Welcome to our new devotional series on those common Christian beliefs that have been overlooked or misunderstood! We begin with the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, and ask what the story of God’s creation might mean. Is it history? Is it myth? Is it science? Is it truth? Could it be a strange mixture of these? Let’s see…
God of Heaven and Earth! You are the creator of all things and the lover of all creation. Teach us today what it means to be your children and partners with you in this world. Amen.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
“So Will I (100 Billion X)” — Lyrics and music by Joel Houston, Benjamin Hastings, & Michael Fatkin; performed by Hillsong (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)
God of creation there at the start
Before the beginning of time with no point of reference
You spoke to the dark and fleshed out the wonder of light
And as You speak a hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
Every burning star a signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I
God of Your promise You don’t speak in vain
No syllable empty or void for once You have spoken
All nature and science follow the sound of Your voice
And as You speak a hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
If it all reveals Your nature so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You say
Every painted sky a canvas of Your grace
If creation still obeys You so will I
If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy
Then we'll sing again a hundred billion times
God of salvation You chased down my heart
Through all of my failure and pride on a hill You created
The light of the world abandoned in darkness to die
And as You speak a hundred billion failures disappear
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You've done
Every part designed in a work of art called love
If You gladly chose surrender so will I
I can see Your heart eight billion different ways
Every precious one a child You died to save
If You gave Your life to love them so will I
Like You would again a hundred billion times
But what measure could amount to Your desire
You’re the One who never leaves the one behind
Richard Rohr, who a long time ago started the New Jerusalem Community here in Cincinnati and now runs the Center for Action and Contemplation down in Albuquerque, has this to say about the Bible’s famous creation story in Genesis 1:
Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind when reading the first chapters of Genesis is that it is written not about the past but about the present. It is about the perennial present, the present that is always with us. It is not a book of history or a scientific account of creation. It is not an eyewitness report of how the world and the human race began. Rather, it is a mythological portrayal of the relationship between the Creator and the creation.
Wait. What? The creation story isn’t history or science? Instead, it’s myth?
The word “myth” often gets lumped with words like “fake” and “fiction” or even “legend” and “lie,” which makes associating the idea of myth with the Bible a rather eyebrow-raising move. But, consider how C. S. Lewis once defined “myth”: “Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history…nor diabolical illusion…not priestly lying…but at its best, a real unfocused gleam of divine truth on human imagination.” In other words, there are indeed such things as true myths. In fact, Lewis writes in his book, Miracles, that the ancient Hebrews who wrote our Old Testament, including Genesis with its famous creation story, had a full-blown mythology. “But as they were the chosen people so their mythology was the chosen mythology — the mythology chosen by God to be the vehicle of the earliest sacred truths, the first step in that process which ends in the New Testament where truth has become completely historical fact.”
So, myths can be true and even become historical facts? Maybe what Richard Rohr is saying then is this: Genesis 1 teaches us something exceptionally true about our relationship with God, even if the story the Bible uses to teach us that truth isn’t itself historical or scientifically accurate (or even intended to be so). We’ve all run across or read to our kids any number of stories that teach “a good moral lesson” that we believe to be God’s own truth, even though the way these fairytales teach it is fictional or even fantastic. C. S. Lewis was himself famous for this when he wrote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It was as blatant an allegory for the resurrection of Jesus Christ as you could get, and yet it was full of magic, talking lions, and half-human, half-goat creatures. Stories can communicate eternal truth without recounting any actual history at all, which should hardly surprise us. Indeed, the Bible’s creation story in Genesis 1 (and its loose retelling in Genesis 2) looks to be just this kind of truth-telling, non-historical story.
So what precisely is Genesis 1 trying to teach us if not how the world was scientifically made in the ancient past? What is that true myth — those “earliest sacred truths,” as C. S. Lewis puts it above — that the Bible’s creation story is trying to communicate? Rohr argues it’s something expressly beautiful:
The first chapters of Genesis [Genesis 1 & 2] contain not one but two creation stories. The ancient writers were not worried by the obvious differences between the two accounts. For them, both revealed the same inspired truth: that God alone is the Creator, that everything else is God’s creation, and that everything which God creates is good…Put in theological terms, the story is saying that everything is grace, everything is gift, everything comes from God. God is the One who makes something out of nothing and gives it to us, not way back when, but here and now. God makes us what we are, and gives us to ourselves as a free gift.
Here is a truth that goes deeper than scientific fact, even though it is still a truth about the relationship between a truly historical God and a truly historical world. And that truth is the fact that we — and all the rest of creation, too — are children of a God who created everything out of love and wants most deeply to see us flourish. That’s the deep meaning of Genesis 1:28-31, which not only ends with a description of everything God made as “very good” but begins with God’s invitation to us to become key partners with him in securing and furthering that very goodness. It’s the story of the kind of divine-human relationship we see played out throughout the rest of scripture, most especially in the historical Jesus Christ, and on into our own very historical lives today. We are beloved creatures of an all-loving Creator God — from the very beginning to the very end.
God of All Creation, Earth, and Sky — We thank you for your unbelievable grace in how you made us, how you’ve redeemed us, and how you even now are sustaining us. Amen.
- C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: Macmillan, 1960), 161.
- Richard Rohr, “Genesis: Everything Is Gift,” Center for Action and Contemplation, accessed July 1, 2021, https://cac.org/genesis-everything-is-gift-2021-06-28/.
For further reading on the first few chapters of Genesis, check out John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One.