Updated: Aug 26, 2019
Faith is believing that God made the universe as He said He did.
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.This is what the ancients were commended for. 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” (Hebrews 11:1-3).
When I attended Sunday School as a young child, and later on when I taught Sunday School, the Fall curriculum always started off with the Creation story. Beginners in the Christian tradition ought to start at the beginning—it made perfectly good sense. For the writer to the Hebrews, as he begins this section dedicated to the deeds of the faithful, it probably made good sense to begin back there at the beginning. Because If God lied about how everything started, or we cannot trust the record given to us explaining how it all began, then how can we trust anything else?
The story of creation would have been the first testing ground of faith as far back as there have been men, or “ancients” to hear the account of how everything began.Neither they, nor we, were there, so faith must be exercised to believe that what is recorded for us in Scripture is true.
Endless battles have been fought over how the universe began. There are many theories even among evangelicals as to how the world was created. And there are always attempts to explain away the “problems” that science has often insisted debunk the belief that God was the Creator.
Between the Times is a blog created by the faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In one post, Ken Keathley explains four theories held by evangelicals concerning creation.
1. Young Earth Creationism, which proposes that the earth was created in a literal six-day period approximately six thousand years ago. Noah’s flood is considered to have been the contributing factor to the age of the earth and is known as the “appearance of age” hypothesis.
2. Old Earth Creationism, sometimes called “progressive creationism” proposes that God created over stages over billions of years. This theory maintains that God created Adam and Eve about 60 to 100 thousand years ago.
3. Evolutionary Creationism, or “theistic evolution” believes that all life evolved from a single cell but that all this ability to evolve was orchestrated by God. Many of those who follow this theory do not believe Adam and Eve to be literal people.
4. Intelligent designfollowers believe that looking at the scientific evidence alone, (quite apart from the statements in Genesis) will lead the inquirer to the belief that Someone (God) did all that was done. There are crossovers from both 2 and 3 included within the ID position. ID considers the arguments over unanswered questions only distract from the most important issues, i.e. God’s divine design.
Every culture and civilization seems to have its own particular viewpoint on the question. But the ancients who had faith believed in what Moses recorded in Genesis 1 and 2.
Genesis 1:1 says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The existence of God was not open to doubt or discussion. The Bible begins by saying that He was there at work when time began.
Genesis 1:2 describes the emptiness that prevailed before the Creator unleased His incredible creativity.
“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep” and then the telling statement, “…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
According to the record, the following was the order in which God prepared the earth for HIS-story to unfold. God speaks and…
· Light divides the darkness. The light He names “day” and the darkness He calls “night.” Day One.
· Sky splits the water into parts, one above and one below it. Day Two.
· Water below is gathered into specific places and dry ground is formed. The water is named “seas” and the ground is called “land.” Land produces plants and trees, each according to its specific kind. Day Three.
· Lights dot the heavens. Sun in the daytime and moon and stars at night. Their scheduling determines the seasons and controls Day and Night. Day Four.
· Seas are inhabited with all kinds of creatures and the sky is full of every kind of bird. They are told to multiply and fill their domains. Day Five.
· Wild and domestic creatures fill the earth, all according to their particular species. God makes man in His image and likeness and puts man as governor over what He has created. Day Six.
In a rare moment of perhaps not-so-poetic-genius, the following came to my mind as I thought about what a wonderful week that would have been to personally witness.
Shades of God
“Let there be light” and the darkness gave way.
The brush was raised to paint the blue of heaven’s sky and water’s hue. But no dull sameness left its mark, cerulean, azure, navy, light, seafoam, turquoise, cyan, cornflower, cobalt, powder, sapphire, royal, His genius let loose.
Then from the blue He called the brown. Dirt and sand and clay displayed; auburn, desert, ochre, taupe, buff and bronze, wheat, russet and mahogany, sand and seal and good old beige, Foundations flourished in variety.
And from the brown His brush turned verdant. From earth the life sprang forth; apple, fern, and kelly green emerald, hunter, moss, jade, forest, lime and pine, tea, and teal, shamrock, spring, delighted His artistic eye.
Of course the green could not deny the colours of harvest that He designed. How many reds can you produce? Crimson, cardinal, puce and pink, fuchsia, flame and scarlet, burgundy, rose, and before the machine, fire-engine red was in His mind.
The skies He dotted with yellow orbs, Their shades reflected down below; saffron, goldenrod, mustard, flax, cream, amber and peach, metallic, maize and glowing fire danced before His ardent brush and lit both earth and sky.
Not even darkness escaped His eye Lest it feel forever banished from His sight. Black turned steel gray at His behest, charcoal, xanadu, slate and silver, platinum and fearful arsenic, taupe again appeared, slightly altered, with dove and liver close behind.
The beasts and birds and swimming things received His blessed touch and took on the Creator’s passion for symmetry amid variety. Blue jay, canary, black bear, red fox, white wolf, chestnut mare, pink flamingo, all dressed by His design.
And the crown of His creative strokes? It is no curse that man reflects the genius of God’s touch. “Red and yellow, black and white, All are precious in His sight.” Delight in difference, boast of beauty in variety revealed, He calls.
And God saw that it was good, every colour, every hue, every stroke. And better yet, as well He knew, those colours meant to bleed and blend until one day remade anew, they would not only be good but perfect just as He.
One of the questions often debated among evangelicals concerns the references in Genesis 1 to “day,” i.e. “And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day” (Genesis 1:5). Each major creative undertaking was followed by a similar statement corresponding to that particular time period. Whether this was this a 24-hour period or something else has troubled theological and not-so-theological minds for decades. The word “day” is a broad term in Hebrew (the original language in which the Old Testament was written) and can have several meanings, i.e.:
I. day, time, year
A.day (as opposed to night)
B.day (24 hour period)
i.as defined by evening and morning in Genesis 1
ii.as a division of time
a.a working day, a day's journey
C.days, lifetime (pl.)
D.time, period (general)
We can’t really tell from the word “day” alone how much time we are talking about and commentators are divided in their opinions. How many believers can explain the supposed age of the earth and still sustain a belief in a 24-hour literal day has baffled experts for a long time. Some believe that a lot of time passed between verses 1-2, when the earth was “formless and empty,” and verse 3 of Genesis 1 when the process of making the earth habitable began. This “gap” is often used as an explanation for the scientific claims regarding the age of the earth. Well, I don’t know how long the situation in verse 2 lasted, but this writer makes no apology for where she stands in this debate.
What sells the 24-hours a day for me are the words “evening” and “morning.” “And there was evening and there was morning—the firstday”The words for “evening” and “morning” are precisely what they seem to be, which would indicate that we are talking about a literal day. They mean exactly what they say. It seems logical that God would start as He meant to continue, that God would have established the rhythm that nature was to assume right from the beginning, the rhythm that we enjoy today.
Perhaps a further hint that “morning”and “evening”are exactly what they say they are comes from Jeremiah 33:20, 21, 25:
“This is what the Lord says: ‘If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant—and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me—can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne…’ This is what the Lord says: ‘If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant…’”
As surely as the covenant with His people is established so is His covenant with creation established.
Another of the questions that arises from the reading of the Genesis account is the statement with which God “signs off” almost every day of creation: “And God saw that it was good.”Most people assume that the word “good” means perfect. In fact, the primary meaning of the word “good” as used in Genesis is the following:
1.good, pleasant, agreeable
2.pleasant, agreeable (to the senses)
3.pleasant (to the higher nature)
4.good, excellent (of its kind)
5.good, rich, valuable in estimation
6.good, appropriate, becoming
8.glad, happy, prosperous (of man's sensuous nature)
9.good understanding (of man's intellectual nature)
10.good, kind, benign
11.good, right (ethical)
Perfect is good, but good is not necessarily perfect according to the definition.
This brings us another question. If everything was perfect at the beginning, then how could the capacity to sin exist. While the capacity to sin in itself is not sin, it allows for sin and, it can be argued, make things imperfect. The very fact that there was a penalty for choosing wrongly implies that there was in man the capacity to sin, a built-in possibility that gave man the opportunity to decide whether he would obey God or whether he would disobey. That man’s choice had the ability to affect not only his own destiny, but nature itself, as Paul explains in Romans 8:19-21.
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”
Creation now waits for a return to Eden as it was before the fall. And it will come. Peter tells his audience shortly after Pentecost: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”In the meantime, the creation suffers the effects of man’s fatal decision to do his own will rather than God’s will.
So what does “good” mean in the context of creation? Several commentators feel that “good” describes what functions as it was intended to function, in this case that which obeys the will of the Creator.
It is not so hard to understand the difference between perfect and good if we look at our children. We know they are not perfect but we say they are good if they do what they are told, if they function as we want them to function.
Until man sinned, he was good, i.e. fulfilling the purpose God intended for him. We are designed to be good, i.e. fulfilling God’s purpose, as were Adam and Eve before the fall. And it is to that end that God works in us now through His Holy Spirit to return us to that state. Paul’s statement in Romans 8 reminds us that nature too awaits that return to Eden before the fall.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have we wait for it patiently.
Most of us don’t even think about perfection. Realistically even good escapes us a lot of the time. So often we miss His purpose for our lives, sidetracked by our own, or someone else’s, purposes for us. It’s not even that we can categorize our choices as being bad—though sometimes they are. It’s just that we settle for better and miss the best. In missing the best we miss the good purpose we were designed for. As we delve into the stories highlighted in Hebrews 11 we will discover our stories, sometimes good, sometimes not so good at all.
Happily, God continues to work to bring us back to that place, using even the not so good to fulfill His greater purposes. Romans 8 is a treasure-trove of promise as the apostle writes: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
The question for us becomes: Am I “good” in the sense that I am fulfilling the purpose God intended for me? If not, I need to determine what needs to happen to bring me to that state.
Whatever the unanswerable questions that may have swirled around the creation story, the ancients had faith that God had done what He said He did—created the universe. As they took this truth by faith so must we take it by faith, even when the questions baffle us and answers only give birth to more questions. Only God was there to know the details—something He reminded Job of in His famous, “where were you when I…?” statements throughout Job 38-41.
God’s conversation with Job reminds us of the wonder of the created world, something easy to miss in the more “cut-and-dried” description of God’s actions in Genesis 1 and 2. David’s words in Psalm 139 also help us focus on the greatness of the God of creation.
“Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’? Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together? Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food? Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they give birth” (Job 38:34-39:2).
“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” (Psalm 139:13-16).
Another beautiful passage to take note of here is Psalm 104.
It appears that the ancients not only believed that God created as He said He did but they also believed that He maintained, and still maintains, His creation. The verbs in the psalm are most often present tense. Notice:
“These [the creatures of the earth] all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth. May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works. He looks at the earth, and it trembles; he touches the mountains, and they smoke.”
Considering that the ”ancients” to which Hebrews is referring would include Job’s and David’s generation as well as the generation from which the writer to the Hebrews came, these verses tell us that they believed by faith that God was in constant control of nature.
We are reluctant to say that God controls nature. It leaves us open to internal concerns and external accusations. If God controls nature why doesn’t He control earthquakes, volcanoes, monsoons, typhoons, hurricanes and tidal waves? Why doesn’t He control heat waves and blizzards? People die, lives are ruined. As believers we hesitate to blame God for natural disasters because we can’t explain why God would orchestrate such events. It is often easier to keep our faith strong if we can believe that He set things in motion, but has left the universe to do its own thing. Somehow then God isn’t culpable. But the Scripture is clear on just how much control God has. Isaiah 45:7 is one such passage: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.”
Though it might seem odd to some I find the statement reassuring. If God controls even the disasters, that means he controls the limits of those events. And faith demands that I believe that He would never do anything that would not be for my ultimate good and His glory.
More difficult yet is the question implied in Psalm 104 and stated clearly in places like Psalm 139:13 where the psalmist says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Not only at His command does death come and is life given, but the nature of that life is determined by Him. The ancients believed this by faith. Perhaps, like us, they wondered at deformities and disabilities. In Jesus’ time, sin was often considered the culprit behind these things. You’ll remember His disciples, upon meeting a blind man, asked the Lord who has sinned, the man or his parents, that he should suffer this disability.The answer given bewilders us especially when such difficulties are our personal experience. Jesus said: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…but this happened so that work of God might be displayed in his life.”
God is not only Creator but is also Sustainer and Controller of all nature, including what happens in the womb of a woman, what happens when an earthquake occurs, or a volcano erupts, or a hurricane forms. He determines whether the sun shines, or the rain pours down, or the snow blankets the earth. He tells the geese when to go south and the bears when it is time to hibernate. He set it all in motion and maintains it in motion.
Take a further look at Hebrews 11:3: “…what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
“Seeing is believing,” they say. We use the phrase frequently. But faith doesn’t operate from that starting point. It begins where there is nothing to see and demands belief. Creation illustrates the point. While we see what God did, we are expected, as were the ancients, to believe that God made what we see, what we can touch, what we can taste and feel, from what was impossible to see, touch, taste or feel—from nothing. God spoke and everything came into being at His Word.
Genesis 1:26-30; 2:15 helps us understand man’s responsibility toward all that God has created.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So 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 said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”
It was not until after the flood that it is recorded that man was given permission to use animals for food (Genesis 9:1-4). There is no indication why this specific instruction was given except to think that prior to this animals were not used for that purpose. If this is indeed fact, there is no indication why there was a change in God’s instruction. Adam took his food from the ground (Genesis 3:17-19). Abel took his offering from the flock—we assume these were made up of sheep. God had had to kill the first animal to ever be sacrificed to cover man’s body. The clothing worn after that might have been skin or wool but slaughter of animals does not appear to be widespread. The animals apparently had no fear of man until God put that fear into them for their own protection. If they had been afraid prior to the flood they would have lost that in captivity on the ark. The instinct to be afraid once they were off the boat would have had to have been returned to them. Whatever the plan was, the instruction was that humans were allowed to kill animals for food, not for pleasure but for necessity. It may be a stretch but I can’t imagine the Creator killing off His creation for pleasure. If He doesn’t, then neither should we. That will make many hunters who like to kill things for pleasure (or some macho-pride thing) angry with me. But I make no apologies.
Related to this is the whole issue of how mankind has used and abused the earth over which he has governorship. That whole discussion is for another book but the key in my understanding of the issue is that He has never abdicated His rule over His creation and I doubt that He is impressed with our destruction of it any more than our neighbour would be impressed if we entered his yard, pulled up all his potatoes and threw them to the wind.
The so-named “crown” of God’s creation was man: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them…And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”What catches my attention here is the difference between how God made all the rest of creation and what appears to be God’s means of making man. He called everything else into being. He spoke and it was. In man’s case God formed man from the earth and breathed life into him.
After man chose his own will over God’s will, punishment was assigned and here we find a bit of irony that relates to today’s issues on who is responsible for the wreck of the planet. God pronounces Adam’s punishment by including this: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
In our careless attitude toward the earth from which we came and to which we will return, we reveal our own self-destructive nature without Christ.
Among the challenges that many of us faced, and that our children and grandchildren face, is how to deal with the theories taught in our schools as fact, and the disdain with which anyone who might disagree is held. The ancients believed that what God said He did was true. They had faith. Christian students have had to stand up and also proclaim, in one way or another, that they believe that what God said He did is true—that He created the universe. For that, and for other expressions of belief, there may be a cost attached.
Many other truths are challenged by our society today.
When does life begin? How should it end? Male? Female? Other? Is the Old Testament relevant for today—particularly the commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai?
Our faith is constantly tested as is our courage to say what God has said and believe it in spite of the doubters and the mockers. How can we be prepared?
Leslie Bennett writes the following: “‘Extensive research reveals the trend [that the]evangelical Christian's knowledge of Scripture is decreasing every year.’
A seminary professor made this sobering statement in a course designed to prepare the next generation of Bible teachers. As an older student sitting among mostly young men and women, I already suspected it was true. I'd been teaching for over fifteen years. But upon learning this verifiable fact, I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. With a trembling voice, I questioned the professor, ‘How can we hear this and not fall facedown weeping?’
Bennett then goes on to say:
“1…. Right thinking should inform right feeling.
The heart cannot love what the mind does not know. It's a simple formula: Know God, and you will love God. We must teach women to think rightly about God, and that right thinking will beget right feeling.
2. so often women have adopted a way of thinking that resembles the telephone game. Women read a book about the Bible without reading the Bible. Instead of being able to quote the Word, we spout off what someone else said about what someone else said about the Scriptures.
God help us if we become content to be curators of other people's opinions about a book that we cannot be troubled to read. Use those books as a supplement to—but not a substitute for—spending time in the Word of God firsthand. You are commanded to love God with your mind, not the mind of Nancy Leigh DeMoss or John Piper.
3. Disciples are called to be disciplined…you don't have to convince someone to work hard at something they love.”
Though these remarks were specifically directed to an audience of women, they apply to all of us. Only in knowing what God says through on-going up-close-and-personal encounters with God’s Word can we be ready to, as 1 Peter 3:15, 16 tells us: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed by their slander.”
CONVERSATIONS AND CONSIDERATIONS
1. How has what you believe about the story of Creation shaped your faith?
2. When was the last time you stepped out into God’s creation to simply admire His handiwork? Plan for another visit soon and record your thoughts.
3. Are you “good”? Are you fulfilling the purpose God intended for you? What steps do you need to take to get there?
4. Read the complete passages: Job 38-41; Psalm 104; Psalm 139. Take some time to express your gratitude to God for what He has done, and continues to do, in and through His creation—including you!
5. What struggles do you encounter when faced with verses like Isaiah 54:7? How are those struggles related to the strength of your faith?
6. Wherever you fall in the ongoing debate on climate change, what measures can you take to improve your guardianship of what God has entrusted to you?
7. How can you improve your knowledge of what God has said so that you can be better prepared to respond to the doubts and questions of others?
8. Report on how you are doing in strengthening your relationship with God as a vital part of your faith journey.
Jesus Loves the Little Children, Words by C. Herbert Woolston, music by George F. Root
Acts 3:19, 20
Genesis 1:26, 27; 2:7
3 Skills Bible Teachers Must Teach, Leslie Bennett, Revive Our Hearts, October 12, 2015