When it comes to understanding the Christian worldview the book of Genesis is critical. Unfortunately, I am not sure that it is critical for the reasons that many Christians have come to believe—reasons btw which I was taught and I taught others for many years.
Let me explain.
Common approaches to determining a worldview
If I were to ask “what is the purpose of life?”, or “what is your goal in life?”, I suspect that many Christians would say something along the lines of:
- To know Jesus so that I can be saved
- To be a good Christian so I can be faithful to His commands
- To tell as many people as I can about Jesus so that they may be saved also
And, some might say something along lines of:
- To go to heaven when I die
Now, to an extent, some of these are good answers. And, to an extent, some of these answers are good but flawed. And, to an extent, some of these answers are deeply flawed and potentially seriously problematic.
NB: I am not going to identify which is which, but I hope that what I say in this post and the next will provide you with enough insights that you can go back and determine which statements I think belong in which category.
Common approaches to Genesis as a foundation for understanding a Christian worldview
It is commonplace for many Christians (especially within conservative ranks) to suppose that the importance of Genesis for establishing a Christian worldview is in terms of what Genesis says about creation.
And to this, I would agree wholeheartedly.
The problem is that what they often mean by “what Genesis says about creation” and what I think “Genesis says about creation” with regard to the foundations of a Christian worldview are often quite different.
For example, some assert that what is important about the Genesis narrative is that it tells us how God created the world. And in saying this, it is asserted that Genesis affirms:
- God did it
- He did it from nothing
- He did it in 6 days (though what is meant by “6 days” is certainly disputed even by many conservatives)
- And He did it by divine intervention over the course of the 6 days. That is, He did it by processes that do not allow for macro-evolutionary changes
Now, without going into detail here (since this is not the reason why I am writing this post), I would note that with regard to the above 4 points:
- I fully agree
- I fully agree, but I don’t think Genesis is saying this
- I fully agree, but I don’t think it means what many think it means
- I have no response [in other words I am not affirming anything here because I am a biblical scholar and I will leave the questions of science to those more qualified]
NB: I should also note here that the Church needs to be careful about making scientific claims (I am not saying we cannot make them, just that we should be careful).
After all, we have been down this path many times before. E.g., the Church found Galileo guilty of heresy (or of “a strong suspicion of heresy”) because he affirmed Copernicus’ convictions regarding the Sun and the Earth being the center of our solar system: which is something that we all seem to agree on today.
Genesis and the Christian worldview: the nature of God
I’ll be brief here because I have nothing to say except to affirm what is practically universally agreed upon beliefs among Christians.
Namely, that Genesis affirms that the God of Israel and the Scriptures is the One who did it.
This is most evident in that Gen 1:1-2:3 uses the generic word “Elohim” throughout the account of the 7 days of creation (a total of 35x). When used generically, Elohim does not identify any particular god. (the word, in fact, is actually plural and is translated as such when applied to pagan deities.)
Sure, Elohim can indicate the biblical God, but it doesn’t have to.
In Gen 2:4, however, we learn: “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.”
Ah, there it is! the author of Genesis now makes clear what Gen 1:1-2:3 did not. Namely, that it was “the Lord God” or “Yahweh Elohim” who did it. Yahweh (Lord) is the name that God used when he revealed Himself Moses (Exod 3:14-15: it appeared before that, but you know what I mean—I hope).
That is, Yahweh (Lord) is the name of Israel’s God, which is then combined with the generic Elohim in order to establish that the covenant God of Israel is the One who is responsible for the creation.
Creation is good
A second item of importance for establishing the basis of a Christian worldview is that the creation is good. In fact, it is “very good” (Gen 1:31).
Unfortunately, unbeknownst to many, the Christian worldview in the west has been seriously impacted by Neo-Platonism, which is worthy of much attention, but space does not permit it here.
At this point, I will simply mention that the essential part of Neo-Platonism that has affected the Christian worldview is the radical distinction between heaven and earth and between the physical and the spiritual.
Thus, it has become commonplace for Christians to perceive the world (the physical) as irreparably damaged by “the fall” of Genesis 3. Therefore, for many today, it “was” very good but it “is not” anymore.
As a result, the goal in life (to repeat the question from the beginning of this post) is often conceived of in terms of escaping this world and going to heaven.
Now, I am not denying that the creation has been adversely affected by the fall.
I am suggesting, however, that the biblical story does not end with the destruction of the physical world, but with its restoration.
Now, I realize that in saying this, I have raised more questions than I am able to address here. So, allow me to make one point in defense of this claim.
Namely, this is the significance of the resurrection of Christ! Jesus’ resurrection was the restoration and, indeed, the glorification of His body that died. This is the core of Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 15:35-58: our bodies that die are the ones that are raised.
NB: the determinetruth podcast will discuss 1 Cor 15 and the Christian belief in the resurrection over 2 episodes airing Feb 6 and 13, 2023.
Humanity made as God’s image bearers (Gen 1:26)
This, I believe, is one of the more critical components of the Genesis narrative and the establishing of a Christian worldview. And I believe it is central for answering my opening questions: “what is the purpose of life?” and “what is your goal in life?”
What does it mean to be made in God’s image?
Simply put, to be made in God’s image refers to humanity’s role as kings/queens. This is evident in that the very next statement is “and let them rule” (Gen 1:26).
Consequently, I would begin my answer to these questions by starting with Gen 1:26 and our role as image bearers.
With this in mind, I would assert that our purpose includes the call to be the means through which God rules over His creation.
I would add that our goal in life is to imitate Jesus—God’s true image bearer (Col 1:15)—and in doing so to reflect His glory to His creation.
Now, there is much more to be said, but the Manchester United game, which will be followed by the Forty-Niners game, is about to start, So, I’ll need to resume this next week!
Here are the links to a series of podcasts exploring Genesis 1-11
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