Can you tell what THIS is a picture of?
It’s a lot easier when you can see the big picture. When you can see how the SMALL part fits into the whole. (See the end of the post for the answer)
And it’s the same with OUR LIVES. We make sense of the confusing SMALLNESS of our lives when we work out HOW WE FIT IN. By putting ourselves IN CONTEXT.
How we fit into families, or into work. How we fit into society, or into church. How we fit into THE WORLD.
And since it’s GOD’S world, we makes sense of our lives by listening to what HE says. What HIS plans are for us. And we find THAT in the Bible.
But the Bible isn’t a textbook with a chapter on a range of different topics. One on God, one on Jesus, one on behaviour etc. And it’s not a guidebook with one section on being a child. Another on being a teen. Then on marrying, and so on.
And it’s not a collection of short stories either. With no connection to each other.
The Bible is “the unfolding process of God’s dealings with mankind”. It has a plot. It’s ONE STORY, with a beginning, a middle and an end.
And that’s how we can make sense of each PART of the Bible. By making sure we put it in context. Making sure we work out where each part fits into the BIG story.
The technical name for that is BIBLICAL THEOLOGY. And that’s what this series is about. It sounds difficult. But it’s really what we do naturally when we read ANY sort of literature. We make sense of a particular PART of the story by connecting it with the WHOLE.
We even do it watching TV. Perhaps you catch “Home and Away”, or “The Bold and the Beautiful” every so often. And to make sense of ONE episode, you have to work out how it fits into THE REST. Well, at least as much sense as you can make of ANY episode of “The Bold and the Beautiful”.
And that’s what Biblical Theology does. It looks at a single story. And then works out how that part fits into the WHOLE story.
And our job over the next ten weeks is to take a flying pass over the whole Bible. To get an overview of the whole story.
And that will gives us the tools to deal with EACH SEPARATE PART of the Bible. It will give us CONTEXT, and help us to fit it into the BIG STORY.
And that’s how we go about making sense of OUR LIVES. It’s as we work out what God’s story is that we find OUR place in the story. And we work out where we fit into God’s WORLD and God’s PLANS. And so we’ll get a greater perspective of who we are, and what we’re here for.
That’s the PLAN, anyway!
A story about GOD
So let’s begin. It almost seems too obvious to say. But the Bible is a story ABOUT GOD. He’s the main character. Every episode revolves around HIM.
But he’s MORE than that. He’s also the author, director, producer, set designer, and casting agent. He’s behind it, he’s IN it at every step. And he’s the GOAL and FINISH line of the whole story TOO.
A story that begins with God
And so, not surprisingly, the Bible is a story that BEGINS with God. Gen 1:1 “In the beginning, God…” Before anything else was, GOD was. He’s ETERNAL. The ONLY eternal being. Everything else has its beginning, finds its purpose, in GOD.
He’s ABOVE it and BEFORE it. He’s completely SEPARATE and “OTHER”. He’s TRANSCENDENT.
And, straight away, as author and set designer, he shows his AUTHORITY by SPEAKING CREATION INTO BEING.
BEFORE he speaks, the earth is FORMLESS AND EMPTY – that’s how it’s described in v2. And then he SPEAKS and things happen. Things come into existence. His words have POWER.
And as we read through Genesis 1 we see MORE about what God’s like. There’s an INTELLIGENCE about his creative power. It’s not just RAW POWER. (Like a landslide, or a tsunami). There’s order and design to the creation. Order and design that reflects GOD HIMSELF.
The FIRST three days are about bringing FORM to the formless, shapeless earth. Day 1 light and dark are formed. Day 2 Sky and water are formed. Day 3 the ground and its vegetation are formed.
Halfway through creation and the basic FORM is there. The OUTLINE.
I was flicking through the TV channels and TVS had a show on how an artist painted a painting. And she began by using a pencil to form up all the shapes. Getting the angles and the dimensions and the proportions right. The basic OUTLINE was there.
And then, once that was done, she began to fill in the shapes with DETAIL. That’s when she took up her paintbrush.
And that’s what God does in the SECOND three days of his creation. Takes up his paintbrush.
The earth began formless and empty (v2). The FIRST three days, God’s done something about forming up the FORMLESS. Now, in the SECOND three days, he’s going to do something about FILLING UP THE EMPTY.
Day 4. Light and dark, made on day 1, are given SHAPE on DAY 4. The sun, moon and stars are formed.
Day 5. The SEA and the SKY, made on day 2, get filled up with all kinds of life. Swimming and flying all over the place.
And then day 6, the land and vegetation, made on day 3, are filled up. All kinds of crawling and climbing things. Domestic and wild. Large and small.
And God looks over the whole thing, and (v25) he judges it GOOD. God is ruling over a good earth.
But God’s not finished. He’s got one final detail to the masterpiece in mind. The cherry on the top. Humankind. V26.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man(kind) 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.” 27 So God created man(kind) in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 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.”
In those few short verses, the whole of human history is set in context. What our NATURE is. What our PURPOSE is. How we’re to relate to God. And how we’re to relate to his creation.
Right there in the very first chapter of the Bible we’re told that God made us UNIQUE out of all his creation. The only creatures to be IN HIS IMAGE. Dolphins aren’t made in God’s image, nor are horses or dogs or pandas. Old growth rainforests aren’t, and neither are whales.
To be made in God’s image means we’re like God in PURPOSE, as well as like him in NATURE.
We’re like God in PURPOSE. He rules over his creation. But he sets humanity up as second in command. As DEPUTIES. And our job is to look after and care for, and nurture his world, on God’s behalf. To CIVILISE it. To CREATE it, and SCULPT it, and ADAPT it.
But there’s also an aspect of being God’s image-bearers to do with our NATURE. God’s NATURE is relational. He IS relationship. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Eternally existing. Complete and satisfied and loving in himself. Each person complete, and yet complemented and fulfilled by the others. He is THREE and he is ONE. He is three IN one.
He says there in v26, “Let US make man in OUR image.”
And he’s made us in a SIMILAR way. In the IMAGE of that nature. Made for relationships. NOT meant to go through life SOLO. Made to be joined together. Made male and female. Each one COMPLETE. But also, made to be complemented and completed by the OTHER. By two becoming ONE.
Over in Ch 2 that joining between Adam and Eve is described. 2:23
23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become ONE FLESH.
Husband and wife – two individuals. And yet joined as ONE FLESH.
We are RELATIONAL BEINGS. And we ARE that way because that’s the nature of GOD HIMSELF. And he made us IN HIS IMAGE.
And that will have something to say to us about all sorts of things. About loneliness and friendship and marriage and singleness. And about what CHURCH should be like. It’s not good to be alone. We were MADE to be in relationships with people. Because that’s God’s NATURE TOO.
And with that final piece of the puzzle, God FINISHES his creation. And he declares it VERY good. COMPLETE. Perfectly BALANCED, and IN TUNE.
God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule.
And whatever twists and turns the story of the Bible takes from here, that’s the yardstick – the blueprint. It’s what sets THE CONTEXT for everything else.
In a sense it’s what the whole Bible is about. About God’s plans to RESTORE his creation to that FIRST IDYLLIC PARADISE. And at each point in the story we can compare where we’re at with that blueprint.
God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule.
It’s really the THEME of the WHOLE BIBLE. The Kingdom of God. The sphere in which God RULES. God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.
It’s a chorus we’ll come back to again and again in the coming weeks. So whenever I say “Kingdom of God” I want you to think “God’s PEOPLE, in God’s PLACE, under God’s RULE.”
(What is the Kingdom of God? “God’s PEOPLE, in God’s PLACE, under God’s RULE.”)
And so God FINISHES his creation. And on the seventh day he RESTS. He BLESSES it. And makes it HOLY.
By resting from creating, he’s saying there’s nothing else to add. It’s PERFECT. He just puts down the paintbrushes, and sits back to ENJOY it.
And that has something to say to US about our attitude to the world. Despite it being fallen. It’s a good place to be. It’s a place to be ENJOYED. It’s Christian to commit yourself to working for the good of the environment, or your community. Or to enjoy nature, or the ocean. Or to STUDY it, or PHOTOGRAPH it, or PAINT it.
God sat back to ENJOY what he’d made, and WE CAN TOO.
That’s Ch 1.
Immanent as well as Transcendent
And then as we move into chapter 2, we get a DIFFERENT perspective on the Kingdom of God. The camera changes position. Instead of giving the wide angle, from the top down, big picture, it zooms in to the personal. The human. The eye level.
Like the difference between a computer game that looks down from above, and the game that’s from the view of the soldier, looking through his eyes as he runs through the battle field.
That’s what we’ve got in Ch 2. God’s creation viewed from the HUMAN level. It even uses a different NAME for God. In chapter ONE, it’s just ELOHIM – GOD. A TITLE.
But in Ch 2, he’s YAHWEH Elohim. God’s PERSONAL NAME. He’s not just the transcendent God, who’s ABOVE his world. He’s the IMMANENT God, who INVOLVES himself in what he’s made.
Instead of God simply SPEAKING creation into being, in Ch 2 we’ve got him FORMING man from the dust of the ground (v7). We’ve got him BREATHING into his nostrils. He’s PLANTING a garden.
And down in v19, he’s forming the beasts of the field OUT OF THE GROUND. And then he’s BRINGING them to Adam to name. And in v21 he puts Adam to sleep, takes one of his ribs and makes a woman from the rib.
It’s still God CREATING. He’s still just as much in charge. We’ve just got him doing it in A MUCH MORE INTIMATE AND PERSONAL WAY.
And at the end of Ch 2, the picture of GOD’S KINGDOM has been filled out a little more. God’s given the first rule to keep – v17. “Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” It’s open season on everything else. Just not this one.
That shows God’s RULE. He’s in charge. He’s setting the boundaries for what it means for his people to rule creation. GOD is the one who declares things good. Not them.
More on that NEXT week
And Ch 2 shows something about God’s PLACE. It was perfect. Beautiful to the senses.. He made it INNOCENT. With NO knowledge of good and evil. Everything was GOOD. God had MADE it that way, and DECLARED it good.
And we see something more of God’s PEOPLE. Made innocent, TOO. Naked but without shame. Because there was nothing for them to be ashamed OF.
And made male and female. COMPLEMENTING each other. COMPLETING each other.
And giving the task of NAMING the animals – exercising RULE over them.
What have we learned?
And so, as we come to the end of these two chapters, what have we learned?
We’ve learned something about who GOD is. He’s transcendent. He’s ETERNAL. Compared to his creation, he’s completely “OTHER.” Everything comes FROM him, and gets its life and identity and meaning from him.
He REVEALS himself, but we should never expect to understand him completely. Or understand how or why he DOES things.
And yet at the same time, Gen 2 paints the picture of God getting PERSONAL. Immanent. Close. Intimately involved with his creatures. It’s almost impossible to connect the two chapters as describing the same God.
And yet, isn’t that what God has done so much more clearly and intimately in his Son, The Lord Jesus?
That really is the incredibly DISTINCTIVE news of Christianity. That the infinite, eternal God of the Universe would take on frail human flesh. Flesh that bleeds, sneezes, aches and weeps. It’s BLASPHEMY to Muslims and Jews. Logical IMPOSSIBILITY to human rationalists.
But that’s what God’s done in Jesus.
John’s Gospel begins.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Transcendent. Eternal. But then, down in v14, it continues.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
We can KNOW God, because he’s SHOWN us himself. He did it with Adam and Eve in Ch 2.But he does it SO MUCH MORE CLEARLY in Jesus. And we’ll see more of THAT in the weeks to come.
And these chapters don’t just say something about GOD. But something about who WE are.
God got INVOLVED with his creation, so we should TOO. We should INVOLVE ourselves with people. Get our hands dirty. We should be Incarnational like Jesus. Immanent.
Historically, much of the social welfare around the world began with Christians. Feeding refugees in Africa. Caring for lepers in Calcutta. Educating street kids and orphans in Victorian London. Running orphanages in Romania. Housing and retraining prostitutes in Bangkok.
Christians getting INVOLVED. Because GOD did.
How are YOU doing that?
Secondly, these chapters say something about our IDENTITY, as well as about what we DO.
We are made in God’s IMAGE. And so the Christian view is that ALL people are valuable because of that. There is human DIGNITY for those made in God’s image. Which is EVERYONE. There are no second-class humans.
And that says something unique about how we think about the HANDICAPPED, about the OLD. About the UNBORN. About people from other cultures and countries. And how we TREAT them.
This truth about humanity will inform what we think about EUTHANASIA, about ABORTION, about DEMENTIA, about RACISM.
Humanistic evolutionists say the weak are BARELY human. Being human is about contributing and communicating. Fitness to survive is what it’s all about. If you can’t contribute or communicate, then why NOT euthanize? Why NOT abort? Why not starve the handicapped to death? Put your resources where they can do the most GOOD?
But God says human beings are VALUABLE. We are MADE in God’s IMAGE. We have PURPOSE and SIGNIFICANCE. And DIGNITY.
And FINALLY, these chapters teach us something about how we RESPOND to God. He MADE us, so he DESERVES our honour and glory and respect and loyalty and service and obedience and worship.
He deserves OUR LIVES.
Rev 4 gives us a picture of the throne room of heaven. Around the throne are four creatures who represent the whole of creation. V7.
7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”
But not just CREATION, humanity worships AS WELL.
9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: 11 “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.”
That’s what these chapters are teaching us, above all else. To take off our crowns. To lay them at the foot of God’s throne. In repentance and submission and adoration.
And to confess that HE is the One who deserves the acclaim and the authority. We are simply CREATURES.
But he CREATED EVERYTHING.