May 28, 2021
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 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 (Genesis 1:1-2).
When I watch a movie for the first time, I pay particular attention to the opening shot. What is the landscape? What music is playing? Who are the characters? What do they say? What is the mode, the tone? I assume that the director has chosen all this and more to say something about the movie and what is coming.
Let us assume that this is true of the Bible as well. Notice that the details are few. But maybe we ought to pay attention to the few that are there. We are introduced first to God. Is he the main character of what is coming? Christians have always answered that question in the affirmative.
If you are a Christian, you know this. If you are not a Christian, you are probably wondering why you have encountered so many self-centred and self-righteous and self-absorbed Christians? It is a question we Christians need to ask ourselves. Why are so many of us self-centred? Why do I make the universe revolve around me?
Consider the disagreements you have had in your life. Conflicts with your parents, employer, children, siblings, employees, friends, fellow church goers. How many blew out of control? If they blew out of control, was it because one or more parties wanted to, needed to, win? A need to win is almost always rooted in selfishness. We are attempting to take God’s place. How much conflict, death and destruction arises from this selfishness?
The opening details may be few. But that make the few stand out. God created everything. The phrase ‘heavens and earth’ is a Hebraic poetic phrase meant to encompass all things. It all belongs to God because he created it.
Let’s carry on. When God starts creating everything is a mess. Eugene Peterson put it this way, “First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness”.
And then this detail, “God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.” Very early in the Biblical story we are introduced to God’s Spirit, later identified as the Holy Spirit in Christian theology. But this text is not primarily interested in the theology of the Trinity. However, we may assume that, appearing in the opening sentences of the scripture, the Spirit is no minor character.
He is pictured as brooding over the chaos. Then God begins separating and organizing the creation. We can assume that the Spirit is the agent through whom God does this. The Spirit was part of it, flinging stars into space and fusing molecules together, gauging out the oceans and building the mountains, scattering sand in the desert, and causing flowers to grow in the valleys.
Later, compared to the wind, we discover just how powerful the Spirit is. Reflecting on this, the psalmist would compose this song about the creatures of the earth, “If you turned your back, they’d die in a minute—take back your Spirit and they die, revert to original mud; send out your Spirit and they spring to life—the whole countryside in bloom and blossom” (Psalm 104:30 MSG).
This is good new for all Christians who are convicted by our selfishness. If we are crying out with the apostle Paul, “I’ve tried everything, and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?” (Romans 7:24). And the answer is that Jesus can. What does Jesus do? After his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, he sent his Spirit to take up residence in us. This is the same Spirit introduced in Genesis 1.
The Spirit, agent of creation, is now the agent of renewal in us. The Spirit knows how things are meant to be. When we are faced with our own selfishness, we need to turn to this Spirit. He is after all, the Helper Jesus sent. He will lead us to renewed living.