In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).
A long way from where we live, right? Why should we care about the beginning when we can barely keep up with now? Because the beginning points us to the One who determines the present and shapes the future. Because the beginning points us to the One we can enjoy and worship.
The beginning. The heavens and the earth (the whole “natural” order) had a beginning. Most scientists agree. Their “big bang theory” posits a time when the universe wasn’t and a “moment” when it exploded into being. Of course, we don’t need science to affirm Scripture (even in a culture that regards science as the final word); but it does boost our faith a bit. Furthermore, since Scripture is God’s Word and the natural world is God’s handiwork, sound theology and sound science must ultimately agree. And on this it pretty much does: The heavens and the earth had a beginning.
When isn’t Genesis’ concern. But we can’t help but surmise. Scientists estimate about 4 billion years ago (“the old earth” theory). Many (but certainly not all) Christians say about 4 to 6 thousand years ago (“the young earth” theory). The “young earth” theory rests on two things. One, the generation lists in Scripture. Add them up and you’ve got a “young” earth. However, Hebrew generation lists often skipped generations. That makes them unreliable for counting years.
Two, the “young earth” theory mistakenly assumes that “the old earth theory” requires belief in evolution. Evolution typically views man as a higher form of animal, not a being created in the image of God. So some Christians argue for a “young earth” that science seems to deny. But as John C. Lennox, Professor of Mathematics in the University of Oxford, has shown in his book, Seven Days That Divide the World, “the old earth” theory doesn’t require evolution. The dating of the earth’s age and the theory of evolution are completely separate matters. We’ll see that as we proceed through the Genesis creation account.
For now, let’s put the focus where Genesis does–not on the when of the beginning, nor even on the fact of the beginning (though it clearly states there was a beginning). Let’s put the focus on the God of the beginning. The Genesis account isn’t concerned about the when of creation, but the who.
God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning God . . . Don’t hurry over “God” to get to “created the heavens and the earth.” Not that God creating the heavens and the earth is unimportant to the text. Genesis, after all, is the book of beginnings. The writer is explaining how the beginning of the heavens and the earth came about. God created them.
The Hebrew bara can imply created “out of nothing.” Humans can’t do that. We can create beautiful music or works of art or magnificent cathedrals or fancy, fast cars. A man and woman can even create another human being. But never out of nothing. Whatever we make, we make out of something. But out of nothing God created the heavens and the earth. And the heavens and earth point to God.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands, sings the psalmist in Psalm 19:1. Genesis 1:1 is about God.
Who hasn’t scanned the ocean and pondered its vastness? Or been thrown about in its wind-driven surf? What child hasn’t laid back on the ground and gazed into the starry night sky and shrunk under its immensity? Who hasn’t felt a house shake from a hurricane or seen the fury of a swirling tornado? Who hasn’t marveled at the beauty of a butterfly or stood in sacred awe admiring the sweet face of a sleeping baby? These creations are wonders in themselves. But Genesis and the Psalms remind us that they point beyond themselves to their Creator.
What kind of Being creates such wonders with a word? Makes huge galaxies and tiny human cells? Designs elephants and ants? Sends streams dancing over rocks and tsunamis swallowing up everything in its path?
Carl Sagan is wrong. The universe is not all there ever was or ever will be. God was before creation. The universe is not a closed system with nothing outside it. God exists outside it. He is its Creator and sustainer. And it all reveals Him.
We can’t travel back in time to the beginning. We can’t replicate creation in an experiment. But we can stop and look. At a white cloud drifting across the blue spring sky. At a red and gold leaf fluttering to the ground in the fall. We can take a walk and feel a summer shower sprinkle us. We can listen to the silence as a winter snow blankets the ground. We can hold a tiny baby close or rest in the arms of the one we love. The beginning can become a present joy. The beginning can offer us future hope. And we can be moved to sing with the saints in the Book of Revelation . . .
You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created and have their being (Revelation 4:11).