Message 1, God's Design for Creation (Pre-Conference):
One of the tragic effects of the fall is that men and women seek to serve the creature rather than the Creator. In this session, Dr. W. Robert Godfrey reflects upon current cultural challenges to a biblical worldview in light of God’s design for creation.
It’s a wonderful topic, isn’t it, that we’re going to be looking at? If the conference proper is on the gospel and on the second Adam, then it’s appropriate that we spend some time here at the pre-conference to think a little bit about the beginnings of things — the creation of God, the first Adam, what God’s purpose was in creation. And I’m tasked with trying to look rather broadly at the subject of creation — its design, its meaning — and I think that it’s just such a splendid topic, and one easily covered in 22 minutes.
It’s a glorious topic, isn’t it, to pause and think for a minute about what God has made? The expanse, the beauty, the grandeur; of the way that the whole creation as God has made it is constantly testifying, crying out to the reality of a Creator. And it’s a splendid thing. And it might’ve been the best thing I could’ve suggested to just pause and have us all think about a starry night.
Yesterday, the day before, in California, I looked up to the sun — not directly — but looked up into the sky and there was a rainbow around the sun. And they said this was a very rare phenomenon, and they explained it, and I had no idea what they were talking about. But it was splendid.
It was this magnificent rainbow as a circle around the sun. And it is amazing the glory of creation. And creation is such an important topic. Thomas Aquinas said that if we don’t get the doctrine of creation right, the whole rest of our theology will be wrong. And so foundations are critical, aren’t they? They are so important to be, to be understood and, and reflected on.
In our day, creation has become a hugely controversial topic. And many unbelievers have thought that somehow creation — the doctrine of creation — is the Achilles’ heel of Christianity. It’s the point at which Christianity can be attacked and criticized and, in their minds, demonstrated to be wrong — not only attacking Christianity but, even more perhaps, attacking the Bible and the reliability of the Bible, and saying, “Surely no-one can believe what the Bible says about creation!”
And so, this has evoked, amongst Christians, some very important and valuable defenses of the Bible and of the Bible’s doctrine of creation. And that enterprise of defending the Bible is such a very important one. But I do fear that if we spend all our time simply engaged in controversy about creation, if we spend all our time just thinking about those areas in which we’re attacked, we may miss some of the blessing that God meant for us to have in His revelation about the meaning of creation.
So, in this opening address, I don’t want to talk about controversies; I want to talk about the central truth of what God is teaching us in the Bible about creation. And I think the more we, as Christians, have firmly in mind the blessedness of the doctrine of creation, the more it will encourage us in our Christian life. But I think the more it will also enable us to speak a word about Christianity that will be attractive to people who aren’t Christians.
The doctrine of creation should never be an embarrassment to us, or simply controversy for us, but the Biblical doctrine of creation is, in fact, one of the most attractive elements, one of the most important elements of Christianity. And there is something really tragic about those who find themselves trapped in a world they don’t understand because they don’t have the doctrine of Christianity and of creation.
And so I hope, as we look very quickly at the opening of what the Bible tells us about creation, it’ll be an encouragement to us and a strengthening for us in talking to those we know about Christianity and about the great doctrine of creation revealed to us.
And I want to say basically three things — which almost makes this a sermon — three things about creation; that the Biblical doctrine of creation is at least these three things: that creation is personal, that creation is plentiful, and that creation is purposeful. And I think, as we look at those things, we’ll be greatly encouraged to see what God intended to reveal to us in the Bible about creation.
Of course, we all know those, those splendid opening words of Genesis 1; “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In the beginning, God already was. And that God, who already was, began time. And when He began time, He also created everything. He created the heavens and the earth and, as the Nicene Creed so wonderfully puts it, “and all things visible and invisible.”
There is nothing in all creation that God did not create. No matter how far out we go in light years, all those things God created. And no matter how far down we go into subatomic particles, all those things God created. No matter how far back we can go in history, all that God said into being. God is the source of all.
And the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a personal God. You notice that Genesis 1 says God, without any qualification, created. Moses, when he wrote Genesis, didn’t have to explain to the Israelites who heard and read Genesis who God was.
They already knew God. They already knew who Moses was talking about when he talked about creation. And the God that is being talked about here was already known to the original readers and hearers of this book as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “Our God,” Moses is saying, “is that God.” “Our God is not like the gods of the nations, a limited tribal power. But our God is that personal God who has entered into covenant with us, but also created everything in heaven and on earth.”
And that what means that the beginning of all natural reality is in a Person. And I, I think it’s hard to overstate the importance of that in our world. Most people who proudly reject Christianity and embrace the glories of modern science as they understand it — and we should never forget modern science has many glories that we should appreciate — but many of those people believe they live in a completely impersonal universe. That’s part of the reason behind, it seems to me, the almost frenetic effort to find life somewhere else in the universe.
Modern evolutionists hate the notion that we’re unique. If we’re unique, that would stand against their whole interpretative model of the universe. It might almost imply — don’t say this to anybody, don’t let out the secret — it might almost imply a Creator with a special purpose. But, you know, it’s lonely in an ever-growing universe where there’s no other person. They are really postulating a world that is not only impersonal — a universe that is not only impersonal — but is dead.
And that’s really kind of scary stuff if you really pause and think about it. And the great Christian doctrine of creation says no, we’re not lonely in the universe. We’re not alone in the universe. We don’t exist in a dead universe where we’re all speedily heading towards death, but we live in a universe of life because it was brought into life by a living personal God. And what a blessedness that is! What a joy that is! And that personal God brought this universe into existence, culminating His creating activity in the creation of persons.
That’s another part of the personal character of the universe. God’s purpose was that creation would culminate in the creation of mankind, of males and females who would bear His image. That’s the whole purpose. And He testifies that, to that, in Genesis 1 in a really fascinating way, it seems to me. It seems to me one of the great neglected verses of Scripture is Genesis 1, verse 2.
We have this splendid opening — God created the heavens and the earth — and then we move on, usually rather quickly, in verse 3, to the days of creation. But verse 2 is really critical. Having said God created everything, then Moses says, “Now the earth.” God created everything, but He had a particular regard, a particular intention, a particular purpose for the earth. And He turns to the earth, having created it, and He says — what’s it like? It’s empty, and it’s dark, and it’s covered with water.
Now that’s very important because its being empty and being dark and being watery is no problem for God. God doesn’t need light to see. God doesn’t need land to stand on. God doesn’t need stuff around Him to be interested. Right from the beginning, you see, when God thinks about the earth, He’s thinking about the earth as to how He will prepare it for man. It’s man who needs light.
When I say “man,” I’m an old man so that includes women. Don’t feel excluded. It’s man who needs light. It’s man who needs land. It’s man who needs “stuff” around. That’s a technical term. And so, what do the days of creation show us? It shows God dealing with these problems. He deals with the problem of darkness. He deals with the problem of watery-ness, and He deals with the problem of emptiness. He rules over the darkness to create daylight. He rule — He subdues the waters to create dry land. And then He fills the empty earth with many creatures.
And when God is doing all of those things, He is creating, as a Person, this plentitude that surrounds us; this, this remarkable plenty that we see on every hand. And, again I think sometimes we don’t take enough time to contemplate the vast spaces God created — the heavens, the seas, the lands. We don’t, perhaps, rejoice enough in the diverse inhabitants that He’s made — the sun, the moon, and the stars for the heavens; the birds in the air, the fish in the sea, the animals on land. Such diversity!
And, and we’re intrigued by that as human beings, aren’t we? It’s part of the motive, I think, that lots of human beings feel to travel. Having just flown in from California, I’m less interested in travel than I used to be. But we travel to see interesting geology. We travel to see interesting creatures. People like to go on safaris in Africa to take pictures of the, the grass, vast array of animals so intriguing to us. What an amazing world God has, has made!
And this plenty that God has lavished on His creation is for us, in a profound way. It’s for us that we may able to flourish and be fulfilled, that we’re able to have fellowship, that we’re able to have fun. Now, there aren’t a lot of verses in the Bible about fun and we, as Calvinists, usually ignore even the ones we have — but we’re not committed to that as a matter of principle. Fun is okay!
Psalm 104:15, celebrating the creation, says that one of the things that God has given us in creation is wine to gladden the heart. Now, I know in a Baptist church that means grape juice but it’s a wonderful — it’s a wonderful declaration of fun! Grape juice can be fun! And then that really, that really amazing verse in Psalm 104, verse 26 — He created the Leviathan which He formed to play in the sea. Isn’t that great!?
There are people who go whale watching off the coast of California to watch the whales play in the sea. God intends that there should also be fun in this world. And, of course, He means this world to fascinate us. We are — We are students of, of creation in so many different ways and it always amazed me how, how people have so many different interests.
I have a very good friend in California who is actually interested in mathematics. This is a complete mystery to me! There are some rather interesting things in the history of mathematics, but mathematics by itself? But I rejoice that there are people fascinated by such inherently dull things. Whereas history, that’s a subject everybody loves!
So God has not only shown us the personal character of His creation, but the plentiful character of His creation wanting us to see we’re at the center of it. This is all designed as a place for us, as a world for us to flourish in, to be fascinated by. And what a great thing that is! We’re not just a marginal animal in a world that has no personal purpose. We’re at the center of things to enjoy all, and to be responsible for all, that God has given us.
And then the creation is purposeful. We reflect God’s purpose in giving us a purpose. And our purpose is to be His image-bearers to glorify Him. And that means that we are, first of all, to work as He worked. He worked to rule over the darkness and we are given, as His image-bearers, dominion and rule in this creation to carry out. He subdued the waters to create dry land, and we are given the task, as image-bearers, to subdue the world that surrounds us. He filled the world that had been empty, and we are called upon, as His image-bearers, to fill the world.
At the — It’s at that point in particular, we are told to be — we are created, we are told, as “male as female” to fill the world with image-bearers of God. This is our purpose! This is the work to which we’re called! And what a glorious thing that is to realize we have a divine purpose: to reflect our divine maker! We’re not left around purposeless to just invent meaning for ourselves. That’s what much of the modern world is all about.
And that’s why there’s so much trouble in the modern world! During the primary in New Hampshire, we heard about the huge problem with heroin in New Hampshire amongst middle class and rich kids. Why is that? They have no purpose! They see no meaning to their animal lives! And the Christian doctrine of creation says you have a purpose, a divinely given purpose, a glorious purpose: to bear the image of God and glorify Him, and to work in this world! But not only to work, but also to rest.
One of the most important things said in the early verses of Genesis is that bearing the image of God means we are not only workers with a purpose, but we are also resters with a purpose. Far too little attention, in my judgment, is paid — in discussions of creation — to the seventh day of creation, when God rested. Why did God rest? If you say He was tired out, you have to go back to Theology 101. God rested on the seventh day to provide a model for us, that we should be six-day workers and one-day resters. And that one day of rest is not just because we’re physically prone to being tired, but that one day of rest is so that we can have time for God and time with God.
If there’s a shortlist of faults with American Bible believers, it must surely include that they have lost the doctrine of the Christian Sabbath. They have time for football, but they don’t have time for God. And it’s a scandal! When the National Football League was organized, people said it’ll never succeed because Americans won’t watch football on Sunday. Who won that battle?
One of the greatest messages of the early part of Genesis is that God gave us a day to spend with Him, and it’s tragic if we’re content with an hour with Him. It’s tragic that the churches have conspired in that. I hope you’re angry about that. Not too angry, but angry! Enough to make a change. We’re called by a doctrine of creation, which is personal, and plentiful, and purposeful, to be sure that we’re glorifying God by being His image-bearers in working and in resting.
Some people have no purpose because they have no work, and many people have rest, but no purpose in their rest. And that’s the attraction of the Christian doctrine of creation; that we have a personal God who has given us plentifully all things, and gives us a purpose to live for Him. And let’s share that good news! It’s not “the” Good News, but it is some good news that the doctrine of creation brings into our lives.
Thanks so much.