What does the Bible say about Creation?
Updated: Nov 18, 2022
Times of uncertainty or crisis can cause us to ponder the big questions: “Who am I?” “Where do I come from?” “What’s my purpose for being here?” The Biblical creation accounts speak to these deep yearnings. In the creation account recorded in Genesis chapter 1, God is pictured as a king who is a master sculptor. He orderly fashions you in his image, as his idol or icon. He declares you to be “very good.” And he sends you out to rule and represent him as his co-ruler in the far flung corners of his kingdom. This is who you are, where you came from, and your purpose.
Not long ago, I was driving home through a remote rural area. On a narrow part of the road, a large truck was coming the other way. I moved over, close to the edge of the road to give him plenty of room. But I misjudged and moved too far. With recent rain, the dirt shoulder had about a 4–5cm drop. So at 100km/hr the tires dropped off the road onto the dirt shoulder. I turned the steering wheel to get back on the road, and the tire jumped over the lip. But I over-corrected and veered slightly into the oncoming traffic lane. Thankfully the truck had passed and there was no traffic behind him. But my heart was pounding, my mind racing. Is this it? What’s been the point of my life? What have I accomplished?
Each human has a deep longing at some point for answers to these questions: “Who am I?” “Where do I come from?” “What is my purpose for being here?” “What's the point of all this?” “Why is there something rather than nothing?” We tend to bury these thoughts, but they can come out after a near miss, during a crisis, or when we encounter death. Have you ever had your life flash before your eyes? Have you ever asked these questions?
I asked these questions a lot during my university years. I investigated some of the great faiths of the world (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and particularly atheism). But I came to the conclusion that the Christian faith has the best (attempted) answers to these deep yearnings. (We note that faith is a journey, not a set of pre-packaged answers, so the best “answer” we can hope for is a sketch). The creation accounts in Christian Scripture address these questions: “Who am I?” “Where do I come from?” “What is my purpose for being here?”
Notice that I said “creation accounts.” There is more than one creation account in Scripture! An Australian Lutheran theologian once said, “‘Whoever imposes on the Bible one single view of creation impoverishes the Word of God by reducing the rich variety of the biblical accounts of creation.” (Friedemann Hebart, LTJ, 1991). Each creation account is a different colour of paint splashed on a canvas; each account interacts and joins with the others to form a beautiful and mysterious picture of God, our world, and humanity. For example:
Psalm 33:6-9 — God is a powerful ruler who speaks what is right and true, bringing the world into existence by mere breath.
Psalm 95:1-7a — God is a great king who made, and therefore owns, the depths and mountain peaks, the seas and dry land.
Psalm 136 — God is a blacksmith hammering out the earth across the chaotic waters, like gold or silver atop an anvil.
Psalm 148 & Jeremiah 31:35–36 — God is a commander or lawgiver who chisels his decrees, not on a stone tablet or wall, but on the earth itself.
Isaiah 40:21–22 — God is a mighty King, enthroned so high above us, that we look like grasshoppers; from his vantage point God spreads out the sky like a thin tent.
Amos 4:13 & Isaiah 64:7 — God is a potter who fashions and forms the earth (see also the Genesis 2 creation account).
1 Samuel 2:2-8 — God is the Rock on which the universe is built, a builder who constructs the pillars on which the earth rests.
Jeremiah 10:12-16 — God is the powerful Maker of thunder storms with wind, lightning and rain; he has the primordial sea, rain, hail, snow, light, and wind under his control, stored away in his storehouses and treasury rooms like a merchant king.
Job 38–41 — God is a builder, a tailor, a commander, a rich ruler with storehouses, a wise king, etc.
John 1:1–5 — God is word, life, and light shining in darkness.
Colossians 1:15–18 — God is the first, above all, giver of life to all creatures.
These, and other, Biblical creation accounts are not minutes of historical events. Rather, they paint a picture of events that can’t be described, they transcend our human understanding, even our very language. Modern hearers, like me, want to know the historic and scientific details. But these creation accounts are not so concerned with “How?” (other than broad brush strokes); they are concerned more with “Who?” — the relationship between God, the earth, and us.
So what is the picture that the creation account in Genesis chapter 1 paints? Who is God? Who are we? What is our purpose? In this account, God is depicted as a master sculptor. Our text gives us a few clues and pointers:
(1) First, the word “create” (‘In the beginning God created’). This word is only ever used to describe God’s creative work. It has the sense of God’s activity to bring about something totally new. Because it’s only used to describe God, it’s hard to know its proper meaning. However, there is a related word which has the meaning ‘to cut’ or ‘to divide.’ Like a carver or engraver might cut out parts of wood or stone, or a sculptor dividing his clay into portions to shape and fashion it. This artist brings order to the chaos of his material by cutting and separating the wanted parts from the unwanted parts.
You might look at your life and think it’s a chaotic mess: family conflict, sickness, hurt, failed dreams, broken marriage, uncertain future. But when God looks at your messy life, he just gets to work bringing order to chaos, carefully dividing and cutting away the unwanted parts.
(2) Second, this artist has a six day working week. He orderly divides his project across the six days, like slicing clay with string. His first three days are forming days: he forms the light, then sky/seas, then seas/land/vegetation. The next three days are filling days: he fills the light/dark with sun and moon, he fills the sky/seas with birds and fish, he fills the land with animals and humans. At the end of each day’s work he looks and says, “Good.” Then on the sixth day he looks at humans and says, “Very good.”
When we look at ourselves, we might see some sort of deformed creature. If we think about the terrible things we’ve said, done, or thought, and we might say: “stupid,” “bad,” “ugly,” or even “monstrous.” But when God looks at you, he says, “Very good.” Not just good, but very good! This is good news that you won’t hear anywhere else.
(3) Finally, on the sixth day God says, “Let us make humankind in our image.” This word “image” means “idol,” “icon,” or “statue.” This master artist creates little tiny icons or statues of himself. These idols are made in his likeness and image. The reason he does this, is that kings in ancient times would make statues or icons of themselves, and send them to the far flung corners of their kingdom. Every time the subjects looked upon the image of the king, they would be reminded of their ruler. So God the artist makes a whole bunch of tiny images of himself (you), and he sends them out to the far flung corners of his kingdom (the world) to represent him.
You represent God, your King! In fact, God decrees that humans do more than bear his image and likeness. He says to humans, “Be fruitful and multiply. Rule over [all the earth].” God shares his creative and ruling power with you. You are given the task to co-rule the kingdom and care for the earth with God. One area we see this very clearly is parents creating babies. God could have chosen to click his fingers to make babies. Or told us to gather up a pile of dirt and take it to his temple so the wind/spirit could blow over it. Or he could have had a stork drop off a baby in a white terry-towel. But instead, God has chosen to partner with humans in creating and ruling this world. So two people, husband and wife, man and woman, come together and with God co-create a baby.
The problem is that we want to rule our way, not God’s way. So we get sent out into represent God and co-rule with him, but we stuff it up. We follow our will, not the King’s will. We tarnish God’s image, we bring shame to his name. But thankful the King has sent his Son, Jesus. And Jesus shows us how to rule, not with power or might, but with self-sacrifice and loving kindness, a love that’s more than mere words, but action that takes him all the way to a shameful death on the cross. Yet God raises Jesus from the dead to restore honour to his name. God makes Jesus into a new human who perfectly bears his image. And because of Jesus, you too are being restored, so that you might perfectly bear God’s image and bring glory — not shame — to the King’s name.
What is striking about the Genesis 1 creation account is the care and order of the Artist. The Triune God is caring and attentive. He is orderly and methodical, working to reign in the chaos of the created world gone wrong. This stands in stark contrast to other ancient non-Biblical creation accounts. For example, the Babylonian creation account is called Enuma Elish. It tells a story of a pantheon of gods at war. One god, Marduk, wages a massive war against his parent Tiamat and her eleven monsters. Marduk triumphs, smashing Tiamat’s head with his mace, her blood scattered by the wind. He cuts her in two and from her guts fashions the heavens and the earth. He creates humans from the blood as slaves to serve the gods.
If we compare this violent account, typical of the times, with the creation account in the Bible, we can see some stark contrasts. Your God creates with loving kindness and care. Like a dedicated artist working on a six day project, God carefully orders his work. Instead of violence, he brings order to the chaos of life. Humans are not some afterthought created from destruction, but in God’s sight you are the pinnacle of creation. You are not some servant or slave to God, but invited to co-rule with him. You bear his very image and are sent to the far flung corners of the kingdom to represent God.
As I look at the post-coronavirus world and church, sometimes I just see the chaos, the aftermath of destruction. But then I remember who God is. He is the Master Sculptor who can create something entirely new. He is the God who makes his people in his own image, sending them as co-creators and co-rulers. I’m convinced that God wants to create something new with you, his church. See, God continues to shape and fashion you. He continues to restore his image in you through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The church, the body, is being reshaped: a new eye here, a new arm, an improved nose line. God is creating us in his image to be new people. How are we going to bring glory to his name? How are we going to represent the Master Sculptor where God has placed us? It might look different to how it has in the past, but you are created very good, to rule this world in his name. And as Jesus restores God’s image in you, I am confident that we will bring glory to the name of our King in new and creative ways. Amen.