Why Should We Study Creation?

Daniel Darling
header for Why Should We Study Creation?

My library is filled with volume after volume of books written by scholars and pastors from throughout church history. And that’s just one small sliver of the books written about God in a small library in one part of the world. The truth is we are like the apostle John, who, when finishing his gospel said, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if every one of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). The apostle Paul, one of the most learned Jewish minds of his day, threw up his hands and basically said, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Rom. 11:34). Even the foremost Bible scholars, those whose lifelong pursuit fills the pages of the most prestigious academic journals, are but scratching the surface. We are like a child who walks a pace up Mount Everest, thinking he’s scaled the entire summit.

And yet it does matter what we think about God. A. W. Tozer famously said that “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”[1] And so, approaching this study of the creation story should cause us to reflect on the mighty truths we can grasp. John Walton writes of this importance: “Fallen human nature inevitably adopts a diluted, diminished, and in other ways corrupted concept of deity. Just as the Israelites had difficulty rising above the common view in their world that portrayed gods with needs and whims, so it is also difficult for us to rise above the common views of our world. Our world does not reduce God by distributing his power to other deities. Rather, we reduce God by making him a figurehead.”[2]

I’d like to offer four important realities that creation reveals about God and why they matter:

1. Creation reveals a God who is not like us.

In the beginning, God reveals a God who is not a created being, a figment of our imaginations, a durable crutch we invent in difficult times. Genesis reveals an all-powerful God without beginning and end, who is other than His creation, who created something out of nothing.

“Down deep in our souls, we don’t want the cheap plastic gods of our age, but an all-powerful God who is bigger than the problems we face.”

I don’t know about you, but this gives me comfort in a world gone mad. To know that there is a God who is above the messiness of this world and yet is driving history toward a conclusion. I find it comforting to know someone besides me is in charge, that I’m not the master of my fate, the captain of my soul. American religion is funny in that we act like we want a God we can reduce to our size, a God who overlooks our flaws and blesses our indiscretions. We want a God we can shape and shift. But is this really what we want? A God who is limited by our limitations, a God who is subject to our fears and captive to our whims? When we whisper those desperate prayers in the night, when we plead with God at the bedside of a loved one, when we pray over our children, we are praying to a God we need to be bigger than we are.

A big God, a God I can’t understand, a God I see with a holy awe, is a God whom I can trust is managing a world I cannot control, a God who can uphold the universe as I lay my head on my pillow and as I send my children out into the world and as I huddle in the darkness during a violent storm. Down deep in our souls, we don’t want the cheap plastic gods of our age, but an all-powerful God who is bigger than the problems we face and can defeat the things that haunt us.

2. Creation reveals a God of order and beauty.

Too often when we read Genesis, we read it as a kind of didactic dictionary, instead of stepping back and beholding, admiring, witnessing the way God has ordered the world. I like the way Old Testament scholar Sandra Richter, borrowing from Augustine and others, helps us see the intentional parallels of the days of creation:

  • Day 1 introduces the creation of day and night, and Day 4 is the sun and moon to fill and rule them.
  • Day 2 features the waters above and the waters below, and Day 5 features the birds and the fish to fill and rule them.
  • Day 3 features the land and vegetation, and Day 6 features land mammals to fill and rule them.

Ruling over these three spheres of creation are God’s unique creatures, fashioned in His image. Humans were given rule over the entire earth (Gen. 1:26). But humans ultimately rule under the Lordship and rule of God, who occupies the seventh day and rests.

The point of this scheme is to show us that God is not a God of chaos or division, but a God of beauty, unity, and order. God beheld all His creative acts and at each interval said, “This is good.” It was only when humans, acting on their own volition and tempted by the serpent, tried to usurp the Lord of creation and thus were thrust from the garden (more on that later). So the world in which we live is one with less order and less beauty.

3. Creation reveals a God who is personal.

Genesis describes a God who didn’t just fashion the world and leave it alone, but who wants to be known. God is not distant. He speaks and is a Creator who made people for fellowship with Him and who is seen walking in perfect communion with Adam and Eve, who is ultimately revealed to us in the person of Jesus. There is a God who cries out, “Those who search for me will find me” (Prov. 8:17). He is a Father who sent His Son to be rejected and raised up on a Roman cross so that we could be reconciled to the One who made us. Softly and tenderly, the hymn writer reminds us, Jesus is calling for you.

This is ultimately the aim of this book, to help you know and be known by God; to stir in your heart affections for the One who made you. God can be very hard to see in a world gone mad, in a culture that increasingly punishes and shames and exploits, a world where it seems impossible to find comfort, even in those we love and treasure like family and friends, even in the small comforts of material things. But here is the comfort: God is for us. We can know and see, like David, that God is our “refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble” (Ps. 46:1).

4. Creation reveals a God of the beginning and the end.

To the prophet Isaiah, God declares, “See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isa. 43:19 NIV). Genesis doesn’t just tell us how the world began, but how the world will end. The very phrase “In the beginning, God” tells us there will be an end. Beginnings are only beginnings because they have endings. And so we can open the first pages of our Bibles and see that God is already pointing us toward the end. The God of creation is the God of the new creation. In a sense, Genesis helps us read the rest of our Bibles. One scholar says, “If we possessed a Bible without Genesis, we would have a ‘house of cards’ without foundation or mortar. We cannot insure the continuing fruit of our spiritual heritage if we do not give place to its roots.”[3]

Understanding Genesis will then help you see that some of the most recognizable features of Eden show up throughout the rest of Scripture. Consider a few examples. The river that runs through the garden shows up in the vision of heaven we find in Psalm 46: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,” and ultimately in Revelation, where John’s vision describes the New Jerusalem. The tree of life from Eden becomes a disfigured and cursed cross upon which the Son of God offers life to those who believe and then shows up in the New Jerusalem as a source of health and life (Rev. 22:2). Eden is a temple, where God dwells in harmony with His people. A relationship broken by sin would then be mediated by lesser temples throughout the story of Israel and then be restored by Jesus through the indwelling Spirit of God in the new temple of redeemed sinners, and ultimately in perfect fellowship as God dwells with His people in the restored city of God.[4]

Sandra Richter writes that “everything that lies in between Eden’s gate and the New Jerusalem, the bulk of our Bibles, is in essence a huge rescue plan. In fact, we could summarize the plot line of the Bible into one cosmic question: ‘How do we get Adam back into the garden? In Genesis 3, humanity was driven out; in Revelation 21–22, they are welcomed home.’”[5]

Welcomed home! What a wonderful thought as we embark on this journey together. I invite you to drink deeply in the creation story, as we look at characters like Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his sons, as well as that evil serpent who deceives, and the strange characters like the mysterious Nephilim, among others. The point is not another exercise in knowing useless trivia, but to drink deeply from the fountain of God’s Word, to know and understand more about God, about ourselves, and about our world, and ultimately, to join with the rest of creation in worshiping our great God.

[1] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (1961), in A. W. Tozer: Three Spiritual Classics in One Volume (Chicago: Moody, 2018), 13.

[2] John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2001), 66.

[3] Kenneth Mathews, The New American Commentary: Genesis 1–11:26 (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 1996).

[4] Sandra L. Richter, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 128.

[5] Ibid., 129.

For Further Reading:

Characters of Creation

by Daniel Darling

Most Christians are familiar with the opening words of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” But push...

book cover for Characters of Creation