Friday, October 13, 2017

Glimpses of Grace: Genesis 1

In Genesis 1, we have the first main account of God's work in creating the world. We also have a chapter that is lavished with rich symbolism that is only fully illuminated in the light of Christ, the New Creation, and the foundational doctrines of Christian theology.

Genesis 1:1-3 -
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

From the perspective of Christian theology (especially when contrasted with traditional Jewish monotheism), it's remarkable how clearly the first chapter of Genesis underscores our belief in the Trinity: the plurality-in-unity of the Godhead--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Right here in the first three verses, we can see these three persons of the Godhead at work in creation. God, that is, the Father, is the one who plans and oversees the work of creation. The Holy Spirit is hovering over the waters. The Hebrew verb for "hovering" can refer to the gentle fluttering of a bird's wings, or it can also be translated as "blowing softly," either of which is a beautiful image of the Spirit's gentle guidance of the process of creation. 

But where, you might ask, is the Son? Remember that in the New Testament, Jesus is described as the "Word" of God, and that he is listed as the active agent of creation, "through whom all things were made" (John 1:1-3). And, indeed, we see that principle at work here. Although the person of the Son is not directly mentioned in Genesis 1, it is notable that God chooses to create through the means of speaking; that is, by his Word. Genesis could easily have portrayed God as simply imagining the world into existence, or using some other means, so it is important that a specific mode of creation is listed, and that that mode is by God speaking. The Word is God's active agent of creation. So here, in the opening verses of the Bible, we have God the Father, his Word, and his Spirit: the Christian Trinity.

Genesis 1:26
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

This verse underscores the Trinitarian interpretation that we've already seen at the beginning of the chapter. God speaks about creating humanity, but he doesn't appear to be speaking to himself. In previous verses, his commands of "Let there be..." were directed toward the created universe itself, calling forth being from nothingness. But in verse 26, he changes the form, when presumably he could have simply kept to the pattern and said, "Let there be mankind upon the earth." Instead, he says, "Let us make mankind in our image." Who is he talking to? The Bible doesn't ordinarily use the language of the "royal we" in relating God's speech (that is, God does not customarily speak about himself in the first person plural, as a king might do, even though being only a singular person).

So he must be talking to someone. But who? Some scholars have speculated that this is an example of "henotheism," of God representing the greatest figure in a divine council of gods or godlike beings (angels or "sons of God" or "the heavenly hosts," as appear in other parts of Genesis), and so they say that here he is speaking to these other semi-divine or angelic beings. But that interpretation requires us to read extraneous characters into the text of Genesis 1. Angels or other supernatural beings are never mentioned in this passage. Rather, it makes more sense to assume that God is speaking to the other characters who have already been mentioned: his Spirit and (as we have argued) his Word. Another reason why he could not be speaking to angels is that he assumes that his interlocutors share his own nature. He cannot say to angels or to lesser divine beings, "Let us make man in our image," because God and the angels do not share a single "image," they are ontologically different. They are created beings; he is the Creator. Their entire being is contingent upon him, while he is the one and only "necessary being" (to use a philosophy term) in the whole scope of all that is. So, whomever he is speaking to in this verse is someone who shares his own nature, who is equally "God" as he is God. Another clue to this truth is that the following verse, 1:27, simply refers to man's creation "in his [God's] own image," not "their own image,"--a singular reference, following a plural reference, but both referring to the same exact thing. These verses indicate that God's nature is somehow, at the same time, both plural and singular.

Once again, the very first chapter of the Bible supports the foundational doctrine of the Christian Trinity: that God exists not simply as one monolithic whole, but that he exists as three persons eternally united in a communion of love, and sharing the full unity of an undivided divine nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This union is not simply a bonding of different items into a group, but a true ontological unity: since there is only one single divine nature, the members of the Trinity truly are "one God," as the Scripture teaches. And each member of the Trinitarian Godhead is "fully God," just as Gen. 1:26 suggests.

So even though the Old Testament never explicitly teaches the doctrine of the Trinity in clear, outspoken terms, it nonetheless is the only possible solution for what is going on in Gen. 1:26--a God who somehow exists as a unity-in-plurality, in which each member of his undivided being share in the full equality of an unbroken divine nature.