In the beginning God
Let us turn now to the book itself and to the amazing chapter with which it opens. It begins with the words, “In the beginning God”.
Genesis is full of beginnings, but it is clear that God himself does not begin here. God is already there when the Bible opens, for he was already there when the universe came to be. Philosophical questions concerning where God came from are really non-questions. There had to be an eternal something or someone before the universe existed and the Bible is clear that this person is God. It is the fundamental assumption of the Bible that God exists eternally, that he has always been there, that he will always be there, and that he is the God who is. His very name, “Yahweh”, is a participle of the Hebrew verb “to be”. An English word which conveys the nature of God contained in the word “Yahweh” is “always”: he has always been who he is and will always be just the same.
While we do not need to explain the existence of God, we do need to explain the existence of everything else. This is the very opposite of modern thinking, which looks around at what is there and assumes that we need to prove the existence of God. The Bible comes at the question from the other direction and says that God was always there and we have to explain now why anything else is there.
Certainly when Moses was writing, every Hebrew knew that God existed. He had rescued his people out of Egypt, divided the Red Sea and drowned the Egyptian army, so their personal experience told them that God was there. Further “proof” was unnecessary.
The need for faith
The New Testament suggests a useful approach to considering God which will help us in our reading of Genesis. In Hebrews 11 we read two things about creation. First that it is “by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible”. Then, a little later in the same chapter, we read that “anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”.
As far as the whole Bible is concerned, therefore “including Genesis” we must assume God is there and that he wants us to find him, know him, love him and serve him. Then we see what happens on the basis of this trust. We cannot prove whether God exists or not, but we can hold the basic belief that God wants us to know him and have faith in him.
A picture of the creator
Moving on from the first four words of the book, we come to a feature that may be surprising: the subject of Genesis 1 is not creation but the creator. It is not primarily about how our world came to be, but about who made it come to be. In fact, in just 31 verses the word “God” appears 35 times, as if to underline that this is all about him. It is not so much the story of creation as a picture of the creator. So what does this picture tell us?
- GOD IS PERSONAL: Genesis 1 depicts a personal God. He has a heart that feels. He has a mind that thinks and can speak his thoughts. He has a will and makes decisions and sticks to them. All this forms what we know as a personality. God is not an it, God is a he. He is a full person with feelings, thoughts and motives like us.
- GOD IS POWERFUL: It is quite evident that if God can speak things into being by his Word, he must be enormously powerful. In all he gives 10 “commandments” in the first chapter, and every one is fulfilled just as he desires.
- GOD IS UNCREATED: We have already noted that God is and always was there. He was always the Creator, never a creature.
- GOD IS CREATIVE: What an imagination he must have! What an artist! Six thousand varieties of beetle. No two blades of grass the same. No two snowflakes. No two clouds. No two grains of sand. No two stars. An astonishing variety, yet in harmony. It is a uni-verse.
- GOD IS ORDERLY: There is a symmetry in his work of creation, as we shall see. The act that creation is mathematical has made science possible.
- GOD IS SINGULAR: The verbs in Genesis 1, from “created” onwards, are all singular.
- GOD IS PLURAL: The word used for “God” is not the singular El, but the plural Elohim, which means three or more “gods”. So the very first sentence in the Bible, using a plural noun with a singular verb, is grammatically wrong but theologically right, hinting at a God who is “Three-in-one”.
- GOD IS GOOD: Therefore all his work is “good” and he pronounces human beings as his best, his masterpiece, “very good”. Furthermore, he wants to be good to all his creation, to “bless” it. His goodness sets the standard for all goodness.
- GOD IS LIVING: He is active in the world of time and space.
- GOD IS A COMMUNICATOR: He speaks to creation and the creatures within it. In particular he wants to relate to human beings.
- GOD IS LIKE US: We are made in his image, so we must be in some ways like him and he must be like us.
- GOD IS UNLIKE US: He can “create” out of nothing (ex nihilo), whereas we can only “make” something out of something else. We are “manufacturers”; he is the only Creator.
- GOD IS INDEPENDENT: God is never identified with his creation. There is a distinction between creator and creation from the very beginning. The New Age movement confuses this idea by suggesting that somehow “god” is part of us. But the creator is separate from his creation. He can take a day off and be quite apart from all that he has made. We must never identify him with what he has made. To worship his creation is idolatry. To worship the creator is the truth.”