“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light” (Genesis 1:1-3). [NOTE: All references are from the English Standard Version.]
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3).
“In the beginning GOD . . .” What is this “in the beginning God” like, this God who speaks and things come into existence that did not exist before? Is this God scary or is he friendly? Does this creator God care about what is happening to me right now, or is He too busy running his big universe to have time for me?
We might reasonably expect to learn something about what this God is like from the book, the Bible, that starts out with “In the beginning, God . . .” The first “In the beginning” statement appears at the very beginning of the Old Testament of the Bible, so that would be a good place to start.
In a casual survey of the Old Testament, we encounter a God who is definitely powerful and perhaps a little off-putting. Not too long into the Genesis account, (Genesis 7) we find God destroying the sinful inhabitants of the world with a global flood from which no one escapes except the chosen eight who were secure in the Ark. God works with the generations after the flood first through a system of patriarchs, then through prophets, and through kings. Along the way, He chose Abraham to be the father of a people group – a group through which he will inform the world about what he is like. Generations later, Moses is the leader of the resulting nation. For the nations that stood in the way of Israel during its journeys through the desert and later entry into Canaan, God was a destroying God. You didn’t want to mess with him!
Even the people of Israel were not too sure about how close they wanted to be to this God. Early in their journey in the wilderness following their escape from Egypt, God paid them a personal visit at Sinai. When God showed up, the mountain smoked and trembled. Not only did the mountain tremble, “all the people in the camp trembled.” (Exodus 19:16)
“Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:18, 19).
Touch this God’s ark and you die. Just ask Uzzah’s family. (2 Samuel 6:3-8) Rebel (Korah) against this God’s chosen leader (Moses) and he will open up the earth and swallow you (Numbers 16). To many readers of the Old Testament, the God of the Old Testament seems harsh and sometimes cruel. They seem Him as a God who is truly powerful and not afraid to use that power when he wants to. A God that you certainly have to be careful around and probably not one you would think of as having as a friend!
The New Testament is much more encouraging as regards to what God is like. Our opening passage from John 1:1-3 informs us that the “In the beginning God” is also known as the Word and that “All things were made through him." John 1:14 clarifies that the “Word” was none other than Jesus Christ. Thus all that was created was accomplished through the activity and agency of Jesus Christ.
In the New Testament, the “In the beginning God” visits planet Earth and people encountered him up close and personal – and he isn’t as scary as we thought! A look or a word from Jesus could send the religious leaders scattering (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19) but children were comfortable and felt safe in his presence (Matthew 19, Mark 10, Luke 18). The “In the beginning God”, the Word, heals the sick and raises the dead back to life and ultimately sacrifices his life for his enemies (Romans 5:10).
The “Word” invites us who labor and are heavy laden to come to him and find rest (Matthew 11:28). But, what about all those folks that lived their lives in the times of the Old Testament? Was there any hope that they might discover the God we know from the New Testament?
Paul’s Curious Claim
The apostle Paul makes a curious claim in his letter to the church in Rome. He writes in chapter 1:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:18-23).
Verses 19 and 20 are of particular interest: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
One can imagine that God’s eternal power could be clearly perceived in the things that have been made, even by the people of Old Testament times. That’s easy. But his “divine nature”? Huh? How would his divine nature be perceived in the “things that were made” by the people back then, let alone now? How could Paul make such a claim? Perhaps he was just indulging in hyperbole.
Back to the “In The Beginning God”
Paul says that God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made so we shall go to the beginning to see what can be perceived. That will take us to the historical record of creation in Genesis 1.
Day 1 – “God said, "Let there be light," – and Whoosh – time, space, matter, light appear out of nothing!
Day 2 – “God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” – Zap – there are heavens above and waters below.
Day 3 – “God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’” Again, “God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth." – And it was so – Dry land, green grass, fruit.
“And God saw that it was good.” This creation thing is coming together pretty well!
Day 4 – “God said . . .” – Just say the word – The sun, moon, and stars appear! And that was good.
Day 5 – “God said . . .” – Poof – We have fish and birds all around. And that was good, too.
Day 6 – “God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds---livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’" – God speaks and it happens. But He is not done yet. – “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” Adam is formed from the dust of the ground into which God breathes the breath of life and Adam becomes a living creature. Eve is formed from one of Adam’s ribs.
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
There you have it. The historical record of creation in a nutshell. Surely this is a tour de force display of the “eternal power” of God that Paul talks about in Romans 1:19, 20. God “says” and whoosh, zap, poof it happens. But is there anything in the creation history that displays His “divine nature”?
In Part 2 we will explore how Paul could reasonably make that curious claim that even God’s divine nature is seen in the things that he made.