God’s Story (Part 1)
Human beings love stories. Good stories. Bad stories. Funny stories. Sad stories. Fanciful stories. Stories about real life. We just can’t get enough of them. We have whole sectors of our lives devoted to telling and remembering and sharing stories. The movies we watch, the books we read, the social media that we share, the time we spend with family and friends—they all revolve around stories.
Every part of human life revolves around stories. The beginning of recorded history? It starts with a story by Homer.1 The origins of the universe? No one gives you a scientific formula to explain that. Instead, they tell you a story. The news you listen to? Collected stories. The shows and movies you watch? Stories stacked upon stories. How do you get to know people? By asking them their life story: where are you from? Where did you go to school? What do you do? How did you meet?
We love stories. We need stories. Stories give us meaning. They give us purpose. They give us the framework and abilities we need to see and understand and process this messy world in which we live. We’re story-telling people, because stories help us make sense of life, they give us the “framework of meaning” that we need.2
Unsurprisingly, then, God communicates to human beings through stories. Think of Old Testament figures like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their descendants told their stories for generations before they ever were written down in the Bible. When Jesus showed up on earth, how did He teach? Through parables and stories. Eventually, of course, these stories were collected and gathered into this thing we call the Bible. And although it’s made up of smaller stories and vignettes and information of all kinds, the Bible collectively tells a big story. I like to call it, “the Story of God,” and it goes something like this:
In the beginning, God created the universe, but humanity brought distortion and death into creation. So God chose a people, who He shaped through time and circumstance, and when the time was right, He sent His Son Jesus to live, die, and rise from the dead. To continue His work, God gave the Church the mission of proclaiming Jesus as King until He comes again in glory to fully restore the creation.
When we read the smaller stories and passages that make up the Bible, it’s extremely beneficial to consider that story’s context within the larger biblical story. Every part of the Bible—every book, every story, every chapter, and every verse—is best understood in the context of the story of the Bible.
To put it another way: think of God’s Story more like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and less like Star Wars. My fellow super-nerds know what I’m talking about here, but for the rest of you, let me explain. One of the major criticisms of the Star Wars movies is that they lack an overall, coherent storyline. Individually, they’re great; maybe even in the trilogies, they’re solid; but if you look at all of the Star Wars movies together, there are all kinds of inconsistencies. In contrast, the MCU has followed one overarching plan, allowing over twenty movies to tell one big story. As far back as the first Ironman movie and growing with each passing phase, the MCU told one unified story—a story with different aspects, emphases, and characters—but one saga with a unified message. Looking at the entire Bible as God’s Story follows the MCU model: even though there are individual books and stories, they all fit together and coordinate within an overarching, big-picture story that helps give shape and character to the smaller parts of the story.
Over the next several months, we’re going to look at God’s Story, with the larger purpose of tracing the big story that runs throughout Scripture. Today we begin with the beginning, the story of Creation.
In the Beginning (Genesis 1-2)
Here are the Scriptural highlights of the creation story:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
In the words of Hebrew scholar Robert Alter, “This is the tale of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” This is the story of creation, the biblical account of the origins of life, the universe, and everything. This is the beginning of God’s Story, which includes the beginning of time, physical reality, humanity, and the rest of the world as we know it.
Now, there’s obviously a lot going on here—including some much-debated aspects concerning the origins of the universe. But before we get sidetracked by debates about origins and science and history, don’t miss the big picture. Because the 30,000-foot view of this story isn’t about how long creation took, but the fact that, in the beginning, God created the universe.
That’s the key to the story: in the beginning, God created the universe. All you need to know about the origins of the universe, as C.S. Lewis once said, is right here. The first subject of Scripture is God—and the first thing He does is create. This is the beginning. This is the basis for everything that follows. You can’t imagine a time or reality before this because time and reality didn’t exist before this. This is where it all starts. Not coincidentally, this is where Christian faith begins too. In the words of the Apostle’s Creed that Christians have confessed for thousands of years, We believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. This is where we start.
But what about all the other things attached to the creation story? Aren’t they worth thinking about too? Absolutely. Consider these other story highlights:
Story Highlight: The Method and Manner of Creation
As you’re undoubtedly aware, the method and manner of creation is a highly contentious issue. In short, the debate here is whether God created the world in six 24-hour periods (as some argue a literal reading of this passage suggests) or if God used a different means to create and this passage is better read at least somewhat allegorically or figuratively. As far back as we have records of the People of God talking about this passage, we have records of the People of God disagreeing on how to properly interpret this passage. People reading Genesis have long recognized that what you think about the origins of the physical universe are a key part of your worldview, influencing how you think about faith, truth, doubt, science, and a whole host of other things. So what do we do with this part of the creation story?
Let me first suggest that we consider this with some caution and humility. Let’s be willing to listen to one another and learn from each other. People far smarter than you or I have wrestled with and debated this for centuries, so I’m willing to do my best but hold to my position with some tentativeness. This is especially important given the variety of perspectives that faithful followers of Jesus have taken on this topic. Without going into all the specifics, there are at least five basic views on how the world came to look like it does:
- Young Earth Creation (where God created the world in six days roughly 6,000-10,000 years ago)
- Old Earth Creation (where God created the world in a relatively short length of time, but a long time ago, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of years ago)
- Progressive Creation (where God created the world in phases over a long period of time, perhaps even millions or billions of years)
- Evolutionary Creation (where God jump started creation and then let natural, biological processes drive the differentiation of species over billions of years)
- Naturalistic Evolution (where life originated and adapted over billions of years without divine interference or direction)
With the exception of naturalistic evolution (which posits the existence of no God), there are people following Jesus who adhere to each of those views. There are Christians who view these as appropriate interpretations of Genesis and the scientific record. Whether you believe in a six-day creation 6,000 years ago, or that God saying “let there be light” was the Big Bang 13.77 billion years ago, you can follow Jesus and live within the reality described by God’s Story.
Again, it’s imperative to keep the big picture in mind. Whatever Genesis says or doesn’t say about the method of creation, it is clear on one thing: that in the beginning, God created the universe. Genesis 1 communicates that God created the world. And that points us toward a crucial application for those of us reading this part of the story: that we must start our worldview with God. Whether we’re thinking about the origins of the universe, politics, global pandemics, math, Major League Baseball, or anything else, we should begin our thinking with God. We can get into theological details—which are still important and still matter—and we can even disagree on those details—so long as we’re following Jesus together.
Story Highlight: Theological Anthropology
Theological anthropology simply means who we are as human beings. Genesis 1-2 says a lot about who we are as people. Perhaps foremost is the message that humans have a place of special importance in Creation. Recall verse 26: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Theologians have long speculated about what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God, with suggestions including our ability to reason, speak, rule, or create as manifestations of our god-like-ness. Whatever special capacities we have, it’s clear that being made in the image of God makes humans sacred and special.
Every human being—by nature of their being human—has dignity, worth, and special-status in creation. “Because man is God’s representative, his life is sacred: every assault on man is an affront to the creator….”3 Recognizing that people are made in the image of God isn’t just a theological category: it’s a reminder that we should recognize the God-likeness of each person and show them love, honor, and respect.
But not only are we made in the image and likeness of God. In verse 28, humanity was given a mandate: to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, having dominion over the other parts of creation. Humans were made to procreate (with all that entails) and to fill the earth. And we’re meant to rule the earth: to subdue and hold dominion. Genesis uses royal language here. This is the idea regency: not that we own the earth and can do whatever we want to it, good or bad, but that we’re responsible for developing the earth, for sub-creating within it, while also preserving and protecting that which belongs to God. Recall also verse 31: And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. All of creation was originally good and beautiful. And humans were a part of that very good creation. In fact, in the idiom of Genesis, that was the role that humanity was supposed to play in creation: to make a very good creation even gooder, perhaps even more gooderest.
All-in-all, the creation story reveals that humans were made in the image of God, made to multiply, made to rule, and made good. These are all key things to remember as we move further into God’s Story in coming articles. From the very beginning, humans are curiously important characters in someone else’s story. The Bible is telling God’s Story, yes; but human beings are going to be essential characters too. God is going to be interacting with and through these seemingly insignificant meatbags whom He created as the pinnacle of creation.
As God’s Story continues, these humans are going to play an outsized role in the story of the world. But now I’m jumping ahead. This is only the beginning, the groundwork for everything that follows. Because in the next chapter of Genesis, the story gets real. But we’ll talk about that next month.
2 Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 18
3 Genesis, Word Biblical Commentary, 31-32
Image courtesy of Pixabay.