This is the text of a talk I will give this evening at 'church'.
This is the first in a series based on a brilliant book by Mike Goheen and Craig Bartholomew The Drama of Scripture.
Tonight we will look at the King and the creation of his Kingdom - the beginning of the grand story.
Another great book which will take less than a couple of hours to read is Lesslie Newbigin’s A Walk Through the Bible.
Why the need for an overview of the biblical story?
The reason is that so many are ignorant.
I was visiting a school recently and in a RE lesson I asked little Johnny, "Who knocked down the walls of Jericho?"
Little Johnny replied, "I dunno, but it wasn't me!"
I was shocked by his lack of basic Bible knowledge went to the head and to report what Johnny said.
She replied, "I know Little Johnny as well as his whole family very well and can vouch for them; if Little Johnny said that he did not do it, then I, as head am satisfied that it is the truth."
Even more appalled, I e-mailed the regional Head of Education and related the whole incident...
He quickly replied: "I can't see why you are making such a big issue out of this; just get three quotes and fix the wall!"
Gary Burge a lecturer at Wheaton, a Christian college in the States, gave his students a simple Bible test he discovered that:
One-third of the freshmen could not put the following in order: Abraham, the Old Testament prophets, the death of Christ, and Pentecost.
Half could not sequence: Moses in Egypt, Isaac's birth, Saul's death, and Judah's exile.
80 percent could not place Moses, Adam, David, Solomon, Abraham in chronological order.
Why do we need to know the biblical story? How do we view the Bible?
An Indian scholar once said to Lesslie Newbigin:
I can't understand why you missionaries present the Bible to us in India as a book of religion. It is not a book of religion - and anyway we have plenty of books of religion in India. We don't need any more! I find in your Bible a unique interpretation of universal history, the history of the whole of creation and the history of the human race. And therefore a unique interpretation of the human person as a responsible actor in history. That is unique. There is nothing else in the whole religious literature of the world to put alongside it.
We have fragmented the Bible into bits—moral bits, systematic-theological bits, devotional bits, historical-critical bits, narrative bits, and homiletical bits. When the Bible is broken up in this way there is no comprehensive grand narrative to withstand the power of the comprehensive humanist narrative that shapes our culture. The Bible bits are accommodated to the all-embracing cultural story, and it becomes that story—i.e. the humanist story—that shapes our lives.
We are marching to a story line – the issue isn’t ‘should we?’ the issue is ‘which story?’ Is it the world’s story or the biblical story?
We find ourselves at a crossroads: at the intersection of two stories. Two stories that claim to be comprehensive and both claim to be true.
And how can we be living out of the biblical story if we are not living, soaking and immersed in it?
Tom Wright uses the image of a several act play: the final act is us working it out, improvising from what we know – but we can only improvise if we are soaked in the story.
A great jazz player can improvise because she knows her scales, she knows her instrument and she knows her band members and how they respond and react.
So too for us to be improvisers we need to know the biblical story to be able to live out that story and not some other story.
The antidote? Is to see the whole of the biblical story in context.
First I want to give a grand overview and then look at the creation - the beginning of the story.
The Bible in one minute - YouTube clip
A simplified line diagram of biblical history:
This basic line diagram provides a simplified version of biblical history
We have the patriarchs (Abraham, Jacob, Isaac), then the monarchy (Saul, David, Solomon) – the people of God wanted to be just like the other nations so that had another king other than God. The kingdom divided: Israel to the North and Judah to the South. Israel and the tribes were carried off into captivity by the Assyrians – the tribes of Israel were lost. Judah – then went inot exile carried off by the Babylonians, the Babylonian empire faded and Cyrus of the Medes and Persians let Judah go back to their land.
The Persians faded – the Greeks became the dominant power and during this time the Scriptures are silent. The Romans come to power and we see the start of the New Testament.
The biblical story can be split into six acts.
The story starts, in good “Sound of Music” fashion, in Act 1 at the very beginning ….
Genesis as a subversive document
Genesis has many parallels to other ancient near Eastern creation stories. However, there are also marked differences. Most creation stories are concerned with the origin of the gods(plural), most of the creative work done by these gods is organisation rather than creation - they deal with pre-existing matter. Most of the stories are marked by a conflict or a struggle. Humans are created as an afterthought, they are to be the slaves of the gods, they are to do the work that the gods are tired of. it is the kings that are the representatives of the gods.
The genesis creation story subverts all that. God alone is pre-existent, Genesis is not about the creation of God - he is already there. There is one God. There is no conflict whatsoever: God speaks and it is done. In Genesis it is all of humanity that is created in God’s image - humanity is granted a royal status. Humans are the climax of the story - the work we are given to do is to continue the task of filling the earth, of cultivating the earth, developing it so that it can be filled with God’s glory.
Creation of the stars
In many other creation stories the sun moon and stars were regarded as gods. Not so in Genesis.
How many stars are there in the universe? No one knows! It is impossible to count them. if we started counting as soon as we were born and we lived to be over 70 and counted one star each second then we could count up to perhaps 2.2 billion stars. There are more stars than that in our galaxy alone! If we dedicated 3,000 years to counting the stars we wouldn’t have counted them all - let alone name them
It is estimated that there are 10 to the power 10 (1 000 000 000) stars in the Milky Way. and there are are an estimated 10 to the power 10
(1 000 000 000) galaxies in the universe. So that makes 1020 stars in total.
The creation narrative tells us important things about God, humans and the rest of creation.
In the beginning God
There wasn't anything else! God is eternal and he is uncreated. All else is creation. All else but God has a beginning. He is one.
There is a distinction between creator and creation - if that get blurs it distorts everything. Nothing in creation is uncreated. Everything is dependent upon God.
Because God created everything it follows that the Creator and creation are distinct. As C.S. Lewis observed, what makes and what is made must be two and not one.
He is the sovereign king over his creation.
God is powerful – he speaks and it is!
But also God is personal – he wants to have a relationship with us. He names and numbers the stars but he also knows the number of hairs on our heads.
the heavens and the earth
The world is a creation
The important thing is that God created not only the heavens but also the earth.
We are created from the earth; we are of the earth, earthy.
Too many of us try to escape from the earth. Why when God has created it and he created it good? The world is our home! We are not saved out of the earth, but on earth, for service on the earth. Heaven is not our home – we will be resurrected to live on the new earth.
Creation is good
Five times in the first chapter we have the refrain "And God saw that it was good" (vv 10,12,18,21,25) and once at the end of God's work of creation, "it was very good" (v 31). This affirmation undermines any potential dualism. By virtue of his creating it the earth and everything in it (i.e. all its contents) belongs to God (cf also Job 41:11; Ps 24:1; 50:12). Dualistically oriented worldviews see one aspect of creation as superior to another, whether it be spirit/ body, form/ matter, grace/ nature, sacred/ secular... . The biblical picture is that everything in it is good and important; nothing is evil and nothing is inferior.
God is so positive about his creation – and so should we!
God speaks ‘Let there be …’ and there is. All things are created and ordered by God’s word. There are laws and norms for the creation. It is an ordered creation. All things are ordered in response to God and his word.
Creation has value
Creation has meaning and value because God created it. It is not ours to use as we see fit.
The universe is a creation and not a product of chance
The creation is fine-tuned.
Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. if it boiled much lower then this would mean that very little water would be left on the surface of the Earth. Most of it would be in the atmosphere. Life would be impossible.
Water becomes ice at 0 deg C If Water changed into ice at say 15 deg C then most of the water would be ice; this would have a devastating effect on the whole ecological system; life would probably be unsustainable.
If there were no moon it would mean it would be darker at night. The tides would be affected; no tidal power; no high/ low tide ecological niche: impact on food chain etc. The moon slows the rotation rate of the earth from 8 hours with wind speeds of around 500 mph to 24 hours.
The level of oxygen in the air is 21%. Above 25% oxygen combustion is instant. Even damp vegetation would probably burn.
Below 15% oxygen nothing will burn. Breathing would become very difficult.
If the tilt of the Earth was greater, then the surface temperature differences would be too great for life.
If the rate of rotation of the Earth around the sun were greater then a atmospheric wind speeds would be too great for life
If the Earth's crust was thinner volcanic and tectonic activity would be too great. The tectonic activity recycles minerals and nutrients and hence important for maintaining life.
Earth’s magnetic field if it was stronger electromagnetic storms would be too severe to maintain life and if it was weaker we wouldn’t be protected from stellar and solar radiation.
The universe is not the product of time plus chance plus matter. And neither are humans
The biblical understanding of humanity:
Humans are created in the image of God – as rulers of creation. But it is rulership as stewards – the world is not ours to do with as we please. We are to continue the task of creation, unfolding and developing God’s good creation; discovering the laws and structures within creation and opening them up in accordance with God’s will.
Creation is not static it is moving towards a goal.
In the first three days we see God forming the creation.
In the next he fills the creation.
The culmination of the creation is humanity. We are the apex not the ape of creation!
It is this act of filling and developing the creation that humans are to continue. We are to cultivate, develop and unfold the creation. We are created to embrace God’s good creation. Not to deny it.
Act 1 of the biblical story then gives us some answers to important questions:
Where are we?
We are in a purposeful, lawful creation.
Who are we?
We are the image bearers of God.
To play our part in God’s developing story.
Why are we here?
To subdue and rule the creation as stewards of God. To develop and unfold God’s good creation.
It’s incredible that the God who cast the stars into space, who created innumerable creatures in the depths of the oceans that we may never see, created us and wants to have a relationship with us.
He is an amazing God.