I have lost count of the number of videos, magazine articles, internet articles, and teaching sessions I’ve been part of that have gone over Genesis 1, the Flood, and Behemoth from Job 40. And it is always the same. These passages are mined to show:
- That the world is 8 000 years old
- That if we had been there, we would have seen that Genesis 1 gives us a journalistic account of how creation came about. That is, it is pretty much what we would have seen with our own eyes.
- That there was a flood that covered the world with water, and so contemporary geological theories are fatally flawed.
- That there were dinosaurs still in existence at the time of Job.
These might be true or not, but none of them really touch on the core concerns of the Bible. These are the kind of questions that are of interest primarily to post-enlightenment empiricism. They are scientific questions about the world.
What is always passed over (and so one presumes that it is considered uninteresting or unimportant) is the theological interpretation of the world. Some examples include:
The way in which creation comes about in the first three days by creating order through making divisions—light versus day, heaven versus earth, land versus sea. And then the second set of three days seems to return to these basic structures and fill them: sun, moon on day four; birds and sea creatures on day five, land creatures and humanity on day six. This suggests a basic understanding of creation as being structured through binary opposition and then filled. Thus, in Genesis 1 we get a move from the original state: formless (no structure) and void (empty) and finish with a structured universe in which entities exist. When one sees that making a separation between two things is fundamental to creation, then, for example, the holiness laws, with their separation into holy and profane, clean and unclean, make far more sense.
What is also passed over is the way in which creation exists to serve humanity:
Genesis 1:14-18 Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.
Here the existence of the sun and the moon are explained simply as to give light to the world and to regulate day and night. They, along with the stars exist simply to regulate seasons, days and years. They are the celestial equivalent of a wrist watch.
That’s hardly a scientific answer. What about stars we never see on earth without the aid of, very, very powerful telescopes? What about the sun’s role in keeping the solar system stuck together, and providing energy for the other planets? What about the other planets in the solar system, or asteroids? What about the fact that the stars are actually other suns?
But it is a powerful theological answer. Humanity regularly falls into worshipping the sun, the moon, and the stars or awarding them immense power over our lives, as astrology indicates. Here Genesis 1 shows us that they are not lords over the earth. They are mere servants. Night lights for human beings. They exist for our sake.
And this is the clear teaching of the NT:
1 Timothy 6:17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.
1 Timothy 4:3-5 …men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.
Everything made by God is good, and so nothing is inherently off limits. The fact that this world has been filled with good things (as Genesis 1 painstakingly shows with it’s enunciation of the six day process of setting the universe up) tells us something about God, that God ‘richly supplies us with all things’. That is, that God is superabundantly generous to the human race.
It also tells us the stance we are to have towards the world. God has given us all things for us ‘to enjoy’. Christianity is pro-aesthetic. Things in the world are good and so should be enjoyed for their own sake. Christianity is anti-ascetic: advocating the abstaining from foods and forbidding marriage (and I would suggest that these are indicative examples, not intended to exhaust the kinds of things people who teach demonic doctrines (from 1 Tim 4:1-2) might say) is criticised in some of the harshest language Paul ever uses.
The purpose God had for creating things was so that those of us who believe and know the truth (i.e. are Christians) would gratefully share in them, sanctifying them by our reception of the word of God (believing the gospel) and prayer. That is, we are to enjoy things, and to enjoy things in a non-secular way. We are to enjoy the world as a gift from God, and so be grateful to God for it, and pray to use things for the purposes God gave them for. What we don’t do is find our security, or place our hope in the abundance of good things we have. We recognise God alone as the giver of life, and the giver of all good things.
Hence, the call on Christians to deny themselves, to pursue Christ wholeheartedly, to live a life of sacrificial love for others, needs to be understood against this backdrop. Christians are to forego enjoying the things of this world. But that is because of the demands of faith and love in the last days—the days when the ascended Christ rules over this rebellious world and all his enemies are being put under his feet. It is forgoing the good out of love, it is not asceticism for asceticism’s sake. Because everything is given for our good, we are free to use or not use them, depending on the demands of the circumstances in the context of love.
For me, this has transformed the way I relate to creation and tackle issues from alcohol, to culture and art, to work, and love of money. And I haven’t even begun to touch on the strong NT teaching about the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and creation!
And here’s the problem. It was only after I stopped reading Creation Science stuff on the topic and started reading material that they consider to have fatally compromised on the doctrine of creation, that my eyes were opened to begin to grasp this much bigger vista of a theological approach to the world.
Even if Genesis 1 is intended to be taken literally, I am very grateful that God has allowed me to grasp this way of seeing the world as existing as his good gift to his people, to be enjoyed with gratitude. I consider myself to have gained by losing the one to gain the other. Grasping this world as God’s good gift changes everything. It gives purpose and meaning, not just to human beings, but to all things.