A Transcendent and Personal Creator
The story of our spirituality can be found only within the biblical storyline, which starts suddenly: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Already in existence prior to matter, space, or time, the eternal, self-existent God creates the universe and all that exists. God “creates, says, sees, separates, names, makes, appoints, blesses, finishes, makes holy, and rests.”1 God creates out of nothing, forms it according to his purposes, and fills it with plants and animals. God is not like other gods of the ancient Near East.
Gordon Wenham observes: “God is without peer and competitor. He does not have to establish his power in struggle with other members of a polytheistic pantheon. The sun and moon are his handiwork, not his rivals.”2 The true God is not the sky, sun, moon, water, trees, animals, or anything else created; God creates them, and they are subject to him. The creation is neither God nor a part of God; he is absolute and has independent existence, and creation has derived existence from him and continually depends on him as its sustainer (cf. Acts 17:25–28). The transcendent Creator is a king who accomplishes his will by his word and names the elements of his creation (Gen. 1:5).
The Creator is also personal. On each day of creation God is personally involved in every detail, crafting them in a way that pleases him and benefits his creatures. On the sixth day, he personally creates man in his own image, breathing life into him. The personal God has made humans to be personal as well, with the ability to relate to him, live in community with one another, and have dominion over creation. As Carson reminds, “We are accorded with an astonishing dignity” and have “implanted within us a profound capacity for knowing God intimately.”3 By creating us in his image, God distinguishes us from the rest of creation and establishes that he is distinct from us—we are not gods but creatures made in his image.
God’s goodness is reflected in the goodness of his creation and reinforced in the steady refrain, “And God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25; see also Gen. 1:4), even “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Material creation reflects God’s goodness, which is evident also in his generous provisions of light, land, vegetation, animals, and “creeping” things. These are blessings given for humanity’s benefit, as are the ability to relate to God, fertility to procreate, and authority to use the abundant provisions for man’s own good. By the seventh day, God has finished his creative work, rests, and blesses and sanctifies the day as holy, as a Sabbath to be kept. In doing so, God displays his joy and satisfaction in his creation, his celebration of completion, and he commemorates this special event.4
God's Provision and Design for Man
Genesis 2:4–25 focuses on God’s formation of man and woman and his provision of the garden of Eden as a place for them in which to live and work.5 As Allen Ross summarizes, “God has prepared human beings, male and female, with the spiritual capacity and communal assistance to serve him and to keep his commands so that they might live and enjoy the bounty of his creation.”6 Man is formed from the dust of the ground but is more than dust—his life comes directly from the very breath of God (Gen. 2:7).
In planting the garden and moving man there, the Creator and covenant Lord provides a wonderful and sacred space for humans to enjoy a harmonious relationship with him, each other, the animals, and the land. The garden highlights God’s presence with man. God establishes the terms for living in his presence and graciously puts forward only one prohibition: man shall not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Contrary to what might be expected, man is allowed to eat of the tree of life (which confers immortality) but not of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (which gives access to wisdom), “for that leads to . . . an independence of the creator incompatible with the trustful relationship between man and his maker which the story presupposes.”7 Because God’s generosity to man is so abundant, his prohibition would not seem difficult to accept.
Man is formed from the dust of the ground but is more than dust—his life comes directly from the very breath of God.
God lovingly notices that “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18) and generously meets man’s need by creating woman as a complementary and intimate companion united with him for life together. Genesis 2 ends positively and, given the beliefs of ancient Israel, surprisingly: “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25). In the garden, nakedness is not reason for shame but points to the man and woman’s innocence and the unspoiled delight they have in each other.8
The good God creates a good world for the good of his creatures. Humans too are created good and blessed beyond measure, being made in God’s image, with an unhindered relationship with God, and with freedom. In the beginning, God creates humans in his image and designs them for spirituality—to enjoy a loving and personal relationship with the covenant Lord, as well as holistic relationships with themselves, one another, and creation.
- C. John Collins, Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), 71.
- Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, WBC (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 37–38.
- D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 205.
- Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996), 114.
- Collins, Genesis 1–4, 39, 101.
- Ross, Creation and Blessing, 127
- Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 87.
- Ibid., 88; Collins, Genesis 1–4, 139
This article is adapted from Biblical Spirituality edited by Christopher W. Morgan.
- 10 Things You Should Know about Genesis 1–3 (Vern S. Poythress)
- Podcast: How to Read the Old Testament in a Christ-Centered Way (Bryan Chapell)
- Should Science Inform Our Reading of Genesis 1–3? (Vern S. Poythress)