Two Words on Genesis

I was intrigued to see the post “Are you there Jesus? It’s me, Woman” and […]

BPhillips / 8.6.09

I was intrigued to see the post “Are you there Jesus? It’s me, Woman” and returning to the realm of Genesis and Creation. The other day I was reading my copy of the teaser edition of “Two Words”, and I noticed that the first entry was, appropriately, from Genesis. And so, my little mind got to thinking about understanding the words of creation in Genesis in light of the Two Words of Law and Gospel. When God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), was that a word of law or grace? Both? Neither?

Let me actually begin my treatment of Genesis 1 by starting with Jesus and the Gospel. It is no secret that most Americans would readily categorize “the Gospel” as an invitation: Jesus comes to you and invites you to follow him. After all, that’s what he did with the twelve disciples, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). And Jesus knocks on the doors of our hearts and invites us to choose to allow him to come into our hearts, etc., etc.

This is, in fact, not the Gospel. The Gospel certainly requires a response, but it is a response that is made not to an invitation but, first and foremost, a response to a proclamation. Jesus has died for the sinner in his or her place and has been raised again according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). That is not an invitation, it is a declaration of the completed work of God’s grace to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). Those who hear this Gospel declaration respond by receiving it through faith (Romans 10:17). But so very often the Second Word, that of Gospel grace, is erroneously treated as a word of invitation, rather than a word of proclamation. God’s grace is not merely an invitation but a reality that is declared to sinners. Likewise, God’s Law is not an invitation but a righteous demand of which we fall short. By treating both Words of Law and Gospel as mere invitations we diminish the power and significance of both.

Consequently, it is dangerously easy to treat God’s word of Creation as an invitation. I have heard it put this way: in order to create, the Divine Essence had to ‘make room’ for the things that were made. In other words, “Let there be light” is an invitation to the light to not be afraid and be the light. It was meant to be and God would ‘back off’ and allow light to be light. Thus, the words of creation are also erroneously categorized as invitation rather than command(1).

Therefore in neither case, of Creation’s Command nor of Gospel’s Grace, are we shown God’s invitation, but rather his proclamation. God’s Law is not an invitation to obey, it is a demand to obey. Similarly, God’s Gospel is not an invitation to obey, it is a declaration of what God has done for those who cannot and will not obey (we must also add that out of the faith which trusts this Gospel, obedience does spring forth; see Romans 6:17). Two final thoughts.

First, taking such an approach to Creation, wrt the Gospel, puts humanity in its place and God, rightly, into His. We are rendered very much passive to the God who both Commands and Forgives. I am amazed at how this also changes my understanding of what Genesis means when it indicates that humans were made in the image of God. Many people and churches over the millennia have taken that statement to remove humanity from its passive relationship to God, that in so creating people ‘in his image’ God made them active agents in the face of his Law and Gospel, rather than passive. But it is truly the passive sinner to whom faith is given who may trust and believe in the Active One.

And lastly, how are we to understand the Words of Creation? Are they Law or are they Gospel? In a very real sense there is the First Voice of the Law in Creation, God bringing things into existence under submission to his absolute moral authority. But on the other hand God makes no qualifications upon the created things other than to declare them ‘good’. However, the only giving of law really occurs on Day 7 (Genesis 2:1-3), when God rested from his work, thus establishing into the fabric of Creation the Law of Rest (Sabbath), which is a foretaste of the eternal rest that will come, remarkably, only as a result of the Fall and its remedy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So we may also argue that in the Words of Creation (“Let there be…”) we also find Gospel – that God made something and someone in love, knowing that they would rebel, knowing that the irrevocable corollary to “Let there be…” is the crucified cry of “It is finished!”
1Walter Brueggemann is a good example of this position, that the Word of Creation is invitation, and vehemently opposes the idea that it is a command.