In this final post, I attempt to distil the previous discussion into understanding the main underlying message of Genesis 1.
The key message of Genesis 1 is about…
We have seen that Genesis 1 is a description of the creation in technically simple terms, but in a formal layout that hints at creation as a temple. The entire account shows God as the Father, Provider and the Future Promise of Israel, the focus of adoration, worship, intercession and trust. The message of Genesis 1 is not:
This is the way God created the world: evolution is wrong
This is the God who created the world: paganism is wrong
“The gods of the nations are idols but the LORD made the heavens” Ps 96:5
The Jews saw creation as an attribute of God, rather than God as an attribute of creation. There is, perhaps, a danger when seeing God as the First Cause, a physical agent of creation, to see his operation on the same level as secondary causes so that he becomes part, if you like, of the creation process. Rather, I think, we need to see the creation as a manifestation of God’s person and character and plan. This is a subtle difference, but it involves quite a shift of God from agent to supreme being. Paul says of God, in a passage echoing the motif of the world as God’s temple:
24“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. … 28‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ Acts 17: 24-28.
God’s existence, therefore, underlies the existence of the entire universe (or multiverse) and of life.
Genesis 1 is a political challenge: God is sovereign and not the pagan deities associated with nations and human rulers.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” Ps. 95:4-5
“… in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; “ Colossians 1:16
Seen by Paul in this way in Colossians, the creation story is as much about the sovereignty of God over other principalities and powers that were worshipped or dominated people’s lives, as about the natural world.
The Israelites themselves, with Torah as their handbook, were to be a critique of paganism and a light to the surrounding nations. So, as Christians, are we. And we have this book as an ongoing and powerful critique of paganism, even modern forms such as the “new atheism” of Richard Dawkins, who stated in one of his books:
“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
To such a comment Genesis gives a stunning counter:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
Genesis 1 does not function well as an historical document defining the physical origins of the world and life. We have considered the text itself, and how it functions in the rest of Scripture, without reference to scientific accounts of origins, but with some basic knowledge of the universe. The text itself indicates that Genesis 1 is not primarily a description of the natural order and its origins. Nor however is it simply an attempt by primitive people to attribute the mysteries of the world to an agent.
Rather, Genesis 1 shows the one God, Yahweh as sustainer and provider. God has made provision for human needs in the physical world that were, until then, seen as the province of many different deities governing human life, the seasons, the crops, the land and security, prosperity and posterity. He has set the world up as a temple where God’s own presence can rest, and commune with humankind. He himself is the answer to the questions about who the people of Israel are (the people of Yahweh), where they came from (the children of Abraham/Israel, whose God is Yahweh), and where they were going (the land of Yahweh).
In the end, Genesis 1 is primarily about who Yahweh is, his supremacy over all created beings, the dethronement of principalities, and a challenge to paganism new and old. The passage can be seen as a commentary on, or background to the Shema, the daily prayer of the faithful Jews:
Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Deuteronomy 6:4
It is a defining document about the God of Israel, and therefore about the people of Israel themselves (…and therefore about us).
And startlingly, unlike the other deities of the time, and unlike the mindless universe of modern atheism, Yahweh, the God of Israel, is determined to bless humanity. So we can say:
Our God is the LORD, or, using the Hebrew titles: Our Elohim is YHWH
He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever. Psalm 146:6