Reading prologues was never a habit of mine. I always figured that whatever the author really wanted to say would come out in the following chapters. When I got to college, I soon realized that these sections are crucial for understanding the rest of the story. They introduce the reader to key themes and characters and also lay out a framework for how to move forward in the story.
Genesis 1-11 forms a prologue to the grand story of how God rescues humanity. Early on in the story it talks about Abraham and how he and his future family were chosen by God to be a blessing to the world. After many holdups and heartaches, this story moves in a surprising direction when God himselfs enters into history. In the person of Jesus, God becomes human, taking on humanity’s pain and problems, and ultimately, God suffers death but rises from death victorious. The conclusion of the story will come when Jesus returns to finally make all things new and whole (Revelation 21:5). In Genesis 1:1 we have the introductory sentence to the prologue of this grand narrative, and what an introduction to everything it is!
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
In the beginning, that is before anything at all ever existed, God was there. What was he doing? What was it like before creation? We don’t know. This introduction to God comes without argument, without proof, without explanation. Its simplicity speaks volumes but does not simply lend itself to just any interpretation. This verse is not an introduction to a science textbook nor a treatise on Metaphysics, it intentionally does not answer all of our questions. From this verse alone, we don’t even know what kind of God he is. Is he good? Is he evil? What is he like? What is his name? As the story progresses through its various chapters and storylines, we will come to know these answers. For now, we only know that this God existed before all things and that he created the heavens and the earth.
Although we are not given the reason why God created in Genesis 1:1, we may reflect on the truth that he created. As we look around at our world we see so much beauty and order, so much color and sound, so many things that are superfluous to existence. We didn’t need these things to survive, but neither did God. Creation itself is superfluous to God’s being. Yet, in this verse, we learn that in some way God has joined himself to his creation. For some reason entirely known only to him, he chose to be a God who created. Whatever we can say about God from this verse must acknowledge this: God has allowed his identity to be characterized by his action of creating the world and has thus established a relationship with it. When we couple this with the prologue of the gospel of John (1:1-18), we discover that this same God not only allows himself to be relationally joined to his creation, but also to be physically defined by it. In Jesus Christ, God becomes human; the Creator becomes the creature. The story of Scripture announces that God does this to redeem and renew his creation, but in the beginning, we are offered only this small whisper of a relationship.
Genesis 1:1 provokes many emotions for myself, and its depths can hardly be probed here. First, this verse reminds me that none of creation is random or boring. Everything I see has been fashioned and crafted intricately. From how the rain can drizzle or pour down in alternating patterns to how that same water can be solid and white and crunch when you step on it – all of it inspires awe. Music, art, books, and how we perceive and learn to appreciate them is also part of this wonder. Watching rivers run and leaves change color through the seasons; seeing flowers bloom or sheep graze on rolling pastures, all of this reflects the creativity of God. This verse causes me to be amazed at such creativity as everything that I see points me to this special relationship God created in the beginning.
Second, I am reminded of my own frailty and smallness. Surely, a being who can create the heavens and the earth must be powerful and pretty big. In contrast, I see myself as weak and needy. The Bible speaks about how God not only creates the world, but sustains it. (Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3) This act of sustaining is constant and produces within me a feeling of ease. I am weak, but God himself is sustaining me. The relationship God has with creation applies to me as well. In humility, I can only offer my hands forward and pray as Jesus taught, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Finally, but not exhaustively, there is a sense of hope in this verse. Although there is much beauty in creation there is much pain. The story of Scripture explains that death entered our world through sin and the disobedience of the first humans. We can feel the cold hands of death reach out and take hold of our lives, the lives of our loved ones, and the world at large. Terrorist attacks, mass shootings, massive earthquakes, sex trafficking, world hunger and poverty force us to see that all is not well. Scripture exclaims that the Creation itself is groaning on account of all this death and decay (Romans 8:18-25). We ourselves can feel this groan, and we echo it almost daily as we feel like we are just running around unable to stave off the advance of death and destruction. While we may be actively working for peace, reconciliation, and healing for our world, our efforts may feel ineffective on a global scale. And our hope in change slowly becomes crushed with each battle lost — with each loved one lost. A cry of victory is muffled by this groaning.
Yet, this verse proclaims a wonderful truth – the world is not a closed system. There exists outside of this world a God who has acted. This first act brought about this world. And while this world has been corrupted by death, this system is not fixed, it is not doomed. Scripture records the significant ways God has broke into this system to counter the advance of death. Most notably, God entered into creation in Jesus Christ and took on our death as his own, defeating it on the cross and conquering it in the resurrection. While the world is in a state of brokenness, we can take heart knowing that God is working to renew it.
When the world seems beyond repair, and death feels too real and too close, let us reflect on this opening verse. God has fashioned the world and bound himself to it in relationship. In Jesus, God has made himself part of it. He has experienced all of that pain and all of that brokenness. God created this world to be good and he will make it good once again. The world is not fixed in this state of disrepair, but just as God has acted to renew it in the past, so will he return to complete this work.