John 1

Genesis is the book of primeval origins, the book that establishes the foundation of the story the Bible is telling. It not only explains the origins of the world, but also sets the stage for the drama that occurs throughout the rest of Scripture. It’s no surprise, then, that echoes of it are found later on. The Gospels, in particular, have quite a few. Among my favorites is the first chapter of John.

John 1 points back to the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This verse is used to establish Christ’s deity. He is in the beginning with God, but he also is God. Throughout his writings, John comes across as something of a poet and a mystic, and it’s no surprise that he begins his Gospel with such a strange, seemingly paradoxical statement.

This verse not only lays the groundwork for distinguishing the Father and the Son while continuing to call them God, it also points towards their relationship. One is simply “God” and the other is the Word. A word is a thing spoken, something that proceeds from the mouth of another. Despite being coeternal with God, Christ is also, in some sense, derived from him. He is a Son to the Father.

In Hebrew, the book of Genesis is referred to as “Bereshith,” which is the first word of the text. It means “in the beginning.” By starting with that phrase, John points us back to the book of Genesis, and to the time of Genesis, but the passage also gives us something more. In the beginning was the Word. The Greek for “Word” here is logos.

To understand the significance of the word logos, you have to know that there are two Greek words that we might translate “word.” One is lexis, which means “word” in the way we usually mean. That is, a lexis is something you say, a sound that means something. Logos, on the other hand, isn’t simply “a word.” It’s where we get our word “logic,” and the “ology” that means “study of” in so many words like “Biology,” “Geology,” “Theology,” and the rest.

In Greek, the kind of Word that Christ is means something more like “reason” or “guiding principle.” Greek philosophers, and Greek-speaking Jewish ones, used the word to refer to the foundational structure of the universe, the basic laws by which it operates. For the Stoic philosophers, it was the animating principle of the universe, the thing that gave it all meaning and coherence.

So when John speaks of the logos in this verse, he’s giving the creation account a philosophical spin. In the beginning was the very principle that gives the universe order, and that principle was with God, and also was God. He goes on to say that all things were made by the Word, who is referred to as a “him,” and that nothing was made without him. Absolutely everything in existence is the creation of this divine, rational, ordering principle to the universe. Nothing falls outside of his design.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” This makes sense. The source of life, the source of meaning, is the very thing that would give us life. To be connected to that principle is what would allow us to live and flourish, and cut off from it, we would wither and die. To the created order, the Word is life. And not only is he life, he is also light. That is, he is what allows us to see, to understand.  Looking at him, referring to him, the world makes sense. If he is the one who created it, who gives it order and coherence, then of course the best way to understand the world is by looking to him.

All this add depth to the Genesis story. Genesis 1 unfolds as the raw actions of a person we do not yet know. By the time John is written, the God of Genesis has rescued his people again and again, has made promises, has kept them, has cast down kings and raised up kings. We know so much more about him. Then John comes along to complicate that story. There is God as we have come to know him, but God is both God and the Word, and it was through the Word that God made the world. The character of God, the expression of God, is underlying principle of the world’s design.

But this is where the story takes a turn. “And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” There is a lack of light, a lack of the Word. The Word shines into it, to illuminate it, but it still doesn’t understand. Something is wrong.

But, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” This is John the Baptist, not the writer of the Gospel. “The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.”

We have a prophet, sent by the Creator of the universe, the God of the Old Testament, to bear witness to God’s own Word. He is going to point men back towards the Light, so that we can “believe.” What that means is not quite clear yet. Believe what?

Of this Light, we learn that, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” The problem of darkness is a major one. That principle that underlies the universe, that source of our life and understanding, we are so cut off from him that when he walks among us, we don’t even recognize it. We don’t know God himself when stands in our midst.

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Here we find hope. Some do receive the Word, and these are “sons of God,” adopted by him, heirs of him, imitators of him. Their birth into sonship is not the ordinary kind of birth, which comes about from merely human desires and drives, but is the result of God’s own will, God’s own plan.

But this “not of blood,” and “not of flesh,” is not the whole story. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father,) full of grace and truth.” The very principle that gives the universe order, that gives it life, that makes it coherent and rational, took on flesh. He became man, became part of his creation. It is now possible to see the eternal, to look God himself in the face. God himself has hands, hands which can reach out, can touch, can heal, can embrace, and can chastise. God dwells among us, looking like us.

In this passage John reaches back to Genesis, adds depth to the story, and then pulls it forward to the Incarnation, the coming of Christ to dwell with his people. That is what we are celebrating at Christmas, an entering of the Creator into his creation. For those who receive him, that is a source of joy, of life, and of understanding. But what about those of “his own” who “receive him not?” We have not gotten to the Fall in this study of Genesis, and that is key for understanding the Incarnation. Darkness fell on a creation that was created by Light himself. How the Word deals with that is all-important.


The Structure of Creation

            I love the big picture. I love to see the way things fit together, the way they are linked together in cause and effect, in hierarchy, in reflection of one another. There’s something about understand all of a thing’s context and relationships that is beautiful, and reveals a little bit of its purpose.

            That’s what Genesis 1 is. It’s a portrait of the universe as God created it. The land sits on top of the sea, and the heavens are like a vault, a great dome over the earth. Sun and moon rule the day and night, spinning through the heavens alongside the stars, giving signs to those below of the passage of time, of the turning of seasons. Life fills every corner of the universe, inhabiting sea and land and sky. Last of all, the speaking beast, the creature who bears the image of God, who has dominion.

            It’s been remarked before, and I think it’s a point worth noting, that this is not a scientific explanation of how the universe came to be or how it functions. If you come at the world from an excessively materialist or rationalist point of view, you expect any explanation of something to be an account of the physical processes which bring a thing into being or keep it running. But that’s not the only way of explaining what a thing is.

            A thing is also how you encounter it. It is what you see, what you hear, what you smell. It’s how it changes over time, and the patterns you notice. These things aren’t “objective” in some ultimate sense. They’re anthropocentric—man-centered. How do people actually experience the world? Genesis operates on this level.

            We may know that the heavens are more or less endless, that some of the stars are far closer to us than they are to the rest of their starry brethren. But from the earth, it all looks like a single vault, a high ceiling on the world, with most of the stars at the same distance. We may know that the moon is actually one of the smaller objects in the sky, and so saying it “rules the night” is laughable, but so what? Viewed from the earth, it is the largest light in the darkness, the one that dominates that space.

            Expect Genesis 1 to be what we call a scientific account of how the universe is structured, and you will be disappointed. Its taxonomy, and Biblical taxonomy in general, would drive a biologist mad. But that’s not the point. The point is explaining the world as we experience it, the structure of life as we actually encounter it. Now, there is a way of over-relying on this fact in such a way that it distorts the text. Just because something is poetic doesn’t mean the thing it describes is unreal. The fact that something is phenomenological implies that it’s describing real phenomena. But I’ll save that qualification for a later post.

            One interesting aspect of Genesis 1 is the way it’s built on forming and filling. When the world is first described as “formless and void,” unless I badly misunderstand my Hebrew, the words there seem to refer to having no structure and being empty of all contents. But the first three days of creation are all the establishment of structure. God divides light from darkness, creating two spaces called “day” and “night.” Then God establishes a “firmament” or “vault” in the midst of the water, and this becomes the space we call “heaven” or “sky.” Finally, he gathers the waters below together into a single place, and up comes dry ground. He has created the spaces we call “earth” and “seas.”

            These spaces are like different houses, or different rooms in a house. Alternatively, they are separate stages. And stages are nothing without sets, props, and players. And fittingly enough, God obliges. The next three days fill these very spaces. Day four fills the spaces created in day one—day and night—with lights of various kinds. For day, there is the mighty sun. For night, the gentler moon and all the stars are hung up in the top of the vault. Day five fills the two spaces of day four—sky and sea—with flying creatures and swimming creatures respectively. Day six looks to the final space created, the green earth, and fills it with various kinds terrestrial beasts and creeping things.

            These are the two fundamental acts of creation: forming and filling. A number of my favorite Genesis commentators make a connection here that some find a bit wild and esoteric, but I find immensely interesting and fruitful. Be warned, I’m imaginative sort of person, who likes fantasy and poetry and miracles and ancient epics and rituals and mystic sayings and all the rest, certainly more than plain facts and dry numbers. If something packs a whole lot of meaning into a small space, that holds a lot of weight with me in whether I think it could be true.

            The commentators connect forming and filling to male and female. It’s kind of a weird thought, but it kind of makes sense, both in terms of how the world works, and in terms of the text. The days of forming and the days of filling are one of the few big binaries we get this early in the Bible. In the midst of it, we get male and female, and the fact that man is made male and female is very central to who we are. It’s not accident, but something that is there from day one. In fact, the only thing that is not good in all of creation prior to the fall is the idea of a man without a woman.

            So on that alone, connecting one big pair of complementaries to another just makes literary sense. But it also fits with the world. Men are built stronger, on average, physically tougher. They are more capable of projecting their will directly outwards into the world, of taking up and creating spaces. The idea that men tend to be better at abstract thinking also fits with this picture—that’s what creating spaces is all about. It’s drawing limits, defining structures, creating processes and areas in which things can take place. It’s setting the stage.

            On the other hand, women are built to bring new life into the world. It takes two to tango, but only one of them can nurture a small seed of humanity, barely in existence, to the point where it can survive in the world. I say it can survive in the world, but this isn’t quite right. Infants need protection, need nurturing, need to be feed. And again, the same half of humanity that brings them into the world can also feed them, once again, from their very body, their very self. Women are the part of humanity that is capable of filling humanity with other humans.

            Now, I am not an expert in human psychology, much less in women’s psychology. Knowing the current internet environment, I already feel like I’m treading in dangerous waters. Because I’m a guy, I feel comfortable throwing out the connection between abstract thinking and forming. I’m not going to do the same with women, although I do think similar things can be done. There are certain ways women behave that just strike me as creating and sustaining community, of filling a community with life, that I just don’t see men doing as often or with the same skill.

            I should also point out that although this gendered reading of forming and filling obviously fits well with a complementarian reading of Scripture, and so maps onto conservative vs. liberal cultural battles, with all the attendant drama, this type of thing is not unique to American evangelicalism. Besides those in western civilization who might see human gender reflected in the cosmos, the Taoist yin and yang obviously takes the same idea of a universal binary principles and uses it to structure both the universe and mankind. Alternatively, a thoroughly modern, western, fairly progressive, and utterly pagan worldview does the same thing—Wicca. British Traditional Wicca specifically sees the world as defined by male and female principles. All this to say, I don’t think I’m being a fundamentalist Neanderthal when I point this out, any more than I’m being a Taoist mystic or a witch. I think these are just legitimate insights.

            Now someone who has being paying attention will notice that so far I’ve only referred to six days. Indeed, people often refer to “six-day creationism.” We all know, of course, that the creation week actually lasted seven days. The last day, though, was a day of rest. Having established order, and then filled it with life, God set aside an entire day simply to enjoy what he had done. That, I think, is how that sabbath day ought to be read. It’s not just resting from labor, but enjoying the fruits of that labor. And this is fundamental to the way the universe is built—space is created, space is filled, and then the whole thing is enjoyed.

            While Hebrew storytelling, and really a lot of western storytelling, doesn’t necessarily place the most important part of the story at the end, I do think that’s a legitimate way to understand this passage. The sabbath is the crown, the pinnacle of the creative act. This was built not simply because the action of building is good, but because it is good that the thing be a complete work, and that it be enjoyed as a complete work. That day, the day of enjoying the completed creation, that is the one that was made holy—not the one on which man was created, and not any of the other days. The day of rest.

            It is noteworthy that the creation of humanity isn’t the part that’s most holy. The creation of mankind is neither the center, nor quite the climax of the story. This is striking, since it is clearly written with a human perspective in mind. When we first hear God deliberating over the creation of mankind, we are defined in terms of two things: God himself, and the rest of creation. We are made in God’s image and likeness, and we are made to have dominion over the other living things.

            Some might read this in a kind of predatory way, as if creation existed for us. I read it in something like the opposite way. I think, giving the weight which is placed on every aspect of creation, and the way in which so little of it is explicitly noted as being designed for us, that we should be understood as built for it. This is not to say we should be earth-worshipers, but that we should be gardeners. We plough, we plant, we weed, we water. There’s a reason Eden is a garden, and not just a vegetable garden. It is filled with plants which are beautiful to look at.

            My feeling that this is true only increases when it becomes apparent that we are not supposed to be eating flesh, or making clothes from animal skin. Much of what we think of as the resources nature provides for us, simply weren’t resources at the time. Add this to Genesis 2’s revelation that certain natural processes like rain and the growing of certain grasses hadn’t occurred because we weren’t there to tend things, and it just reinforces the idea.

            Now to be sure, there is a glory to humanity. We are rulers, those who have dominion. But our glory is derived—derived from the God in whose image we are made, and from the garden we are to tend. That is, from our Father and from our work. This picture of the world is not anthropocentric, even if the place we have in the order is prominent. We are not the creators of the order, nor our we the center of it. We are those who maintain it, and who represent the creator. I think that is a wonderful thing, but it’s also a humbling thing.

            To be truly human, to be what we are and to flourish in this space, means to be under authority, and to seek the good of something outside ourselves.

Creation “Ex Nihilo”

There are three basic kinds of creation story—a god makes the world out of nothing, he makes it out of some pre-existing material, and he makes it out of himself. The first is called creation “ex nihilo,” the second is “ex materia,” and the third is “ex deo.” When reading Genesis, it can be very helpful to take a look at the contrast between “ex materia” and “ex nihilo” creation. We’ll look at ex deo in another post.

“Ex materia” is probably the most common variant in world mythologies. Often it starts with some sort of primal chaos, which the creator then brings order to. In one Chinese myth, an egg emerges in that chaos, and from it is hatched Pangu, who divides Yin from Yang and so lays the foundations for the universe. In Norse mythology, there was a great gap between an icy realm and a fiery realm, and in that gap, the fire melted the ice and uncovered the giant Ymir, and his cow, Auðumbla. Auðumbla’s licking of the ice uncovered a god, whose grandchildren murdered Ymir and crafted the world from his body. Egypt has many creation myths, but they often start with a mound emerging from watery chaos, and then a god from that mound, who gives rise to all the other gods, as well as to the order in the universe.

In this sort of myth, the creator is part of the universe. He may be the most powerful conscious being within it, but he emerges from it, and is subject to its laws. In such a world, you could conceive of all creation as a great chain of being, a hierarchy of creatures. At the bottom would be inanimate matter, then plants, the lower animals, like slugs, and then more complex creatures, like dolphins and chimpanzees. These would be followed by mankind, various spirits and demigods, then the actual gods, and finally whatever highest god or Fate stands at the top. There is a real difference between gods and men in this type of story, but it’s the same sort of difference as between men and parakeets. We’re still all part of the same world, the same category of “living thing.”

Ex nihilo creation implies something entirely different. A God who creates out of nothing is not bound by any sort of limitation. He is not made of the matter with which he creates, since it is something he himself made. He is not subject to the laws of the world, since his origin is completely outside it. It, instead, everything is subject to him on a very fundamental level.

This is important to understand when comparing the Christian understanding of God, which is partially shared with Judaism and Islam, to polytheistic gods who find their origin in the universe. The gods of an ex materia creation are far more powerful than humanity, but not necessarily any wiser or more righteous. They don’t necessarily have any more insight into the fundamental nature of the universe, or a better idea of its purpose and destiny, or any idea what the best life is. They’re just doing what they can, the same as the rest of us.

Depending on the exact mythology, the gods may have for more wisdom than men, but their nature does not require that this wisdom be absolute. It always has limits, because the very existence of the gods has limits. This is why someone like Odin has to make great sacrifices to pursue wisdom, or why Thoth or Hephaestus can have skills that aren’t shared with the other gods. Each of the deities is a limited being, with limited wisdom and knowledge.

Because they are limited, their authority over us is also limited. It’s something like the authority a ruler has over a people—on the one hand, it can be very good. The ruler might be especially wise and benevolent, even if he isn’t perfect. In that circumstance, a person who knows what’s good for him and for society will submit. But the ruler could just as easily be foolish or a tyrant, in which case people only submit out of fear. Even if he is a limited being, you run into the limits of your own power long before he does.

But in ex nihilo creation, God is not just “more powerful” or “more wise.” He is what the Westminster Confession of Faith calls “the fountain of all being.” Anything that exists comes from him. Anything that can be called powerful, derives its power from him. Whatever secrets are hidden, he is the one hid them. Whatever can be called good, its goodness is judged by the standard of his character.

This kind of God doesn’t derive his authority from the fact that he is bigger than you. He derives it from the fact everything that exists is a manifestation of his will and character. He’s something like Plato’s Good, or else the Tao of eastern philosophy. He is the principle by which goodness itself is judged. If you want to live the good life, you submit to him. Not just because he said so, but because the very definition of what goodness is proceeds from him.

This is a different kind of being entirely, one that doesn’t belong on that “chain of being.” Thomas Aquinas contrasts God with all created things in several ways. One way he describes God is as a necessary being—he has the sort of existence such that he could not not exist. Everything else is contingent. That is, under certain circumstances—perhaps at a particular time, or in a particular environment, or after being overcome by something else—it could cease exist. This is something that the gods of an ex materia creation have in common with everything else in their universe, except perhaps for the primal matter itself. In these two fundamental categories, the gods of polytheism are in the same one as you and me, even if they outrank us considerably in that box.

You can see people confusing these categories when they react to things like Captain America’s view on gods. In the original Avengers movie, Cap states “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.” People of the internet have trouble with this, asking how a guy who spends his days actually in the company of various gods could seriously believe there is only one. Similar objections have been brought up when other superheroes make such comments, despite their familiarity with Thor or Diana.

But Thor and Diana aren’t the same kind of thing at all. However powerful they are, even if they are immortal from our perspective, they’re still limited creatures. They have an origin in time, a point at which their powers fail, an end to their knowledge. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t make very compelling characters.

Often I think H.P. Lovecraft is better at communicating something like God’s relationship to humanity than the Marvel movies are. The God of Christianity, or of Islam or Judaism, is certainly not Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth. He is good in some sense that is intelligible to us, and he is the creator of our universe rather than indifferent to it. But that sheer strangeness, the sheer, utter otherness of Lovecraft’s gods, that’s more or less accurate. The God of the Bible comes from the beyond the walls of the world, from beyond time, from beyond any category we could conceive of. His nature and motives are inscrutable, except insofar as he chooses to reveal himself to us. That’s what makes the claim of the Abrahamic faiths to divine revelation so significant—that which is truly beyond the world came into it, and revealed himself to us. The Incarnation is a wild, earth-shattering event of cosmic significance.

So far I’ve been assuming that the Christian God is, in fact, a God who creates ex nihilo. I do think this is a safe assumption, and it’s one that has been made throughout most of the history of the Church. Genesis starts with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We have God, at the beginning of all things, creating all things.

Now one could easily reply that the gods of the ex materia myths also created the heavens and the earth. They used matter, but they certainly did something we would call “create.” Perhaps, once could say, the Christian God is the same, giving order to a primal chaos.

But this first statement comes before Genesis 1:2, which says, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” There was, indeed, a primal chaos, but that chaos is the result of the initial act of creation. It doesn’t pre-exist God. He first creates the “materia,” then he creates the world from it.

This is significant in that it makes the Christian God an ex nihilo creator, but it’s also notable because it makes his actions meaningful. Presumably an ex nihilo creator could just snap his fingers, and everything would fall into place. Instead, he first creates the material, and then he arranges it in a very deliberate process.

Reformed theology likes to use a word whose meaning has grown more negative over time, but was originally considered a kind and merciful sort of thing—divine condescension. In order for an utterly other God, a God entirely without limit, to reveal himself to a limited creature, and to engage in a relationship, he has to speak in a way that creatures can understand. In the Bible, we often see God behaving in ways that are quite intelligible, when we know from other passages that he doesn’t have to do that at all. It’s like an adult kneeling down to look a child in the eye, patiently teaching him something simple, or playing a game with him. This doesn’t reveal the adult’s own childishness, but instead his love for the child in question.

The God of Genesis appears to be an ex nihilo creator, but one who has more on his mind than just getting the job done. He is acting out a drama in Genesis one, a drama full of meaning and significance. He is revealing himself to us, and revealing things about the nature of the universe he has created. And when a necessary being, an unlimited being, a being from beyond the walls of the world, who is the very fountain of all existence—when that being tries to tell us something, it behooves us to listen.

Why Did God Create?

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

–Genesis 1:1

            One of the first things that confronts us in reading the book of Genesis is that God created the universe. It’s easy to take for granted, since this has been the default position of our culture for so long. But that’s not at all how the story had to go. Many cultures have taught that the world itself is eternal and uncreated. That was even considered a live possibility by modern science until the Big Bang became the established theory. Others have taught that time is cyclical, always returning in the end to the same place where it began, and passing once more down the same path, again and again, through all eternity.

But Genesis says God created. Creation is something that once did not exist, but now it does. And this act of bringing into being was the active decision of a personal Being, a God described as having purpose and intent, as interacting with his creatures. Which leads us to an important question—why did God create?

The classical understanding of God is that he is all-sufficient. Indeed, a creator God almost by definition does not need anything in his creation. One verse that makes this point is Acts 17:25, where Paul argues that God does not dwell in temples, nor can mankind offer him anything he needs, since he is the source of all creation. Psalm 50 applies a similar line of reasoning to sacrifices, pointing out that the Lord owns all creation, so why would he need our bulls and goats? The very idea that he can create whatever he wants implies that nothing in creation is truly necessary for him.

But the classical understanding of God goes even beyond this. It’s not just that individual parts of creation are unnecessary to him, but so is the entirety of creation itself. God existed in eternity past without creation, so how could we say that creation is necessary to him? So much of the Bible pushes the idea that God is not simply “very powerful,” like a glacier that carves through stone, or exploding stars, or the volcanism that gives birth to mountains and tears them apart. God is all-powerful, the source of everything that has power or authority or significance in creation. Saying that he is somehow missing something if he does not create undermines that idea.

But if God does not need to create, then why do it at all? The Psalms are certainly full of the idea that the earth sings his praises. God derives glory from the mountains, the seas, the sun and stars in their courses, the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. All creation, from mighty Leviathan to the flower that is here today and gone tomorrow, testifies to the wisdom and power of its Creator. I think this is as good a suggestion as any—God made the world to express his character, and so to glorify himself.

At one point I think people might have taken this as a bit egocentric. I would have responded with some sort of appeal to the fact that God is something like Plato’s One—the ultimate good, the very definition of goodness, and the source of all that can be called good. Good glorifying itself is hardly egocentric, and honestly does a favor to everything else in creation, which is striving to reach The Good.

But I’m not sure that’s as much of an issue as it used to be. This generation seems to have an intuitive sense that creativity and self-expression is an inherently a good thing, and so I don’t think as many folks would begrudge God that activity. My tendency would still be to emphasize the differences between God Almighty creating to bring glory to the very standard of all that is worthy of glorifying, and a guy who writes slam poetry to work out the tangled emotions that have been trapped inside since the last time he set pen to paper.

One interesting angle on this problem looks at creation from a trinitarian perspective. Sometimes I think people can try to draw too many lessons from the doctrine of the Trinity, especially considering how much of the doctrine is only left implied in God’s Word. If you really want to understand the strangeness and wonder of God, you might start by talking about him the way he talks about himself, rather than emphasizing a construction, however true and good and necessary, we use to explain the way he talks about himself. Anyways, grain of salt.

The thinking goes like this: God, being trinitarian, is indeed self-sufficient, but he also exists as something like a community. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit dwell in eternal fellowship and perichoresis, each living in and for the other through all eternity. Our God is a God who loves the other. Creation is therefore an expression of something already present in God from all eternity—that love of the other. He creates the other, that he might love it.

This view is then contrasted with that of a unitarian deity, usually the Allah of Islam. Allah truly does not need creation, but neither can he love it. Love of the other is inherent in the Trinity, but in Allah there is no such thing. Creation, and love of creation, is consistent with the character of the former, but not the latter.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. There’s a certain appeal to the idea, as it does offer a good explanation for why God would want to create. It also takes the Trinity and uses that teaching to probe deeper into things that our fathers before Christ could not have. I admire that spirit. But at the same time, I worry that it’s playing with something a little too deep for such speculation. The Word doesn’t make that point, and the Trinity is a doctrine notoriously easy to abuse. Does this bend the doctrine of the Trinity into something not quite orthodox? Not to mention that it creates a flattering contrast with someone we disagree with, which always a little too convenient to be true. But perhaps I’m too cautious.

So what can we take away from this? We started with classical theism, appealed to the Psalms, alluded to Plato, made speculations based on the doctrine of the Trinity, and none seemed to give a fully satisfying answer. At least, I am not fully satisfied.

I think the biggest takeaway is just to acknowledge that the text does not directly answer this question. We are not given an easy answer to it. This reminds me of Job, where we get a peek into the workings of the heavenly court, but by the end of that story the heavenly courts are forgotten. What is important is not precisely why God does what he does. In a serious way, we can never really know that. But we do know what God has done, and what he has said to us. Whatever his purposes in creating the world, the fact remains that he created. As a starting point, at the beginning of the story, that’s good enough.

Genesis Project

            There are many ways people can express devotion to God. Some take great joy in singing, and so singing his praises seems like the best way to glorify him, the ultimate match of a glorious art to a glorious subject. Others study what they love, and this tendency applied to love of God tends to create theologians. Still others associate love with obedience, and they go searching for things God asks of them, eager to please him through their behavior.

            Not all ways of expressing devotion are equal. Devotion is always good, but there are certain kinds of devotion God asks us for on a regular basis in Scripture, and certain kinds that go almost unmentioned. Some are even pointed to as potential distractions, ways of behaving towards God that obscure his character. That said, I think part of Christian discipleship is learning how you most readily express your faith, and then nurturing it and pushing it in the right direction.

            I’m a literary guy. I like stories, on the page or on the screen or piped through the radio. I collect those stories, and I study the worlds they are set in, digging deep into the lore. This has always effected the way I live out my faith, although perhaps the influence actually runs the other way. If I am living in obedience to God, if I am coming to him in thanksgiving, if I am turning from wickedness towards ways that are pleasing to him—if everything is right—then I am studying the Bible. I’m digging deep into the story, to its implications and allusions, the world its set in. I’m treating the Bible the way I treat epic fantasy or good TV. I’m devouring it.

            This fact has been brought home to me over the last several years. I need a lot of Bible in my diet, and I suffer spiritually if I don’t. Reading it and discussing it teaches me to love God and love others, and encourages me in the old, literal sense of the word—it fills me with courage. Life is a thing I can handle when I can see what it is and where its going, as written in the Word of God.

            As I was mulling this over the other day, I realized that one particular book I have spent a ton of time digesting, probably more than any other, is Genesis. I don’t know the minor prophets very well, or Isaiah, or the letters and life of Paul, but poke me and I bleed Genesis. I have read and listened to so much about it, chewed on it, speculated, watched movie adaptations of the stories, written my own midrash, on and on. But however much I’ve chewed on it, I’ve never really had the chance to share that with other people, to get a real conversation going. At least, not to the degree that would satisfy me.

            The likelihood of being able to join a big Genesis Bible study right now is pretty low for me. Besides, in that format, you have to keep a pretty steady clip going if you’re going to make any progress. I wouldn’t get to dive as deep as I’d like. But here, on a blog, I can take it apart bit by bit, throw it out there, and see what others have to say.

            Now I’ve been all kinds of inconsistent with this blog. I’ll write consistently for months, then disappear for months again. I’ve never quite figured out what I want to use it for. This, though, seems like a constructive use of my time, and something that might edify others. As certain other things develop in my life, my use of this blog might be changing. This is one thing, though, that I think I want to do here.

            So for the foreseeable future, when the urge strikes me, I will be posting on Genesis. I’ll try to keep the posts in order, and maintain some sort of continuity, but my plan is to get as much from the text as possible. This doesn’t quite mean doing a study on every word of the Hebrew text, but I think I’ve got an easy dozen post topics lined up on Genesis 1. These range from broad thematic overview, to really interesting individual verses, to major structural stuff, to random theological questions the text brings up, but doesn’t really address in detail.

            But while I’ll be diving in somewhat thoroughly, I’m not going to pretend like I’m a systematic theologian while writing this. I’m a layman. I’ve got some good resources, and I’ve taken classes, so I hope none of the reasoning is too shoddy, but I also am not aiming to create a new systematic theology. These will be the thoughts and questions of a guy who likes stories, and likes to dive deep into them, not of a serious academic.

            One thing I also hope to change with this is the way I interact with my readers. I’ve had a consistent core of a dozen or so readers throughout the years, and occasionally bring in a lot more on a movie review. Most of these are people I’ve known in real life and still interact with on social media or face to face on a semi-regular basis. You read because we know each other, and this is one way of keeping up. And you’re also probably the same kind of weird as me.

            But while you guys have remained faithful readers, this has not exactly been a discussion-in-the-comments kind of blog. I know people that are good at that, but I’m not one of them. I’d like that to change. If you find something interesting, or outrageous, or just have a link to share, please do. I’d love this project to be more than just my semi-public devotional. I’d love for it to be a conversation.

            So there’s my invitation to you. Come be a nerd with me. Love God by treating his canon the same way we treat our favorite nerd canons—dive in, take it apart, and see how it ticks. Ask the big questions, ask the small questions. Let’s read Genesis, and see what we find.