Summary: Just like he did at the outset of creation, God can take the formless voids of our lives, give them shape, and speak light into them.
“Beginning with God”
Genesis 1: 1 – 3
First Things First
There is a saying, “First things first.” Well, the first thing is God. Our passage from Genesis begins this way. It says, “In the beginning God . . .” The Bible begins with God. It begins with the account of God creating the heavens and the earth and everything in between: stars and insects, trees and galaxies, planets and animals, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, not to mention human beings, us. In giving his account of creation the author of Genesis presupposes the existence and basic character of God as the one who creates all things and orders all things. He is the one who has made us. He is the one who has made everything. So if ever find ourselves wondering, where does life begin, Genesis orients us. If we are ever wondering what comes first, Genesis tells us. If we ever find ourselves wondering, where do I begin or where do I start in my own life, Genesis gives us a starting place: God. That is where we start. Or at least that is where we should start. Whatever our views of science and the Bible, of evolution and creation – questions that I am not going to address today – if this passage teaches us anything, it teaches us that life begins with God. God was in the beginning – and, in fact, God was prior to the beginning of creation. God has been on the scene long before we arrived and will be around long after we’re gone. God has always been and always will be. He is eternal. Life begins and ends with God. He comes first, not us.
Does it seem like I’m pointing out the obvious? You may think that this sounds like something we learn in our first days of Sunday school. Maybe it is. But I think that sometimes we need to be reminded even of the most basic aspects of our faith. Why? Because even as Christians we don’t always act or live like God comes first, do we? Just think of something simple, like how many of our sentences begin with “I” or have “I” as the main subject: “I’m going to do this today.” “This is how I feel.” How many of our thoughts revolve around ourselves? How many of our feelings are ultimately self-centered? Almost without thinking about it, we often, in our thoughts, feelings, and even actions, put ourselves first. But we really ought to put God first: God, as Scripture says, is the Alpha and Omega, which means he is the beginning and the end.
In The Message Eugene Peterson introduces the book of Genesis by saying: “First, God. God is the subject of life. God is foundational for living. If we don’t have a sense of the primacy of God, we will never get it right, get life right, get our lives right. Not God at the margins; not God as an option; not God on the weekends. God at center and circumference; God first and last; God, God, God.” He is trying to hammer home a point that we often find it hard actually to live out: “First, God.”
So when I look at our passage from Genesis this is the first thing I see: that God comes first, that he is before all things, and that because of this he ought to have first place in our lives. Look at it this way: if the first “day” would not have come into being without God, isn’t it also true that God still creates our days? Isn’t it true that apart from God our days would be nothing? Isn’t it also true, then, that our lives ought to bear witness to the fact that we wouldn’t even have life apart from God? If he was before us and if he is the one who made us, then shouldn’t he have first place in our lives? Shouldn’t our lives reflect what Peterson calls “the primacy of God”?
“The earth was a formless void . . .”
Now take a look at how God created the heavens and the earth in this passage. How does it describe the earth? It says that “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.”
Some scholars think that the Hebrew word that is translated “beginning” in our Bibles does not mean an absolute beginning of all things but the beginning of an ordered creation. In other words, this is what God was working with to bring a more ordered creation into being. However we understand that point, it does say something interesting. God took something that was without shape – a formless void! – something that was covered in darkness and he made something. God gave shape to that which was shapeless. God brought order to that which was chaotic and without direction. He gave form to something that was formless.