In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
The very first verb (and third word) in the Bible is “created” (bara’). One of the meaning is:
to create, shape, form
a) (Qal) to shape, fashion, create (always with God as subject)
4) of transformations
Our God is a transforming God! The verb bara’ appears throughout Genesis 1; unsurprising, since there’s a lot of creating to be done.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Interestingly, the earth is not created in its final state. It is raw, unfinished, formless – it requires transformation!
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
I just noticed that God usually says the passive ‘let there be’ (hayah) or similar phrases, which isn’t by itself surprising until we get to the sixth day:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:
Even ignoring the trinity-hinting plural, this is a unique phrase. Somehow God is tell Himself to make man, vs. asking the earth or oceans to bring forth life. There’s something personal about humanity (it is worth noting that God explicitly created both male and female in his image, hinting that both are needed to fully reflect God’s image).
There’s also an analogous contrast between God’s command to animals:
And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth
and his command to man:
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
These are strong words – subdue (kabash) and dominate (radah). I can see why it would annoy environmentalists, though there’s no reason to believe this mandate overrides God’s commands for the animals to maintain healthy populations. I believe this is better understood as what Chuck Colson calls the ‘cultural commission‘ (by analogy with the Great Commission). That is, imposing God’s creative purposes on unruly nature (including human nature) — i.e., transformation!
It is also suggestive that after creating man, God ended (kalah) His work and rested (shabath). Not in a deistic withdrawal, as will become clear later, but there is a strong message that one chapter has ended and another begun. Literally, the chapter on humanity, as we’ll see tomorrow in Genesis 2.
Note: Story vs. Myth vs. Fact
It is impossible for me to read Genesis 1 without being reminded of all the controversies over Creation vs. Evolution. Not just between secularists and Christians, but also within Christendom. Transformationally, the whole debate seems rather to miss the point. The primary impact on our lives comes from the story of our origin, which is quite a different thing than the facts. Not that stories are unrelated to facts, but story is a narrative which assigns facts meaning. The materialistic story of evolution — what one may call evolutionism or scientism — is a philosophical interpretation of the ‘fact’ (within a scientific context) of biological evolution. One may of course choose to question those facts, but even if one accepts the facts it does not require one to accept the story.
Similarly, the most important transformational point of Genesis 1 is whether one accepts the ‘story’ of creation: that God created the world, and humanity, for a good purpose. To quibble over the facts — such as whether ‘day’ (yowm) must mean 24- hours — usually serves only to obscure the story. And certainly the confrontational, anti-intellectual way in which many Christians attack evolution only serves to alienate people from the Gospel and the church, thus hindering the work of transformation.
That is not to say that facts don’t matter, or that story is synonymous with myth. At some point a story must be grounded in reality, not mere fantasy, or else it isn’t applicable to real life. But disputes over mere facts must be constrained to their areas of relevance. For example, I am sympathetic to scientists and philosophers in the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, who seek to draw inspiration from the facts of Genesis to address their particular fields. However, to the extent that ID is scientific and thus falsifiable, I suspect it may well be falsified in the next century (through quantum biochemistry or some such), thus it would be unwise to build too many apologetic houses on such a foundation. Many Christians have lost faith in God after losing faith in Creationism, which is not merely a fallacy but an unnecessary tragedy.