'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth […] and indeed, it was very good.’ Genesis 1:1, 31b
Brothers and sisters, we begin today a series in the Book of Genesis, a series which will take the whole summer, but as we approach this book - and especially the first few chapters - we immediately encounter a lot of controversy. You might think we’d be better off leaving such chapters alone, after all we don’t want to start an argument. However, God has given us these chapters so that we can get to know Him better and get to know our world better, and to get to know ourselves better, and it would be wrong of us to ignore them, because some like to argue. It is my understanding that - approached in the right way - we can hear what God wants to say to us, and that the controversial arguments will quieten down, if not completely disappear. We need to approach this text as the writer, as the ancient Jews did, and park, for a moment, all the modern arguments. So, let’s begin.
My daughter Amelie is growing up fast and perhaps sooner than I think, Amelie will ask a question about why she is here, where she comes from, and who she is? Now, of course, in answer to those questions we will have to talk to her about science, but I suspect that won’t really be what she is looking for. I suspect the answer which she will be looking for - even if she can’t articulate it very well - will be more along the lines of this: ‘My dear daughter, you were made in love, you were loved before you were born, you are loved now, and you will always be loved. You are here because mummy and daddy love you, you come from God, and you belong here in our family, and in God’s family wherever you are in the world.’ This answer is not in contradiction to the science it just goes alongside the science and perhaps even a little deeper than the science. And it is that sort of question that the ancient Israelites were asking, when the book of Genesis was written. To put it another way, God’s people are concerned with God’s intent not His technique! With who and why, not how. To try to make this clearer let me give you another analogy. I want you to imagine Natalie walks into our kitchen, and finds me stood talking to some of my scientific friends. Natalie notices the kettle is on, and she asks ‘Why is the water boiling?’ The scientists in the room quickly speak up, and explain all about electricity, and heat, and how that warms the water, and the hot water rises, and, when hot enough, turns into steam. That would be a correct answer to Natalie’s question, ‘Why is the water boiling?’ But another - just as good and correct answer - might be ‘I’m making a cup of tea’. It’s the ‘making a cup of tea’ answer which Genesis gives, without taking anything away from physics, chemistry, and biology. In other words, Genesis leaves open all scientific theories about the origins of the world. The Bible takes no stand on any of these. Now with that said, I hope we can leave behind some of the controversy, and come instead to listen to what God is interested in telling us, from this first book of the Bible. God has at least 3 things to tell us. Genesis tells us about God. Genesis tells us about God’s world. And Genesis tells us about us.
First, then, what does Genesis tell us about God? Verse 1: ‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth’. The Bible makes the startling and (at the time) unique claim that there is only one God, and He made the heavens and the earth, completely in His own power. This is a monumental claim, for not only does this one God have all the power, all the other so-called gods, aren’t real gods at all.
Second, then, what does it tell us about the world? Well as we can see from the very detailed account given in Genesis 1, each part of creation is made purposefully, and is made good. For instance verse 25: ‘God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good’. Hopefully, you can see the point. God created each part of creation deliberately. Each part was created by His express will, and according to His plan, and each part of His creation is made good. God loves and values His creation and there is no part which God deems as unnecessary or disposable. Creation has meaning - it is not merely there by blind chance - and therefore, it is to be treated carefully and lovingly. There is absolutely no excuse for the way in which humanity has treated the earth in the past 200 years, in fact quite the opposite. In violating and abusing the world, we have gone against God’s express command. It is part of our Christian duty to take care of God’s planet, and indeed, lead the way on environmental issues.
Third, and finally, then, what does Genesis 1 tell us about us? Verse 27: ‘So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’. And what is God’s verdict on the human race? We’re told in verse 31: ‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good’. Again we find the ultimate goodness of what God has created. God makes no mistakes. In our modern world this teaching has huge implications! Human beings are categorically not the combination of Good and Bad, not a balance between ying and yang! No, we’re originally made completely Good! This is true of each and every person! There are, therefore, no inferior or superior races. No inferior or superior sexes. There are no intrinsically evil people, for all are made in God’s image. Each person is made for a purpose. Each person is valued by God. And each person is loved by God. But more than this, if each person is made by God, if each person is created in His image, and if each person is declared on their creation to be ‘very good’ then there is no one who is irredeemable. Therefore, as God’s people - as those who say we believe what is written in Genesis 1- we can give up on one one; we can write no one off. The hardened criminal serving life, with no possibility of parole, is just as loved by God, and is to be treated as such by those who call themselves Christians. No one is too far away from God, each person must be offered again and again, the chance to fulfil their calling and their purpose which is to love God. God gives up on no one and nothing that He has created, and neither should His family, the Church. This means, for instance, that for the Church the death penalty cannot be an option. For to kill a person other than in self-defence is a sign of giving-up, of declaring hope of redemption gone, of calling a person fully and finally irredeemable, a state in which no one created in the image of God, can ever be in this life. From conception through their life, and into death, the Church is to stand for the weak and the vulnerable, not because they are economically valuable, not because they are useful in some utilitarian sense - because too often they are neither of these things - but simply because each person is made in God’s image for a purpose and loved by Him.
We come to the end of the first chapter of Genesis. And as we do, we are launched off into the greatest and truest story ever told. A story which begins with a question: will the people created by God, fulfil the purpose for which they were created to love God, and to ensure the world is ordered so that all may flourish. A question which is posed to the first people, but a question which is not just for the first people but for each of us. Will we fulfil our purpose of loving God, of caring for His world, and of caring for each human being we are privileged to encounter. If we go out determined to fulfil that purpose then we have properly understood this first and most controversial of chapters. Let us pray for God’s help, to do just that. Amen. (from Fr. Mike).