Other sermons in this series
Where did humanity come from and why are we here? I thought we should start this series with some nice easy questions before moving to anything heavy!
Where did we come from and why are we here? They’re questions I reckon we all want to know the answer to. Which is why people tend to like origin stories. Stories that give us identity and purpose, by explaining: where did we come from and why are we here? They’re serious questions so let me give you a serious example.
Superman. An orphan from the planet Krypton, taken in by a loving family of humans. Which explains why he has superhuman powers and why he uses them to help humanity.
Or Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman was a semi-divine Amazonian warrior princess. Did you know that? I didn’t until I started researching for this sermon. But see that explains why she has such strength and why she uses it to fight for justice in what she calls “the world of men”. For superheroes, you can’t understand their identity and purpose without their origin stories. And actually, it’s the same for us. Life’s tough when you don’t have an origin story. You’re not sure where you fit in the world or what you should be doing with your life. So what’s your origin story? It doesn’t have to be as glamorous as Wonder Woman’s. Just, how do you make sense of yourself? Where do you think you came from and why do you think you’re here? What story makes sense of that for you?
As we set out this week to follow the whole biblical story, we find it opens with an origin story. And it has some special features. It’s an origin story from the nation of Israel. But it’s not just about Israel.
It’s an origin story for the whole of humanity. And you’ll notice, it’s an origin story focussed on a creating God. Not just where we came from, but who we came from. So this is a story that has huge potential for us. The potential to tell you and me, our original identity and purpose.
It has that potential… But of course there’s an obstacle, isn’t there? When we read the Genesis account of creation, like we just did, there’s an elephant in the room. Evolution.
Biologist Richard Dawkins famously says:
I couldn’t imagine being an atheist at any time before 1859, when Darwin’s Origin of Species was published.
Before then, the God of Genesis was simply the best explanation of where we come from and why we’re here. But Dawkins says, now, evolution just explains us better. There’s no room left for the “God explanation” any more. He’s so confident that evolution replaces God, he even claims that for Jesus himself. He says: “Somebody as intelligent as Jesus would have been an atheist if he’d known what we know today.”
In 21st century Brisbane, these kinds of claims cut through. Reasonable people do wonder: How can any educated person still take the Bible seriously??? How, when it gets off to such an anti-scientific start???
This morning I want to show how Genesis answers the big questions. The identity questions our origin story needs to answer. But it’s clear that the scientific questions can really block people from taking Genesis seriously. That’s the elephant in the room. So before we get into Genesis, I want to share two approaches that Christians take. The first is this. Some Christians believe that Genesis provides the best answers to the scientific questions. So they challenge the prevailing scientific consensus, in a number of areas, on detailed scientific grounds.
A good example is Creation Ministries International. Now, even if you’re not persuaded by this approach, you’ve got to admit this about science in general: scientific progress is based on critique of currently prevailing theories. So there’s nothing unreasonable about critiquing evolution on scientific grounds. In fact, it’s only 150 years ago that evolution arose. So, given the changing nature of science, who’s to say evolution will still prevail 150 years from now? That’s why, for these Christians, evolution isn’t the blocker you might think it is: They challenge the prevailing scientific consensus on detailed scientific grounds, knowing that rarely do modern scientific theories survive the age.
That’s one approach. And here’s another. Other Christians believe the start of Genesis was never designed as a scientific description to answer scientific questions. They agree with ancient interpreters of the Bible, like Philo and Augustine, that the start of Genesis is written very differently to the clearly historical parts of the Bible. They believe it’s designed more as a word-picture. A bit like a parable. Portraying the relationship between God, humanity and the rest of creation, not commenting on timings and mechanisms. So, for these Christians, the start of Genesis has no conflict with the prevailing scientific consensus, in this age or any other. It’s designed to answer different questions.
A good example here is the geneticist Francis Collins. An atheist until he became a Christian in his late 20s, he went on to become the leader of the Human Genome Project, the project that unlocked the whole sequence of human DNA, one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time. So Collins doesn’t reject the prevailing scientific consensus. He’s a huge contributor to it. But he also knows we need Genesis.
Here’s why. He says:
We may well discover from science many interesting answers to the question “how does life work?” What we can’t discover, through science alone, are the answers to the questions “why is there life anyway?” and “why am I here?”
For Christians like Collins, Genesis was always designed to answer different questions to science, questions science can never answer. And that’s actually where the two approaches overlap.
Both see Genesis as absolutely essential on who and why. They only differ on whether it’s designed to answer how and when. That’s why, here at MPC, we have lots of people who take one approach. And lots of people who take the other. And we’re still united. Our unity on who and why is much more important than our different approaches to how and when. Now, I know that’s a long intro! But it’s important to see why evolution isn’t actually the blocker it’s often thought to be. There’s two reasonable approaches to the scientific questions. And both leave Genesis as absolutely essential to the even more important identity questions.
So, it’s to those big identity questions I want to go now. The first big question Genesis 1 focuses on is this: who did we come from? And Genesis answers: the only true God. If you’ve got a Bible open in front of you, notice its very first words: In the beginning… God. God is there, before anything else. God is the reason there is anything else. And it’s him alone. Israel’s neighbours like Egypt and Babylon pictured many gods. A god of the sea. A god of the sun. Who fight each other. Who stop each other’s plans. And Genesis is saying: no! We come from one God. And he’s unrivalled. He’s unchallenged. He’s in total charge of absolutely everything. See in your Bible the way he brings creation into being: simply by speaking. V3 God said: “Let there be light.” And there was light. V9 God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. Even if you think science fills in the details of how God created, don’t miss the point being made here. WhateverGod says, is what goes. He plans and orders everything. No rivals. No set backs.
Which means he can order everything. With unlimited control and precision. See how in the first three days: God separates spaces in creation. Day from night. Sea from sky. Land from sea. Then the next three days God fills those same spaces, in the exact same order he separated them. Sun and moon. Fish and birds. Animals on land. Again, even if you think science gives the details of how God created, don’t miss the point being made here. It’s not accidental or random. It’s all precisely ordered under God’s control. Who do we come from? The only true God. The unrivalled, almighty, orderly creator of everything.
When we ask why we should believe in this God, it’s important to understand: Genesis doesn’t say God’s a part of the universe. It says he’s the basis of the universe. If he was part of the universe, we might hope to find him somewhere. We might find one special thing which can’t be explained by science. And that would be the God part. Or the Voyager 1 space probe might one day reach the God part of the universe and send us back an image. That’s the kind of God Richard Dawkins rejects, with good reason. Because the more science explains without reference to any God part, the less chance there is any God part. The thing is though, that’s not the God of Genesis. He’s not a part of the universe. He’s the basis. Many, many of the world’s top scientists understand that, so they see things very differently to Dawkins. For them: Scientific progress doesn’t diminish the plausibility of this God. For them: Scientific progress makes him unavoidable.
This is what Francis Collins realised, as part of his journey toward Jesus. He says:
The fact that the universe had a beginning, that it obeys orderly laws that can be expressed precisely with mathematics, and the existence of a remarkable series of “coincidences” that allow the laws of nature to support life – they don’t tell us much about what kind of God must be behind it all, but they do point toward an intelligent mind.
The more the universe makes scientific sense, the more obviously it was all designed by the unrivalled, almighty, orderly God.
Who do we come from? A very, very big God. The creator of and ruler of everything. You know, sometimes people see God as an important part of their plans for their life. So you plan to have a fulfilling career or business. A life partner. House. Kids. Financial security. And you see God as an important part of making that happen. Like a GPS where we punch in the address and it takes us to our chosen destination. Genesis says loud and clear: no! God’s not a servant of our plans. Each of our lives is a part of his plan. He’s the creator. As we follow the Biblical story in the coming weeks, it’s going to be important to remember that. For instance, it’s hard to understand why God should tell us how to live, unless you remember he’s the Creator in charge of his creation.
Of course, I know a lot of people find that very idea scary. Sometimes I do. Even Batman would agree. Batman vs Superman is at the movies at the moment. A friend told me it isn’t worth seeing so to be honest I haven’t. But there’s one idea he told me about which intrigues me. See, Batman tries to take down Superman. Why? Because Superman seems to have unrivalled power. And Batman can’t be sure he’ll always use that power for good. What if Superman’s actually self-serving? Unrivalled power is scary when you don’t know what it might be used for.
That’s probably why Genesis reminds us repeatedly where we came from. That’s the second question this origin story focusses on. And it answers: we come from the good creation of a good God. God isn’t just unrivalled in power. He’s also unrivalled ingoodness. Did you notice all the way through? What God makes is good. See how often it says it. Starting with v4: The light was good. V9 the land and gathered seas. V12 the plants. V18 the sun and moon. V21 the fish and birds. V25 the land animals. It was good. It was good. It was good. Finally, once God has made us, humanity, see v31: God saw all that he’d made, [not just individually now but all fitting together, and it wasn’t just good] it was very good. We come from the very good creation of a very good God. In our mid-week Growth Groups, you might have seen the Babylonian origin story, where the Gods are lazy and selfish. Once they’re tired of fighting each other, they make humans to do the work of bringing them food, in the form of animal sacrifices. But see the way round Genesis has it,
V29: God says, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They’ll be yours for food.”
We don’t provide for God. He provides for us! Because he’s selfless. Because he’s generous. Because he’s good. Next week we’ll move on in the Biblical story, and we’ll see from the Bible why so much is now bad. But if we ask why so much is still good, Genesis answers: we come from the good creation of a good God.
As we look at all the beauty and goodness around us. Our friends. Our kids. Our pets. The mountains. The trees. The rivers. The beach. It’s all from God’s generosity. He is unrivalled in power. But he’s also unrivalled in goodness. So we should never fear that he’s not. Or forget his goodness. As we’ll see next week: very early in the human story, it was actually our forgetting God’s goodness, that led us to reject him. But if I say anymore I’ll steal Jayesh’s thunder. That’s next week. I need to move to thefinal question of purpose.
What are we made to do? What are our lives for?
You and me: why are we here? Genesis gives us the answer: to represent God in the world. To see that, it’s worth looking closely at v26. God says: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.” A lot’s been written about what it means to be “in God’s image”. But the main thing is what God goes on to say next. He says: “So that they may rule.” What have we seen God doing the whole way? Ruling over creation. And how’s he been doing that? With selfless generosity. So then, that’s what we are made for. To rule creation. With selfless generosity. In God’s likeness. So that when the rest of creation sees us, they see an image, a representation of God himself.
One thing that means is that we all have a special dignity. You’re not an unintended accident and neither am I. We’re not competitors for resources. We’re not inferiors and superiors. All people. V27 men and women equally. All people. Are made in the image of God. And with that dignity, comes a special responsibility. That’s why we’re here. To rule creation in God’s likeness. To take our direction from God on what’s good and what’s not. To use whatever influence we have in this world to represent his interests to benefit others.
One example of how this purpose can drive our lives is Stuart Pimm. Pimm has been instrumental in rescuing many species from extinction. Both in research and in activism. So much so that he’s actually won the Heineken prize. That’s not a prize for drinking beer. That’s what I thought too. But it’s the equivalent in environmental science of the Nobel Prize for physics. Pimm’s often asked why he pours his life into rescuing species. And it’s easy from him to explain. He says:
As a Christian, I believe we have a responsibility.
That’s the image of God responsibility, from Genesis, for others and the world around us. Now, of course I know many atheists who also feel that responsibility for others and the world around us. Please don’t hear me saying it’s only Christians who do. I actually want to say the opposite. I think we all feel responsible to others and world around us. And it’s Genesis – not any other story of our origins – that explains why. We are made in the image of God.
We began with a tough question for Genesis: How can any educated person take it seriously in the face of evolution? And I’ve tried to answer: there’s not just one there’s even two reasonable approaches to the scientific questions. And whichever one you take, it’s Genesis that gives you your original identity.
Now, to finish, Genesis has a tough question for us: Are we living up to the purpose for which we were made? In the world around us, which do you see more? Love and cooperation between people, or hatred and competition? Care for God’s creation, or environmental abuse? Other-centeredness, or self-centredness? Most importantly, what do you see in yourself?
Most of us do feel this responsibility for others and the world around us. Yet if we stop to think about it: We really don’t live up to it.
Next week we’ll see how the Biblical story explains that too. And in the coming weeks we’ll arrive at Jesus. The man who really does represent God. Because he is God, become man, so that he could restore God’s image in us.
If you can recognise: yes, this really is my origin story – this does explain: who I came from, where I came from and why I’m here – and if you come to recognise: no, I don’t live up to those origins – I hope you follow the Biblical story through in this series, all the way to Jesus.