SERIES: GENESIS – PART 4
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
In the message last week I referred to a question that has been thought to be profound but actually is not: Why is there something rather than nothing? This is not profound for the reason that it is not even a true question. The question seems to offer us a choice between something and nothing. But what is nothing? As soon as we answer that, saying, “Nothing is … ,” nothing ceases to be nothing and becomes something. If nothing really is nothing, nothing defies description. In fact, it defies mental conception of any kind. So the question really boils down to: Why is there something?
In this form the question is not meaningless. On the contrary, it is one of the truly big philosophical questions. It can be stated in different forms—Where did the universe come from? Who made the atom? How did everything get to be as it is?—but in essence these are the same basic questions. Something is there—an immense, intricate, and orderly something. It was there before we were, for we cannot even imagine our existence without it. But how did it get there? And how did it get to be as we detect it?
Genesis 1:1 is the answer to these questions. It tells us that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
The Christian Answer
There are other answers to the question of the origins of the universe, however, and it is these plus the Christian answer that we now want to consider. How many answers are there? Like all truly big questions, the possibilities are not numerous. In this case, there are just four.
First, there is the view that the universe had no origin. That is, there was no origin because in some form the universe always existed. Matter existed. This has been the dominant view of both ancient and modern science until relatively recent times, and it is still held by some.
Second, there is the view that everything has a beginning and that this beginning was the work of a good personal being. This is the Christian view.
Third, everything came into existence through the work of a personal being who is evil.
Fourth, there is now and there always has been a dualism. This last view takes several forms depending on whether one is thinking of a personal or impersonal, moral or immoral dualism, but the views are related. This was the outlook of the ancient cosmologies referred to earlier, of which the Babylonian Epic is an example. It is still the characteristic view of the eastern religions and mysticism.
What are we to say concerning these four possibilities? The easiest to dismiss is number three, which gives a personal but evil origin to the universe. It says, in effect, that Satan is the creator. This is easiest to dismiss because it does not give an adequate explanation of the origin of the good. Evil can be conceived as a corruption of the good—Satan can rebel against the Christian God—but it is not really possible to think of good as having emerged out of evil. In the former case, evil can be a misuse of otherwise good traits or abilities. But in the second case, there is no place for the good to come from. We may state the problem in a slightly different way. For a power to be evil it (or he) must possess the attributes of intelligence and will. But since these attributes are in themselves good, he must be getting them from a good power. And this means that the good power must have existed previously and that the evil power is therefore not the origin of all things.
The fourth possibility, a dualism, is unsatisfactory too, although this is not as quickly apparent as in number three. The reason is that, although belief in a dualism has often been quite popular and has endured for long periods of history, it does not stand up under close analysis. For having stated the dualism, we immediately want to pass behind it to some type of unity that includes the dualism. Or else we choose one part of the dualism and make it prominent over the other, in which case we are really easing into one of the other possibilities.
C. S. Lewis has written about this problem, pointing to what he calls the “catch” in the system. According to dualism, two powers (spirits or gods), one good and one evil, are supposed to be quite independent and eternal. Neither is responsible for the other, and each has an equal right to call itself God. Each presumably thinks that it is good and the other bad. But Lewis asks, What do we mean when we say, as we do in stating this dualism, that the one power is good and the other bad? Do we mean merely that we prefer the one to the other? If that is all we mean, then we must give up any real talk about good or evil, and if we do that, then the moral dimension of the universe vanishes entirely and we are left with nothing more than matter operating in certain ways. We cannot mean that and still hold to the dualism. We have fallen back to possibility number one.
But if, on the contrary, we mean that one power really is good and the other really is bad, then we are actually introducing some third thing into the universe, “some law or standard or rule of good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform to.” And this standard, rather than the other, will turn out to be the true God. Lewis concludes, “Since the two powers are judged by this standard, then this standard, or the Being who made this standard, is farther back and higher up than either of them, and he will be the real God. In fact, what we meant by calling them good and bad turns out to be that one of them is in a right relation to the real, ultimate God and the other in a wrong relation to him.”
So neither an evil origin for the universe, from which good arose, nor a dualism adequately accounts for reality as we know it. The real alternative is between the view that holds to an eternity of matter and the view that sees everything as having come into existence through the personal will of an eternal and moral God.
Let us look at Christianity’s chief competitor, materialism. The origins of this view are lost in the past, but the view is clearly very ancient. It is found in the scientism of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who taught that everything is composed of small building blocks of matter, conceived of as hard, indestructible particles. Epicurus called them atoms, which is where our word “atom” comes from. He probably derived his ideas from Democritus of Abdera who in turn was indebted to the little-known philosopher Leucippus. Leucippus may have gotten his ideas from a Phoenician philosopher named Moschus, who lived prior to 1000 b.c.
Today this view is the dominant philosophy of western civilization, although not in the form Epicurus gave to it. For one thing, we know that the atom can be divided. We have done it. Again, we have been taught by Einstein that energy and mass are interchangeable, which is mind-boggling. Knowledge of this should in itself shake the presuppositions of materialism, but for the most part it has not seriously shaken them, and the western world continues to be philosophically materialistic.
Today’s materialism usually does not deny that there is personality in the universe, but it conceives this as having arisen out of impersonal substance. It does not deny the complexity of the universe—even including such things as the intricacy of the atom—but it supposes that complexity came from that which was less complex and that in turn from something still less complex until eventually we arrive back at that which is ultimately simple, that is, to mere matter. Matter, it is supposed, always existed—because there is no further explanation. This view lies beneath most thought concerning evolution.
But this description of the origin of the universe has already introduced problems that the theory itself apparently has no means of solving. First, we have spoken of a form to matter and then of more complex forms. But where does form come from? Form means organization and perhaps purpose, too. But how can organization and purpose come from mere matter? Some would insist that organization and purpose were in the matter inherently, like genes in an egg or spermatozoa. But in addition to making nonsense of the theory—this is no longer mere matter—the basic question still remains unanswered, for the problem is how the organization and purpose even got there. At some level, either early or late, we have to account for the form; and, if this is the case, we soon find ourselves looking for the Former, Organizer, or Purposer.
Moreover, we have introduced the idea of the personal, and if we begin with an impersonal universe, there is no explanation for the emergence of personality. Francis Schaeffer writes: “The assumption of an impersonal beginning can never adequately explain the personal beings we see around us, and when men try to explain man on the basis of an original impersonal, man soon disappears.”
Genesis begins with the opposite answer. It maintains that the universe exists with form and personality because it has been brought into existence by an orderly and personal God. God was there before the universe came into existence, and he was and is personal. He created all we know, including ourselves. Consequently, the universe naturally bears the mark of his personality.
But we may be missing something at this point. We are arguing for the Christian view of origins, which is not at all unimportant. But in the very act of arguing we are likely to miss (or postpone) a true wonder at God’s creation, which is what a proper contemplation of these themes should cause. Biblical writers never fall into this pit. Consequently, when they look at creation they inevitably end up praising God, and when they praise God, one of the things they praise him for is creation.
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. – Revelation 4:11
Can we not do that too? Our text tells us that God created “the heavens and the earth.” As we contemplate these great canvases of God’s work, are we not led to praise him?
How vast the heavens are! When we look up into the sky on a clear night we see perhaps 10,000 points of light. A few of these are the planets of our solar system that shine by reflected light. Thousands belong to the special grouping of stars known as the Milky Way, to which our sun belongs. Other thousands are entire galaxies, which shine as one point because they are so distant. We say 10,000 points because that is what we can see with unaided eyes. But these 10,000 are only the tiniest fraction of the existing stars. A typical galaxy contains billions of individual stars—our galaxy alone contains 200 billion stars. Its form is of a giant spiral rotating majestically in space, its glowing arms trailing behind it like the distended points of a pinwheel. Our sun is in one arm of the spiral. It makes a complete rotation in 250 million years. These figures are staggering. But this is only our galaxy. There are thousands of others visible to the naked eye and billions more within range of the 200-inch telescope on California’s Palomar Mountain.
As revealed to us by time exposure photography, these distant galaxies of stars display a seemingly unending array of beauty. Some are spirals like ours. Others are nearly spherical clusters. Others are flattened out like pancakes. Still others are irregular. All the stars in the heavens are clustered together in these intricate and beautiful groupings.
Again, the galaxies are scattered about in an irregular pattern. Between them there are vast amounts of space. The distance from one edge of an average galaxy to the other edge is approximately 600 thousand trillion miles. The average distance from one galaxy to another is 20 million trillion miles. If these numbers were to be written out in zeros, they would fill up several lines of type. So to avoid such large numbers astronomers generally use a unit of distance called the light-year, that is, the distance light travels in one year at the speed of 186,000 miles per second. A light-year is approximately 6 trillion miles. Translated into these terms, the size of an average galaxy is 100 thousand light-years, and the distance between them is 3 million light-years approximately.
The Andromeda Galaxy is the galaxy closest to our own Milky Way. It is separated from us by 2 million light-years. This means that the light coming to us now from Andromeda has taken 2 million years to get here. Put in other terms, it means that when we look at Andromeda what we see is the galaxy as it existed, not a moment ago, but 2 million years in the past.
Moreover, the galaxies are not fixed in space but rather are moving away from each other at tremendous speeds. Vesto Melvin Slipher, the first to discover this fact, found that the galaxies he could observe were moving away from the earth at several million miles per hour. His scientific followers, Milton Humason and Edwin Hubble, showed that the most distant galaxies were retreating from us at the rate of 100 million miles per hour. Moreover, everything is retreating from everything. Nothing is coming toward us, nor is anything coming toward any other galaxy. This means that the universe is expanding. By working backward from the present position of the galaxies and their known speed, astronomers have placed the origins of the universe approximately 15 to 20 billion years in the past.
We turn to the stars themselves and find equal evidence of variety, design, beauty, and mystery. Not all stars are alike, though they seem to follow a similar pattern as they are born, burn, grow old, and eventually die.
At any given moment millions of stars are being born in space. They are born as clouds of interstellar gas contract under the force of gravity acting between the atoms that compose them. As they contract the temperature rises. Finally, at the critical temperature of 20 million degrees Fahrenheit, the hydrogen within the ball of condensed gas ignites in reactions similar to those that occur in the explosion of a hydrogen bomb. The release of this energy halts any further condensing of the gas, and the star continues to burn in that fashion for many billions of years. Our sun is at this stage.
Eventually the hydrogen in the star begins to be used up. It starts to swell and redden. Such stars are called red giants. As the last of its fuel is burned off, the star begins its final collapse under the force of gravity. If it is relatively small, it condenses to a tightly compressed sphere called a white dwarf. In one of these dead stars a few cubic centimeters of matter weigh a ton. If the star is large, a different fate envelops it. Instead of compressing quietly, it blows itself up, thereby scattering its elements—now containing carbon, oxygen, iron, gold, and others—throughout the universe where they are eventually picked up by other suns or planets.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. – Psalm 19:1–4
And what of the earth? We need not consider the earth and its marvels fully at this point. We have looked at the heavens carefully since this is the last point in Genesis at which the heavens are mentioned for themselves. From this point the chapter passes on to consider God’s acts of creation on earth. (The sun, moon, and stars are mentioned only in regard to their giving light to the earth.) In a sense everything that occurs from this point on is about the earth. But we can note in passing that the marvels of the macrocosm (the world of large things) are repeated in the microcosm (the world of small things). Here we are confronted with electrons, protons, neutrons, neutrinos, and a seemingly endless variety of particles barely understood. The distances between these particles, proportionate to their size, are comparable to some of the distances involved in the solar system. If we were to take the simplest of atoms, the hydrogen atom, and blow it up billions upon billions of times to where the proton at its center would now be the size of a ten-inch soccer ball, the electron that circles this nucleus would now be the size of a golf ball and would be circling the proton at a distance of five miles. There would be nothing else within the circle!
To God Be the Glory
On the basis of the first verse of Genesis we can define God as the One who creates. We cannot create. We often use the word of human endeavors, and human beings are creative in the sense we give to that word. But if we are to be precise, we will say that at the best we only form or fashion things in imaginative ways, and even then, it is the case that we get our imagination as well as all other physical, mental, and spiritual gifts from God. Strictly speaking, we are craftsmen. We use preexisting material. But God does create, and he does so on what is to us a vast and incomprehensible scale. We do not know how God has done it. But he has willed creation, and as a result all we know, see, and are have come into being.
If God were not the Creator, he would be only a part of the world process, coming and going, waxing and waning. He could not help us. E. J. Young has written, “If he is only a little bigger than we are, if he is only a big brother and nothing more, if he is only a part of the whole, then we are all in it together, God, you and I, and then there are no standards. There is no absolute. It is every man for himself, and all modern philosophies and ideas that are being spread in our days—new morality, new theology, and so on—are all perfectly admissible if God is only a part of the world process. If it is so, it does not matter whether he is dead or alive. … Let us live for the moment, let us live for our enjoyment; there is no absolute; there us no standard of morality, for all changes. What may be right today may be wrong tomorrow; so let us get through life as best we can.”
But this is not the God of Genesis. “The Bible does not so speak. It tells us that God has created all things. That is why there is meaning in life, and why there are absolute standards that do not change. God tells us what is right and what is wrong, and that is why there is meaning in life. That is why you and I who believe in this God can very well say that our chief reason for existence is to glorify him and enjoy him forever.”
About the Preacher
James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. The sermon above was adapted from Chapter 4 in Genesis 1-11: An Expositional Commentary. vol. 1: Creation and Fall. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.
Under Dr. Boice’s leadership, Tenth Presbyterian Church became a model for ministry in America’s northeastern inner cities. When he assumed the pastorate of Tenth Church there were 350 people in regular attendance. At his death the church had grown to a regular Sunday attendance in three services of more than 1,200 persons, a total membership of 1,150 persons. Under his leadership, the church established a pre-school for children ages 3-5 (now defunct), a high school known as City Center Academy, a full range of adult fellowship groups and classes, and specialized outreach ministries to international students, women with crisis pregnancies, homosexual and HIV-positive clients, and the homeless. Many of these ministries are now free-standing from the church.
Dr. Boice gave leadership to groups beyond his own organization. For ten years he served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, from its founding in 1977 until the completion of its work in 1988. ICBI produced three classic, creedal documents: “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics” and “The Chicago Statement on the Application of the Bible to Contemporary Issues.” The organization published many books, held regional “Authority of Scripture” seminars across the country, and sponsored the large lay “Congress on the Bible I,” which met in Washington, D.C., in September 1987. He also served on the Board of Bible Study Fellowship.
He founded the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (Alliance) in 1994, initially a group of pastors and theologians who were focused on bringing the 20th and now 21st century church to a new reformation. In 1996 this group met and wrote the Cambridge Declaration. Following the Cambridge meetings, the Alliance assumed leadership of the programs and publications formerly under Evangelical Ministries, Inc. (Dr. Boice) and Christians United for Reformation (Horton) in late 1996.
Dr. Boice was a prodigious world traveler. He journeyed to more than thirty countries in most of the world’s continents, and he taught the Bible in such countries as England, France, Canada, Japan, Australia, Guatemala, Korea and Saudi Arabia. He lived in Switzerland for three years while pursuing his doctoral studies.
Dr. Boice held degrees from Harvard University (A.B.), Princeton Theological Seminary (B.D.), the University of Basel, Switzerland (D. Theol.) and the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church (D.D., honorary).
A prolific author, Dr. Boice had contributed nearly forty books on a wide variety of Bible related themes. Most are in the form of expositional commentaries, growing out of his preaching: Psalms (1 volume), Romans (4 volumes), Genesis (3 volumes), Daniel, The Minor Prophets (2 volumes), The Sermon on the Mount, John (5 volumes, reissued in one), Ephesians, Phillippians and The Epistles of John. Many more popular volumes: Hearing God When You Hurt, Mind Renewal in a Mindless Christian Life, Standing on the Rock, The Parables of Jesus, The Christ of Christmas, The Christ of the Open Tomb and Christ’s Call to Discipleship. He also authored Foundations of the Christian Faith a 740-page book of theology for laypersons. Many of these books have been translated into other languages, such as: French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
He was married to Linda Ann Boice (born McNamara), who continues to teach at the high school they co-founded.
Sources: Taken directly from the Aliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ Website
from the Tenth Presbyterian Church website
1985 “The Future of Reformed Theology” in David F. Wells, editor,