Baptism of our Lord • Genesis 1:1–5 • January 8, 2012
by Jeffrey Kloha
Perhaps no passage bears as much gravitas—and controversy—as Genesis 1:1. In our context, the text will immediately bring to mind the modernist “science vs. faith” controversy. The philosophical and cultural issues that prevent hearing this text are many, on both sides. And the exegetical difficulties pile up in this short section; the meaning of אָ֣רָּב; the relationship of v. 1 to v. 2; the referent of חּו֣ר םיִ֔הֹלֱא;ַ how day and night can exist before there is sun and moon, etc. Such matters are best left to a commentary. Creedal Christians have learned with the faithful of generations past to confess creatio ex nihilo by the Triune God. Rather than explanation of the Hebrew or “defense” of the Bible, what the baptized crave is good news. How does God speaking, creating for his purposes and glory, bring his kingdom?
The beginning point is God. We westerners have been shaped to think that all things begin and end with the individual. I make my own choices; I have my own free will; I choose what to believe or to believe nothing at all; I can make the world a better place; my destiny is in my own hands. I am the subject of the verbs. The scriptural narrative, however, has a different subject. “God created.” “The Spirit of God was hovering.” “God said.” And creation is the object, the recipient. Genesis 1 puts us in our place, a place we need to relearn.
In our generation, we no longer believe that creation is “good.” As I write this, the news has been filled with earthquakes and hurricanes that caused fear and devastation on the east coast of the U.S.; as you prepare a sermon no doubt there will have been been a “natural disaster” in the news recently. Reports of global warming cause fear. The creation is groaning, subject to futility. Rather than tending the good creation as the vocation given us by the creator (Gn 1:26), we battle against it, and it battles against us. Sin wants to place us as the subject of the story; we live in rebellion against God.
Nor does our generation believe in a God who creates all things, for we want no gods to make claims on us. And so we make lesser gods in our image, as the gods of all nations always are and always will be. No longer do we call on Poseidon to reign over the sea for us, nor Isis to rule over nature on our behalf. We are too advanced for such superstition. Instead, we have made ourselves gods, for we can rule over creation with our knowledge. Cure all illness, create endless energy, and hold back the seas themselves. But death is never cheated; in our reign over this creation we’ve made antibiotics so common that simple bacteria have mutated into killers beyond our control. We’ve stuffed our bodies so full of chemicals that we seem to have produced a generation of children with tragic, untreatable dysfunction of mind and body. We’ve dammed and leveed rivers, which nevertheless yearly spill over. Our oil runs dry (or onto the beaches), tsunamis drown our nuclear plants, and coal scars both our land when we dig it up and our lungs when we burn it up. “Science” is not the problem—you are likely writing your sermon on a laptop produced by scientists and powered by electricity generated using gas, oil, water, or sun. But we’ve taken God’s gifts of science and knowledge and made them our masters. We are out of place.
But the first day of creation was not the last time that God spoke. He did not leave us to our own gods. He spoke to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets—words of promise. He spoke in the re-invasion of his creation in his Son’s baptism, announcing him as Son and proclaiming the kingdom (Mk 1:4–11; 14–15). He spoke in claiming us as his children in our baptism, burying us with him in a baptism like his so that we could be raised in a resurrection like his (Rom 6:1–11). And now when we look at this creation, we hear a voice that thunders over the waters and breaks the cedars of Lebanon. Yet we do not fear this voice, because with this voice he has claimed us. And so we ascribe glory to him (Ps 29).
It all rests on a word, on a promise. If God is not powerful enough to create the world, then neither is he powerful enough to redeem. If no Creator, then no Savior, and no Spirit who cries out in us. But with the Creator comes salvation, wholeness, restoration, new creation. Genesis 1 puts us in our place. And what a “good” place it is.