjoy exquisite and unparalleled fellowship with Deity. This is the ultimate goal of redemption, as well as Creation.

Without a divine revelation we would be totally unable to interpret correctly the book of nature or arrive at a correct knowledge of the Creator and His work of Creation (see the March, 1981, MINISTRY, "Scripture Is by Inspiration of God"). The works of creation do provide us a window for viewing the Creator; we can look through nature to catch glimpses of nature's God. But it is through His inspired Word that the ultimate questions about Creation can be answered. Only in Scripture can we discover who the Creator is (see Ps. 100:3; Isa. 40:28; 43:15; John 1:1-3, 14; 1 Cor. 8:6; Rev. 4:11), the mode or manner by which He has created (see Ps. 33:6, 9; 104:24; 136.-5), the scope of His creative activities (see Ex. 20:11; 31:17; Neh. 9:6), and the reasons for Creation. Without the written Word we would not be able to detect God's providential hand in sustaining His work of creation, a fact that has ample support in Scripture (see Neh. 9:6; Ps. 147:8, 9, 16-19; Isa. 40:26; Acts 14:17; Col. 1:17). This rules out the deistic concept of an "absentee landlord" Creator.

Creation cannot be tested by the scientific method, because the scientific method can deal only with repeatable events. No scientific experiment can be constructed to test the probability or even the possibility of Creation. This leads us to the scriptural declaration that the ultimate test is the test of faith: "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear" (Heb. 11:3). Faith does not negate reason "through faith we understand." Creation is a catalyst to stimulate us to think God's thoughts after Him, to trace the footprints of the Creator throughout His marvelous, never-ending domain of science. Only as we heed the injunctions to ponder and study will we begin to realize our creatureliness and the greatness of our Maker (see Job 12:7-10; Ps. 104:24; 111:2, 4; Isa. 40:26).

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* The Septuagint (Greek) translation of Genesis 1:1 begins with the words En arche epoiesen 'o Theos, while John 1:1 begins En arche en 'o logos. Logos is equated with Theos in the same verse.

 

 

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