Genesis (Part 2)

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Genesis 1

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Last Thursday night I missed a connecting flight in Atlanta, Georgia, and had to spend the night there and catch a different flight the next morning. The next morning I came down a little after 6:00 to grab some breakfast before the 6:30 shuttle. Just as I was sitting down with my plate the shuttle pulled up, so I quickly threw the plate away and went to get on. I took my seat and the driver said he would be back in a few minutes. There was just me and a young lady and an elderly Irish lady sitting in the van waiting for the driver to return.

I made the comment that perhaps I could have eaten my breakfast after all, given the wait, and this prompted the young lady to explain, with exasperation, that she had missed her flight. She then had some choice words about Delta that I will not repeat here. She was clearly agitated and irritated at the delay and had had quite a negative experience with the airline that day, at least to hear her tell it. It was a bit awkward to hear this great irritation in a van in the dark and cold with an elderly Irish woman sitting there! But then the Irish lady spoke up in her beautiful accent and said, “You know, I know it can be frustrating, but just think about this: we are alive and here and today will be better.” The young lady agreed, as did I, and she seemed to calm herself a bit and even became pleasant as we talked further.

It occurred to me in that moment that the Irish lady had diffused the situation by making an appeal to the most amazing miracle of all: the miracle of existence. Yes, your travel plans have been disrupted. Yes, the days greet us with a thousand irritations. Even so, above it all, we exist! We are here! We have life! It was a beautiful reminder.

I believe that a proper grasp of the first verse of Genesis can bring joy to us in the midst of the living of these days by reminding us that no trial we will ever face is as big as the miracle of our own existence! And when we get this right—the amazing and astonishing fact that we exist—we can then rightly praise the God who made it so while seeing our trials in the proper light.

God created everything out of nothing.

We begin with the fact of creation.

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

“In the beginning, God.” This is telling for what it does not say. It does not say that there was matter before God out of which God created. There is nothing that precedes God! “In the beginning, God!” For this reason, the vast majority of Christian theologians throughout the last two thousand years have spoken of creation as being ex nihilo, “out of nothing.” This is called the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.

The writer of Hebrews, in Hebrews 11, put it like this:

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.

Creation emanates from the mind, the heart, and the speech of God. There were no raw materials predating God out of which he worked. He did not come upon “stuff” and decide to make the world. There was only God in eternity past! The creation spoken of in Genesis 1 is therefore quite different from human creations, as Basil the Great, the 4thcentury bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, rightly observed so long ago:

Here below arts are subsequent to matter…Wool existed before weaving…Wood existed before carpentering…But God, before all those things that now attract our notice existed, after casting about in his mind and determining to bring into being time which had no being, imagined the world such as it ought to be and created matter in harmony with the form that he wished to give it. He assigned to the heavens the nature adapted for the heavens and gave to the earth an essence in accordance with its form. He formed, as he wished, fire, air, and water, and gave to each the essence that the object of its existence required…God created the heavens and the earth, but not only half—he created all the heavens and all the earth, creating the essence with the form.[1]

That is an insightful and helpful way of putting it. You exist, therefore, and I exist, and all that exists exists solely because God in His goodness decided to create! This doctrine of creatio ex nihilodistinguishes Christianity from a number of false and dangerous beliefs. The theologian Paul Tillich said that this doctrine safeguards us against two particular dangers, dualism and paganism. Tillich writes:

The classical Christian doctrine of creation uses the phrase creatio ex nihilo. God finds nothing “given” to him which influences him in his creativity or which resists his creative telos [ultimate end]. The doctrine of creatio ex nihilois Christianity’s protection against any type of dualism…It is the mark of distinction between paganism, even in its most refined form, and Christianity, even in its most primitive form.[2]

In other words, creatio ex nihilo rejects any notion that there is an equal and opposite substance or being or reality over against God. There was only God. There was no eternally pre-existent matter or being alongside or against God that provided or created the raw substance of the universe out of which God creates.

Furthermore, Tillich rightly says that the doctrine protects us from paganism. It does this by drawing a clear distinction between the created order and God himself. “In the beginning, God.” Period! Then God creates. The earth is not God though it bears the fingerprints of God. As such, the earth is not to be worshipped or deified. I love how the 19th/early-20thcentury Baptist theologian A.H. Strong put it when he beautifully defined creation as “designed origination, by a transcendent and personal God, of that which itself is not God.”[3]

You exist because God decided that you would! The world is here because God is an artist and because God is the creator and because God lovingly decided that we would.

Your existence is therefore a miracle and a gift that should lead to an unending Hallelujah!

This fact—the miracle of our existence—should lead us into a state of perpetual gratitude! Your existence is a miracle and a gift that should lead to an unending Hallelujah!I love how the psalmist put it in Psalm 139. Listen:

13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 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. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

“I praise you!”

“Wonderful are your works!”

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!”

These are the words of a poet who rightly understands the amazing miracle of creation! I contend that our bitterness and unhappiness and degree of complaint expands as our knowledge and grasp of the miracle of creation constricts.

A few years ago a video went viral of a high school girl being given her birthday present. We see her in the video being led out of the front door of the family’s massive and posh house and being presented a beautiful, high dollar, luxury sports car. She pauses and then begins to scream and cry, “It’s not the right color! It’s the wrong color!” The video went viral because most of us will never have a car like that or live in a house like that and we stand utterly amazed at such a grotesque display of selfishness and narcissism. It was such a picture of a spoiled person that it stopped most viewers in their tracks.

How can you complain about the color of your luxury car when most people will never have a car like that! How do the details of your gift become bigger than the amazing wonder that the gift was given to you at all? Yet this is what we do with life all the time. We pitch fits at the details of the amazing gift that God has given us.

I am not speaking of true suffering and pain, of course, which is not something that God despises. Of course, through Jesus Christ, God has entered into our pain. No, I am speaking of the vast majority of our poutings and fits. We are like that spoiled girl ranting at the kindness of her parents.  The next time you find yourself miserable that your existence is not just so, just the way you wanted it, could you stop and thank God that you exist at all?

A few years ago Andrew Peterson put out with the song, “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone?” It reads, in part:

Can’t you feel it in your bones
Something isn’t right here
Something that you’ve always known
But you don’t know why

‘Cause every time the sun goes down
We face another night here
Waiting for the world to spin around
Just to survive

But when you see the morning sun
Burning through a silver mist
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Don’t you ever wonder why
In spite of all that’s wrong here
There’s still so much that goes so right
And beauty abounds?

‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside
The air is full of song here
The thunder rolls and the baby sighs
And the rain comes down

And when you see the spring has come
And it warms you like a mother’s kiss
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Yes, we should want to thank somebody for this, for there is Somebody behind it all. He is Elohim, our Creator God. He is Yaweh, the God who keeps covenant with His people. He is Jesus, the Lord of all creation.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”


[1]Andrew Louth, Genesis I-II. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed., Thomas C. Oden. Old Testament, vol. I (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p.2.

[2]Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology. vol. 1 (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1951), p.253.

[3]James Leo Garrett Jr., Systematic Theology. vol. 1 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1990), p.339.

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  1. Pingback: Genesis | Walking Together Ministries

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