A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Genesis 1 on Sunday 19 January 2020
This is a mousetrap. It consists of several interacting pieces, the spring, the hammer, the catch, the hold-down bar and the platform on which it is built, all of which must be in place for the mousetrap to work. The removal of any one piece, or even a slight modification, destroys the function of the whole mousetrap. Such a thing cannot have just happened by accident. It must have been designed. Behind every mousetrap stands a mousetrap maker.
If this is true for such a simple device, it is even more true for even more complicated machines. A car. A personal computer. Even that most complicated of all devices, the TV remote control.
So why should we be ashamed to say that things thousands of times more complicated, the wing of a bird, the human immune system, even the good old opposable thumb, had a designer, a maker, a creator? As the very first sentence of the Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
We are now into our third week of looking at the Apostles Creed. I believe in God, the Father Almighty. This morning I draw your attention to the third article of the Creed: that God is the creator of heaven and earth. And we’re going to look at Genesis chapter 1.
For decades the devil has tried to stop people from taking this chapter seriously. I suppose if people won’t read page one of the bible they’re not going to read page two. And the devil’s chief weapon has been science. Science can’t prove God and it doesn’t need God to explain the world. So as an ex-scientist a few comments wouldn’t hurt. Firstly, science is only one way of looking at the world. It comes up with a theory for how things happen, makes certain predictions and then tests them by making observations. Looking at things. Weighing things. Measuring things. Science has been very successful. It has resulted in almost every technological advance we have. We live longer because of science.
But it isn’t the only way of looking at the world. For example, through science we can almost clone a human being. Science can do this, but it can’t say if we should. We live longer because of science, but do we live better? For all the good it has done, science has nothing to say about history or philosophy or ethics or theology.
Secondly, science is good at measuring things. Looking at things. Weighing things. Putting things in cages and testing them. But using science to prove the existence of God, an invisible, spiritual being, is like sending a sniffer dog to find the colour purple. You can’t see God. You can’t weigh him. You can’t put him in a cage and run tests on him. Not believing in God because of science, is like a blind man who doesn’t believe in cars just because he can’t see them.
Thirdly, science does a great job with things. Animals, rocks, stars. Things. But it doesn’t do a very good job with people. It may be able to explain the behaviour of a group of people, a crowd or a mob, but it cannot explain the behaviour of an individual. The individual human being is more unpredictable than the weather. Why then should we think that science can explain God, the ultimate person?
There is not one sentence, not one word in Genesis chapter 1 that we should be afraid of or ashamed of. On the contrary, it is the beginning of all things. Every other truth, who we are, why we are here, what will happen in the future, depends on what is here. And it begins with those words that everyone knows. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
That’s the Bible’s way of saying God made everything. The earth, the sea, the sun, the moon, the stars and everything in them, on them and under them. God made the dinosaurs and the distant galaxies. And if ET is somewhere out there phoning home, God made him too.
And God made all these things out of nothing. There is nothing that God didn’t make. There is no power that can match God or be his rival. The devil isn’t an evil god, but a creature gone wrong leading a rebellion against his master. The stars don’t control our destiny. They are just giant burning balls of gas that are so far away they appear as tiny points of light. The forces of nature are just tools in God’s hands, doing his will. And the princes and presidents of men are as small and insignificant to him as the paramecium floating in a drop of water under a microscope.
God creates by speaking his mind. And God said, “Let there be light and there was light.” God forms a thought. He speaks it. And it happens. What the boss wishes would happen in the workplace. What the teacher longs for in the classroom. What the minister can only dream about in a congregational meeting. God speaks and it was so. What God says happens. This is the word of God. Not just some book gathering dust on the shelf because no one ever opens it and reads it. God’s word is his creative will, with the power to move mountains, to turn hearts, to change the course of history.
This is the power of prayer. When the simple request of the believer’s heart lines up with the will of the creator, nothing can stand in its way. And this is the true power of faith. Not the power of positive thinking, which is alright for ordinary things, but the power of faith, for when the human heart is obedient to the will of its maker, and trusts his Word, nothing is impossible. Even the extraordinary can happen. For the leopard cannot change his spots, but the God who made his spots can change them for him.
And what God makes is good. God takes what is chaotic and empty and gives it form and fills it. God shines his light into the darkness and fills it with the sun and the moon. He separates the waters, condensing the moisture of the atmosphere into the seas and oceans, and fills the water with fish and the air with birds. He makes land appear out of the sea and fills it with birds and animals. God’s creation has form and structure. It makes sense. It can be measured and weighed, observed and understood. Yes, you guessed it. We humans can do science, because our tiny minds can catch a glimpse of the wonder and wisdom of the mind of God.
I love David Attenborough. I fell in love with his work twenty-five years ago watching Life on Earth. I’ve watched the Living Planet, the life of plants, the life of birds, the life of insects. And although he denies the existence of God, every words he speaks fills me with praise for my creator and with wonder for what he has made. Because every minute of those programs shows me that God is a craftsman and what he makes is good.
And God made you. God made you and he doesn’t make junk. Because every step of Genesis chapter one rings with the chorus, and God saw that it was good. And right at the end, just in case we’d missed it, God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good. Unfortunately, we humans usually only look at things from our point of view. If we like it, we try to improve it. We build it bigger and make it remote controlled. But if we don’t like it, if it’s in our way, if it is inconvenient, we judge it and say this is bad. If it moves we shoot it and if it doesn’t move we poison it. We hardly ever look at a weed and stop to think, “Here is a plant God has made. It doesn’t need sowing. It doesn’t need bags of fertiliser. It survives on the rain God sends on it. And it grows ten times better than any wheat or barley. If we could crop it we’d be millionaires.” But we poison it or dig it up anyway.
Our restless hearts hardly know our place in the big wide world. No wonder we never seem to understand the place of other things in God’s good plans. God understands the mystery of the existence of the mosquito. He loves the perfect match of form and function in the great white shark. And his heart thrills at the power of the thunderstorm.
What God made is good. Which means that nothing is by nature evil. Sharks aren’t evil. Mosquitoes aren’t evil. Sex and nakedness aren’t evil. Both a triple chocolate mud cake smothered in cream, and a Mercedes-Benz motor car can at different times become an object of temptation. But they are not by nature evil or bad. In fact, because of God’s good creation, evil then is by definition unnatural. It is a corruption, a perversion of something good.
Jesus himself taught that it is not what goes into a man’s body that makes him unclean, the things he eats, the things he sees. It is what is already in a man, the things that comes out of a man, the things that overflow from the poison in his heart, envy, strife, lust, that make him unclean and lead him astray. These feelings can be triggered by things outside in God’s good world, but they come from within.
Genesis chapter 1 tells us that we too were created good. “Let us make human beings in our image, according to our likeness.” And he blessed us and made us fruitful and said, “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the earth.” But even this exalted status in God’s great and wonderful creation was not good enough and man’s heart craved more and evil was born. It is not a power equal to God. It can only twist what God has made to serve some other purpose. And so evil is unnatural, a rebel power in revolt against the natural order of things.
If God had been a spiteful creature he might have destroyed what he had made, like a child might screw up a drawing that had gone wrong, or overturn a board game that wasn’t going their way. But God is the creator of heaven and earth. He is a maker, a craftsman, who created for the sheer pleasure of it, and loved what he had made. Genesis 1, at the very beginning of the Bible, helps us to understand the passion that drives God’s plan to save not just humanity, but the world, the whole created order.
This, as Revelation 21 tells us at the end of the Bible, is God’s great plan for the future. Not just to make heaven into some kind of retirement village for believers who have retired from the pain and struggles of the real world for a bit of rest and relaxation. Heaven is not some kind of superannuation plan for Christians. No, God’s plan is to make all things new. To make a new heaven and a new earth. Not just back to the way it should have been, but new and improved, with one big difference. God made us in the beginning in his likeness, able to think and plan and love, to be creative in our own way. And God made us with the ability to say no. With the ability to turn our back on him. Able to choose wrong instead of right. And so we fell and invited evil into our hearts.
But through his Holy Spirit, God is recreating us according to the image of Jesus Christ. In this life good and evil still wage their war for our heart. We stumble and fall into sin and pick ourselves up many times. But in the life to come God’s plan is to make us perfect, even better than we could have been. God’s plan is that in his new world order we can never fall again. And God sent his son into the world in our likeness. Of all the creatures in the world who need God’s help, Jesus became like us. With ten toes, eight fingers and two opposable thumbs. And he died for us in our place to set us free from the beast that lurks within us all. He did this not just because we are important to him, and not just because we are important to ourselves. But because we are important to the world. God made us the rulers of the world. But with our hearts guided by sin we wreak and destroy what we should love and protect. God saved us in order to save the whole world.
All this tells me that we are our world’s only hope. We don’t have to fear the world. And it’s not going to blow up in the sun. It’s not going to melt. Instead, it will be made new when the Lord Jesus comes. However, this is no reason for complacency. And until that day comes, no one can love this world better than we can. And because we love the world, we will fight for it. Capitalists might want to exploit it, shoot it, poison it and fill it full of holes. And environmentalists might want to bow down and worship it. But no one can love the world better than those who have experienced God’s love in Christ and share his plan for a new heaven and a new earth.
Take the time to look at the world with new eyes. Try to love it like God does who made it and plans to make it new and fight for it.