Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
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A Meaningful World

 

Genesis 1:1-2 and 26-31

 Let’s just come out and admit it:  The first few chapters of Genesis present some “challenges” for us.  The Bible story might be a lot easier for us to accept and pass on to others if it just started with chapter 4.  These chapters simply do not fit with a modern, scientific view of the world.  Their account of creation is challenged by biology and geology and astronomy and so on.  And if we are honest with some people that we believe in a literal, seven day creation, that happened about 6000 years ago, we are likely to get some “strange” looks.  

 Well, for starters, one of the things that I think is important to say is that our faith does not depend on a literal reading of Genesis.  You can still be a Christian if you think the world is millions of years old.  You can believe in “intelligent design” and still worship Jesus.  

 These chapters are “mythical” in nature.  Now what do I mean by that?  Because if you say that the Genesis creation story is “mythical” in some Christian circles, you will be branded a heretic.  What is a myth?  A myth is a story that gives meaning to common human experience.  In this case, the common human experience is life, existence.  “Why am I here?” To say that something is a myth does not mean that you think it’s not true.  On the contrary, saying that something is a myth can mean that you think it has great truth, life-changing truth.  And I’m not going to try to change anyone’s opinion about how they read Genesis.  Whether you read it as literally true or only figuratively true, it still contains great truth.

 We should not ignore these chapters.  Even if it makes “telling our story to the world” easier, we should not ignore them because they are fundamental to our faith.  They lay the groundwork for what we believe.  So we shouldn’t ignore them.  

 They answer one of the most basic questions of all:  Why am I here?  Why is there something instead of nothing?  Is there a meaning to my existence?  

 We all yearn for meaning.  We need meaning.  Those who find their lives to lack meaning have a hard time living.    

 I actually find this to be a flaw to the atheistic understanding of human life.  If there is no God, and if we just evolved from lower forms of life, then why do we need meaning?  If evolution is supposed to help us to survive, why would we evolve with such a deep need for meaning?  Because if there is no God, then there is no great meaning to life.  If people die for a lack of meaning, why would we have evolved to this place in the universe where we need it?  

 In that way, I find the Genesis answer to the origin of life to be much more satisfying.  We need meaning in life because God created us to have meaning and significance.  

 As I said, these first chapters of Genesis are fundamental to understanding the rest of Scripture.  So what great underlying truths do we find in them?

 First, we learn that God is eternal.  Before the universe existed, God existed.  

The first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning.”  In the Hebrew language, the word beginning is always used in reference to something:  the beginning of the year, the beginning of the day, and so on.  So when the Bible starts out by saying, “In the beginning,” it’s talking about the beginning of something, the beginning of the world as we know it.  Before the world as we know it existed, God existed.  

If something has a beginning, then it also has an ending, which is again, something that we find throughout the Scriptures.  After the world as we know it ends, God will still exist.  God alone is eternal, existing completely apart from time as we know it.  That piece of information shapes our understanding of everything else.  The fundamental reality is God.  Everything finds its meaning and purpose in its relationship to God.  That’s important.

Second, we see that the created world is a place of goodness and order, or at least it was intended to be.  In a few weeks we’ll see that the goodness of creation is no longer what God intended it to be.  

We didn’t read the whole creation story, but if you do, you see that it is very orderly.  There’s a progression from the creation of the physical world and its different parts to the creation of the various kinds of animals to, finally, the creation of human beings.  And all along the way, God keeps repeating his refrain:  “He looked at what he had made, and it was good.”

By the way, that orderliness of creation is what invites us to make scientific inquiry. We’re able to question the order and workings of the universe precisely because God created it to be orderly.  

In other ancient creation stories, the world was born out of chaos and conflict.  But God brings order to chaos and makes a world of goodness.  Isaiah 45 says that the world was not made to be empty.  It was made to be inhabited by human beings.

Human beings, of course, are the pinnacle of God’s creation.  Notice how the tone changes in verse 26.  No longer does God simply speak things into existence, he becomes

personal:  “Let us make man in our own image.”  In Genesis 2, which tells us more about the creation, the picture becomes even more intimate.  God forms human beings from the dust of the earth, breathing life into them.  We are lovingly created by a God who holds us in high regard.

Compare that to some of the competing views of human beings in the world today.  Some in the scientific, and especially in the hard-core environmental fields, seem to view human beings as a curse.  We are the problem.  Earth would be better off without us.  Hardly the picture of human beings we find in Scripture.

God declares us to be a unique and special part of creation because we bear his image.  What does it mean to be made in the image of God?

It means that we are like God in a way that nothing else in creation is.  In the ancient Near East culture, an image carried the essence of the thing itself.  So if we are made in God’s image, we bear some part of the essence of God.  

There are two ways in which we see the image of God in humanity.  One is that we have dominion over creation, we “rule” over the world.  Now that gets a bad rap, and with good reason!  Dominion does not mean that we are free to use, and abuse, and consume the things of this world as we see fit!  Rather we are to be the care-takers of the world, to manage and treasure its resources.  After all, God has dominion over us, and he does not use his dominion to abuse us!

The second way in which we display the image of God is that we are relational beings. We forge and keep relationships, just as God is relational.  When God created human beings, only then does the Bible tell us that he made us male and female.  Obviously, animals are male and female, too, but I think the specific mention of men and women is a hint that the loving relationships between human beings in some way mirror the relationships that God has within himself, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The message we should take away from this chapter is that we have a meaningful place in this world.  Far from being a cosmic accident or just a funny animal who walks and talks we have a place and a purpose in the universe.  We need meaning because we are a meaningful creation of God.  That’s not an idea that we can just ignore because it comes from a “difficult” part of the Bible.

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