In the first chapter of the Bible, we are given the description of how God created the entire universe. There were bright, breathtaking outpourings of light and power. The range of what He made is stunning, from the sheer atomic might of the stars to the minute cells within a blade of grass. God spoke everything into place, refining nature to its most intricate details.
In the second chapter of Genesis, everything slows down. God gives a whole chapter to explain a whole new set of details about how He created the human race. We are not told details about how He made the sun or the trees. We aren’t given information about how He formed the dinosaurs or what happened to them. The Bible isn’t about their story. God wanted to give more details about the people He made. That was the critical information because humanity was made in His image.
When God made the first man, He took dust from the ground and molded it like clay. He carefully formed the first person with His own hands. Almost everything else in the universe was made a by a word spoken from God’s mouth. The land animals were raised up from the ground. But for the first man, God came to earth Himself and crafted Him. Then the Lord breathed the breath of life into his form and filled this new kind of being, this father of humanity, and made him come alive. Wow. Try to picture that moment in your head.
And because we are all descendants of that first man, named Adam, we have inherited his qualities. When we breathe, we breathe the very life of God. It is a holy and exalted reality. Yet Adam was also made of dust. He was a humble being, and connected to the earth that he would rule and reign over. And so are we. Humans were made as immortal creatures who are meant to live in deep, dependent relationship with the Divine Lord, but we are also made of earthly flesh. We have a physical like the animals, but we have been given many of the capacities of God.
Out of all the glorious beauty of earth, God chose a special place to prepare a Garden. It was rather like a park, though far more beautiful and perfect than any of the parks we have now. This Garden was to be God’s Temple, the special most holy dwelling place of God.
This first man would be His priest, and he would dwell in the Garden with God. He was meant to the guardian of God’s living palace on earth. His job was to prune and protect it and drive out anything that was evil or impure. This sacred space, this Garden of the Lord, was set apart in a place called Eden.
Imagine how it must have been…lavishly abundant, glorious vistas at every turn, filled with animals, flowers, trees…imagine how drippingly delicious the fruit must have been like in this perfect world. A great and mighty river flowed through the Garden that broke into four more rivers. They flowed out of the Garden and watered the regions of earth all around it, making them lush and green. We still know where two of those rivers are today. One is the Tigris and the other is the Euphrates. They both flow through the modern day nation of Iraq.
In the middle of the Garden of Eden, God planted two special trees. One was called the Tree of Life. The fruit of this tree would give an astonishing gift. The one who ate its fruit would never die. The other tree was called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
When the Lord put the first man into this amazing Garden, He told him, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17).
That is a pretty serious message. Apparently, it was an extremely dangerous tree, and God wanted the human race to stay away from it. It was as if God drew a circle around the tree and said, “Do not cross that line. This tree is not for you.” Somehow, it was toxic, and we have a pretty good idea about why.
Once someone ate from the tree, they would understand evil. The power of evil is aggressive and cruel, and it lies. It robs those it taints of their freedom to do right…it suffocates their ability to understand what is good. It is easy in our time to get confused about good and evil because all of the examples we see around us have good and evil mixed together. People we admire for the good they do can still do really bad things. The great heroes of our history books are riddled with weakness and failure. But that simply shows the brokenness of our world now that we are outside the Garden. When the world was new, the distinction between good and evil was clear, and the human race had the freedom to choose only what was good.
God knew that no human could bear the pressure of understanding evil without being utterly warped by its darkness. Only God is so strong and completely holy that evil cannot touch Him. Only God can fully understand the depths of evil and still remain perfectly righteous and pure. God knew that the fruit of this tree would give the first humans knowledge that their souls would not be strong enough to handle, and they would become entangled with sin and death. They would, in fact, become slaves to it.
Yet He still planted that tree in the Garden. He would not force them to choose Him…to choose the Source of good in the universe…by keeping their choice hidden. The option was there, but they had the freedom to ignore it. As they continued to choose God over evil, they would give Him great glory through their trust. They could have born children who never felt suffering or pain, who never aged or died. We could have been free forever.
The first pages of the biblical text give us God’s account of how He created the universe. We learn that from the immensity of His greatness and power, He simply spoke it all into existence out of nothing. There are many things we learn about the reality of our world from this:
The God that created everything is a Being of incomprehensible power.
He stands apart from our universe as totally “other,” yet He acts within our world. In fact, because He made everything, all of it belongs to Him, and He has every right to do exactly as He pleases.
God’s right to do what He wishes in our world is not only because He made it, but because He is good. He is the ultimate moral authority in the universe, and so He is the most qualified to rule over it. We will see this in many ways as we study scripture, but we can see it in creation because everything He made was profoundly good…beautifully ordered…rightly and well made. By His wisdom, God laid the foundations of the world (Proverbs 3:19-20).
There is no way to underestimate the importance of this. If the Being that created everything was evil, or toggling back and forth between right and wrong like some kind of force…if God Himself wasn’t pure and holy and right, it would mean chaos for everything else. But God is perfectly good, and who He is establishes the basis of all reality.
There is a profound internal transformation that takes place in those who embrace this explanation of reality as their own. Knowing that the God of the universe is not only powerful but dependable…stable…unshakably good…lays a foundation for our souls by which to find our own stability, comfort, and peace. Whatever chaos or craziness we see in the world or find in ourselves, we can know that the One who rules in power…the One who made us and determines how all stories will end…is unchangingly stable and secure.
On the sixth day of Creation, the Lord made humanity. The human race is the pinnacle of Lord’s work: the special, set apart beings that were made in His image. Their sacred role, the very thing they were made for…that we were made for…was to act as a reflection of God as they served Him as His stewards in the Garden. Once humanity was brought into the world, the cosmos was complete.
At this point in the story things take a shift…a surprising turn. Day after day we have seen God depicted as powerful and profoundly able as He spoke everything from the might of His will. Now that everything was ready, one might expect to see Him move into action. What was He going to do with it all? Instead, the Lord, the all-powerful God, the mighty King, did a remarkable thing. He rested. This is what the Bible says:
“By the seventh day, God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.’”
After six days of abundant outpouring, His work went quiet. The entire universe was set in place. The massive stars throbbed in the heavens, the planets whizzed along their ordained paths around the sun, the animals gamboled about in perfect safety on the earth. God made everything with exacting excellence. Even the darkness was molded by God to accomplish His perfect will. There was no more chaos. Everything was appointed to its rightful place in the sweeping harmony of God’s pristine world. His creation of time brought order to the developments of its wild beauty.
At the end of all His creation work, the Lord took some of this time and set it apart to rest. It was not as though God was tired or weary. He never grows weary. His work was simply done. It was totally complete and good, operating in perfect balance. Rest was a form of celebration…a space of time by which to behold, enjoy, and commune.
God blessed this day of rest, somehow filling it up with His vibrant power and creative might. Then He set this day into the laws of the universe, into the very fabric of how all things are made. He created time to have within it a day that was meant to be set apart. It was a sacred space of hours for reflection and worship of the One who made it all. His people would draw near to their God by spending a special, empowered time with Him every week, the seventh day. The people made in His image would rest, too, just like their Lord.
The people of God would write songs and poems to celebrate God’s work and His sacred rest. Here is a psalm written for the Sabbath by a servant of God some three thousand years ago:
A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath Day:
It is good to praise the LORD
and make music to your name, O Most High,
to proclaim your love in the morning,
and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre,
and the melody of the harp.
For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD;
I sing for joy at the works of your hands.
How great are your works, O LORD,
how profound your thoughts!
We can still sing these songs today. And if our hearts are not full of praise, we can be sure that it means we need a Sabbath rest all the more. Our souls were created to need sacred time for celebration and rest with our Creator for one seventh of our days.
Let’s think for a minute about what God did when He made the first humans. There are few things that truly deserve to be called marvelous, but this is one of them. It is worth going over and repeating in our minds. It takes time and thought for it all to sink in because things are so very different now. We must meditate on the wonder of what God made in the beginning so that we can understand who we truly are…and so we can understand the devastation of what was lost. We must mourn over the tragedy of what was lost so that we will long with hope for the time when God restores all things.
The Lord, the Divine King over all creation, crafted this incredible cosmos in order to give it as a magnificent gift and home to the crown of His creation…the human race. Humans were made in the very image of God. We were made with a high and tremendous worth, distinct and different from anything else in all creation. In the beginning, we could respond rightly to their worthy God with exuberant adoration. They were given keen minds that could think great thoughts with God and understand His power, creativity, and genius. The Lord would reflect these magnificent qualities through humanity as they enacted His good, pleasing, and perfect will.
God created His people to live in constant nearness to Him, constantly absorbing His abundant love and raising it back to Him through their worship and total dependence on Him. Like the sun’s outpouring of light and heat, God’s wisdom, righteousness, and love would pour out on them, and they would reflect His light to the world. The human race would act as God’s royal servants, working together with Him in perfect unity. It would be a perfect world.
In this land where God was the only King and His servants walked with Him in perfect unity, there was no pain or tears. They felt no temptation to sin or make a choice apart from the goodness of God. There was a potential that there would never be any death, ever. The first humans had glorious bodies of robust, stunning beauty that would never fade or age. God made them so they would only hunger after what was good and pure and right.
Think about that! They had a chance at never ending security and peace. If they obeyed God’s merciful and righteous directions, humanity wouldn’t even know the meaning of the words “evil” or “sin” or “pain.” They wouldn’t even be able to imagine those terrors. Their hearts would be totally able to live lives free from ever doing anything wrong. And nobody would be tempted to treat anyone else with anything other than utter love. They would have the solid yet light, bright happiness of constant praise and worship of His holy name. This is what the Bible says:
“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.
“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground-everything that has the breath of life in it-I give every green plant for food. And it was so.
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning-the sixth day.”
Wow. God’s powerful work of creation-the plants and animals, the fish and birds and fruit-all were all lavish gifts from the LORD to humanity. They would be fed the finest fresh fruit, made to perfectly fit the needs of their perfect bodies. They were told to have many children, and all of their children would be perfectly healthy as well. There would be no colds or flues. Their children would grow up in a perfect world, and then they would have their own children. Pretty soon, there would be many hundreds and then thousands of people on the earth enjoying God’s lavish blessings.
Thousands of years after God made the universe, another man, a descendent of Adam and a great king, would write a beautiful song about the time of God’s Creation. It can teach our hearts to praise God for the world He planned for us in the beginning;
“O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
“When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
“You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
and put everything under his feet;
all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
“O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!’”
Psalm 8:1, 3-9
When God spoke most of the universe into place, it took five days (See here and here for more details). Light and darkness, the sun, moon, and stars, the boundaries of land and ocean, the flourishing of plant life, the bird winged in flight, the flashing of the fish in the sea…all of these remarkable, often breathtaking beauties bounded out of God’s spoken word from nothing…nothing but His perfect will. On the sixth day, He continued His creative work:
“And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds; livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.”
The air and the seas were already filled with life. Now the Lord was creating creatures for the land. Ponder in wonder at His amazing, creative design. Did the angels watch the polar bear come to life? Did they see the first elephant swing its trunk? Did they notice the monkeys in the trees? Did the lion roar when it was made? How the angels must have enjoyed their first look at the giraffe and hippo and camel (See Job 38-39).
It is interesting that right from the beginning, God not only made different kinds of animals, but He gave them different jobs. Some animals were meant to be wild. Others were made to be cattle, fit for humans to own and raise. They were an important part of God’s plan to provide for the people He was about to create, just as the plants were a part of how God provided for the animals.
The Lord was not finished with His creation. In fact, He was building up to something. There was something more glorious that was yet to come. God was about to present the very crown, the highest point, the great delight of what His creation was for! The universe was a magnificent Temple that displayed the brilliance of the King of Creation, and it was time to create its greatest treasure.
Here is what Scripture says:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.
So God created man in His own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”
Wow. God was going to make us. When God began to make humans, everything changed. For almost everything else, the Lord said, “Let there be…” and whatever it was came bounding from His powerful Word. But now, the Bible tells about a mysterious conversation of God, discussing His plans ahead of time. For everything else God made, we learn about it in quick bright glimpses. But when the Bible tells how God made humanity, the story slows down. It pauses. It shows how careful and deliberate the Lord was about creating this one, final creature. It stops to show that this was a serious, solemn moment, even for God.
There was something very special and unique about humanity that sets every one of us apart from the rest of creation. In fact, the whole point of the rest of God’s other creation work was to prepare a home for us where we could live in a special relationship with Him.
The reason humanity is so special is that God fashioned us in His own image. Humans were made to be a reflection of the Divine. Think about what happens when you look in the mirror. What you see is an image of yourself. You see what you look like. Yet the image of you in the mirror is not you. You are still standing outside the mirror looking at it. Anyone who looks at your reflection will learn a lot of things about you. They will see the color of your eyes and hair and how long or short your nose is. If they watch carefully, they will learn many things about your personality as well. They might see kindness or anger or pain. A reflection in a mirror can tell us many things about who we are.
Humans were made to act as a reflection of God. We have the capacity to love, to use our imaginations and create in response to God. We have minds that are rational, we can speak, write, and sing. We have souls. We can delight in the preciousness of a puppy, and unlike a puppy, we can stand in awe of the beauty of a sunset. We have abilities that set us apart from all of the other creatures God made, and we were given a very special relationship to them.
On the very first day of the creation of the race, humanity was given the authority to display to the universe what God is like through the faithful, tending care over creation. It was humanity’s job to take care of God’s world. We were to rule the earth for Him. It was the highest position and greatest honor. In perfect obedience, we would be able do exactly what God wanted us to do as we ruled and reigned as His royal stewards. Every good and wonderful thing we did would reflect God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. We had total freedom to be perfectly good.
When you look in the mirror, what happens when you walk away? Does your image stay there? Of course not. It disappears. In order for your reflection to stay in a mirror, you have to keep yourself in front of it. The same thing is true for humans to reflect the glory of God. We were made in God’s image, but we were built in a way that required the nearness of God in order to reflect Him.
When the world was new this wasn’t a problem. When the LORD made the first man and woman they were constantly and perfectly near to His amazing love. They had perfect freedom to walk in the tremendous goodness of God. There was no struggle against sin, no slavery to evil, no weakness to stop them from being perfect images of His radiant life. The holy Creator was near to shine His beautiful image through His empowered servants.
What a glorious world that must have been.
Yet we know this is not the way of the world now.
How was it all lost?
Seeing Jesus: Think about this-the same hands that crafted the first man from the dust would one day have permanent, eternal scars because He died for this man’s sin. God knows all things, past, present, and future. He made us knowing he would die for us. God the Father made us knowing all about the surpassing, aching beauty of the sacrifice of His own Son. God the Son made us knowing the magnificent victory of the resurrection and the splendor of His ascension as He rose to take His seat at the right hand of his Father. God would turn even the rebellion of man against Him into a work of beauty through the power of His mercy and grace. In all things, Christ would be exalted and glorified.
There are many explanations for the beginning of the world. Scientists tell us that it all started with a Big Bang. They use their measurements to see that the universe continues to expand outward from a central, cosmic level explosion that brought everything as we know into existence. They can explain the epic, breathtaking reality of the immensity of the universe, the billions of galaxies with their billions of stars…there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the planet earth. (See here and here if you want to ponder the universe with a sense of awe). Yet they admit that we can have no idea what came before the Big Bang because every scientific law or theory that we go by now was brought into being by the Big Bang itself. They also can’t tell us what caused it in the first place. There are many amazing things that we have learned from studying the natural laws of the universe, but there are limits to what they can teach us. As Sir Isaac Newton declared, “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who sets the planets in motion.” He also said, “This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”
The Bible provides the story of how the universe came into being from God’s perspective, showing us His relationship to the natural world and all that it in it. The breathtaking, incomprehensibly splendid reality of the universe is a herald of the greatness of God (See Psalm 8 and Psalm 19). The magnitude of His omnipotent strength is such that He was able to bring it all into existence with a word. Out of nothing, He created everything by merely declaring His will.
Creation is an illustration of the magnificence of God’s supreme, inexhaustible power. It is evidence of His authoritative right to everything that it exists. As we learn more about the elegant order and beauty of the universe, we are receiving testimony of His incredible genius and wisdom as the Creator. He is not a part of the universe. God stands apart from it, independent of it but actively engaging it, energizing and keeping it going, and involving Himself in the lives of the human race that He created it for (See Job 38, Isaiah 40:21-31 and Col. 1:15-20).
For the first three days of God’s majestic outpouring of beauty, He made light and time and sky and sea. He made land and all the grasses and trees that soften the earth and make it lovely. As we read the story of Creation, it is stunning how effortless all of this was for Him. He did not toil or sweat or strain as He made the vast universe. He sat composed and at rest in the might of His absolute power. He is the sovereign ruler and reigning King, and He wants His beloved humans to know that their Lord created a world for them that is good.
The Master Architect made the outer frame of His grand temple during the first three days of creation. Now it was ready to be filled with the bright energy of life that would thrive there. Imagine the awe of the angels as they watched the Master Artist at work:
“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth. And it was so. God made the two great lights-the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning-the fourth day.”
On the fourth day, God took the magnificent light that burst from His Word on the first day and formed it to serve very important purposes. They become the glory of light we see in the sky. We call them the sun and stars. The light from the sun reflects on the moon to give it light. The Lord made these mighty, majestic spheres and set them in motion in the spaces of the universe.
But why didn’t the Lord say their names?
He named the sky, why not the sun or the moon or the stars?
We think that it is because there would come a time when whole nations of people would try to worship the sun and stars as if they were gods. For thousands of years, many people would look to these lights in the sky as if they could tell the future. They would look to them for help and seek their power. Whole nations and religious systems would worship these created things instead of worshipping God Himself.
From the very beginning, God was teaching that these things are magnificent gifts and they are good, but they are not gods. God alone knows the future, and God alone is our help. When we ponder the bright singing beauty of the stars in the deep darkness of the night sky it should call us into worship of Him.
What an amazing God to make such glorious things. The warmth and light of the sun should make our hearts throb with gratitude, but it should never be worshipped. The glowing radiance of the moon should fill us with the wonder and peace of God, but the moon can never act to bring peace. That is the work of the Lord. God did not give them names because He wanted to show that they were not living things with power or control in our world. They are simply His gifts of light.
On the first day of Creation, light and darkness brought a separation of time- day and night. Now on the fourth day, these glorious lights would mark out the great time periods of life on earth. The months are marked by the changing face of the moon. The seasons are marked as the stars in the sky change from summer to fall to winter to spring. The years are made separate from each other by the movement of the earth around the sun. The cycles of life are timed by the new birth of animals in spring, the planting and raising of crops, the abundance of harvest, and the cold days of winter. All these were determined by God’s ingenious design. He brought light and darkness together with time to bring order and structure to all of life on earth.
“And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky. So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning- the fifth day.”
Now the vaulted skies of God were full of birds winged in flight. The great seas were populated with an abundance off flashing fish, singing whales, crawling octopi, lobsters, and sea snails. In His creative power, He made the birds to breathe through air and the fish to breathe through water, yet all of life had breath! The Lord had already filled the land with trees to make a home for the birds, and forests of kelp flourished in the oceans so the fish could eat and play.
Then God blessed these creatures with the power and potency to create new, vibrant, abundant life through eggs that would become babies that would look just like them. Just as the seed of a tree grows into the same kind of tree, the eggs of fish make the same kind of fish. Each was specially crafted by the mind of the LORD. From nothing, He spoke His remarkable world into existence. All of these poured out from His perfect will, and so they were a profoundly perfect good.