The first words of the Bible, on the other hand, form the portal through which a reader leaves his own imaginary views of the real world and is given an introduction to the world as it truly is.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1.1)
Some opening lines shock; all opening lines shape the narrative that follows. The first words of the Bible do both. When first written and read they were shocking. Many nations and tribes had their own local deities and stories. People worshipped heavenly bodies such as the sun, moon, and stars, and revered the earth itself. However, in contrast to these stories and deities, and in conflict with the worship of material things, the first words of the Bible reveal the God who is the author of everything: the ultimate reality behind everything that exists. These words should also shock us today. Why, if ultimate reality is an immaterial, eternal, almighty, personal, and sovereign God,1 do people seek supreme satisfaction in material stuff, temporal pleasure, personal power, human relationships, and individual autonomy? What should not shock us is that those who do so end up, ultimately, dissatisfied.
These opening words are foundational to all that follows. God is telling the true story of the universe, and He is both the author and main character in the story. Some people regard the Bible as ‘just another religious book’ or ‘a book full of advice as to how to live our live’ or ‘God’s rulebook’. However, the Bible is much more than this. I read recently of the comedian Lee Mack’s appearance on Desert Island Discs. When asked what he would take with him to a desert island he said “I would definitely take the Bible. After all if aliens landed on planet earth and asked what’s life all about, I’d say, ‘Well there’s this book that purports to have all the answers.’” Lee Mack, though he admitted to never having read the Bible, understood that the Bible is more than a book of rules or religion, it is a book about reality.
What does God want us to know first?
The Bible commences by quietly assuming God’s existence. It does not (at this point) attempt to prove the fact. It states that the existence of the material universe depends upon the exertion of creative power in the past. God is the explanation that best fits the fact of the universe.
The reality that confronts us all is the existence of the universe and everything in it. The 17th century German philosopher Leibniz summed up the greatest philosophical question as “Why is there something rather than nothing?” He argued that the existence of something demanded an explanation, and his conclusion was, “God wanted to create a universe”.
Such a straightforward reason for the existence of the universe may seem difficult to accept but it is the best explanation. Some years ago I had a conversation with an atheist at a Bible exhibition. He had come, unwillingly, with his wife to ‘have a look around’. He looked up at a large poster containing the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and, looking at me as if I was an utter fool, he said “Do you really believe that?”
I asked him what he believed and he answered “Not that!” So I asked him to consider the alternatives: Did the universe begin to exist or was it always there? He reluctantly accepted that the universe began to exist. To regard the universe as uncreated and eternal is not only to disregard the Bible, it is to place yourself at odds with the scientific and philosophical consensus. What alternatives exist then to explain the commencement of the universe? It was either self-created or created by some entity outside of itself. What was his view on that? “We just don’t know.”
Well, we do know that it was not self-created. How? Because to say that something is self-created is to speak in riddles. How could a universe create itself? Only if it already existed could it create anything. However if it already existed then it couldn’t create itself for it was already there.
The only explanation that makes sense of the existence of the universe is that it was created by an entity outside of itself. The Bible calls this creator God.
Perhaps you have asked questions such as “Why does the universe exist?” and “Why am I here?” To such questions science can give no answer. It is not intended to do so. Attempting to obtain answers to ‘Why’ questions in science is like me trying to find out if my wife loves me by getting an ultrasound scan of her heart.
The universe exists because God willed it so. Why God willed it so is a fair question and we need to read the rest of His story to find that out. If, however, you are struggling with meaning and purpose, with the source of true satisfaction, with deep concerns about your place in the real world, it is surely good news that the universe did not arise by accident and will not end as the result of one either. There is a purpose; there is a source of lasting satisfaction; and there is a story in which you have a place. Can I encourage you to obtain a Bible and read it?
1 I will consider how these attributes of God are revealed in Genesis 1.1 in further posts.
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