First Points From Genesis
Questions God answers in Genesis
It pays to know where you are from: “My Guyana, El Dorado, best of all the world to me!” they taught my infant voice to sing. And while I sang that unattributed song, Valerie Rodway was writing her own moving music to Walter Mac Andrew Lawrence’s inspired poetry that her husband, my English teacher, and Lynette Dolphin, my music teacher, made sure I sang: “O beautiful Guyana, O my lovely native land, more dear to me than all the world, thy sea-washed, sun-kissed strand!”
Those were important songs. My elders taught me to stand for hours under the equatorial sun with hundreds of other dozen-year-old Guyanese striplings so we could sing them to British royalty touring their endless realms on which the sun never set. Were the songs for me, then? Or were they for the princess Margaret? When the strains of our singing, and the days of our childhood, and the memories of British Empire would have sunk away to sunset and silence and yesterday’s mysterious history, would it then be settled where we all were from? Or would there still be questions? It pays to know where you are from. And there are even better ways to know than the earnest sentiment, or the stirring Sousa rhythms of patriotic music.
There is a book named Genesis, a book on belonging that begins before Sir Walter Raleigh called gold-rich South American land El Dorado; and before there was British royalty who could grant him knighthood; and before there were nights, and before there were days. Genesis begins at the beginning. “In the beginning,” the sacred book informs, elevated, authoritative, inspiring and dignified. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).1
Now, Genesis is not the only ancient Near Eastern story of beginnings:
“When of the gods none had been called into being,
“And none bore a name, and no destinies were ordained;
“Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven,
“Lahmu and Lahamu were called into being.”2
Ancient Babylon’s creation story, Enuma Elish, explains more than Genesis does. It exposes the very gods’ beginnings, and thus betrays its earthbound source. For inEnuma Elish everything, gods included, must be bounded by beginnings. Enuma Elish speaks as it does and not otherwise because the mortals who conceive it know no grander sphere. Their source of creative genius is now controlled by the stretching and straining of human mind. And the humans of that mind begin and end, bury and give birth, learn and forget, start and finish, discover and are displaced, and are born to die. So Enuma Elish explains the circular little world where beginnings include the gods who, like states and empires and royalty and commoner, come, then go.
Not so in Genesis. For the God of Genesis is not the product of finitude. “I AM” is who He is (Ex. 3:14). And so has He been and so will He be “from everlasting to everlasting” (Ps. 90:2). He inhabits eternity (Isa. 57:15). It is His house, and one that nobody built or could have built for Him. He is before our concept of it since He is before everything. Only because of Him does time or forever “hold together” (Col. 1:17). Genesis does not explain God, because the God of Genesis is inexplicable, beyond the boundaries and finitudes of human mind at its fullest stretch. If we stretched to bursting, we would not find Him out (see Job 11:7). And after our exhaustion we would know that our will to explain His ways past finding out (Rom. 11:33) is but the revelation of our inadequacy.
Explanations Versus Revelation
There have been explanations proposed—intriguing ways to explain His ways past finding out that incorporate destruction, decay, and death as part of His process when His own revealed record shows death as diametrically opposite to the life He gives (see Gen. 2:16, 17); ingenuous and awkward little ways of making corruption and corruptibility a divine and original blessedness when He would have us know them as the curse that has blighted that blessedness (Gen. 3:14-24), a curse He removes by bearing it Himself (John 1:29, 36; Gal. 3:13).
Sophisticated conversations on macroevolution notwithstanding, we know our beginnings, we know where we are from, we know the height and dignity of our origins because we know our God. Our God is the God of Genesis.
By His revelation we know that in six days He created a flawless, uncorrupted world of birds and bees, mountains and trees, fishes and seas, “you”s and “me”s and instituted Creation’s celebratory rest on the following seventh day (Gen. 1:31-2:3; Ex. 20:8-11).
It pays to know where you are from. It pays, too, to have a purpose for being, a reason for living. What was the point of humanity’s being, in the beginning? If your God is the God of Genesis, then there is ananswer to that question too, with insight into the mind of God expressed before He creates the man and the woman: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over . . . all the earth, and over every . . . thing” (Gen. 1:26).
Your Genesis God created you for a purpose and according to a pattern. Your purpose is rulership, and your pattern is the image and likeness of God. And as He proposed, so He accomplished: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over every . . . thing’ ” (verses 27, 28).
Humanity’s oneness-in-plurality would reflect the divine oneness-in-plurality. But it would not be a trinity, lest the creatures should be tempted to the blasphemy of proposing an equivalency of Father, Son, and Spirit among us. Still, Genesis 1 shows God not only as the author of life in general, but also as the originator of consultative life, life where intelligent communication, sharing, and interchange are fundamental to being.
And what of the dominion that God assigns? Its exercise is after the manner of Himself, the God who is the pattern. The twin blights of our sin-deprived imagination and our continuing experience of the difficulties of coexistence combine to deny today’s humans any proper appreciation for that original ideal of dominion. By creating humanity in His image, after His likeness, the God who from all eternity has ruled in community granted to intelligent creatures the supraphysical privilege of authority in mutuality.
Eternity is His house that nobody built for Him.
It is a concept that stood unassailable for ages before the vicious prescriptions of the jungle law of evolution. It is the offense that those who crave ascendancy must ever rail against in all their idealized, hierarchical one-upmanship of heads and tails. Lucifer’s articulations are but the sum of rebellion against this caring, sharing ruling: “I will ascend . . . , I will exalt . . . , I will sit . . . , I will sit . . . , I will be . . . ,” he goes on ad nauseam. Singularly and on his own, he will ascend and go and sit where no creature has ascended, and gone and sat before. He will reconfigure the role of the most high God (see Isa. 14:12-14). He will dispense with trinity and rule alone. Over against him, divine—and original—dominion naturally includes caring involvement with the other who is my equal, whose judgment counts equivalently with mine, and to whom I am parallel in authority over all. It is an alien concept in which the Trinity has coexisted in eternally inviolable Lordship and unity, in the bliss of untarnished fellowship, and the passion of unfading love.
Applying the Rule
But how would humans apply the rule of dominion after the pattern of the triune God? How would they work? If your God is the God of Genesis, then He also answers this question for you: “The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden”; and He “took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen. 2:8, 15). The man and the wife whom God created to complete him and to complete the expression of unity in plurality were to work the garden. According to this truth, God’s creation gives a purpose to nature as well as to humans, and declares the mutuality of those purposes.
Human care for nature, as here assigned, establishes care for nature as an original element of the divine nature. It is because God is faithful in providence that young lions find food (Ps. 104:21); it is because He feeds the birds that they eat (Matt. 6:26; Luke 12:24); it is because He paints the blades of grass in the field that they have color (Matt. 6:30; Luke 12:28); it is because He is strong in power that stars and galaxies do not fail (Isa. 40:26). Imploding stars and withering grass, falling birds and deer-hunting lionesses, do not dispute or disprove this truth. They only show more compellingly the accuracy of the revelation in Genesis on sin’s violation of God’s spotless first canvas. And they show the incompatibility of death and evolution’s stories with the original perfections of Genesis 1-2.
In those days before sin’s tragedy the walls of the idyllic garden that was our original home “were hung with the most magnificent adornings—the handiwork of the great Master Artist.”3 Among its trees, “laden with fragrant and delicious fruit,”4 and lovely, graceful, strong, and upright vines “drooping under their load of tempting fruit of the richest and most varied hues,”5 the first man and woman “enjoyed open communion” with God,6 as He led them into mind-boggling studies of “the mysteries of the visible universe,” and “the laws and operations of nature.”7 They were, after all, created in the image and likeness of the genius of eternity, capable of “converse with leaf and flower and tree,” gathering life’s secrets from “every living creature, from the mighty leviathan that playeth among the waters to the insect mote that floats in the sunbeam.”8
The sun in the blue dome above them knew only kindly smiles in those days. Now, because of sin’s disruption, it bears down fiercely upon little children standing to sing for the princess, so that some even faint. But in the beginning, Genesis instructs, life’s perfection was perfection.
Genesis and Now
The God of Genesishas not left Himself without witness, nor left us without answers to our queries. And His answers are not merely for yesterday. The nobility of our origins and purposes, the means to pay for being, or for being from somewhere, are not exhausted because millennia have passed.
It may be to the good that we are not all British royalty or Guyanese choirboys. For now the sun has set on an empire, and choirboys lose their voices. Not so with our godly reasons for pride in our origins and purpose. Of these we may still learn from Genesis today. For though much is changed in creation, the purpose of our creation has not changed. The changes did not catch the Creator by surprise. He knew what the consequences of disregarding the guidelines for living in perfection’s bliss would be. He warned of the tragedy that would follow any choice to disrupt the wondrous order He instituted in Eden. “You will surely die” was His warning (Gen. 2:17). It was the clearest, most unequivocal, most comprehensible warning He could give.
But beyond and before His warning was His preparation for it. For the God whose house is eternity knows all that transpires in His house. He knows and is prepared. And even as He urged His children not to spoil their joy He was taking the full responsibility for restoring that joy to them when they would ruin it. As they did. “Before the foundation of the world” He ordained that His creative genius would reinvest in creation; He would repair the damage to nature; He would restore the perfect work that sin would ruin; He would redeem His children lost to sin (Hosea 13:14; Gal. 3:13): For sin can rob us of our origins and purpose only if it can rob us of our God, the God of Genesis. And neither sin nor anything conceivable can (Rom. 8:38, 39). And because of the God of Genesis we may still claim the highest of origins; and we still have our Genesis purpose. Our God is the God of Genesis.
- Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
- Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890), p. 49.
- Ibid., p. 47.
- Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. v.
- Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 50, 51.
- Ibid., p. 51.