" />
Announcement:

Please join us for worship on Good Friday at 6:00 p.m.

The First Things : In the Beginning

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Apr 26, 1998

Genesis 1:1-2

Download Audio

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn again with me to Genesis, chapter 1, and we’ll look again at the first couple of verses. We said as we started our study that Genesis means origins or beginnings and it lays the groundwork not only for the book of Exodus but for the rest of scripture. The principles, the foundation that is set forth there is basic to everything else in scripture. The book, of course, begins with God's creation of the world, but its early chapters record in addition to the creation of the world, three low points in primeval history. It records the fall, the flood and the incident at the tower of Babel. In each instance, God responds to those low points in both judgment and grace. So from the very beginning of God's dealings with us recorded in the book of Genesis, both His justice and His mercy, both His judgment and His grace are set forth. The book of Genesis, we said, can be divided into two great parts. The first eleven chapters record for us primeval history, all of the history before the time of the patriarchs. And then beginning with Genesis 12, and running through the end of the book, all the way to chapter 50, we have a record of patriarchal history. So primeval history in the first eleven chapters, patriarchal history from chapter 12 to the end, and of course that means we begin with Abraham and go through his sons, his descendants, from Genesis 12 on. This book of Genesis, and especially its first section, is designed to remind us of a number of central truths to the faith.

First of all, that God created the world and that He is distinct from the world. We’ll talk in just a few moments about some of the people around Israel believed about the world. Some thought that the world was a part of God. That God had brought the world into being, but that the world was actually an extension of God Himself and so they thought that in many ways the world itself, the trees, the land, etc., was divine. And the account that is given in Genesis makes it clear that this is not the case. God created the world and is distinct from it, though He is not unconcerned for it. He's very concerned for the world, but He's distinct from the world. He cannot be confused with the world that He's created. We also learn that God shaped His creation from formlessness into order. That's what we're going to focus on tonight. The fact that in the original creation there was formlessness and emptiness and darkness and God moves that original creation into a state of order and fullness and light, and so this is set forth in the first chapters of Genesis. Notice also, that the account given to us in Genesis 1 and 2 makes it clear that creation itself was good. In many of the world religions, and in the eyes of many today, the creation itself is considered to be evil. Matter is considered to be evil or a lower form of being than Spirit, and throughout this account that sort of attack is shown to be false because the creation that God has brought into being is good, even though we live in a corrupted form of that creation. Even though we live in a fallen world now, creation was originally good.

The first chapters of Genesis are also meant to remind us that man in his sin and rebellion is completely responsible for the current state of things in the world with regard to its corruption. Very often various philosophies and religions and world views say that evil is part and parcel of the universe. It's just an inescapable reality. You get this in some of the eastern thought as well, where good and evil are seen to be equally ultimate counterparts, and then sometimes they are seen — even the distinction between good and evil seem to be an illusion because everything is the same — but good and evil is all enmeshed in the nature of things. Whereas Genesis makes it clear that the world which God created was good and by man's rebellion we brought corruption into this world. So instead of blaming God for the way things are now, Genesis makes it clear that man is responsible for the fall and for the corruption of the original creation. And of course God's character is revealed as He responds to the various low points of the fall and of the flood and of the incident at the tower of Babel. God's justice and His mercy are set forth.

Now last week we only got to Genesis 1:1, and as we looked at Genesis 1:1 we saw that Moses makes it clear there that God alone, the God of Israel, the one true God is the maker of heaven and earth. And we looked at four aspects which are stressed there in Genesis 1:1. That God is the source of the creation. In the beginning God, are the first words of this great book. We saw the effect of God's work as the production of the world. He brought the entirety of the universe into being. The heavens and the earth is simply the shorthand way of saying everything. Everything is comprehended in that phrase. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He brought into production everything that is.

We also looked at the manner or the way or the method which God brought the world into being. He created. He crafted the world out of nothing. He brought it into being. There's nothing parallel in our experience to that. I'm always amused when some scientist, working with tremendous resources and laboratory apparatuses, announces that he has been able to bring matter into being that was not in existence or is able to destroy matter and take it out of existence. Now think about the tremendous mechanism that is necessary for him to make that claim. And I pass no judgment on the particular scientific value of the claim. But think of the tremendous apparatus which is necessary for him to be able to make that claim in the first place. The power that must be brought to bear on that particular process. For God to create the whole of created reality. Think of the power involved in that. Think of the power necessary to bring into being the heavens and the earth. And of course the time of the work is discussed in the very first word of Genesis in the beginning. The absolute beginning of everything with regard to creation and time. God is prior to it and God in the beginning created. Now having said that, let's look again at the first two verses of Genesis, chapter 1:

Genesis 1:1-2

Father, we come again to a great passage, a passage which lays the very foundations of the faith and we ask that by the Spirit we would have eyes opened to the power of these truths and to their implications for our own faithful, daily walk with You. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

The first two verses of Genesis bring us face to face with ultimate reality - the God who creates heaven and earth. And that reality Genesis means to set, that reality of God, Genesis means to set as the arena of our everyday conscious experience. We’re never to be apart from thinking about that reality as we conduct ourselves in life. The reality that God is the creator and that we are answerable to Him. I want to look at three things that we can learn in the passage tonight. We looked at verse 1 in detail last week, but I want to rehearse a couple of things that we saw there and then add two things to it.

I. Christians should appreciate the implications of Genesis 1 cosmogony.
The first thing again I want to stress is that we as Christians should appreciate the implications of Genesis 1 with regard to the account of the origins of the world. Scientists and philosophers call the study of the origins of our world cosmogony and Genesis 1 gives us a biblical cosmogony, a biblical view of how the world was brought into being. And we as Christians should not avoid reflecting upon the implications of what Genesis 1 says about the origins of the world. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The first thing I want to emphasize, and we looked at this last week, is that the Christian account, the Judeo-Christian account of creation, the biblical account of creation is not intellectually disadvantaged in the modern world. Don't think that there is some agreed upon alternative opinion to the Christian doctrine of creation. There's not. In fact last week we said there are only three views out there. You can either believe that there was nothing, and then there was something. And there are very few who can swallow that pill. Or you can believe that there has always been something, that matter is eternal, but that somehow matter became more organized and exploded into a greater reality than it had ever had in its misty past for eternity. There's some sort of primordial blob that then became the world that we have. Now there are two problems at least with that view. On the one hand, that view begs the very question of where did everything come from? You know, when someone says, "Well, there was always this blob and it became the universe." I'm asking, "No, no, no. I want to know where the blob came from. I want to know where the thing came from which all the potentiality sprang." You see, this is the problem with evolution as an alternative to creation. Evolution doesn't answer the question that I'm wanting asked. Evolution tells me that matter progressed and it progressed favorably. Now that's an empirical question again and it's an empirical problem for evolution today. But let's leave that issue aside. I want to know where the stuff came from in the first place and it's always been there is not the answer, that's the question. Now I've got an answer for that, but the world doesn't. And so we must not think that somehow the Christian view of the world has been exploded. It hasn't.

And it's also interesting that the very objections that are often raised against the Christian view are in part entailed in this view that matter has always been. For instance, some people have a hard time believing in an omnipotent, in an all-powerful Creator who brought this world into being. But let me ask you this: If this world came into being through the atomic sequences resulting from the interactions in a primordial blob, in this blob of matter that's always been, doesn't that blob of matter have all power and potentiality in it? I mean maybe we should fall down and worship the blob because it has some of the same characteristics that people object to in a Christian doctrine of God. So it's interesting on the one hand this theory that matter has always been begs the question. It doesn't even begin to ask the question and you can't just say, "Well, that's not a good question." Often times you’ll hear atheists in a debate saying, ‘"What were the origins of the universe?" is a bad question." That's very interesting. Most of the most brilliant philosophers in the history of the world have devoted a considerable part of their lives asking precisely that question. So saying well that's not a good question isn't going to satisfy many people. So as we go into the marketplace of ideas as believers, when we say that we believe that there was nothing of this universe and that there was a time in which there was no matter and before which existed only God and that God brought that matter into being. We are not arguing a position that is philosophically untenable or disrespectable at all. We have a good place to argue our point of view in our world today. And that reminds us that the whole system of naturalistic atheism in particular is in crisis today. There are all sorts of people questioning the very nature of Darwinist and evolutionary assumptions in our day and time. Even those who hold to those particular views recognize the enormous problem inherent in them. And let me say that philosophically and religiously there are even greater problems. Let me just give you one example. There is no idea more pervasive in our society today than the ‘fact’ that all people and all ideas are equal. They must be treated with equal respect and equal value under the law, not simply as a convention of political ideology but as a rock solid fact of the reality of nature. But friends, if there is no God and there is no divine law giver, I want to ask a question: How is it that we arrived at this idea that all people are equal? If we simply evolve from the primordial blob who's to say that my group of people who evolved from that blob aren't better than your group of people who evolved from the blob? I mean after all we're just part of the blob. And maybe my people, there are more of us that are stronger and we have better weapons, maybe we can force our own views on your group. Who's to say that we are not inherently better than you? You see, there are people who want to argue "Let's leave God out of this. We all just evolved from the blob." But they still want to believe that all people are equal. You can't have your cake and eat it there. You've either got to reject this fanciful idea that all people have inherent rights, that all people must be treated as if they are in the image of God is basically what that is saying. You've got to reject that if you’re going to reject the God in whose image they were created. Now to question that view in society today is the quickest way I know to get you branded as a heretic. And we may not believe in God any more but we do believe in heresy and questioning the core values of liberal society is a quick way to be branded as a heretic. But, can the view of the world which our modern world holds sustain an intelligent, logical belief that all people are created equal? I mean let's face it. Most social anthropologists, most historical anthropologists believe that we did not descend from one pair of human parents. They believe that the human race evolved from various points all across the world. Or who's to say that one branch of that human race wasn't superior to another branch. You see, as a Christian I have an answer to that kind of thing, but as a naturalist, as an atheist, I don't have an answer to that kind of thinking, and that is why from the very beginnings of the time that Darwin's theory began to be propagated, that people began to see the social ramifications of Darwin's thought.

Darwin's thought allowed there to be a ‘super race.’ Darwin's thought allowed there to be discrimination against some people because they could be pronounced as inherently less valuable than others. Christian thought won't allow for that because we have a different view of the creation and we have a different view of man. Very few at least, today, are willing to stand up and say yes, "I am a racist. Racism is good, racism is great. We ought to have more of it out there." But on a Darwinist ground there is no logical reason why we ought not to be racists. And there's a reason why Darwinism was so popular in 19th century England. Why, everyone knew that the highest form of humanity was a 19th century English gentlemen and everything else was lower on the scale of being. It appealed perfectly to the stratified, classified view of society which was held by those in Victorian England. But you see, you can't have that kind of classified view of humanity within a Christian frame. Dr. Cameron talked about that when he looked at Genesis 1 with us. Always men are attempting to make ultimate divisions between humanity, one being inherently better than the other. Genesis 1 won't let you do that because all mankind has been created and invested with the image of God. Now the Christian you see can stand up in the marketplace and talk intelligently about those views. Those who are naturalists and atheists cannot. Don't think that you go in the marketplace of ideas defenselessly.

Let me also mention that the very first verse of Genesis reminds us of the Creator-creature distinction. That is against all views that confuse God and the world, and philosophers call those views pantheism, the belief that the world is God and God is the world. Over against all views that God and the world are the same or identified or part of one another, the Genesis account reminds us that God is not the world, He's not part of the world, and the world is not God, God made the world. And whenever we begin to confuse that very simple and basic fact, we get into trouble. When we begin to act as if we are God and displace Him, we have already taken the first step to disaster. And the very first verse of Genesis clears up that problem. God is distinct from His creation, He brought it into being as Lord over it, and He alone has the right to make laws for it. He is an all-powerful, personal being. And this is part of the beauty of the Genesis account. The Lord is an all-powerful, personal being and He brought the world into being. He made the universe and so the creation reflects Him and because He is real, and because He is personal the creation reflects His meaning. This created order that He has made is not meaningless. It is filled with meaning.

Now, at this point after some philosophical and theological musings, my wife would be likely to tap me on the shoulder and say, "Yeah, but after Sarah Kennedy has thrown up and I'm doing the dishes, so what?" Bring this down to earth now. Let me give you an example. We live in a day and age where there are a lot of people who want to believe that there is no God who brought the world into being. That this world just always has been. It's a spectacular world, it's a marvelous world, it's an intricate world. There are lots of amazing things about it, but it's not a personal world. It's an intricate mechanism but that world doesn't have a relationship with me because that world doesn't think and feel and plan and organize. It just is. It's just the way it is.

Well, that's interesting. It sounds real nice when you’re in a classroom. But how about in the funeral parlor? How about when you’re laying your daughter to rest or your wife to rest or your husband to rest? Are you ready to swallow that? No meaning. But we provide the meaning to our lives. We supply the meaning. All meaning is subjective. We impose meaning on reality. Well, that sounds great in philosophy I at university. How does that play in the funeral parlor? You see, in the funeral parlor we want to believe that life objectively has meaning. That there is a personal force in this universe. That life does mean something. The trials and the tragedies and the triumphs of our life actually have meaning because there's a God who has ordered the world and supplied it with meaning and made it to work the way that it works. But again friends, you can't have it both ways. You can't say, "No, there's no God. That is the way it is. But there's meaning." You can't have it that way. It won't work that way. I got a call from Anne this afternoon. A friend of ours just lost a child. She was to give birth to that child this Tuesday. Now tonight, she will go and give birth to a stillborn child. Now, are we really prepared to look that person in the eye and say, "There is no meaning there."? That's just part of the way it is. It's just the way the universe works. You see, there's some people in the world who want us to be brave and do that. They’re wrong. They’re terribly wrong. They are wickedly wrong. That's why Genesis 1:1 matters, because this world isn't just the way it is. It's the way it is because God made it, a personal God who relates to us and who cares about us. That's who made this world. Genesis 1:1 makes all the difference in the world. This isn't just stuff for theologians and philosophers to speculate on in a seminary classroom. This is the stuff of day to day life. And apart of this truth, the rest of reality makes no sense.

II. Christians should pay attention to the nature of primordial matter.
There is another thing I'd like us to see tonight and you’ll see it in verse 2. I want you to look at the way God moves His original creation from disorganization to organization. Look at what the nature of primordial matter, that first matter that God brought into being, look what it looks like here in the first stage of creation. Read verse 2: "The earth was formless and void and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving on the surface of the water." Here in verse 2 we see the chaos of the first matter, and God's gradual beginning of forming it into the creation that we now know. Derek Kidner says, "The somber terms of verse 2 throw into relief the mounting glory of the seven days; and if God alone brings form out of formlessness, He alone sustains it."

I want you to notice three characteristics of the original creation for you there in verse 2. The original creation is formless. It is void or empty. And it is dark. Look at these words: "The earth was formless and void and darkness was over the surface of the deep." All the seminarians here are remembering now from John Currid's class the wonderful alliteration here. What was the original creation like? It was tohu wavohu bohu That's exactly how it reads. It was formless and it was empty. That's what the original creation was like. And furthermore it was hasek. It was dark. Those three characteristics - formless, empty and dark are the nature of this first matter that God has brought into being. It is without form. It's a trapless waste. It's empty, its chaotic, it's void, it's barren, it's vacuous, it's dark, it's obscure.

And it's very interesting that in visions of judgment in the Bible, judgment comes when God returns the current order to a state of chaos, emptiness and darkness. Let me just give you two examples. Turn with me in the Bible to Jeremiah 4. Jeremiah is talking about the evil of Israel and what God does in response to that evil. In Jeremiah 4, verses 22 and 23, listen to what he says about the way Israel is acting and listen to what he says about what God is going to do about it in His judgment.: "For My people are foolish," Jeremiah 4:22. "For my people are foolish, they know Me not. They are stupid children and they have no understanding. They are shrewd to do evil, but to do good they do not know. I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light." What is God's judgment against wickedness? A return to a created order that does not evidently bear the stamp of His image. Formlessness, emptiness, darkness.

Now Jesus picks up on this as well. You remember three times in Matthew. In Matthew 8 and in Matthew 20 and in Matthew 25 He speaks about outer darkness. In Matthew 25, verse 30 for instance, He says that those who do not use the talents which the Lord has given them for His glory and the good of His people, they will, as Jesus says, in Matthew 25, chapter 30, ‘be thrown into the outer darkness and in that place will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Now let me say very quickly, Genesis is not implying that the original creation was bad, but it is reminding us that one of the blessings of God was the taking of that original creation and forming it into order and fullness and light. So that the withdrawal of that order and fullness and light is a sign of God's blessing. He gives you a gift, you reject it, you rebel against Him, what does He do? He takes it away. And so throughout the scriptures, and you will see this in Isaiah 34 and the other passages, too, the prophets will take us right back to Genesis 1, verse 2 and they will speak of God's judgment in terms of God withdrawing the blessing of form and fullness and light.

Notice in verse 2 as well that in the midst of this empty, this formless, this dark place the Spirit of God is already at work. He is the first mover. God at work in this primordial chaos. The Spirit of God is an Old Testament term that emphasizes God's creating and sustaining energy going out to do His bidding. The deep in this passage is a word which is akin to another term that was often applied to the god's of the sea who rivaled the Samaritan gods in their creation story. But here it simply refers to the waters of the ocean, the deep. The Spirit of God is already at work in the process of shaping the creation.

Now let me say this. So far, and what I'm about to say now will also hold for the rest of this account. So far, there is absolutely not a trace of myth to this account. If you’re a literary scholar, you know that so far you haven't seen a single evidence of myth here. You have probably read good myths about the creation story. Maybe you've read J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, where he gives a mythical story about how the world came into being and the Vanyar and the Maia and all these other people were singing and doing all this other stuff and the world came into being. That's a good myth. And maybe you've read Isaac Asimov and his trilogy on creation. That's a good myth. This is not a myth however. A long time ago, C. S. Lewis, whose business was myth, that's one of the things that he taught, said that this account has no marks of myth.

Let me give you a good example of a myth that was contemporary with this account of the creation. It's a myth that comes from the Babylonian creation account called the Enuma Elish, and it was written to show how Marduk came to be the chief god in Babylon. This myth was magically recited in order to influence natural events and to get the flavor of how the Babylonians conceived of god and man and creation. Listen to this summary. In the beginning there were two gods. Apsu and Tiamat , we just mentioned Tiamat here, who represented the fresh waters, male, and the marine waters, female. I don't know - fresh, marine - I don't know. They cohabited and produced a second generation of divine beings. Soon Apsu was suffering from insomnia because the young deities were making so much noise. He could just not get to sleep. He wanted to kill these noisy upstarts despite the protests of his spouse. Every husband relates to that. But before he managed to do that, Ea, the god of wisdom and magic, put Apsu to sleep under a magic spell and killed him. Not to be outdone, wife Tiamat plotted revenge on her husband's killer and those who aided in the killer. Her first move was to take the second husband whose name was Kingu and then she raised an army for her retaliation plans. At this point the gods appealed to the god Marduk to save them and he happily accepted the challenge on the condition that if he was victorious over Tiamat, they would make him the chief over all gods. The confrontation between Tiamat and Marduk ended in a blazing victory for Marduk. He captured Tiamat's followers and made them slaves. He then cut the corpse of Tiamat in half, thus creating the heaven from one half and the earth from the other half. He ordered the early supporters of Tiamat to take care of the world and shortly thereafter Marduk conceived another plan. He had Kingu killed and arranged to make man out of his blood. In the words of the story, man's lot is to be burdened with the toil of the gods. Now there's a good myth. But what we've read so far in Genesis is not a myth. It doesn't bear any of the marks of a myth and that's important for us to remember. The Genesis account is unique in all the creation stories that were contemporary to it. All the creation stories that you can gain from the second millennium in the Mediterranean world speak not only of the creation of the world but also the creation of the gods. The only account that speaks of God always existing and of the world being brought into being is Genesis. Even among the Greeks, the gods were caught up with the world in the original creation. Only in the Genesis account was God distinct from and the origin of everything else.

This passage here in Genesis 1, verse 2 reminds us that God will turn the formless mass into a well-formed and ordered world. And that's basically what is going to happen in the days of creation. In the six days of creation, and we’ll look at them just very briefly before we close tonight. God orders this chaos into form. And this is also a picture of how God works in providence and in nature. God crafts from formlessness form, from emptiness to fullness, from darkness to light. And that's also a picture of how God works in our hearts. It's not a mistake that the work of the Lord Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts has been called by the spirit under inspiration regeneration, recreation. Because what the Spirit does in our hearts parallels what God does in bringing form from formlessness, fullness from emptiness.

III. Christians should appreciate the significance of the order/structure of creation.
One last thing before we close. We need to appreciate the significance of the order, the structure of creation. If we were to read from Genesis 1, verse 3 all the way to Genesis 2, verse 3 we would have for us in short scope described the seven days of creation: the six days in which God creates and the Sabbath day on which He rests. I want you to look at the passage briefly. Scan it with your eyes and let me point you to some verses. I want you to note that whereas Genesis 1:2 says that the earth was formless, days one, two and three are all devoted to giving the world form. If you’ll look from verse 3 to verse 10, you will see that each of those days speaks of God's shaping the world, ordering it into form out of formlessness. Then you could also look at verse 11 through 13, but especially in verses 14 through 31, fullness is brought into the creation. Whereas the creation was originally empty, God brings to it fullness. Days four, five and six are all devoted to God's bringing fullness to the creation from emptiness. You notice that one, two and three are devoted to form; four, five and six are devoted to fullness. The first day of form and the first day of fullness are both devoted to what? The creation of light. So from formlessness and emptiness and darkness, God brings into the creation order and fullness and light. And so He impresses on the creation the stamp of His own character and that's why as we sang, right before the sermon, that's why Psalm 19 can say, "The heavens declare the glory of God" because His order and His fullness and His light have been built into the creation as we see it. And so day to day utters forth praise to Him. And that is why the apostle Paul can say in Romans, chapter 1 that we see in the creation the reality of God. It testifies that He is the maker of heaven and earth and that we ought to worship Him. Let's look to Him now in prayer.

Father, we thank You for this passage. It's so basic that it's hard to describe, O Lord. We assume so many of these things. Help us not to take them for granted, especially in a mocking and a cynical world that has taken You for granted. We praise You and we pray that You would help us to articulate with grace and with love, our absolute confidence in this Your truth. And we give You all the praise and all the glory, we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.