This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Genesis series “In Beginning”
When we studied the Bible in seminary, we began with the twelfth chapter of Genesis with God’s calling of Abraham to become a great nation. We studied how the Jews came together as a nation and then later how the Christian Church was formed. Unfortunately, there are eleven chapters that come earlier in Genesis and I think they lay important groundwork for understanding the rest of the book.
The Bible begins “In the beginning God.” In the Hebrew text there is no direct article, so the Hebrew reads, “In beginning God.” That might not be a big deal because most translators just supply the direct article. However, the lack of one can give a different picture of how God works in the world. We usually see a time line and there is a start to it and an end to it; we are somewhere in between the beginning and the end. That may well be the way it is, but if we try to interpret this phrase without the direct article, then we think of God as being at the core of everything, like the nucleus of an atom. He is in the center and holding all things together, everything emanates from Him. He is the start of all things and is the force holding all things together. Even solid matter is made up of molecules that are some distance apart so the solid matter is mainly empty space. We call the force that holds all things together molecular force; we don’t know why it is there, it just is. When something is heated, it increases the molecules’ motion and the space between them increases. So, the molecules in a solid are relatively close together, and as it is heated the molecules move more and become further apart, turning the solid into a liquid, or melting it. Further heating a liquid makes the molecules even further apart and it turns into a gas. The activity of the molecules overcomes some of the force that is holding them together.
Everything that we call physical matter operates that way. Our floor is that way, so are the walls and the piano, so is the air in the room. All things are made up of molecules held together by a force. Everything begins with that force. Without it everything would be void and formless, the way it was before creation. If the force ever stopped holding things together, then all matter would melt down, becoming a liquid, then a gas, then a totally formless void. The creation account in Genesis may be saying that God is always beginning everything. He is constantly holding everything together and without Him nothing would stay together. He is not a clockmaker who one time in the past made the world, wound it up, and then has been letting it run down ever since. Without the direct article, “the” beginning is something that is going on forever. He is still at the core of the universe holding it together. Chapter one of Genesis is then a description of how creation emanates outward from God.
That provides a picture of how our lives can operate. They can be like the chaos that exists without God holding the order together. Our lives can be like molecules randomly bumping around without any force holding them together. Our lives may be like that because our self-will does not allow God to hold our lives together. Without the force of God in our lives, our lives don’t have much meaning. “In beginning,” God can come into the core of our lives and start to create order. As we begin to know Him, He begins to put our lives together. As we worship God, He brings into us an order that reflects His very soul, we become like Him; we become His children.
Most people today see life as a constant struggle to find ways to fulfill our desires. Since we have desires, people think life is just about finding ways to fulfill theirs without doing too much harm to others. Some people even see marriage as operating that way. They see their spouse as existing to fulfill their desires, not only sexually, but also their desires to be accepted, appreciated, loved and nurtured. When their spouse does not meet their needs, they begin to think they married the wrong person and look for another mate. God is always calling us to move into a life that reflects His order. For God, the purpose of our lives is not to fulfill our desires, but to fit into God’s order. Then marriage is two people working together to build a new creation, a marriage. We take something that hadn’t existed before and bring it into existence. We become a part of the eternal creating force of God. To build something outside of ourselves, we must give up our selves in order to make this new creation of a marriage work. When we do, that we participate in and reflect the order God has brought into the universe. We don’t build our lives to be thoroughly entertained or to meet our desires. We live our lives to glorify God, to fit into God’s created order.
We also must notice in Genesis that God is the one doing the creating and that He is eternal and at the core of the universe. This is totally different from all the other religions that existed around Israel. They worshiped various created things. They thought the creation was important and believed they found their meaning for life in created things. The Egyptians worshiped the sun; others worshiped other heavenly bodies. Some worshiped bulls or snakes. They worshiped different parts of what God had made; they did not think to worship the God who made everything. They thought they would find meaning for their lives in what God had created; they thought something in the created order would be significant enough to make their lives worthwhile. Some even went from god to god to find something worthwhile. We do the same today; we try to find meaning in that which is made. If a Volkswagen doesn’t make your life worthwhile, then maybe a BMW will. If a small house doesn’t work for you, then maybe having a bigger one will. People change material things and friendships in a constant search for meaning. However, it is God who is “in beginning” and worshiping Him is the only thing that will give meaning to our lives. It is only through God that we find a life that is worthwhile. In the newsletter that is going out this week, I quoted Augustine who prayed to God, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” We were made to fit into God’s order because we were created to walk with Him. Nothing else is big enough to satisfy us.
Today, most think that the world has always existed and God is somehow inside the world. If we imagine God, we automatically put Him somewhere inside the world. We have a hard time imagining what it means that God is creator of the world and stands outside our “infinite” universe. The fact that God is beyond the universe doesn’t fit into the way we look at the world. We see the world as infinite and infinity can’t be transcend infinity. A science fiction book that my eleventh grade math teacher gave me has helped me come closer to imagining what that means. It is called Flatland and is about life in two dimensions, like life on a table top. The author set up a whole social structure of how figures live in that flat plane, how they see each other and how they communicate with each other. Then a cube came into the two-dimensional world. In that world, he was seen as a square for they would only see one slice of the cube. He had an amazing power. He could disappear from one place and suddenly appear somewhere else. When they asked him how he did that, he said he went up. Up was a concept that was just about impossible to explain to flatlanders. When the cube went up, he transcended the plane. We live in three dimensions and to think about how God transcends our world, we need to think of a world in more than three dimensions. That will help us begin to think about how transcendence might work. Flatland is an interesting book and helps expand the way we think. They say Einstein read the book a few times a year just to keep his mind working in ways beyond our world; he spoke of a fourth dimension. God must be somewhere beyond our three-dimensional world and He made or is making this three-dimensional world in which we live.
The fact that God is creator is also the basis for His moral authority. God gave commandments, but they would be no better than what someone else says we should do unless God has deeper knowledge of the world. I think we have trouble with moral authority today because we first abandoned the idea of God being the creator. If God is the creator, then He should know how it all operates. When any of us gets a new computer or an appliance, we need to read the instructions about to how to make it operate. The authority of those who have written the manual comes from their having built the machine. Their “moral authority” is based on the fact that they are the creator of the machine. It works the same with God’s commandments. They carry moral authority because they came from the one who made the universe. When we give up the idea of God being the creator, it also takes away the moral authority of what He has said. That is pretty much where we are today, folks are looking for some basis for a moral authority. We can try to convince people that it is smart to follow what God has said or some other moral authority, but that doesn’t carry nearly the authority that it would if the creator of the universe spoke those words. It is vital that we know God is the creator of the universe.