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The Song of Creation

• Vanessa Williams

Many people face a “crisis of faith” when it comes to understanding the story of creation as told in Genesis 1. When read as a chronological account of events and compared to modern-day science, it’s often reduced to an angrily defended “matter of faith.” But the creation story is not a scientific journal – it’s a beautifully poetic account of a good God and His love for us!

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The story of creation from Genesis 1 is often seen as an opposing view to science – an alternative chronological account of events that must be vehemently defended or rejected. Sadly, this causes us to miss the beauty of the Biblical narrative, which was not written as a chronological account of events at all.

One of the things that many people get “hung up” on is that God created the world in 6 days according to the biblical narrative, while science tells us it took billions of years. But ironically, before science suggested the world took longer than 6 days to create, people got “hung up” for the opposite reason – they wondered why they should believe in a God who needed 6 days and couldn’t create things in an instant! In either case, the issue isn’t the chronological accuracy of the narrative, it’s that people are interpreting poetic language in a literal sense.

In ancient Mesopotamia there were many gods and goddesses. They were seen as rulers over a certain geographic area or a certain aspect of life, and often needed to be appeased. These people also had many different stories of how things came to be, including the world, and their gods and goddesses. These stories of origin and creation are known as “cosmology”. The words that we know today as Genesis, Chapter 1, boldly confronted all other cosmologies at once, right from the first sentence where it speaks of there being only one God – not many gods and goddesses – and that this God didn’t need to be created. In order to be understood in the ancient near-east (where none of the cosmologies of the day had a literal timeframe), this cosmology was written in a poetic style. Therefore we must move beyond hearing it as God’s “scientific process” of creation, and discover something more profound – that we have an amazing God who is filled with love for all of His creation.

The ancients understood the poetic structure. For example, in the narrative, days 1, 2, and 3 talk of God creating spaces (light/dark; sea/sky; land), then days 4, 5, and 6 mirror them, this time describing how God filled those spaces (sun/stars; fish/birds; animals/people). The poetic structure starts each day with “God said,” and ends with, “it was morning, and it was evening…” These poetic refrains indicate theological importance, not chronological time.

Also, notice that the poetic structure changes when God talks about creating mankind “in our image” – the narrative changes cadence, and switches from third-person to first-person. This poetically emphasizes us being chosen to be God’s image-bearers on this earth, simply because he loves us. And it’s at this point that God looks over all he has done, and proclaims “it is VERY good.”

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Topics: Creation, Creation Care, Defense of Christian Faith, Simplicity

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Focus Scripture:

  • Genesis 1

    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

    Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

    And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day.

    Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.”

    And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day.

    Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.” And that is what happened. The land produced vegetation—all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit. Their seeds produced plants and trees of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.

    And evening passed and morning came, marking the third day.

    Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.” And that is what happened. God made two great lights—the larger one to govern the day, and the smaller one to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set these lights in the sky to light the earth, to govern the day and night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

    And evening passed and morning came, marking the fourth day.

    Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.”

    And evening passed and morning came, marking the fifth day.

    Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind—livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.” And that is what happened. God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.

    Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

    So God created human beings in his own image.

    In the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them.

    Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

    Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.

    Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!

    And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day.

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14 thoughts on “The Song of Creation

  1. Jason Tripp says:

    Great word and mixture of sound theology and praxis. On the day when many are celebrating ‘Earth Day’ we get to celebrate and care for our beautiful planet every day.


  2. Dan Chapman says:

    It’s a shame that a message that began with such promise turned into a lecture on why we should join the trendy save-the-earth movement that 1st worlders are so enamoured with right now. Please, please, please stick to the bible. God’s love and God’s grace and God’s mercy is what will save the world, not how many bags I use at the grocery store.

  3. Kevin says:

    i like dan’s remarks; save the eco stuff for one on one interpersonal conversations; i would only like to hear preaching and theological messages. as for theology and grammar, i am not convinced of vanessa’s interpretation of the term “the heaven’s and the earth”. she says that the “heavens” are speaking of the spiritual realm; i feel that it is simply speaking of the cosmos which is outside the earth, yeah?

  4. M85 says:

    Anyone interested in ecology should check out the film-documentary “Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret”.

  5. Jill Hoschette says:

    I have a dream that someday ALL Christians will see the full circle of compassion that encompasses ALL of creation. God is screaming at us to see the many things that are happening to the world He created, yet so many don’t want to connect the dots. Lord, open are eyes and hearts to include your whole creation. AMEN!

  6. Denley McIntosh says:

    I thought it was a good message. The only challenge is making the Genesis 1 account ahistorical and more poetry. (At least, this is how it sounded from her sermon.) I would argue the Genesis 1 account is history in poetic form. I know there’s debate whether Genesis 1 historical or poetry. Moses or the writer’s account (as Vanessa mentions) seems to blend both history from God/Elohim’s perspective more theo-centric with poetry as mnemonic for an oral culture during ancient times. This is compared or contrasted to Genesis 2 where the creation story is from Adam’s perspective, anthro-centric.

    I cannot deny the poetic form as it is structured in the original Hebrew for Genesis 1; but God seems to refer to the Genesis 1 days quite often in the Exodus passage as some kind of literal time for Him beyond human reasoning/experience. I suppose it is an experience that God has undergone in His renovation of the Earth to make it as His temple. (The temple thought comes from N.T. Wright, which I will touch upon below.) Otherwise, how else would God tell Israel that He worked 6 days and rested for 1 day and they, Israel, should do the same? If the Genesis 1 account is just poetry, how does God draw this logical parallel if it had no basis in reality – probably a more profound reality within God the Spirit? Saying this, I think the days in Genesis are experienced from God’s perspective, in eternity time, in the Spirit, so to speak. The days are sequenced as He sees fit as the Lord God of time. Jesus re-emphasized this fact in the Gospel as being the Lord of the Sabbath.

    We as humans are made in His image-likeness and are called to mirror God’s work pattern. But are God-days equivalent to human-days like human years versus dog years? I cannot say that is so, and it’s probably best not to be dogmatic on that part where many Fundamentals like to plant their flag on the literalness of 6 human-day creation. I believe that’s why Peter wrote what he did about one day is thousand years and a thousand years are like a day to the Lord (2 Peter 3:8). We can’t be overly scientific on that point. The point is God created all things out of nothing and worked in sequence to build a temple where He can dwell.

    As for the Temple thought, Earth as God’s temple is the place where God would dwell. Not a temple made by Human hands like Solomon or Herod created and was destroyed or other pagan-religions would create as a way to penetrate the Heavens like the Tower of Babel, but the Earth is itself as the temple, which is epitomized or summed in the incarnation of Jesus as the very Holy of Holies of God and the place where God truly tabernacles with humanity as noted in John’s Gospel. (As Paul says to the Colossians in 2:9, Jesus Christ is the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form.) When God finished his abode, His home, the Earth then He rested.

    This is significant because of the Sabbath. Israel was taught to create temples for gods in Egypt with no rest. Now God was showing Israel and now us a way of working and resting in a memorable fashion through poetry. Revelation 21 and 22 re-emphasizes this idea of the Earth of being God’s temple. Of course, the work of the cross is Jesus resting from building the human temple of God when He ascended to the Father. We now can enter God’s eternal rest through Jesus’ humanity and look forward a renewed Earth to match.

    Those are my quick thoughts but I thought Vanessa touch on historical background very well with some interesting applications. Good to hear her speak again!

  7. Jill says:

    I want to say thank you to whoever it is at WH that corrected my typo (replacing are with our) in the bulletin. I really need to read and re-read my comments before I send them off:-)

  8. Connor Unger says:

    No problem, Jill, glad we caught it! 🙂

  9. kathy d says:

    It is interesting how most denominations accept government, for example, as ordained by God (though of course in it’s present form it does not serve God or His intended purposes, though He still uses government to bring about His will on earth as it is in heaven). Or, we know that marriage was ordained by God, though again, in it’s present form, mixed up with government rules and and mandates regarding marriage, it reflects little of what God intended for marriage .

    Yet in many cases, mankind won’t accept our very first mandate, also ordained by God, and ordained by Him BEFORE mankind chose his own way and was removed from Eden. And that is, to care for the earth and animal kingdom.

    (Interesting to note: governments came about after the fall which God ordained because the Israelites wanted an earthly king like the nations that surrounded them; and for marriage, God said “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” Gen 2:24 No legal contracts with the State, marriage license fees, or other cultural nuances attached to this union such as we have today; this was probably a public affair and acknowledgement that so and so was now with so and so, and in God’s eyes, they were married.)

    The key word is “care.” In the image we were made in – God’s. Not to exploit. Not to tyrannize. Not to dominate or rule in the upside fallen way we view our dominion. But to be the embodiment of God to the animals and the earth – merciful, loving, stewards.

    One of the definitions of ‘steward’ is: One who manages another’s property, finances, or other affairs. We are managing God’s property, His affairs. And a lot of what is seen looks very little like Him when it comes to the treatment of our earth and the animal kingdom.

    Forgive us that we so poorly have managed your affairs, that we so horrifically treat your property when it comes to animals and the earth – hear our prayers to intervene, and please act. For your mercies sake, for your name and character’s sake, the creations sake, for Jesus sake, amen.

  10. Vince says:

    The earth is not God’s temple. We are.

  11. Denley McIntosh says:

    Sure Vince. But in a broad sense, human beings are part of the earth. Humans in Christ are the Holy of Holies of God’s temple.

  12. Vince says:

    That’s interesting Denley. Could you explain that more? I’ve never thought that the earth is God’s temple. Are you saying that because we are His temple, and we are on earth, that earth is God’s temple?

  13. Paul cochran says:

    Dan Chapman’s comments are worth reading however, it’s hard to be charitable about such a dumbed-down message that made me feel like I was in a Kindergarten class instead of among people who are seriously trying to understand the God of creation. If you ARE interested in doing so and not just recycling and hearing someone who doubts the historicity of Genesis ( as tho poetry cannot be acurate history) , listen to a Michael Fabares sermon on ecology & the Christian–creation was indeed made for us and that we are indeed the crown of God’s creative act and the simple reason is that we were made in His image, ultimately to be his bride and live in unified Bliss with him forever. Please check this out . .


  14. Paul cochran says:

    I’m sorry to be so negative but there’s so much about this that strikes me as being the church going the way of the world rather than the church being Salt and Light in a world it’s going mad. I have to point out Jill that when Jesus spoke the harshest he did not scream but his invectives were against the religious leaders of the day that were putting a barrier between the people and God. To some extent I think all of this ecology as religion stuff is bordering on the same offense. Again please listen to Mike fabarez lecture on the subject but keep in mind that all of this creation that we look at and honor the Creator for will have to be remade because it is going up in flames. That’s in the Bible and let’s spend more time believing it then reinterpreting it to say what we think we’d like it to say to make it hip to our generation.

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