Do you know why Noah didn’t let a few of the birds on the ark?
They were using fowl language.
Not my best effort. Some of you have expressed some concern that the OT is no longer relevant. To quote my sister, “it’s just so old.” So why bother teaching it to hip college students like yourself? Well, I’ll tell you. Last spring I told a brilliant joke on a Wednesday night about Abraham and Isaac. The gist of the joke is that Isaac’s computer didn’t have enough memory and so he complained to his Father, Abraham, whose reply was – “don’t worry son, the Lord will supply the RAM.” Well, no one laughed, and because that’s hilarious I concluded that you know as much about the Old Testament as I know about high-end designer women’s handbags – just enough to get by in casual conversation.
And so without further ado, we begin tonight with the single most controversial sentence ever written. Are you ready? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Do you feel the controversy? The scandal? These words were written, and the world has never been the same.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. God – if He’s any God at all – created everything that exists. Even my three year old nephew Rupert knows that. And perhaps you’re right, maybe we all do. After all, our culture has inherited about 3,500 years of strong Judeo-Christian teaching. And because of that, we very well might take it for granted that a) there’s only one God and b) that He’s the One responsible for this reality we call existence. But fasten your seatbelts, because if we’re going to understand the Old Testament at all, we have to take a journey. And so put on your imagination cap. The year is 1200 BC and you’re a college student at – are you ready – Mesopotamia University. Sadly, Nineveh State was your first choice and you got waitlisted. And because you grew up in the ancient Near East, you’ve never even heard the idea that of a Personal God that’s responsible for creation.
That being said, you have heard a lot of stories that try to explain why the world was created, but the only thing these stories have in common is that not one of them involve a loving and personal creator. But instead, you’ve been brought up to believe that the universe is filled with many different gods and that each one is limited in power and morally repulsive. In other words, you believe the gods are at war – they’re petty, they’re jealous, and they have a really short temper. Perhaps a bit like Lindsey Lohan. And not only that, but their favorite pastime is taking out their anger on humans.
You live in a really superstitious world and your life is basically one, big terrified existence. It revolves around appeasing the gods so that the short, hopeless, and meaningless life you experience isn’t any more painful than it has to be. Your life revolves around appeasing the gods. And they all want different things. Some gods are easy. Just leave them some corn and that’s enough. And some want to be worshipped – and so there’s a pretty good chance that you brought your small stone statue of the village god with you to Mesopotamia U. But some gods demanded much, much more. For example, when people wanted something from the Molech, they’d build a fire inside of his statue and then wait until it was glowing with heat. And then, they’d place their infant child on the arms of the statue. The child, of course, would be seared to death. The year is 1200 BC. And you live in a barbaric, loveless world.
Of course, as a kid you probably asked your parents why the gods created you. After all, there’s not a child in the world that doesn’t ask that question. A desire to know why we’re here is built into our D.N.A. And every answer had a similar hopelessness. The gods were bored. They were lonely. They needed people to do their chores. They created us for amusement. You could have been told anything. But I know for a fact what you weren’t told. You’ve never been told – not once – that creation had anything to do with love. In fact love wasn’t a concept that would have even made sense to you. In other words, you live in a world where the view of human beings is at an all time low. Life, as you know it, is an endless cycle of conflict – between people and people, between one god and another god, and between people and the gods. But not only that – it’s an endless cycle of death. People are born, they die, and on and on goes the cycle – without meaning, without purpose.
And so living in this horribly destructive belief system, imagine hearing these words: “In the beginning God” – a transcendent, all-powerful, eternal, personal being – in the beginning this God created the heavens and the earth. And then the kicker – God saw that it was good.
What do you think you’d say? Good? How can creation be good? What about the death, the conflict, the fear, the child sacrifices? Well, we’ll actually get into all that next week. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that for the first time in the history of the world, a group of people dared to claim that a personal, loving God created everything – and that it was good. And so the question naturally arises – why? After all, a desire to know why we’re here is built into our D.N.A.
And the answer, from the very beginning, is clear: COMMUNITY. You and I – each and every one of us – were created to be in perfect community with God and in perfect community with one another. In other words, we were made to be in an intimate relationship with God and with others. Now as Christians, we believe that God is, by definition, a Perfect Community. After all, that’s what we mean when we talk about the Trinity – that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three distinct personalities that are in such an intimate relationship with one another that they are one God and not three. In other words, there was never a time when the Father existed, but the Son and the Spirit did not exist. And that’s because we believe that God, by His very nature, is Perfect Community.
Now, I know what you could be thinking. Isn’t the idea of the Trinity contrary to what we find in the Old Testament? And the answer is – absolutely not. Listen to the first three verses of the Bible.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was empty, a formless mass cloaked in darkness. And the Spirit of God was hovering over its surface. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
Verse 1 tells us, and I quote, that “God created.” This, we believe, is the work of the Father. In fact, in the book of James this Creator is called “the Father of lights.” In verse 2, we’re told that the Spirit of God is hovering over the waters. Genesis uses the same language the Gospels use when they talk about the Holy Spirit hovering over the water at Jesus’ baptism. And in verse 3 we’re told that God creates by speaking His Word. God doesn’t just “think” light into existence. He speaks his Word - “let there be light.” And of course in the Gospel of John we learn that this “Word,” through whom all things are created, is none other than Jesus Christ – the Son of God. And so it’s important to see that from the very beginning, starting with the first three verses of scripture, we see God in perfect community.
And so back to our question – why did God create this earth. Why did God create us? And the answer is for community. That’s the main reason you’re here. Out of the magnificent richness of the eternal community that we call the Trinity, God created humanity so that we too might live in his love. You weren’t created because God is bored. The Father didn’t get tired of the Son and all of the sudden need some better company. But you were created because God, because of His communal nature, is love – and by definition, to love is to be generous, to give, to expand, to enlarge, and to include. In other words, God wanted to include you in His own life. And so God created the heavens and the earth, and most importantly – me and you.
But do you see what that means? It means that you and I are the pinnacle of God’s creation. You see, God created the heavens and the earth and He said that it was good. He created the light and said that it was good. The plants – good. The animals – good. But then God created man and woman – and you know what God said? Very good. Here’s what Genesis 1 says.
“Then God said, let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish and the birds and the cattle and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”
I think in today’s world there’s a huge risk – a huge risk – that we’ll forget who we are. And here’s what I mean. We in the 21st century live between two radical extremes, at least in terms of how we view ourselves. On the one hand there’s the view that we deserve a place equal to God. And that’s all pride is. In fact, a few religions even teach that humans are divine. But on the other hand, there’s the radically scientific / secular viewpoint that would just shrug and say that humans are some freakish cosmic accident – the random result of a random Big Bang. But somewhere between these two poles lies the truth, which is this – that You and I and every human you’ll ever meet is the apex – the pinnacle – of God’s creative work.
And so you know how I said that God is perfect community? Well, to be made in God’s image – to be made in His likeness – means that our purpose, the meaning of our existence, is to experience this same perfect community with God and with one another. And that’s exactly what we see in the first two chapters of Genesis. In fact, Genesis tells us a few things that fascinate bible dorks like myself.
First, do you remember Adam’s job before God created Eve? God put Adam in charge of naming the animals. It’s actually a pretty funny scene. It’s just God and Adam in the Garden of Eden and God’s trying to find Adam a suitable partner. And so God parades all these different animals in front of Adam and tells him to name them in the hope that one of them might be a suitable partner. And so as the animals all walk by, Adam starts naming them – buffalo, cat, mouse, horse, lizard, rhinoceros. Adam names them all. Now I don’t care how much we love our pets - we all know that not one of them is a suitable partner. They’re pets. And so as the story goes, God puts Adam into a deep sleep and when Adam wakes up he sees Eve. And when Adam sees Eve, he knows for the first time that he’s found a partner who exceeds his wildest expectations. His exact words are “this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Adam, upon seeing Eve, is more alive than he’s ever been. For the first time in his life, Adam bears the full image of God. After all, Adam was made for community, and when he meets Eve, he experiences perfect community with another human being.
Second, we’re also told that the Garden of Eden was the first nudist colony in the history of the world. And, at least before the 3rd chapter of Genesis, the Bible suggests that this is a good thing. Because being naked in the Bible is a symbol of intimacy and communion. To be “naked,” biblically speaking is to be totally exposed and known. And so according to Genesis, Adam and Eve were completely naked – before God and before one another – and were not at all ashamed. This is the second reminder Genesis gives us that what they had from the beginning was perfect community.
But Genesis hints at a third thing that’s really, really significant. It suggests that God was in the garden with both of them the entire time. In fact, one tradition teaches that every evening God and Adam would take a walk. Imagine having a nightly appointment to go for a walk with God.
And so imagine what the Garden of Eden must have been like. Just imagine you’re Adam and that after you see Eve for the first time you go for a walk with God. I bet Adam felt really, really loved by this God that was always trying to bless him and surprise him with these amazing experiences. And I bet their conversations on these walks were awesome – they probably talked about how beautiful Eve was and about how great it was to know her. And as for Eve, I bet she felt really safe, and really loved, and really cherished – not used or taken for granted – but appreciated and admired for who she was. Why? Because she was in perfect community with Adam. And she was in perfect community with God. And perfect community – that’s the whole reason she was there in the first place.
Now, if what I just described sounds like a dream – like it’s a little unreal – there’s a reason for that. It’s not real. Well, at least it’s not anymore – it was perhaps a long, long time ago – but as we all know there’s more to the story. We may be the pinnacle of creation. We may believe in a personal and loving Creator. We may know we were made for perfect community. But we don’t live in the nudist colony any more. Nope – ours is still the world of death, conflict, and fear.
And so the question is – what happened? Well, if we keep reading the Bible we discover that Adam and Eve turn out to be community crashers. And so do their children. And as the human condition worsens, so do we. But more on that next week.
But, none of that takes away from the fact that God created each one of us in his image. And that we’re very good. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Do you feel the controversy? The scandal? These words were written, and the world has never been the same.
NOTE ON SOURCES
This OMEGA series “OT Greatest Hits” is inspired by a 32-week Christian Education program put out by Willow Creek called the “Old Testament Challenge.” Some Omega talks will rely on this resource more heavily than others. Some will not even be based on it at all. However, if you have specific questions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info on the OT Challenge, see http://www.willowcreek.com/resources/courses/otc/.