Start Right, stay Right: Genesis 1:1-4
"There is nothing more beautiful, nothing more useful than Genesis. Its opening chapters are simple and majestic, dignified yet unaffected, profound yet perfectly clear. Genesis makes a superb introduction to the Bible and puts everything into perspective," says Martin Luther. The opening verses and especially their verbs tell us what sort of God we encounter in the rest of the Bible and should stop anyone from making the really idiotic comment that all religions lead to the same god. Such a remark is akin to the offensive statement "All Chinese look alike" when the speaker reveals that he himself is not Chinese and also lacks an interest in Chinese people. The opening verses of Genesis show once and for all that this God is totally different from all other alleged deities.
First, He is a God who creates. In most of the world's religions, the gods either come on the scene long after creation, or they are part and parcel of creation. To have a Creator God gives the lie to monism, dualism, polytheism, pantheism and materialism (matter is all that matters). Positively, the consequences are fantastic. Scientific exploration is possible and right ("Thinking God's thoughts after Him" Kepler). Hospitals have always been built by Christians because God didn't just make souls but kneecaps, eyeballs and kidneys, therefore it is a right and proper activity to care for them. By the same token, without going to the absurd length of some Greens - after all, God was prepared to allow a number of particularly unpleasant animals to become extinct! - nevertheless we ought not wilfully to pollute rivers and seas, or randomly chop down rainforests or exterminate animals. We share something with them as they too are part of His handiwork. We are most definitely world-affirming. Life-denying asceticism is an insult to His good gifts which He has given us richly to enjoy. We can confidently expect the resurrection of the body. It is inconceivable that a Creator God does not have a plan for our bodies. The Jews were so convinced of this that they were the only people of antiquity who did not believe in the immortality of the soul, merely. We need to reintroduce the saying of our grandparents who were "ready to meet my Maker."
Secondly, He is a gentle and caring God. The verb "was moving" in v.2 is used in Deuteronomy 32:11 where an eagle stirs up its young and helps them to learn to fly, ready to catch them if they fall. The rest of Genesis 1 indicates that God works gently by ordered stages. As well as being the great Almighty Creator, who in the supreme throwaway line of all time "made the stars also" v.16, He is the loving, tender God who cares passionately for His people. It is no wonder he is soon revealed as the God of all grace who saves and redeems His people.
Thirdly, He is the God who speaks. The repeated refrain of Genesis 1 is "and God said." The doctrine of revelation is foundational to the God of the Bible. If he has not spoken we could neither know anything about Him, nor enter into relationship with Him. Stunningly, the relationship that man can have with his Creator is best described by the word "friendship". That applied to Adam and Eve in the cool of the day before their expulsion, to Enoch walking with God, or Abraham the "friend of God." Similarly Paul in Philippians 3:8 said knowing God is the greatest thing in the universe and, of course, Jesus tells us this is what eternal life is all about, John 17:3.
Fourthly, He is the God who comes to examine and evaluate what He has made, to see whether things are good or not. That is, He is a moral God who distinguishes between right and wrong, good and evil. It may seem axiomatic to believe that God must be good, but this too is very rare in the religions of the world. The gods of Greece and Rome would have been put in prison had they not been gods, so immoral and unpleasant were they, and that goes for most of the other pretended deities that have been cooked-up. Therefore, the only God there is must be the judge, and this prospect of judgement, awesome and frightening, is vital in giving value to everything we say, think and do. Without a righteous god who is going to bring everything into judgement, Ecclesiastes 12:14, life would indeed be "vanity of vanities."
What a great God we have! There is none like Him. We must bow in humble adoration.
Jonathan Fletcher, the author if this exposition, is a minister in the leadership team at Emmanuel, Wimbledon.