Occasional Theological Interpretations of Verses in the Pentateuch (1): Genesis 1:1
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen.1:1)
Familiar words, huh? Perhaps too familiar? This first verse of the Bible contains seven Hebrew words. Seven is the number of completeness. These seven words give us a “God’s eye” view of things. Everything else in life revolves around this great reality. We may like and embrace it or dislike and disavow it but nothing we do can change it. Here’s a paraphrase that might make you stop and think a bit about what this foundational truth means.
“In the beginning (not “once upon a time”) . . .
When God acts something happens, things change, reality is altered. This is no fable or fairy tale from which we try and discern a moral or a point by which to live our lives. No, this God is action, a verb, “the” verb! Prayer to this God alters reality – both for God and for us, since God often makes us the answer to our prayers! Faith in and life with this God is verb-based because he’s always working toward fulfilling his purposes in and through us.
“God . . .”
“God” can mean anything and everything or nothing considered by itself. But in this verse it serves as an invitation to live with and reflect on this One who creates and defines the reality in which we live. He even names himself for Moses as the One “who will be who he will be.” And as we follow the trail of this God to the end we discover that not only has God brought the world and us creatures into being, astonishingly, he will one day become one of us himself and share with us a human life. And more astonishingly yet, we learn that God intends to make all things (including us) right at the end and spend eternity with us on his renewed, cleansed, and restored creation! We don’t know all that here at the beginning, however. We learn it by following this God through the whole story of himself he tells in the Bible. The better we come to know him, the more incomprehensible yet at the same time inexpressibly good he becomes to us.
“did what only God can do . . .”
When God acts he does what only he can do. No other purported deities do what the rest of Genesis 1 and 2 as what God “created.” He does not simply rearrange things or draw out their inner essence. Human creativity works like that, but not God’s. He brings what was not out of chaotic disorder (as we have it here in Genesis 1). Nothingness in the hands of this God is not reworked, turned on its head, or even transformed – it is defeated by the divine power to overcome any chaos or resistance and by God’s own word bring a new thing into being, the grand, ordered, “good” and “very good” creation!
“creating the sphere of reality in which God and his creatures live together.”
“The heavens and the earth” refer not to two separate things but one interlocked and overlapping reality. This overlapping linkage “slips” (as it were) when humanity sins but the two are not severed. God resides in heaven but he is close, related, and involved in what is going on on earth. God will eventually undo the “slippage” in the interlocking and overlapping reality of “the heavens and the earth” because it is to be his eternal “home” with his creatures. This is why Jesus prays that his Father’s will be done “on earth” as it is already done in heaven, where God is.
“In the beginning (and not “once upon a time”), God, whom we will not truly know until the end of his journey with us, did what only God can do, creating the sphere of reality in which God and his creatures live together.”