This week, my son learned what a piggy-back ride is. I will be sitting down and he will stand up in the seat, move himself so that he can latch onto my back, and he will start making a conglomeration of noises that together mean, “Dad, give me another piggy-back ride!” That looks really goofy if you don’t know what is going on. There is an underlying premise. Why does my son do this thing? He does it because he discovered piggy-back rides. How did he discover piggy-back rides? He discovered piggyback rides because daddy surprised him one day by carrying him differently. In the same way, individuals have many beliefs about the world and about life and about morality. These beliefs have premises, answers to the “Why do you think that” question. Today we get to investigate the most basic premise of the Christian faith, the one premise that leads to every other belief that we hold.
WE BELIEVE that there is one living and true GOD, eternally existing in three persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, equal in power and glory; that this triune God created all, upholds all, and governs all things. (Genesis 1:1; Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 44:8 and 48:16; Matthew 28:19-20; John 10:30; Hebrews 1:3)
This is our local church’s first belief statement and the premise to the other belief statements. The position that there is one living and true creator God is a widely accepted truth. Even those who hold to a few different worldviews believe in one god. This is monotheism. There are many different groups who make many different claims about who God is, but we want to begin with this basic truth and discover precisely what it means for life and ministry. We also want to know if our belief statement is true. Is there really only one God?
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and He called the darkness “night.” Evening came and then morning: the first day.
Then God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters, separating water from water.” So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above the expanse. And it was so. God called the expanse “sky.” Evening came and then morning: the second day.
Then God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land “earth,” and He called the gathering of the water “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” And it was so. The earth produced vegetation: seed-bearing plants according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Evening came and then morning: the third day.
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will serve as signs for festivals and for days and years. They will be lights in the expanse of the sky to provide light on the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights — the greater light to have dominion over the day and the lesser light to have dominion over the night — as well as the stars. God placed them in the expanse of the sky to provide light on the earth, to dominate the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. Evening came and then morning: the fourth day.
Then God said, “Let the water swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” So God created the large sea-creatures and every living creature that moves and swarms in the water, according to their kinds. He also created every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. So God blessed them, “Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” Evening came and then morning: the fifth day.
Then God said, “Let the earth produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that crawl, and the wildlife of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. So God made the wildlife of the earth according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and creatures that crawl on the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”
So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He created them male and female.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.” God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree whose fruit contains seed. This food will be for you, for all the wildlife of the earth, for every bird of the sky, and for every creature that crawls on the earth — everything having the breath of life in it. I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Evening came and then morning: the sixth day.
The Bible’s Premise (v. 1a)
Scripture begins with one truth, one foundation upon which everything else depends. There is one God, and He is the beginning of all things.
True belief in one, single God is actually a rarity in the world. Many people will say that they believe in one God (doxy), but will then, in the way that they practice religion or live life (praxis), will worship many gods. The Catholic faith encourages people to venerate saints and pray to both them and angels while claiming that they worship only one God. Mormons believe that Jesus is not God, yet that he is to be followed and worshipped while claiming that there is only one God. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is a god and that we can also earn our places as gods like Jesus did. Islam professes that there is only one God, but then places faith in both God and Muhammad (which, according to the Quran is itself blasphemy). Popular western religion elevates self above all things, even in many churches that refer to themselves as “Christian.”
There are some who make the claim that monotheism is an evolutionary development. Let’s consider together the evidence present in the history of world religions. The origin of human religion is unknown to archaeology. The earliest evidence of human religious belief we have is from about 3500 B.C. in Mesopotamia (around the Fertile Crescent), though the earliest written account of creation dates to about 1500 B.C. in the Enuma Elish. The religion of the Mesopotamians describes multiple gods creating order out of chaos and then creating people in order to help them manage that order. In return for their service, the gods provide people with the things that they need.
I took the time this week to reread the Enuma Elish. Like almost every other account of creation, there is a single creator God, unknowable and unsearchable in all His ways, who created the lesser gods that the people worshipped. In the earliest religion of humankind, everything was made from nothing else by a single creator God. Then, and only then, did the lesser gods become the focus of the stories and only with respect to what they could do for people. Then Moses, upon coming out of a polytheistic culture, wrote about the Creator God (Amun in the Egyptian creation story, though Moses used the generic word meaning God) according to Hebrew oral tradition. The purpose of the Genesis account was not to explain how people were created or to explain how one might “earn the favor of the gods.” Moses wrote it for the purpose of revealing the Creator God who seemed to be present in every single creation story of the polytheistic religions of the time. This means that it is unlikely that people evolved into monotheism. By all indication, news of the creator God has always been. He just didn’t serve humankind like people wanted, so polytheism was desirable for personal gain. The creator God was self-sufficient. By Him, through Him, and to Him were all things.
In 2 Kings 21:3, after Hezekiah showed the Babylonians the treasures of Judah, Manasseh succeeded Hezekiah and began worshipping the many gods of the Babylonians. The Babylonians used the Enuma Elish. It is recorded that Manasseh worshipped all the host of heaven (a phrase that referred to angels). Polytheism was just that: worshipping the creature rather than the Creator even though the Creator made Himself known.
There are also some who claim that there are no gods. Let’s consider that claim logically. Scientific discovery has insisted that the universe has a beginning. In his book, Reasonable Faith, William Craig offers what has been termed the Kalam Cosmological Argument:
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause.
The formula is simple, but the realization is profound. Logically speaking, the existence of the universe is impossible without a cause. Nothing comes from nothing. Even Steven Hawking had to admit that there must be a realm beyond this one that is itself eternal (he called it imaginary space-time) and in which there was a cause that brought about this discrete universe (which he called real space-time). There is no getting around the idea that there has to be a single uncaused cause with an eternal existence.
If there is only one God, how can we describe three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) or worship Jesus Christ? The Trinitarian view of God is not a new concept. The Prophet Isaiah was written 700 years before Jesus’ birth. The earliest manuscript we have available dates to 120 years before the birth of Jesus. In Isaiah 48:1-16 (particularly v. 16), we read this:
“Listen to this, house of Jacob —
those who are called by the name Israel
and have descended from Judah,
who swear by the name of Yahweh
and declare the God of Israel,
but not in truth or righteousness.
For they are named after the Holy City,
and lean on the God of Israel;
His name is Yahweh of Hosts.
I declared the past events long ago;
they came out of My mouth; I proclaimed them.
Suddenly I acted, and they occurred.
Because I know that you are stubborn,
and your neck is iron
and your forehead bronze,
therefore I declared to you long ago.
I announced it to you before it occurred,
so you could not claim, ‘My idol caused them;
my carved image and cast idol control them.’
You have heard it. Observe it all.
Will you not acknowledge it?
From now on I will announce new things to you,
hidden things that you have not known.
They have been created now, and not long ago;
you have not heard of them before today,
so you could not claim, ‘I already knew them!’
You have never heard; you have never known;
For a long time your ears have not been open.
For I knew that you were very treacherous,
and were known as a rebel from birth.
I will delay My anger for the honor of My name,
and I will restrain Myself for your benefit and for My praise,
so that you will not be destroyed.
Look, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
I will act for My own sake, indeed, My own,
for how can I be defiled?
I will not give My glory to another.
“Listen to Me, Jacob,
and Israel, the one called by Me:
I am He; I am the first,
I am also the last.
My own hand founded the earth,
and My right hand spread out the heavens;
when I summoned them,
they stood up together.
All of you, assemble and listen!
Who among the idols has declared these things?
The Lord loves him;
he will accomplish His will against Babylon,
and His arm will be against the Chaldeans.
I — I have spoken;
yes, I have called him;
I have brought him,
and he will succeed in his mission.
Approach Me and listen to this.
From the beginning I have not spoken in secret;
from the time anything existed, I was there.”
And now the Lord God
has sent me and His Spirit (Italics added for emphasis).
Every instance in which God has spoken directly to people, it has been through the person of His Word (Jesus Christ, John 1). In Isaiah 48, we see the Word speaking to and through Isaiah, claiming to have been speaking plainly from the beginning as God and referencing God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Apparently, it has always been understood that Creator God is a Trinitarian being consisting of God, the Word (the Son), and the Spirit. What gets me really excited is that in the earliest creation myth, we see the creator and the son present in the story (though that story was changed from its original form in order to glorify the chief deity of the Babylonians, Marduk). That is the very reason Moses needed to record the creation story in Genesis- to describe the Creator God for a humanity who forsook the Creator and, instead, worshipped the creation. This is not a new concept that people somehow invented in these New Testament times. It has always been the most basic belief that there is only one God (one essence) existing in three persons from eternity always doing the same work that He has been doing and that He does now according to the whole of Scripture. Moses was getting back to “Scripture” (the oral tradition of the Hebrew People). Jesus was getting back to Scripture as He taught during His bodily ministry. The reformers were getting back to Scripture 502 years ago. Maybe that’s what we still need in society and in the church today- to get back to Scripture.
How do we know that we worship the one, true God and that the story has not somehow been corrupted? Centuries of textual criticism have shown the Biblical text to be authentic (true to source) and at every point the Biblical story can be tested if has proven to be reliable. It is coherent (not containing contradictions). We literally have no reason (even scientifically) to believe that the text has been somehow corrupted. If virtually every human-made religion worships the creature rather than the creator, and the purpose of the whole Bible is to reveal the Creator (unlike every other origin story in every other religious text), then it seems that a biblical worldview is the only option for those who desire to know the one true God. There are no decent alternatives. If God is eternal, then it only makes sense that His written story is from antiquity (not emerging late in the timeline like the Quran or the Book of Mormon).
The Truth of Creation (v. 1b)
How should we think about the creation? There was a beginning, and out of eternity the cosmos came. There are some who try to claim that the creation story contradicts common knowledge in our day. That seems improbable. Even Richard Dawkins, an atheist and prominent scientist, admits that human design is so intricate that we were likely created and seeded by some other entity (like Aliens). Origin means everything concerning our lives. What does our origin call us to?
If God is the beginning and the source of all things, then we are submitted to Him. Our self-glorification reveals that we need to be delivered from something. So, we see God’s plan of redemption from before the foundation of the earth. He would need to deliver His people in a way that served His own glory and in a way that no one could boast. He would need to deliver them from their unrighteous nature, not merely their sin.
So, from the foundation of the world, the Trinitarian God put His plan in motion to seek His own glory in His own creation. Christianity is completely unique in that we do not come to God and worship Him in order to gain something for ourselves. We worship God in response to what He is already doing. To worship the creator God (not some lesser creature) is to know that God does not need us and that we cannot earn the favor of God. He is entirely self-sufficient, self-righteous, and independent. If we are to know God or be sustained by Him, it must be a gift by grace alone. To seek to contribute to anything or somehow gain God’s graces by any work of ours is to do the same thing that ancient polytheists (and henotheists) would do, it is to worship a god or gods that do not exist as gods. The fact that we were created by a single, eternal, and timeless God means that He already has authority over us. He does not need us to worship Him or praise Him. Everything that He grants is a measure of His own grace and mercy. We are completely depraved, meaning we have nothing to offer God. As He rescues us from our unrighteousness by grace alone, we praise Him because we know that we could not earn it and we don’t deserve it. In this way, all of Scripture and history is working out Genesis 1:1. God will forever be working out His creation. This is the premise to all of existence and to the story written in the Scriptures, “In the beginning, God created…”
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