Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Genesis 1 Matters

I started our church through Genesis this past Sunday. I'm not doing the whole book in one shot, but in large chunks, punctuated by other series. The first chunk is chapters 1-11, which is the material about the creation of the world, the Fall, the Flood, and the rise of the pagan nations.

This is important material. These chapters tell us how the world came to be, what and why humanity is, what's wrong with the world, and what God is doing to fix it. Of these chapters, Genesis 1 is arguably the most important. In fact, in my opinion, Genesis 1 is perhaps the most important chapter, and verse 1 the most important verse, in the entire Bible. This is because on this chapter, and on Genesis 1:1 in particular, rest the entire philosophical and moral foundation for the faith of both Christians and Jews. Here's a partial list of what Genesis 1 gives us:
  1. A God who is both infinite and personal. Genesis 1 presents God as a Being of supreme power. Who but such a being can create everything (including sun, moon, stars, and the vast array of creatures and plants) in just six days? This God is personal, existing in fact in multi-personal ("Let us"-Gen. 1:26-27) relationship prior to the creation, and creating other personal beings.
  2. A God distinct from creation. Genesis 1 offers us nothing which allows for "the god inside each of us" or a pantheistic concept of God. God is clearly distinct from creation, and existed before it.
  3. God is profoundly intelligent. This seems obvious, but bears repeating: If God made the universe in all of its staggering complexity, then God possesses a level of intelligence that is literally incomprehensible.
  4. God is ordered, thus the universe and life are not random or the product of randomness. One of the first things even a casual reader of Genesis 1 notices is the structure of the text, with its regular patterns and orderly arrangements. The universe in all its complexity, nevertheless operates in similarly ordered, observable patterns. Science, indeed knowledge and learning about the world in any way at all, would be impossible in a random universe which was governed by no discernible laws and/or arranged in no particular fashion.
  5. God is moral, thus we have an objective basis for morality. God himself pronounces the creation "good" and all of it "very good." Such pronouncements assume at least the concept of "bad" or "evil" as that which is not good and approved by God. Knowing this, we can know that some standard of morality which is universal and objective (because it is based on God's character) also exists.
  6. A basis for universal and individual human dignity. Against the modern idea, based on evolution that, "a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy" (Ingrid Newkirk, PETA president, Vogue 9/1/89), human beings according to Genesis 1 are made "in the image of God." Thus every human being, including the mentally handicapped, the aged, and the unborn, are of infinitely more worth than even the highest of the animals.
  7. A basis for human relationships and knowledge. As creatures made in God's image, we are not only valuable, but personal. We can thus think, speak, express emotions, communicate, engage in inter-personal relationships and come to reliable knowledge of reality.
Why does all this matter? Because I find that far too many Christians (in particular, many of the ones who are my generation and younger who found the "emerging church" idea appealing) are willing to jettison Genesis 1 under the mistaken idea that it doesn't matter. But it does, and these are some of the reasons why. Take away Genesis 1, or explain it away in some post-modern fashion, and what you have left isn't a Christianity worth defending or believing in.

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