Story - Creation
Passage: Genesis 2:4–2:8
Once upon a time. It was a dark and stormy night. Those are cliched beginnings to books or stories. I read Patrick a lot of stories and most of his books have pretty boring first sentences. “Christmas on the Island of Sodor.”
But some stories have great first sentences. I did a google search for best opening lines to books. Let's see how many of them you can recognize.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (Tale of Two Cities)
“Call me Ishmael.” (Moby Dick)
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” (Pride and Prejudice)
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Anna Karenina)
“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.” (Huck Finn)
“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.” (Fellowship of the Ring)
Ok so that last one wasn’t on the best opening lines from Novels list. It was for Mike.
Today we are going to be talking about the opening lines of the Bible, the opening story it tells. For the next few weeks we are going to be looking at the elements of the huge story God is telling us in Scripture. It’s an epic love story, an epic story of rescue, a story of a God who goes to immeasurable lengths to save us, to redeem us, to bring us back into his light and his love. And it’s a story that God tells us in order to re-author the stories that we hear and believe about ourselves.
Last week we talked about the fact that the world tells us lots of different stories about ourselves. We might tell ourselves those same stories. Stories about not being good enough. Stories about not being loved. Stories about love being conditional. Stories about a life that ends in death and sorrow. Stories that leave us without hope, without joy, without a future. Stories that make us doubt who we are as children of God.
Against those stories, God is telling us a different story. A bigger story. A better story. It’s a story that begins with out creation, that we are going to talk about today. And it’s a story that ends with us having eternal life in God’s kingdom. God tells us this story so that He can reauthor our story and that our story, who we tell ourselves we are, can be based on being a beloved child of God. A story that compels us and makes us to be people who embody love and grace and generosity and charity into the world. A story that makes us people who embody the story into the world.
The first element of that story is creation. It's how the story begins. The Bible’s first line isn’t too shabby itself:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The Bible begins at the beginning with the creation of all there is. The Bible actually gives us two creation stories. The first one goes from Genesis 1:1 through chapter 2 verse 3. God speaks and things are made. There’s evening and morning, a daily account of creation. The second story begins in chapter 2 verse 4 and is the story of the creation of Adam and Eve and their placement in the garden of Eden. It’s a story that continues for a few chapters and covers more than just their creation.
I think the Bible gives us two creation stories because they accomplish different things, they tell us different things about who this creator God is and they tell us different things about ourselves as creations and creatures of this God. So this morning, I want to talk about both of the stories, paying attention to their unique features, and how these stories reauthor the stories we tell about ourselves as people.
The first creation story is really a poem. And it’s a poem that has familiar refrains. It’s a poem that could easily be read in worship. It’s liturgy, it’s a litany. Really, it’s a prayer. And in this prayer we hear of a God who creates light simply by saying let there be light. We read of a God who creates land by saying “waters recede.” We read of a God who creates plant life by saying “let the earth sprout vegetation.” We read of a God who creates planets, stars, galaxies, nebula, a God who creates the cosmos by saying “let there be lights in the sky.” This God is all powerful. This God is almighty. This God has no need for anything. We are given no reason for why God would make all that there is but we also get a clear sense that it’s a bit nonsensical to speculate. This God is too grand for that.
And then we read of a God who creates human beings, you and me, as the pinnacle of His creative acts. We are created in His own image. And once we are created, things are very good.
After thousands of years of reading this prayer the church has developed a doctrine called creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. It’s a doctrine that said that when God created the world, God did so out of nothing. Now before we go any further I think it’s helpful to stop and remind ourselves that when talking about creation today we are speaking theologically. Oftentimes theology and science are seen to be in conflict, but I don’t think they should be. Theology and science, when done rightly, ask different questions. A doctrine of creation out of nothing could be seen to be in conflict with a Big Bang Theory because the Big Bang Theory assumes some sort of pre-existent matter. There are ways of squaring Genesis 1 with a Big Bang Theory, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. The Big Bang Theory is answering a how question: how did we get here. But that’s not the primary question that Scripture is dealing with, it’s not the primary question theology seeks to deal with, it’s not the question the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo seeks to answer. Faith, theology, doctrine are attempting to answer a much more fundamental and much more difficult question, one science cannot answer. They are asking why are we here.
And the point the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo makes is that we are here because God wanted us. God is not shepherding along pre-existent creation. We are not a divine accident. God is not using creation as some divine experiment. We did not have to be here. And yet we are. Because God wanted it to be so.
There are some theologians that talk about creation and creation out of nothing like this, and I find it so beautiful. We believe that God exists as one God three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And these three persons love each other perfectly as one God. Don’t think on all that too hard, it’ll give you a headache. And this love creates a divine dance, if you will, the $30,000 word for which is perichoresis. And it is this perichoretic movement that creates creation. That is, creation comes from the overflow of love between the persons of the Trinity. There is simply too much love in God and out of that abundance of love, we come into being. We see this same principle in our own lives and our own homes as we welcome children or animals or others into our homes and families. We see in our lives that an abundance of love seeks an object to love, and sometimes is the basis for the creation of that object. How many times have you heard someone describe a child or a pet as filling a hole that didn’t know existed or we didn’t know we had the capacity for this much love.
Swiss theologian Karl Barth says that God’s being can be summed up as the one who loves in freedom. That is, God’s being is one of perfect love and a free, independent source of love. In order for God to love in freedom, God creates something that is not God’s self, something God is not required or compelled to love, and yet through God’s own free choice loves that creation all the same.
What does all this have to do with you? What does this have to do with your story? It tells us that our stories begin with love. You were created because of God’s love. You are here because God loves you and seeks to shower you with his love. Our stories do not start with accidents or happenstance. Fundamentally, Scripture tells us that we are here because of God’s love.
Which brings me to the second creation story. And that story begins like this:
Genesis 2: 4-8
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.
In the first story we get God creating through speaking things into being. In this story we get God forming, breathing, and planting. We get a picture of God intimately involved, hands on, in creation. If in the first story we get the picture of God setting up a board game, getting all the cards and pieces out, in this story we get a picture of God playing that board game.
It is in this story that we see God’s love not expressed through doctrine, but expressed through the great care God takes in creating. When we think about God forming Adam out of the dust of the earth, breathing into his nostrils, and planting a garden for him, we see the inspiration for other pieces of Scripture, namely Psalm 139. In there the song writer says,
Psalm 139: 13-18
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.
Later in the story we hear that God forms the animals and birds as well. And God brings all the animals before Adam so that he could name them, so that Adam could participate with God in ordering creation. The God who lovingly formed Adam now invites Adam to partner with God, invites Adam to be in relationship with God. And lastly, God notices that Adam has no helper, no suitable partner. So God takes part of Adam and from that creates Eve to be his partner.
So in the end, God takes great care in creating Adam; gives Adam a task to do within creation, a vocation, a way of seeking happiness; gives Adam a partner in that work and in doing so gives Adam someone to find happiness with and happiness in, someone to love. God invites Adam into relationship with Himself and knows that the love and grace God will continue to shower on Adam will need an outlet. God gives Adam those outlets. God doesn’t just create Adam and stick him in someplace to see if Adam can figure it out. God instead gives Adam and Eve everything they need in order to thrive.
This is the first element in the grand love story that God is telling us in Scripture. Consider it the setting of our story. Before any of the dramatic movement in the narrative we hear that we are created out of love, that we are created for love, and that we are created given everything necessary to thrive.
Consider that against the other stories we could tell about our setting. Stories that say we are here by chance. By happenstance. Stories that say we can find love but only if we earn it. If we achieve something. If we change some perceived fault or idiosyncrasy. You can be loved if you’re smart, if you’re pretty, if you’re funny, but not just because you exist.
Consider that against a story that says we have to make something of ourselves. Against a story that says doing what you love is fine, so long as its lucrative. Follow your passions only if they line up with economics. You can worry about happiness and contentment in retirement. Consider that against a story that says we come into this world alone. A story that sounds more like Lord of the Flies. A story that says you need to be guarded, that says you need to fear, a story that says the other is a danger to you.
God wants to change those stories. God wants to reauthor those stories. God wants to give you a new story. One that says you are created out of love. You are created for love. You are created because God wants to love you. You are created in order to love others, to find happiness, and to thrive.
And this story makes us to be people who embody love in the world. This story makes us to be people who love unconditionally, who seek happiness even if that’s counter-cultural, and who are about helping others thrive. This story makes us to be people who love the loveless, who seek to provide opportunity for others, and who break down walls in order to create friendships.
Who, in your life, needs to hear a different story? Who, in your life, needs to hear that they are loved? Who, in your life, needs to hear they were made to thrive? Who, in your life, needs a word of unconditional acceptance, friendship, and love?
Let’s be a people who embody this story. Let’s be a people who tell this story to the world. And let’s do it right now.
Take out your cell phone. That person you thought of, I want you right now to send them a text or message them on facebook. We’re going to take a couple minutes, right here and right now, to tell those people in our lives who need to hear it that they are loved. Simply because they are beautiful creations of God. Everyone in your contact list, everyone you’re friends with on facebook are beloved creations of God. God created all of them, God designed all of them, and God loves all of them. All of them are beautiful expressions of the infinite love of our creator God. So take a few minutes, and tell some of them that.