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Creation to Noah

Because of its importance as the first book in the Torah and because of the many stories integral to the book, we will be looking more in depth at Genesis than we have looked at Job. This will require me to write more than one chapter of material to get through it all. Thankfully, as the author of this work, I am permitted to indulge myself in where I place my chapter breaks (a little bit of my own creator sovereignty over my work, if you will pardon the expression).

The events covered in Genesis begin at the creation of the universe and extend to Israel’s moving to Egypt after Joseph was sold into slavery. In our current chapter, we will cover the events from creation up to the time of Noah, paying particular attention to the theology that we learn about God Himself.

Genesis begins simply: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Yet for such a simple statement, the verse packs a lot of details in. If we put ourselves into the mindset of our hypothetical time traveler, we already knew from Job that God created the world (i.e. “Where were you when I created the world?”), but while we knew that God was a Creator, Genesis gives us some more data about how that creation happened.

First, we start with the preposition “In the beginning”. A beginning implies the very start of something. For example, we might say “In the beginning, the founding fathers wrote the Constitution.” We would know that the “beginning” being referred to there is the beginning of the United States of America. But what is the beginning that Genesis is speaking of?

The answer is that it is the time when “the heavens and the earth” were created. It should be noted that the “heavens” here in context appears to be speaking of the sky and, by extension, the things in the sky such as the stars and all else in outer space. As such, “the heavens and the earth” collectively can be understood as the totality of physical existence. And since this was all created “in the beginning” it implies that time itself was created at that point too.

Since God is the one who did this, we know that God pre-existed this beginning. This brings about some important facts about the nature of God. God exists outside of and distinct from “the heavens and the earth” since in order to create those things He had to already exist to do so. If He didn’t already exist before that point, there could be no creation. This means that God is eternal, existing outside the realm of time (“before” the beginning).

For the same logical reason, we can conclude that He is self-existent because He could not have created Himself (that would have required Him existing before He existed, so that he could create Himself). A self-existent being holds the power of existence within Himself, meaning that His existence is not contingent upon any other previous existence. His existence transcends our physical existence. Rather, as Creator, His existence is what gives our physical existence its actual substance and reality.

So we know not only that God is a Creator in general, but that the entire natural order was His creation, that God is distinct from the creation, that God existed before the creation, and that everything that exists in “the heavens and the earth” does so because of His creative act. This is a lot of information to glean from one single verse, but the information is all there, either explicitly or implicitly.

The rest of Genesis 1 details God’s creation of the various aspects of the universe, including that He created it by the mere declaration that the world should exist. It is amazing that something that seems so trivial to us—the usage of words—should be the instrument by which we came into existence. However, it is worth mentioning that the spoken word in historical times meant more than simply the sounds that came out of a person’s mouth. It meant, in a fuller sense, the actual thoughts of the person doing the speaking. So God speaking is not even primarily referring to a physical attribute of speech (indeed, if it were only physical God could not have created anything for the physical would have had to exist before He could voice His word). Instead in a very real sense we can actually conclude that God thought the universe into being, and it was so.

This helps clear up some possible confusion. I have dialogued with an atheist before who said that creation was nonsensical because God was talking to no one and since only crazy people talk to themselves, this would mean that if God did exist He must have a few screws loose. I’m not sure how serious this atheist was because that argument seems patently absurd to me, but he said it with a straight face. Even supposing God was just talking to Himself, though, it wasn’t physical at the very beginning so He would have been speaking mentally. When we speak to ourselves mentally that is merely another way of saying that we are thinking, so this really loops back around to the point I made about God’s word being nearly equivalent to His thoughts.

Let us examine the creation a bit more.

The first thing that God creates is light, and then He separates the waters of the deep to form the skies and seas, before bringing forth land and populating the earth with plants. Each of these corresponds to one of three distinct days. The first day deals with light, the second with sky and water, the third with ground.

Now there is much debate about whether these are literal days. To briefly touch on the topic, since the sun was not created yet then these clearly are not normal days. (A normal day is when the Earth rotates once on its axis with reference to the sun, so without the sun as a reference it is not a “normal” day.) Yet the fact that these days are not normal does not necessarily mean they were any longer or shorter than a normal day would have been. But either way, it appears to me that the Hebrew word “yom” (for day) is being used to construct a framework upon which the story of creation can hang rather than intending to represent three literal twenty-four hour periods of time. In other words, it appears that Genesis 1 is breaking up the process of creation by assigning certain temporal “headings” to provide a structure so that one can view the logical progression.

It is inherently difficult to grasp purely logical progressions apart from time. To explain one such progression, before God created the universe He must have first desired to create the universe (otherwise He would be creating randomly). But there would have been no time at all pass between God intending to create the universe and God actually creating the universe—time did not exist until God created the universe! Still, the logical order has to be preserved: God intended and then acted to create. If we were trying to explain “This, followed by this, followed by this” to people who were mainly shepherds in an era before philosophy had even been formed in Greece, it would be reasonable to use temporal markers to differentiate between the various states. Since clocks had not been invented, the most natural differentiation would have been the one everyone was most familiar with: the day and night cycle.

Now this is not a point of doctrine that I get into many debates with fellow believers on because I don’t think it’s really that important, but just to be specific, I believe in an instantaneous creation as opposed to six literal days. Primarily, it’s because I do not think that time really has meaning until there is an observer for that time, and since God is outside of time (atemporal and eternal) then He is not such an observer. This means that (as one of my weaker beliefs, as described in the introduction) I believe time began when Adam was created. The Earth may appear older if we take our current assumptions about time and imagine what it would have been like going backward from our current state, but it is important to remember that none of creation was ever originally designed to tell time in that sense, so that is an artificial imposition of mankind onto nature.

In any case, let’s get back to creation. So far we’ve only looked at the first three days. Part of the reason that I think the days are representing a logical sequence instead of literal twenty-four hour periods is because each of the three days are full of abstractions. Take “light” for example. Light is an abstract concept. It comes from many different sources, the sun being the most obvious, but the people also would have been familiar with fire in general. Yet God does not create any light-producing bodies on the first day; He creates the concept of light. Likewise, when he creates the sky and the water, these are abstractions. They are not concrete entities, but the concept of “sky-ness” and “water-ness” in mind. The same thing in day three.

This stands in contrast to the next three days. The abstract “light” was created on day one, but on day four the concrete “sun” and “moon” and “stars” are created. What was amorphous becomes particular. And just as days one and four are linked, so are days two and five: the sky and water are created first, but then the objects that actually exist in those arenas (birds and fish) are created on day five. Finally, days three and six have the same aspects: the generalized land created first, then all the things that live on land created second. In this way, Genesis 1 can almost be read as one would a computer program, where first the variables are declared by type and only then are they assigned data. It’s almost like God said:

Public Class Light{ get; set; };
Sun = new Light();

Of course, I don’t want to press that analogy too far. Still, this evidence, coupled with the fact that Genesis 2:4 says that “the heavens and the earth…were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens” (where “day” here obviously cannot mean a single 24 hour period), as well as the fact that the “seventh day” when God rested from creation appears to still be in effect today, all cause me to conclude that the “day” is not literal. But for now, let us focus on the important facets.

Whether figurative or literal, creation shows God is sovereign over everything that was created. There is nothing that existed that He did not intend to have there, which is why the creation story concludes with the statement: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Ironically, even though everything was “very good”, before a single sin entered the world, God said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). This does not actually contradict Genesis 1:31, since the events of Genesis 2 are a flash back to before the statement of Genesis 1:31 that declared everything to be good (we know this because God had yet to create Eve, whereas the end of Genesis 1 includes her). Since not all things were good until after the creation of Eve, one major implication of Genesis 2:18 is that women are just as necessary to the functioning of God’s creation as men are, a fact that sadly has been missed many times through the ages.

Mankind was created in God’s image. What this means specifically is difficult to pin down because the Bible does not go into great detail on it. It could be in reference to our ability to reason at a higher level, the faculty of complex language, or even just the fact that we have spiritual existence. We don’t really know. Nevertheless, both male and female posses the image of God, and it is something unique to human beings, at least here on Earth.

After the creation of man, we see another aspect of God’s character. God placed man in Eden and told him, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). Here, God imposes a rule upon man. Before this command, man could do as he pleased without any moral restriction. God could have left him in that state, but instead God behaved as a ruler does. He instituted law.

As far as we can tell from the text, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil did not have poisonous fruit or any other feature that would make it intrinsically something to avoid. Indeed, the fruit was described as pleasing to the eye and good for food (Genesis 3:6). This leads me to conclude that there was nothing in the fruit itself that made it evil for man to eat of it. Instead, the only reason it was immoral for man to eat of the tree is because God declared it off limits.

If there was nothing inherent in the tree itself that made God issue the law, then the morality of eating of the fruit is dependent solely upon God’s arbitrary declaration that man ought not to eat of it. God did not have to create this law. And indeed, He could have invented any number of other rules instead. But that’s not what He did.

Some theologians have concluded that this law was a test to see if men really loved God. Under this theory, God did not want automatons and the only way to ensure man was not a robot would be to offer a genuine choice for man to reject God. In other words, He needed man to freely choose Him or else no one could know that anyone genuinely loves God.

Such an argument does not make sense to me, for if it is the case that a loving relationship requires obedience to rules, then without us putting a rule above God and having Him obey it, we could never say He loves us. But clearly, such an idea would go against every orthodox Christian viewpoint out there. Furthermore, this argument would seem to state that unless God were able to freely choose to commit evil then we cannot know that He really loves us either. Yet it seems obvious that we can recognize God’s love in part because it is impossible for Him to be evil.

So I believe that God’s giving of this law was for something else entirely. It reinforces the lesson of Job (which, as you’ll recall, is the only other book of the Bible that existed at the time Genesis was written). God is sovereign over the rules by which man must live.

So let us sum up what we have so far. God created everything in the physical universe and has sovereignty over it because He is the creator. He then demonstrated His right to rule over creation by instituting a command not to eat of a specific tree. This command is arbitrary, in that there was nothing morally compelling God to put that specific restriction in place. The tree itself was not evil, and it would not have been evil to eat of it apart from the command of God. In short, had God not put the command in place, it would have been impossible for evil to enter the world. Thus, God’s sovereignty is found not just in His ability to create, but in His ability to declare rules that His creation must obey.

Once rules were instituted, rule-breaking became possible. The entrance of evil is found in Genesis 3 when we read about the Fall. Eve, tempted of Satan in the form of a serpent, ate the fruit and gave it to Adam (who was with her, possibly allowing her to eat of the fruit first to see if she would die and then deciding to take it when she wasn’t immediately killed). After this, they knew sin and shame, and they hid from God.

This brings up a tricky point for Christians, though. Adam was created good, so why is it that someone created good would sin? Libertarian Free Will arguments, which argue that Adam was able to choose whatever he wanted and could have chosen otherwise, do not seem to help the issue because even if Adam has the option to do evil that doesn’t explain why he actually did do evil. (To put it another way, on this theory right now I have the option to go rob a bank, yet the fact that that option is available does not in any way lead me to go rob a bank; if a bank robber does exercise that option, simply saying “It was an available option” does not explain why the robber took that option while I did not, since the option was available to both of us.) And simply saying “You can choose” also doesn’t help. Choosing answers what someone does, not why. It seems to me that there must be something linked to the will of Adam that caused him to choose to sin, such that the choice was morally culpable.

Yet that is the very problem. Adam was created morally good. There was nothing evil in him. So how could he have made that choice? This is why the problem of the first sin becomes such a tricky scenario.

However, I think that there is a solution that does not require us to just throw our hands up in the air and say, “It’s a mystery.” Let me give an example. Suppose for the sake of argument that Mary has never heard of alcohol, and let us further suppose that she finds a bottle of sweet wine. She tries the wine and finds that it is desirable to drink and she enjoys the effects it brings, all without yet being drunk. As a result of those desirable attributes, however, she continues to drink and soon finds herself to be drunk. Now, most Christians would agree that alcohol itself is not sinful, but drunkenness is. However, in this scenario we also know that Mary did not know that too much wine would lead to drunkenness. Since she is ignorant of what would happen, most of us would not say that Mary is culpable. She had no way of knowing (in this theory) that when she began to drink the final result would be drunkenness.

Of course, now she knows. The next time she finds wine, Mary has no excuse if she drinks to excess. Yet she still may find the desire to drink that she did not have before. Despite the fact that the initial action that brought about this desire was not morally culpable, she now has a bent toward that evil action that she would not otherwise have.

One problem with this is that ignorance does not always excuse misbehavior. The good news is my example applies even if we don’t let it proceed all the way to drunkenness. Suppose instead that after Mary begins to drink, but before she is drunk, a friend warns her, “Don’t drink too much or you will get drunk!” At that point, she has not even inadvertently committed evil, yet the desire to continue drinking is now present when it had not been before. On that scenario, it was not pre-existing depravity that brought about the desire to drink to excess, but it was the fact that Mary had begun to engage in morally permissible behavior that she found desirable that brought about the desire to drink too much.

Still, someone might claim that the desire to drink to excess in the example above is, itself, already sinful. I would disagree that the desire itself necessarily is because it appears to me more that the desire would be the temptation to sin (temptation is, after all, when sin is made desirable, and we know that having been tempted does not make one evil since Jesus was tempted but did not sin). Even so, because the desire is toward something evil (drunkenness), we can amend the example a bit further to remove that aspect completely.

Suppose that Mary is actually only five years old and instead of wine she has found a jar of cookies. It is morally permissible for her to eat cookies, but her mother tells her, “You may only have one cookie today.” Mary enjoys the taste of cookies, and that enjoyment is not evil. Yet that desire for cookies may lead her to want more cookies. More cookies are not, in and of themselves, evil; yet they are forbidden in this instance, so if Mary takes more cookies than permitted she has committed evil by breaking her mother’s rule. A good desire (a desire for cookies) toward a good thing (cookies are good) can lead to evil (eating forbidden cookies).

In the same way, this can explain why Adam sinned. It could be as simple as the fact that Adam has gained pleasure from pleasant things, and the fruit is described as pleasant, so he wants to experience more of that pleasure. That desire is a good desire and there’s nothing wrong with it if he eats from any other tree. Furthermore, the forbidden fruit is not evil in and of itself either (God created it and pronounced it good) so the only reason it’s to be avoided is because God said to avoid it. This means the only reason that the desire for the fruit can lead to evil is because it is forbidden, not because the fruit itself is bad. Thus it is quite possible for a good person to commit evil, not based on a predisposition toward evil but because of that otherwise good desire being misdirected toward something that, while good, has been forbidden.

This would also connect the choice to Adam’s nature—it was his desire—such that he is culpable for the choice, meaning it doesn't suffer from the same problem the LFW argument does. So it appears to me that this is both consistent with the Creation account in Scripture and also logically solves the problem without any contradictions.

After Adam’s sin, God now shows His next aspect of sovereignty when He punished all the actors in this tragedy for their sins. The serpent’s curse is of special note, because God says: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This verse, called by theologians the protoevangelon, is the first statement in the Bible about the coming redeemer. God has promised that the offspring (literally, “seed”) of Eve will crush the head of the serpent (Satan), even though Satan would bruise His heel in the process.

Immediately after this, the text says: “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). This, coupled with the protoevangelon, shows God has demonstrated His mercy to Adam and Eve. Not only did He not immediately strike them dead, but He also provided skins to cover them in their shame. Adam and Eve had sewn fig leaves together to cover themselves; God used the skins of animals. This figurative covering indicated the necessity of the shedding of blood to atone for the sins of man. But in terms of what we learn about God, this act of mercy shows that God is not a slave to the Law. He is able to be merciful.

It would be tempting at this point to go into more details on the problem of evil and to investigate it further. However, Genesis does not care to get into that topic. Given that we are looking at this text now to try to understand it from the perspective of our hypothetical time traveler, I will resist the urge to speak on that topic and table it for a future chapter.

Instead, as Genesis continues we learn that the sins of man were exceedingly great. Immediately following the Fall, we read of the first murder, where Cain kills his brother Abel. Cain’s motive was jealousy. Abel’s offerings were accepted by God but Cain’s weren’t (Genesis 4:3-5). I do not think it was a coincidence that Cain’s sacrifices were vegetation (grain), while Abel’s were of livestock, because that once again showed the necessity of blood sacrifice for atonement. Also note that God is sovereign in deciding what sacrifices He will accept and what sacrifices He will reject. He will not accept just any sacrifice because you offer it. You must approach God on His own grounds, not yours.

Let us now shift our focus from what we learn about the nature of God to what we learn about the nature of man. By the sixth chapter of Genesis, several generations of man have been birthed. We read: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Once sin entered into creation, it stuck hard and fast. It is one thing to say that men are occasionally or even often evil. It is quite another to see the text say every intention was “only evil continually.”

But what are we to make of this? I imagine that men still loved their wives and children. They didn’t seek to murder everyone they met. Sometimes men were probably even trying to just decide what they wanted for dinner. So under those circumstances, how can it be said that every inclination was evil? Surely, wanting to eat dinner is not evil, is it?

Even with only the information we have so far, I can see how it is possible for even benign actions to still be intended for evil. We have had two instances of Godly men offering sacrifices to God in the extant literature so far: Job (who offered them on behalf of his children) and Abel. Because we know from Job that he was righteous, then we know sacrifices were righteous behavior. This means that at bare minimum, if someone desires to eat dinner instead of fulfilling an obligation to sacrifice, then it is certainly possible that that action could be considered evil, because the man is not doing the good that he ought to do. Thus, it is not the action itself that is the evil intent God speaks of, but the inaction of not doing what one ought to do that is evil.

We will see this more clearly later on, but I wanted to make a point of it here so we can see that there are lots of deep concepts from Scripture that are found even here. This helps us have confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture, since everything that is found in Scripture is consistent with everything else.

Let us get back to our story. Because of the wickedness of man, God decided to send a flood. He spared only a single man, Noah, and his family. By this action, we discover more important truths about God. Not only is God sovereign in imposing rules upon man and sovereign in granting mercy (as He did to Adam and Eve, and now to Noah and his family), but also that He is sovereign in imposing justice upon the sinners who were not on the ark.

Noah was a righteous man, but how righteous was he? When God brought Noah back to safety and made a covenant with him to never destroy the earth with a flood again, God promised, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21).

Note how interesting this verse is phrased. We might expect it to say “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for he has learned his lesson and will never be as bad ever again.” But it doesn’t say that. It says that “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” and that is the reason that God will never curse the ground again. It’s almost like God is saying that it is pointless to curse the ground, for such a curse does not alter the state of mankind.

The only righteous man alive went through the flood and man’s heart did not change. Before the flood, every intention was continually evil. After the flood, his intentions are still evil. And these evil intentions are said to begin from youth. And I think this is part of the point of why God sent the Flood. He’s showing that even taking the best of humanity and starting over, man is still utterly wicked.

And, in fact, Noah demonstrates just how evil even he is by immediately getting drunk and stripping down naked. His youngest son saw him and mocked him for it. As a result, literally eight verses after God established His covenant to never flood the earth again because of the wickedness of man, Noah is cursing his son Ham’s family. This is the pervasiveness of evil.

So we have learned a lot about man (he is desperately wicked) and about God (He is even more sovereign than we learned in Job). The first chapters of Genesis show us that sovereignty of God in a five-fold manner. First, God is sovereign because He has created all that exists and He has made it exactly as He wanted it to be. Secondly, God is sovereign because He can give arbitrary laws that His creation must obey. Thirdly, God is sovereign because He can be merciful and is not a slave to those laws. Fourthly, God is sovereign because He can decide what constitutes genuine worship of Him. Finally, God is sovereign in that He can display His justice upon whom He wants to display His justice.

And finally, we have learned that man is incredibly evil. Even resetting everything and starting with the best humanity had to offer, evil immediately ran rampant after the Flood.

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