THE MESSAGE OF GENESIS 1
by Bob Wheeler
The Bible opens with a direct challenge to the thinking of sinful, rebellious man: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1; NKJV). Fallen humanity tries to deny this basic fact, for fallen man does not want to see himself accountable to a single, all-powerful Supreme Being. And yet the only way to make sense of reality is to see it for what it really is: the result of intelligent design, the creation of God.
This point cannot be emphasized too strongly. It is the whole difference between secular and Christian thought. The creation narrative in Gen. 1:1-2:3 pictures God as systematically structuring reality so that it functions as a harmonious whole. Human civilization depends on our discerning the rationale that is behind it all. Science, government and the arts all presuppose a rational order in the universe, a logical structure to reality. But where does this structure and order originate? The ancient Greeks struggled with this question; but the revelation vouchsafed to ancient Israel was clear and unequivocal: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It is this alone that makes human life possible and purposeful.
As we work our way through the narrative we see God systematically ordering creation. At each step of the way we are told, “And God saw that it was good” (vv. 4,10,12,18,21,25), and in the end it says “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (v. 31). The universe was not created in a haphazard, helter-skelter sort of way – it was purposefully structured to function harmoniously. The practical implication of this is far-reaching. Everything in life has purpose and meaning – it was designed to function a certain way, and can achieve fulfillment only as it functions the way it was intended. This carries with it moral implications as well. We have mandate to make things work the way they are supposed to work, which means that it is morally wrong to misuse or abuse, to hurt or to harm others.
The culmination of creation is man himself. Once the environment has been carefully structured and prepared, God created man to inhabit it. And since man’s relationship with God is the central theme of the Bible, our text goes into some detail about what is expected of humans.
First of all, we are told that man was created “in the image of God’ (vv. 26,27). This is what sets man apart from all the rest of creation – this is what makes him unique among all created things. Only man has the mental and moral capacity to create civilization, and no theory of evolution can account for this. In the Bible there is a fundamental difference between man and beast.
Moreover we are told that “male and female He created them” (v. 27), and “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply . . .’” (v. 28). In other words, gender differences are God-ordained. The text does not elaborate on what these differences may be, and it is very easy to fall into stereotypes. Nevertheless there are undeniably physical and psychological differences between the sexes, and they were largely put there by God Himself. Human society was meant to function on a male / female dynamic, and we only create problems for ourselves when we attempt to ignore or override it.
And then God says, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (v. 28). This is what is sometimes referred to as “the cultural mandate” – the idea that man is not just simply to live a hunter / gatherer existence, but to engage in agriculture and industry. God created us to be workers and managers, to make improvements on our environment, and to create prosperity for our communities while preserving our resources for our posterity.
Here then is the difference between the Bible and both ancient pagan thought and modern secular thought. According to the Bible the universe was created by God, and as a result everything has meaning and purpose. Our goal in life should be to fulfill God’s purpose for us, to live our lives the way He intended us to. Modern man, however, wants to declare His independence, to live his life his own way, to decide for himself what is the best course of action to take. But try as he might to ignore God’s will he must still live in a universe created by Him. When we begin denying the existence of moral absolutes and even of universal truths, we have destroyed the foundations of civilization itself. To deny God is to render human society dysfunctional. In the end reality is inescapable, and we only hurt ourselves when we refuse to do things God’s way.