The Big Story #1: God's Creation
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
Genesis means beginnings. Not just chapters 1 and 2, but the whole book of Genesis is an origins story – a story of God’s creation and his purpose and plan for it. For now let us focus on chapters 1-11 which together not only describe the lives of the first generations of God’s people but foreshadow much of the story to come.
This origins story differs from many ancient narratives in that our world was not created by accident, nor by necessity – it was created out of grace. There is no division between a spiritual which is ‘good’ and a physical which is ‘bad’, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
This “good” that God had made, had within it amazing potential. God created humanity in his own image and he gave them dominion over everything (Genesis 1:27-28). This was our mandate and calling for how to live. Yet reading these early chapters it’s inescapable to see the growing chasm between the world God called “good” and the descent into chaos and rebellion generation after generation. There was the perfection of Eden, the potential for the “righteous” (Genesis 6:9) who “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22), and yet there was the terrible potential for evil:
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
Well that escalated quickly!
Only 4 chapters ago God created man and woman. Following the disobedience of Adam and Eve, brother murdered brother (Genesis 4:8), a lust for revenge and hatred consumed (Genesis 4:23-24) and God’s heart was grieved (Genesis 6:6). In Romans 5 we read that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). That one man was Adam, through his (and Eve’s) disobedience, sin came into the world, it penetrated and spread like a virus. So pervasive was it “that every intention of the thoughts of his [humanity’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Reading that verse from Romans we see how this sin affects all of us, even now.
But it’s helpful to see God’s creation and the ‘fall’ of humanity alongside each other because even in these 11 early chapters we see God’s creative grace again and again. When God’s people strayed, God showed grace. When Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden, God clothed them (Genesis 3:21). When Cain was left to wander the earth, God put a mark on him lest anyone should attack him (Genesis 4:15). When the wickedness of man was great in the earth, God’s chosen person, Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD (Genesis 6:8).
In these early chapters we already get a picture of God’s character, one who is holy and just and yet is full of grace and mercy.
This is most clear in that classic Sunday school story of Noah’s ark! I guess it’s cute with all the animals and that, but considering the extent of God’s judgement I guess that’s where the cuteness stops. This story demonstrates the consequence of sin and judgement but moreover reveals God’s grace and mercy. He loved the world too much to completely give up on and so made a plan to save it, to redeem it, and chose someone to make it happen. This story has echoes of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and more than that Christ’s death on the cross. God is in the business of redeeming his people.
Great themes of redemption, election, salvation and judgement that will continue through the whole of scripture kick off here. And when God brought Noah and his family through the flood safely, he made a covenant with them. A covenant is pretty much a biblical word for an agreement, a bit like a business deal you shake hands on. God made a promise and sealed it with a sign (Genesis 9:9-17). To make a covenant was a regular feature between God and his people, many promises were to come, and God opened up a new start for their relationship.
The fresh start however didn’t mean a perfect start, Noah soon after disgraced himself and it didn’t take long for humanity’s rebellion to reach new heights – literally. Rather than pre-flood sinful chaos, post-flood humanity were organised and united in their rebellion and selfishness – “Let us make a name for ourselves” they said as they aimed to build a tower as high as the heavens. The irony is clear in that the LORD has to come down to see it! There is no other name higher than the Lord’s, no glory or worship directed to any other.
However God is the same God who had overcome humanity’s previous mistakes and whilst their sin had consequence God wasn’t finished with us yet. He had a plan to choose someone through whom his purposes for his creation could still be fulfilled…