Monday, August 20, 2012

Genesis: Six thoughts on Origins

Origins stories are in. Film franchises get rebooted, and you have to start at the beginning - it is a good place to start.

And so we open up Genesis 1 and run into the origin of origins "in the beginning" and immediately a clash of worldviews and theories and assumptions.

Any statement about origins has to come from outside of our own experience. None of us were there in the beginning, there were no human eyewitnesses.

What we find in Genesis 1 has the appearance of contradiction with today's popular scientific theories about things began (even if you can synchronise a big bang and "let there be light"). In the beginning God is a long way off anything Professor Dawkins is going to find acceptable.

What to do about it? Six Thoughts.

Firstly - The Bible wasn't written to answer our questions, even our very good questions about origins. In Jesus' words: Moses wrote about me. That doesn't mean Moses only wrote about Jesus but if you want a big overarching theme for Genesis 1, Genesis 1-50, the Pentateuch - then Jesus is a better summary than our questions about origins.

Secondly - Genesis 1 is literary before it is controversy. Genesis 1 is written in a rhythmic/poetic style - which doesn't mean what it describes didn't happen just as it says but it's worth noting... taking a belief that God didn't create the world is senseless Christianly...  but whether or not a "day" is 24 hours in Genesis 1 is realistically more open. Not least because there are THREE different uses of the word "day" there - day as in the first day, day as in opposed to night, and day as a summary of the whole period (more like days).

Thirdly - Theologically speaking there is a lot more at stake over whether Adam is a real man who sinned than when and over what period of time the events of Genesis 1 took place. If you've not got a real Adam then you'll struggle to have a real Jesus.

Fourthly - Genesis 1 isn't everything that the Bible has to say about origins. Just as The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises fill out more about Batman's origins than was seen in Batman Begins so too you can turn to John 1, John 17, Ephesians 1, 2 Timothy 1, Revelation 13 etc. And when the Bible returns to the beginning of things it tends to look before the beginning and always talks in terms of a personal reality, a relational reality, in the loving relationships of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and their salvation plan to bring us into their life. Six days or six billion years might feel like a clash of worlds - but mere chemistry vs. community is far more the issue when it comes to the question of origins.

Fifthly - Genesis 1 is the opening of Genesis so we ought to notice what its saying that the book develops - Batman Begins talks about all kinds of things but if we missed Bruce falling down the well we'd really struggle to make sense of some of the later themes in The Dark Knight Rises. Third day and Seventh day events carry later significance in the Bible, the sense of God's spreading goodness is introduced in Genesis 1, the idea of men and women as God's image bearers, bringing his life giving rule to the whole world starts here, the triumph of light over darkness, the movement from evening to morning, the journey from Adam's commission to Joseph's global influence and so on.

Sixthly - Genesis 1 says that we can know about origins, by revelation. Those who were there can tesify, and that's what Christians are convinced has happened. That should stack up with our observations of the world and I'm not going to pretend there aren't some hard questions to ask on that... but if we've ruled out the possibility of divine revelation - probably because we've ruled out divine existence, then it should be little surprise if Genesis 1 seems implausible... if on the other hand we're prepared to consider a Universe in which God is who we know when we know Jesus... then all kinds of wondrous things open up.

The God who was "in the beginning God" is in the end whoever Jesus was with in the beginning... and the Scriptures concerning him can make us wise for the salvation which is sharing in his life.


  1. A great post which has helped me clarify some of my thinking as we prepare to preach Genesis 1-11 this autumn. Perhaps you should flag a spoiler alert for the Batman references - I've only seen TDKR and have yet to catch up on the first two!

  2. I don't think I've particularly given away anything, nor that I can be held responsible for possible spoilers for people who've seen the third but not the first or second films!

    Love hearing that people are going to preach Genesis. More!

  3. That's all 'well' and good - but my eyes will be peeled now!

  4. We went back and watched the first film again after seeing all three and its great to see the threads that resolve... a bit like reading the Pentateuch after reading the gospels!