Essential 100: In the Beginning

Sermon Date: 
23 Sep 2012
Bible Base: 
Gen 1: 26-31, John 1: 1-5 3: 8-19

David Jeans

The Prologue
In the big story of the Bible Genesis 1-11 is the prologue – it introduces the main characters, and it sets the scene for the rest of the plot.
The main character is introduced in the first verse of Genesis 1. In the beginning ...God. God is the main character of the Bible. As we said last week, one of the main purposes of the Bible is to help us to get to know God better, and to find true life in relationship with him.
The second main group of characters are human beings – you and me. Created to be in relationship – with God, with each other, and with the third group of characters, which are the rest of creation.
Because the Bible is interested in the characters and their relationships it is interested in questions of ‘who’ and ‘why’.  Who created everything and for what purpose? The Bible is not trying to answer scientific ‘how?’ questions that our culture is more interested in. If it were giving scientific answers its original hearers would not have understood it, and nor would we. ‘In the beginning was a fluctuating virtual quantum vacuum field with extremely small strings vibrating in eleven dimensions’ is not a sentence that communicates to many people – and God wants to communicate with all people! The idea that science and faith are inevitably in conflict is a false idea, whether it comes from fundamentalist believers or from fundamentalist scientists. Science and faith are exploring different questions.
Some of you will know – because I keep on talking about it – that next month I am going to a conference in Geneva about the Big Bang and cosmology. It will involve scientists (including I think some from the Large Hadron Collider), philosophers and theologians. I am excited about this conference because I am interested in how God did it; but my faith is in no way threatened by it! Genesis suggests natural process – let the earth bring forth. God works through natural processes as well as through miracles. Understanding natural processes does not rule out the involvement of God through them. I’ll move on, because I could talk about this aspect for ever!
The scene that Genesis 1 to 11 is at first a scene of intended harmony. God says the creation is very good. He intends human beings to have a relationship with himself that is one of worship and trust. He intends them to have relationships with each other that are loving and equal. The image of God in Genesis 1 is about both men and women – both men AND women. And whereas in surrounding cultures only kings and emperors thought they were the image of God, in Genesis it is all humankind. And we need to remember that when the woman in Eden is described as a ‘helper’, this is a word used most in the Bible for God as our helper. It does not imply that the woman is inferior – far from it!
He also gives human beings the task of being his representatives in creation (at least in this part of it!). That’s one of the fundamental meanings of being made in the image of God. It’s about being God’s representatives and of working with God to care for God’s creation. We need to interpret the true meaning of dominion over creation not in terms of the models of authority that sinful humanity has devised – which involve exploitation and domination – but in terms of the model of authority that Jesus gave us – a model of serving, loving and caring.
So we have an intended creation with good and harmonious relationships; between God and us; between us and each other; between us and the rest of creation.
But the first hearers of Genesis knew just as well as we do (and we do particularly this week) – that the world is not always a harmonious place. They knew as well as we know about exploitation, oppression, violence and death. And the prologue introduces those things as a consequence of human disobedience.
And the story told in Genesis 3 is one which starts with the relationship with God. The tempter questions first the truth of what God has said about not eating the fruit of the tree of life, and secondly God’s motives for saying that. The tempter always wants to disturb our relationship with God. In Phil and Lisa’s battle with Phil’s illness we have constantly returned to the need to ‘seek God’s face’ – because it is our relationship with God that sustains us in such times.
So the first relationship broken is between humans and God – they hide from God and are afraid of God.
The second relationship broken is between us and each other. Firstly between man and woman – as a consequence of their disobedience to God and the breaking of that relationship their own relationships are distorted and damaged. ‘Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you’. Male domination of women is a result of human sin, it is NOT as creation was meant to be. As an aside here, I think often God’s judgment is about allowing the consequences of our sin to take place.
In the following chapters we see the whole thing spreading to all human relationships – the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, and by Genesis 6 the judgment of God that every inclination of the human heart has become evil.
The third relationship broken is between us and creation – the tending of creation becomes tangled up with thorns and thistles.
Genesis tells a story of these three damaged relationships – between us and God, us and each other, us and creation. And as we look around us, I think we can recognise the truth of that description and of that diagnosis.
Thankfully, the Bible does not end there. This is only the Prologue! And even the prologue does not just focus on damaged relationships and judgment. Because in the Prologue there are signs of hope. And those signs of hope are to be found in the character of God, the actions of God and the promises of God.
First the character of God. In Genesis 6 when God sees the mess humans have made of his creation his reaction is one of grief – his heart was filled with pain. This God cares!!! This God weeps at the death of his friend Lazarus. This God weeps when we suffer because of our own messes or because of the messes of others. When he says to the woman ‘what have you done’ I see it not as ‘whathave you done’ (indifferent) or ‘WHAT HAVE YOU DONE’ (anger) but ‘what have you dooone’ (grief). This God cares and out of his care and love flows the rest of the story the Bible tells.
Then the actions of God. Isn’t it interesting that he questions them – ‘where are you?’ ‘Have you eaten from the tree?’. He knows the answer to those questions. But he doesn’t storm in saying ‘I KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE DONE’. I think he is giving them the opportunity to say sorry. (Which of course Adam does not do. ‘She gave it me (its her fault) ... and you gave me the woman, so its YOUR fault.’)
Then the promises of God.
First of all, he promises to deal with the enemy. Gen 3:15 is often seen as the first promise of the Gospel of Jesus. Your offspring will crush the serpent’s head, and he will strike your offspring’s heel. The church has long seen that as the first promise of the cross. The offspring of Adam and Eve is Jesus. Here is a promise that God will send his Son to defeat the enemies of sin, death and evil (to crush his head), but that in doing so he will suffer himself (his heel will be struck). Jesus has taken on sin and death and evil and defeated them. As our Gospel reading said, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. As it says in 1 Corinthians 15 death is swallowed up in victory – thanks be to God who gives us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally towards the end of the Prologue comes the promise of the rainbow. The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise that he has pledged that his final word will not be judgment but will be grace. His final word will be forgiveness. His final word will not be death, but life. In the sign of the rainbow God promises to restore the relationships that have been damaged. His purpose is to restore our relationship with him back to one of worship and trust; to restore our relationship with each other, so that we love one another as Christ has loved us; and to restore our relationship with creation that we may look after it and care for it. That is the story the Bible tells after the Prologue.
And the story of the Bible ends with the beautiful vision of Revelation 21 and 22. There the tree of life reappears – and its leaves will be for the healing of the nations. And there God promises to live amongst his people for ever and above all for us this week he says he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or morning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away.