Guest post by author Larry Richards.
I’m impressed with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective, Sherlock Holmes. He’s so aware of the little things. Brown stains on a thumb and forefinger; the way the cuff of a left pant leg shows more wear than the right. Nothing at all like his companion, Dr. Watson, who might notice someone waving his arms and shouting, but who always misses the subtler clues, the things that speak volumes to Holmes.
If Holmes and Watson were called in to investigate the Bible’s creation account, I suspect that Watson would immediately see what most of us do. But Holmes would find meanings that others miss.
Our first impressions of Genesis are much like recognizing the type of broad, sweeping gestures that even Dr. Watson couldn’t miss. Visualizing the act of creation, we’re overwhelmed at the awesome power of a God who can call worlds into existence with a word. Yet there are other clues in the first chapters of Genesis that are more understated and suggestive—the types of clues that Sherlock Holmes would detect, clues that tell us much about the central figure of the Bible’s story and set up the story itself. If we focus primarily on the grand gestures, we may miss the more elusive clues embedded in the Creator’s words and actions. Still, we mustn’t discount the significance conveyed in the overarching grandeur of God’s creative act.
The Major Message of Creation
In the opening words of Genesis, God steps boldly onstage: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Because of the magnificence of creation, the apostle Paul will later write, some knowledge of God is the common heritage of all humankind: “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”1
What Paul means is that the universe is so obviously supernatural, so clearly a God thing, that no one can miss its significance. The universe need not contend for God; its very existence bears witness to God’s existence and to his awesome, overwhelming, complete, and eternal power. The message of creation is a proclamation, not an argument.
For no argument is necessary. The very shape of creation—its vastness, order, and symmetry—
Says all that needs to be said. “God has made it plain,”2 Paul insists. It’s as if the universe were a transmitter, constantly broadcasting a single message, and human beings were fashioned with a built-in receiver tuned to its single frequency. A person may turn down the volume to a whisper. But it is impossible to silence creation’s voice entirely.
The “great power and mighty strength”3 of the God revealed in creation might hold terror for those who don’t know him. But those of us who see ourselves as part of God’s story find that his overwhelming power offers comfort and assurance.
Jesus put it this way to his disciples: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. . . . My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”4 The God we meet in the Genesis creation account is, simply put, greater than all. And we have the assurance, as followers of Jesus Christ, that we are held, secure, in God’s mighty hand.
The grand proclamation of creation—of God’s existence and mighty power—is something we must keep in mind as we read the Bible. There will be times when things don’t go the way we think they should. There will be moments when it seems as if God’s purposes have failed, when we might think that God himself must be distressed at the way history unfolds. At such moments, we must remember the message of creation—namely, that God, the Creator of all things from one end of the universe to the other, has unlimited power and unequaled strength. He doesn’t stumble through history as we do, peering anxiously ahead and haplessly fumbling away opportunity after opportunity. No, the God introduced in Genesis 1 is far greater than his creation, far superior to any created being. Whatever happens along the way, Scripture’s unwavering message is that God’s purposes will prevail. His power and his mighty strength guarantee it.
When we read the Bible, most of us understand the broad gestures such as the Bible’s sweeping claim that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. We understand this to mean that God is distinct from and greater than the material universe; that the lifeless sprang from the heart and mind of a living person. But to simply affirm that God exists and that he made all things does not mean we are living within Scripture’s narrative.
This is an excerpt from the first chapter of How to Read (and Understand) the Bible.