In the Beginning God Created . . .

Title: In the Beginning God Created . . .

Text: Genesis 1:1

Date: January 3rd, 2010

We’ve just passed into another new year (and another decade) in 2010, and for me that means starting over again in reading through the Bible in one year. For about twenty years now I’ve read through the Bible every year using the Tyndale House One-Year-Bible. Every five to ten years I’ll change versions just to keep my Bible reading fresh and see God’s Word in a slightly different way with a different translation. I started out reading the New International Version years ago, then after five years switched to the New Living Translation, then after a couple of years switched back to the New International version which I’ve been reading for the last ten years. This year I’m going to try to read still another translation, maybe the King James Version. But this habit of reading through the Bible in one year has produced such blessings in my life that I always encourage everyone to do it if they don’t already have a Bible reading plan. I find that by having a plan for reading the Bible I’m disciplined to actually keep to reading the Bible every day instead of leaving it to chance. The One-Year-Bible has a reading from the Old Testament and from the New Testament and from the Psalms and Proverbs each and every day. Once I read each portion of the daily reading I then pick some verse within the reading and make note of anything particularly interesting that I want to remember, so that each day I have something from the Old and New Testaments that I’ve learned. In that way, I can grow in my knowledge of God’s Word and also be inspired and encouraged in my spirit each and every day. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a way to read the Bible on a daily basis. Now beginning every New Year in January the Old Testament readings are from the Book of Genesis dealing with the Creation account. Unfortunately, the daily readings move pretty quickly through the verses so that by the time you get pass the reading for January 1st you’re already through the Creation. That’s frustrating because it really needs more attention than just one day. So in order to slow things down for myself I’ve decided to give a message on the Creation account found in Genesis in order to help myself and others understand just how God created the universe. Now I’m aware that there is something of a controversy as to how to interpret the 1st chapter of Genesis, so I’d like to map out what I understand to be the different possibilities as to understanding the biblical account of Creation. I also understand that modern science has something to say about the universe as well, and I’ll try to include a little bit of that understanding as it comes up, but mostly deal with what the Bible actually teaches. My goal isn’t to answer all the questions raised by science and the Bible concerning Creation, but to put the issues within a framework in which to begin addressing the questions. We’ll start with this one verse, the very first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Now the big question is – how did God do it? There are three possibilities.

First, God could have created everything all at once, suddenly. Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Now to begin with we are confronted with a choice – what does Genesis mean by “the heavens?” When it talks about “the earth,” that’s fairly obvious that it’s talking about our planet, earth. But what does it mean by “the heaven?” There are a couple of possibilities. One, it’s talking about the spiritual heaven, where angels live, where God lives, the spiritual realm. Now I don’t think that’s what Genesis is referring to because it’s talking about the creation of the universe or material world or physical existence not spiritual reality, it seems to me. Genesis seems to presuppose that the spiritual reality was already here, that angels already existed, that demons had already fallen, and so forth. Yes, all of these things are created things and they could have come into existence after the start of God creating the physical/material reality, but I don’t think so. But I think the second possibility is better. Two, it’s talking about everything in creation outside of the planet earth. In other words, it’s talking about the universe – the stars, planets, comets and all the other objects of outer space.  Again, we don’t know when God created the first angel, we don’t know when Lucifer or the Devil fell and led the angelic revolt against God. It could have been during the Creation, but I understand it to be before the creation of the material world. We’ll just have to leave that up in the air as far as certainty. But I’m assuming that the reference to God creating “the heaven” is a reference to the universe outside the earth. Ok, now how did God create the heavens and the earth? First, he could have done it all at one time. That’s not how the Genesis account seems to describe Creation but it’s a logical possibility. After all, why would God need a process to create the universe? Couldn’t God have just begun to count down? Five, four, three, two, one – bang! Everything created all at once. Why would God need to do anything in stages? He doesn’t need to create in stages. He could have just as easily spoken the words, “Let there be everything!” and it would have all just appeared all at once. But the problem with this possibility is that it’s hard to reconcile it with the account of creation in Genesis. There is no doubt about it, it seems to be describing a process whereby God brought some things into creation first, and then other things next, and then still other things later and so on until he was finished. So although “creation all-at-once” is a logical possibility for God, it just doesn’t seem to fit the Genesis account of how he actually did it. Do you admit that God could have done it all at once if he had wanted to? Surely you believe in the Omnipotence or All-Powerfulness of God. If so, then you must admit that it would have been possible for him to create everything at the same time. However, it just doesn’t seem to be the way he did it. So let’s look at another possibility.

Second, God could have created everything in shorter stages, in a short period of time. Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Now this is actually how the literal reading of the first chapter of Genesis describes it. For example, Genesis 1:3-5 says, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. . . . And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.” This pattern is followed for all six days of creation. So the literal or plain sense meaning of the account of creation in the Bible is that God created everything in six days – or in other words, in stages over a very short period of time. Not only is this the most common sense interpretation of the Book of Genesis account of creation, but it is the traditional way most Christians down through the ages have understood Creation. From a logical point of view, if we already admit that God could have created everything all-at-once like I talked about in the last point, then there is nothing to prevent us from believing that he could have also created everything through a short process. If he could have created the heavens and the earth in 6 seconds, he most certainly could have created everything in six 24-hour days. The big question for us as Christians in trying to understand how God created everything is how are we to interpret the Creation account of Genesis? Is it supposed to be a straightforward narrative account of the historical process of creation in six days, or is it supposed to be an outline of the basic historical process? If we disregard all of modern scientific theories about the age of the universe, the age of the earth, theories about the formation of the universe, the big band theory, modern scientific dating methods, and so forth – and if we simply take into consideration only the plain, literal reading of the creation account in Genesis, then it seems to me we’ll hold to the belief that God created everything in six literal days. The Genesis account seems to be describing six literal days. It seems to be talking about 24-hour days. That’s the way most Christians have understood the creation account to be. And it’s only with the rise of modern science that men have questioned that Genesis should be interpreted in any other way than literal. That Genesis certainly can be seen as teaching six 24-hour days of Creation is for certain, but my question is, is it the only way it can be seen? I have no doubt that God could have created everything in six days, just as I have no doubt he could have created everything all-at-once if he had wanted to, but my question is, is there any other alternative that holds faithfully to the biblical account and allows for some of the findings of modern science? I’m certain that some scientific theories are wrong, probably many, possibly most, but must I believe that nearly all modern scientific theories of how everything came to be are wrong? If I hold to a literal six-day Creation belief then I’m basically saying that almost all modern scientific theories concerning the universe and the earth are wrong. I’m willing to do that, but only if there are no other possibilities. Let’s now look at another possibility.

Third, God could have created everything in longer stages, in a longer period of time. Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Almost all modern scientific theories about the formation of the earth and the universe point to an age of around 15 billion years for the universe as a whole and 5 billion years for the planet earth. That’s a long period of time. Clearly, that doesn’t fit into the literal six-day Creation framework. So then the question is, could the Genesis description be more of an outline rather than a literal day-by-day description? In other words, could Genesis be describing stages of creation rather than literal 24-hour days of creation? Must we always see the word “day” found in Genesis as always meaning “24-hour day?” Because if “day” doesn’t always mean a literal 24-hour “day” then there might be room for seeing the account as describing a long process of Creation rather than a short process of Creation. Well, as it turns out The Book of Genesis itself supplies us with an answer to this question – the word “day” found in the Book of Genesis, the Hebrew word “yom” is used both literally in places and non-literally in other places. In other words, there is precedent for understanding the word “day” to mean more than 24-hours. “This is the history of the heaven and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,” Genesis 2:4, NKJV. Here we see “day” used in a non-literal, non-24 hour day way, but instead it’s being used to summarize the “days” of God’s Creation. It would be incorrect to insist that “day” in this instance be a literal 24-hour day because it’s clearly describing a longer period of time. So here is evidence, at least one piece of evidence within the Creation account itself, that there is at least the possibility that Genesis may be describing a process of creation that involves more than 24-hour days, that it may be leaving open the possibility of periods of indeterminate length. If that is so, then Genesis could be describing different stages of Creation over very long periods of time, perhaps thousands, maybe millions, possibly even billions of years. At least there is that possibility. But the big question is, is that really what Genesis is trying to describe? I’m not totally comfortable that it is, but I must consider that it might be leaving the door open for long periods of time in the creation account. At least, if it is allowing for thousands, millions or billions of years in order to create the universe and the earth, then at least Christians could discuss with modern science new theories and findings. I find it very interesting to at least consider the Genesis account in the light of modern science, although like I said before I’m not totally convinced that science and the Bible are totally compatible yet.

So where does this leave us as Christians in thinking about creation? Must we oppose nearly all of modern science and hold to a literal 24-hour day and six days of Creation to be a faithful, Bible-believing Christian? Or can we be open to the possibility that Genesis is presenting more of an outline and not a strictly literal description of Creation? After some thought and reflection on this issue, I’m convinced that one can be a Christian and faithful to the Bible and believe in either a literal 24-hour and six days of Creation belief, or a Christian can believe that the Genesis account is describing not literal days but long ages in outlining Creation.  I think there are enough unanswered questions concerning both explanations that it’s better to hold to one or the other with humility instead of absolute dogmatism. The truth is, whatever happened in Creation happened long ago, whether thousands of years ago or millions or billions, still, it’s a long time ago. The biblical record is incomplete in describing all the important details and answering all our questions. On the other hand, so are modern scientific theories incomplete; there are inconsistencies and unanswered questions that need further clarification, either to confirm or falsify them as explanations. I think at this point we need to leave room for further exploration. We need to continue to pour over the pages of the Bible, specifically the early chapters of the Book of Genesis where it describes God’s creation of the universe and earth. We need to continue to study what God revealed about how he created everything. We also need to continue to listen to modern scientific theories about the formation of the universe and the earth. We might be able to better understand biblical Creation through listening to scientific discoveries, just as science might be able to better explain the universe and the earth through listening to what the Genesis account describes.  We must assume that “all truth is God’s truth.” That’s what the early scientists assumed. They didn’t automatically assume that the Word of God would necessarily be set against the Work of God in Creation as arrived at through reason and observation. Ultimately, the two sources of knowledge, the Bible and true science should be totally compatible. The problem is our ability to see how the two fit together. I don’t automatically assume that modern science is correct in how it describes reality. The Bible describes that mankind is fallen – and that includes man’s reason, logic and powers of observation. We can be tricked, deceived by our own inability to comprehend fully. That means we can’t necessarily trust our sense observations nor our reasoning ability. We need humility in doing science. But we also need humility in our interpreting biblical passages. God’s revelation gives us an advantage over scientific discovery because it’s given specifically to inform us as opposed to nature which isn’t necessarily giving up its truths easily. But in either case, we need to remember our own human limitations, walk in humility and keep our eyes and minds open to truth.

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