From the series, Ten Turning Points That Make All the Difference
God’s work in this world is marked by at least ten crucial turning points, sovereign acts of God that make all the difference for you and for me.
- The creation of the universe
- The creation of man and woman in God’s image
- The Fall
- God’s calling of a people for himself
- God’s ongoing self-revelation
- The Incarnation of Jesus Christ
- The Crucifixion
- The Resurrection
- The coming of the Holy Spirit
- The promised return of Jesus Christ
This post begins a new series on these ten turning points.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Don’t let the simplicity fool you, or the familiarity, either. This truth really does make all the difference. It is the introduction to an account of creation ex nihilo, out of nothing. God spoke and there was light. He spoke and the earth was formed, and life came to be, and finally human life.
There are at least four creation accounts in the Bible, five if you count Genesis 1 and 2 separately. Besides the Genesis accounts that come most readily to mind, there is also Job 38 through 41, Proverbs 8:22-31, and John 1:1-3, 10. Brief allusions to creation are sprinkled elsewhere all around the Scriptures. They all speak of God’s sovereign and joyful work in making a universe totally distinct from himself, yet totally dependent upon him.
There is considerable controversy even among Christians regarding how and when God did this. In a spirit of mere Christianity, I intend to focus on that which we can agree on; for there is plenty of that, enough to make all the difference. When compared to creation accounts in other traditions and worldviews, the biblical picture is different indeed.
I have written previously of how it differs from other ancient traditions, quoting from page 32 and following of Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration:
Genesis is quite unlike the Mesopotamian cosmogonies [accounts of the origin of the cosmos], for instance, which are intertwined with theogonies—accounts of the origins of the gods. In them, we are not told so much about how the universe came about—the origin of the worlds is really accidental or secondary in ANE [Ancient Near East] accounts—but how the gods emerged. And in addition to the fact that these Mesopotamian cosmogonies are really concerned with the ancestors of the gods and how they got themselves organized, they do not even identify these gods as creators. So when it comes to the elements of the universe (the waters/deep, darkness), a deity either controls one or is one….
Further, Yahweh simply speaks, thereby creating; in other ANE cosmogonies, deities struggle to divide the waters. Also in Genesis 1, the astral bodies are not gods (as in ANE accounts) but are creations.…
Gerhard von Rad makes the powerful point that Israel’s worldview, as reflected in Genesis, drew a sharp demarcating line between God and the world. The material world is purged of any quality of the divine or the demonic….
In Genesis, we read of something marvelously different than in [Ugaritic cosmogony], with its gods and hostile powers (darkness, the waters/the deep): “These cosmic monsters are no longer primordial forces opposed to the Israelite God at the beginning of creation. Instead, they are creatures like other creatures rendered in this story.” Genesis 1 depicts a “divine mastery” over these forces….
In contrast to ANE myths, there are no rivals to the Creator in Genesis [chapter] 1—let alone preexistent matter…. There is no cosmic dualism or struggle at all.
Other ANE religions saw their gods as limited, locked in struggle, constrained by forces outside their sovereign control. Plato’s vision of creation was similar, as was the gnostics’. Contrasted to these and the gods of all other religions, the God of the Bible is Lord of all. There is but one God, not a competing pantheon of deities. He spoke, and the universe came to be. “Wisdom,” personified in the Proverbs, says, “I was the craftsman at his side, I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world” (Proverbs 8:30-31a). There is no trace of conflict here; quite the opposite, actually: “the morning stars sang together, and all the angels shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). It was good—very good (Genesis 1:4,10, 12, 18, 25, 31).
The universe God created was and is completely real. In this it differs from the worlds envisioned by other ancient and contemporary Eastern religions. Buddhism (some forms, at least) sees the physical world as maya, illusion. Hinduism and Buddhism both typically see physical reality as temporary and not good, ultimately for us to escape through Nirvana. Judaism and Christianity both, by contrast, see the physical world as enduring in some form, even to the point that (previewing a later entry in this series) believers’ resurrection lives will be lived in physical (glorified, but still physical) bodies.
God’s creation is imbued with meaning and goodness from the beginning. Compare this with modern materialists’ views of reality. Materialism (the philosophical sort) takes it that nothing exists but matter and energy, and their interactions according to law and chance. There’s nothing good there, and nothing bad, either. There’s nothing that even matters, at least not until sentient life shows up in the universe somewhere. As far as we know, that’s less than one one-hundredth of one percent of the history of the universe; and the space that sentient meaningfulness occupies is an astronomically smaller fraction of all that there is. In the grand scheme of things, what meaningfulness there might be (on materialism) is virtually none at all.
And who can tell us how meaningfulness actually showed up here among us humans on this earth? It’s inexplicable. If materialism is true, then our sense of meaning is probably just illusion, as Will Provine, professor at Cornell, tells us it must be. We’re part of a vast impersonal machine, locked in like gears. At least machines have a kind of derived meaningfulness: my car means transportation to me. As for us human machines, well, if that’s all we were, we could only give ourselves and each other meaning; which makes as much sense as our family’s Taurus giving itself and our Camry meaning—none, in other words.
The biblical view of creation is much more profoundly sensible than that. We know that we have meaning. We know that the physical world is real, not illusion. These things are immediately apparent. It takes concerted effort to contradict them on a cognitive level, and on an experiential level, who can even pretend to live as if all were meaningless illusion?
God’s creation is God’s creation. It is the first grand expression of his glory. It is his to delight in, and his to rule. It is our role to delight in it with him, and to live in joyful submission to his rule—and to participate joyfully in his creation. That will be my next topic in this series.