Exploding the Myth - Genesis 1
Several years ago the famous economist E.F.Schumacher of the book, Small is Beautiful fame gave a talk in London which began with an account of his recent trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, which then was under communist wraps as Leningrad. Despite having a map in hand which he followed painstakenly,he realised that he was lost. What he saw on the paper didnt fit with what he saw right in front of his eyes, several huge Russian Orthodox churches. They werent on the map and yet he was certain he knew which street he was on. Ah said an Inter tourist guide, trying to be helpful. Thats simple. We dont show churches on our maps.
Schumacher then went on to say this: It then occurred to me that this is not the first time I had been given a map which failed to show things I could see right in front of my eyes. All through school and university I had been given maps of life and knowledge on which there was hardly a trace of many of the things that I most cared about and that seemed to me to be of the greatest possible importance to the conduct of my life. In other words, the stuff he had been taught at school and college and picked up from the media missed out issues of faith which were so vital to him.
Now the plain fact is we all have these mental maps with which we operate, some are thought out, others are simply picked up without much reflection at all. And what these maps are meant to do is to help us understand how the world works and how we fit into it. Sometimes these maps are called world views which as the term suggests is how we view the world. And this is not merely the stuff of academics. Everybody has a world view- we assume certain things to be true-maybe about the value of human life or its lack of value, what the purpose of life is and so on, and the view we hold will affect the way we live. For example many non-Christian western intellectuals of the 19th century were quiet simply racist. Some used Darwins theory of evolution to try and demonstrate that some races were superior to others and it was simply taken that this was so. One such man was Herbert Spencer who popularised Darwins theory and argued that different races were going through different stages of cultural evolution and this had to be taken into account when assessing the level of understanding of different peoples groups. So he said Australians had no power of concentration or integration of different ideas, and that American Negro children educated along side whites did not correspondingly advance in their learning. i.e. they could go only so far and no further. And of course this influenced social and educational policy. These people were not stupid, they were simply wrong, but believed they were right. The point I am making is that we all have a way of viewing what we think is reality and some of those maps are desperately flawed and have drastic effects- some leading to the gas chambers of Auchwitz. So we need to make sure that we have got a good map. How you treat you girlfriend, how you raise your kids, whether you cheat in exams or not, will all depend upon your world view.
But how do you know that the way you are thinking about life is one which corresponds best to the way things really are? Well, any world view has to satisfactorily answer four big questions:1. Where do I come from?- the question of origins;2. Who am I? The question of significance;3.Why is the world in such a mess? The question of evil; and 4 Is there a future? the question of purpose. It is no good having a world view or faith if you like, which misses out on any of these questions and ignores the hard bits of reality. Our map must have a good fit with our experience of the world.
Now over the next few weeks we are going to be thinking about these big questions and what Gods map, the Bible has to say about them and I think some of us are going to be very surprised indeed with what we find. And tonight we are going to spend some time thinking about the first question: Where do we come from?
There is a lovely story of a little boy who came home from school one day and said to his Dad, Dad where do I come from? And this was the moment the father had dreaded. So he took a deep breath and sat down and went through the facts of life. The boy sat there wide eyes hardly believing what he was hearing. Then when he had finished much relieved that the ordeal was over, his Dad said, Well, son are there any questions? To which the boy replied ,No Dad, its just that Johnny next door said he comes from Birmingham and I wondered where I came from!
Now the question of origins is such an important one because all the other answers about who we are, the problem of evil and purpose in life, turn on this one.
So lets take the world view which I would suspect the majority of people in our country hold today and which is taken on board almost without question. It is the world view called secular materialism or WYSIWYG. This is what most of your friends believe- What You See Is What You Get-WYSIWIG. At the basic level it is the view that we are all the result of a cosmic accident, the Big bang or whatever it may be, and it will all end in the Big crunch and we find ourselves here thrown up as accidents by pure materialistic forces. There is no God, there is no spiritual realm and we have to make the best of a bad job. The American astronomer Carl Sagan popularised this on TV several years ago in the series Cosmos. He said, 'The cosmos is all there is and ever will be.' He argued that all life was simply a product of nature and also we are exactly on the same as all other animals in terms of value and significance. And Carl Sagan tried to follow this through and espouse animal rights. That is, he believed this, until one day he was diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease of the blood. He was told that there was no cure for it, except one possible bone marrow transplant. But the doctor warned him, 'Dr Sagan, we know exactly what you have believed all your life about medical research on animals, and we want you to know that this treatment has been developed by research on animals.' Tough moral dilemma eh? How long do you think it took Sagan to make his decision? Twenty seconds. You see you cant live with that world view, the map is faulty its doesnt make sense. It doesnt explain why we feel important, why we believe in right and wrong, why we intuitively feel that there is life after death. The map is pretty hopeless because it doesn't deal with life as we know it and yet most of your friends believe it.
While I was in Australia I was lent the use of the Archbishop of Sydneys flash car which had installed a GPS system. You have this minicomputer into which you programme your route, a map appears and a voice telling you directions: Turn right at the next junction. It was great. It was great for the Archbishop too except that once he had to go into a newly constructed tunnel which went right under a major river. The system didnt know about this tunnel and it threw a fit as it appeared he had drowned head first. What is the point of a map however sophisticated with satellite link up- if it misses out something as vital as a tunnel! Well let me tell you, the life maps many of your friends and families are operating with are about as useful as that. They are of no comfort when for example a crisis hits- your little boy is terminally ill-is that it? Is his death of no more significance than the death of a rat? Well, it comes down to that if you believe in secular materialism. It is a stupid belief.
Well, lets look at the only viable alternative a map which has all the main features on it and which fits perfectly. Lets go back to Genesis and lets take a look at the first couple of verses.
Now right at the outset let us clear away a common misunderstanding, and that is the alleged conflict between the Genesis account of creation and science. I would want to suggest that Genesis and science are dealing with two different types of question. Science attempts to answer the how question, by what processes does the natural world operate? How? And so there are scientific descriptions of reality-in terms of physical laws and the like. But what the Bible is mainly concerned with is the more profound and important why? questions, what is the purpose of this world, what is its meaning? Science cannot answer those question it is solely concerned with mechanism not meaning. Let me use a simple illustration. A scientist can come along and analyse this text of my sermon. As a scientist he could give a full description of it in terms of the chemical components of the ink, the cellulose content of the paper and so on. In its own terms it would be totally complete. But what the scientist could not give purely as a scientist, is the meaning of the sermon and his account certainly wouldn't include me as the author of the sermon, that lies beyond science. Well, likewise in principle there is no contradiction between the Bibles accounts of the origin of the universe and that of modern science. Even if one could produce a complete account of the origin of the world in terms of Big Bang, biological evolution and the like, that still does not rule out the Genesis account which is complementary, using evocative imagery which is applicable to every culture at every time to describe the fact that whatever processes God may have used to bring about this world and keep it going (and those questions of process need to be decided on scientific grounds), nonetheless, God is the one behind it all and working through it all and he is the one who gives it meaning and purpose.
And all of this we see in those first three verses.
Take a look at verse 1: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Our meaningfulness and the meaningfulness of the universe stems from the fact that we are created by a personal God, for only created things can have meaning. Here is a microphone. What meaning does it have? In and of itself it has no meaning. The meaning it has is what its creator and owner and judge gives it. Whoever made it did so with a purpose in mind, so that it can pick up a voice or sound and then once fed into an amplifier and speaker project that sound. The creator gave it the meaning. But once it has been sold the owner can give it meaning. As Vicar I could take it and stir my tea with it or use it as truncheon or scratch my back with it. But one day its judge will give it meaning too and evaluate it saying This is a crummy microphone ,it no longer works I am going to throw it in the bin. The Maker of it, the owner of it and the judge of it-all give it meaning. That is exactly what the Bible says is the case of this universe and our place in it. This microphone is made to do the job it was designed to do. I am no expert in these things but I would imagine it is possible to find one process to make microphones in one way and a different process to make microphones in another way. From one point of view the process used doesnt matter too much provided that the end result is exactly what the Maker, owner and judge intend. So it is with us. We have a maker, owner and judge- who are one and the same-God and has used natural processes to bring us about. We live in an incredibly complex and ordered universe. It is vast, it is beautiful and it is breathtaking. It is a remarkable universe in so many ways. And one of the things scientists are now telling us is that it appears to be the only kind of universe which has all the right conditions ,all coming together at the right time in the right sort of way to produce-can you guess? Us. It is called the anthropic principle, and non-Christian scientists like Professor Paul Davies are championing it. Even following the big Bang hypothesis the physical constraints of this universe are so finely tuned that it would only take a fraction of a fraction of a fraction difference in anything at that beginning and there would be nothing. This is what Davies writes: The very fact that the universe is creative and that laws have permitted complex structures to emerge and develop to the point of self-consciousness.. is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all. The impression of design is overwhelming. That is exactly what Genesis 1:1 is saying. There is a Someone going on behind it all and in it all and that someone is the all knowing ,all powerful, personal God.
But how does this personal God relate to the world he has made, owns and judges? Look at v2 and 3a Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said.... The rest of the chapter is a moving account of the way in which form is given to that which was formless and content given to that which was empty. How does God relate to the world and bring about his purposes in that world? Well, by his Spirit and his Word. In v 2 we read that the Spirit was hovering over the deep like a bird, and straight away God speaks And God said let there be and there was. The word translated Spirit could also be rendered wind or breath -all the same in Hebrew. And this tells us something important about the relationship between God, his Spirit, his Word and his creation. First of all, Gods Spirit and Gods Word always go together. Just as my words are carried out on my breath, so it is with Gods Word, carried out on the breath of His Spirit. It is literally nonsense to say Gods Spirit is moving amongst us tonight if Gods Word is not being taught. And as Gods Word is taught, faithfully, truly, then his Spirit is at work. Some of you may have come across this saying: All Spirit no word we blow up. All Word no Spirit we dry up. But Word and Spirit together we grow up. That is actually quite blasphemous when you think about it. Do we honestly believe that the Spirit of God through which God brings about a creation as wonderful as ours can blow people up? Do we honestly believe that the sweet Word of God which bring life into people and nourishes them dries people up? In the Bible whenever Gods Spirit is at work it is through his Word and as the Word is at work it is in the power of the Holy Spirit. So called Spirit filled churches which do not handle the Bible are not Spirit filled at all. Similarly those which claim to be Bible based churches and use it as a springboard for blessed ideas and do not follow the Spirit inspired meaning of the passage and allow it to challenge and change them are not Bible churches at all.
At the beginning of time God related to the universe by His Spirit and by His Word and he still does the same today. You do not find God in a subjective mystical experience however that might be produced by chanting, or fasting or singing endless songs around a candle-he is encountered through his Word. That is why we must get stuck into the Bible-if we dont we wont be relating to God.
And the wonderful thing is this: that when we turn to the New Testament we are enabled to see more clearly just who, rather than what, the Spirit and Word are which were bringing the universe into being. Johns Gospel opens with the line: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made. This Word is a person- also God .Later in the chapter we are told that this Word is God the Son who came to this earth 2000 years ago as the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Maker became a man so that God could relate to men. He related to the world through his Word you see- the word incarnate- Jesus. What is more we are told in John14 that Jesus would send another one like himself, another person- called the Holy Spirit, also God who is the Spirit of Truth. He would enable the apostles to remember Jesus teaching and what they have remembered has been written down for us under the inspiration of the Spirit-here in the Word of God-the Bible. We are also told that in order to have a personal relationship with God we have to be born again by the Spirit as we trust in Jesus, so that becoming Christian is like being a new creation in fact. So just as in the beginning the Spirit of God moved over dark, deep waters and when God spoke his Word he brought light and life, so now Gods Spirit moves in dark dead human hearts and when the Word of the Gospel is explained he brings inner light and life.
So do you see, you were made by a personal God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and you were made for this personal God. You can only know the Father by believing in God the Son enabled by God the Spirit. This entire universe belongs to him and so does your life.
Now let me ask you how are you living? Which map are you actually following? If you are simply living mainly for yourself, what you can get out of life, moving on from one thrill to the next, besotted with money , what you are going to eat and wear, then no matter how religious you may think you are, how ever much you may want to call yourself a Christian. You are reading the wrong map. You are acting as if there is no God who made you and to whom one day you are going to give an account. And to be frank that needs to be put right. You see, the God who made you has also come to redeem you. That is why this Word- the God said of Genesis 1 became a man to die on cross and to rise again from the dead and who sends his life giving Holy Spirit into our lives so that we can know him, have meaning and true life. This is a life which is given over in the sacrificial service of others- helping those in need, sharing the Gospel with our friends, being part of Gods new family the church. Where do I come from? God that is who. And there is no greater need in your life and mine than to know him who made us and obediently serve him who loves us.
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