Summary: The opening words of the Bible provide the defining point of the faith.
The Beginning Point
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Introduction: Great books always have great beginnings. Good writers know the opening lines can hook or lose the reader. The first words provide the first impression and often set the tone for everything that follows. Charles Dickens began his classic “A Tale of Two Cities” with “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Shakespeare started “Romeo and Juliet,” his unforgettable story of tragic love, with “Two households, both alike in dignity.”
Rick Warren begins his bestseller “The Purpose Driven Life” with these lines. “It’s not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment…” Opening lines tell us something important about a book.
That’s equally true of the Bible. The first line of the first chapter of the world’s most important book starts with, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Every word in the Book flows from that first verse.
Years ago, the great Princeton Bible scholar, Dr. B. B. Warfield offered this illustration. (Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. I, edited by John E. Meeker (Nutley, N.J. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1970), p. 108.) He asks us to imagine that we are standing in front of a huge plate glass window. Imagine it’s a picture window in a lodge perched high on a mountainside. Outside a majestic scenic vista spreads from horizon to horizon. The scene catches your eye. You walk to the huge window. Two things can happen. You can see from two different perspectives, but probably not both at the same time.
You could look at the window. Your gaze can focus on the glass itself. You might look at the smudges. Window cleaners missed a spot there. You see a child’s handprint over there or a dog’s nose print down there. If you are scientifically minded, you might look for defects in the glass. Maybe a slight bubble here or distortion there. You might wonder about its composition or manufacturing process. You could speculate about its cost or quality. If you are a carpenter, your eyes might drift toward the installation. You might inspect the quality of the glazing or the tightness of the trim. You could stand there and look at the window. That’s one perspective.
On the other hand, you could look straight through the glass to the panoramic scene of mountains and valleys spread out below. You could see the sun glistening off a snow peak. An eagle soars in the morning sky. You can barely make out a logging truck in the distance. You stand in awe of the beauty. You know the glass is there. But you hardly notice. The window wasn’t placed there for people to look at. It is there for people to look beyond—to see through it to what it reveals. So with Genesis 1!
Some people only see the window when they read Genesis 1. They read it like a science book. They take it for the creator’s laboratory journal. It tracks his step-by-step procedures in fashioning the universe. Such people look for evidence of this or that process. Others read it as a science book and find it wanting. They cast it on the scrap heap of pre-scientific speculations along with flat earth theories and other ancient myths and legends.
Genesis is not a science book. It wasn’t intended to be. That, however, doesn’t mean that it’s not true or that it is filled with fanciful myths. Those who read such things into it miss the whole point. Consider the amazing piece of literature that we read a few minutes ago. Genesis does not claim to be an eyewitness account. It is God’s revelation through Moses about the beginnings of human history. The book was most likely written over 3500 years, well after the creation events themselves. It is amazing how different Genesis 1 is from other ancient writings.
We know what ancient peoples in Egypt, Greece and the Orient believed about the universe. Stories and legends abound. The moon god and the sun god fought. Their blood filled the oceans. Their footsteps formed valleys and mountains. Some ancients believed the earth was a plate that sat on the back of a turtle that stood on the back of a crocodile that rested on the back of an elephant—and other such nonsense. Folk in even less ancient times speculated that the earth was flat or that the sun revolved around the earth. The world in which Genesis 1 was written was filled with such thinking. But this book never commits itself to any such ideas.
Instead it presents a straightforward simple, common sense account of the beginnings in the only way that could speak to people who lived 3500 years ago and still make sense in the 21st Century. That’s amazing! Imagine that you were assigned the task of explaining to a five-year-old how an airplane flies or a huge metal battleship stays afloat. The principles of physics and aerodynamics wouldn’t help. You could spin some tall tale that might satisfy for the moment but would quickly fail as the child learned and grew. That was the challenge of Genesis.