“In the beginning God…”
These are the first four words in the Old Testament, the first four words of The Bible.
They are also the first four words of Chapter One of John Stott’s book Basic Christianity.
They indicate the beginning of creation, in this case making something out of nothing. Some people enjoy the activity of creation: painting a scene or object on a canvas for instance, but God did not create as man does. God created out of nothing, the Latin phrase for this is ex nihilo. For example when a painter paints, he has canvas, paints, brushes etc., the tools of creation already exist; the painter does not create out of nothing.
God had nothing.
He created form out of chaos, a universe out of emptiness, light out of darkness.
He spoke the world into existence, the Divine Imperative if you will. Stott writes He made His first move when He said the words “In the beginning.”
After the act of creation, “Many people visualize a God who sits comfortably on a distant throne, remote, aloof, uninterested, and indifferent to the needs of mortals, until, it may be, they can badger Him into taking action on their behalf” [Stott, 11].
Nothing could be further from the truth.
God has always and will always continue to be involved with man, from that first day of man’s creation [Adam, the first homo divinus] to today. The reason is that soon after man’s creation, it did not take long for him to get lost in the darkness of his sin, and God was not “remote, aloof, uninterested and indifferent” to the needs of man for redemption. “[God] rises from His throne, lays aside His glory, and stoops to seek until He finds him.”
It is important to realize that the basic ideas of Christianity rest upon the idea that God made the first move. For Christians, we know we would not be here without God taking that first step (creation) but God did more than that. God spoke. He revealed His nature and His will.
In the Old Testament, God revealed His nature and His will to the prophets. Also God spoke to Adam and Eve. He made His presence known to Noah and his sons. He communicated to Abraham and his wife Sarah. In multiple instances, God tried to reveal Himself to man by expressing His nature and His will. But for Christians, God spoke to us by giving us His Son. Stott sums up the whole religion of the Bible in these three short sentences: “God has created, God has spoken. God has acted.”
Beyond the creation, let’s explore in greater detail the idea that God has spoken and God has acted.
God has said something in the Gospel [many like to refer to the Gospel as “good news”]. The “good news” is God’s declaration that He has come to earth to save human beings. Stott gives man high regard; we are indeed inquisitive creatures. We always want to know what we don’t know: “He [man] is always questing, exploring, investigating, researching.” The problem is that when man tries to understand God, man confronts an infinite supernatural Deity. God is beyond our comprehension. When God manifested Himself to Moses, all Moses could see was a burning bush. Job was asked if he could understand the deep things of God. Job said it is impossible.
The heavens and the “firmament” proclaim God’s handiwork. Romans 1: 19-20 states “Since the creation of the world His invisible nature, His eternal power and deity have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” What more does man need? Here it is: man wants to know God personally. That darkness of sin problem still exists and man has not figured out how to deal with it. Man needs to know how to get God’s forgiveness; he needs a more extensive and practical revelation. Stott writes “God’s self-disclosure must include His holiness, His love and His power to save us from sin” [Stott, 13]. God needed to send man an example for him to follow and that example was God himself in the form of His Son Jesus Christ.
This revelation is described in the Bible as God speaking. That it totally appropriate because man accumulates a lot of knowledge through speech. However Stott points to Isaiah who reckons that God’s infinite mind is much more complex than ours: “His thoughts are much higher than our thoughts.” So the word of God came to the prophets until at last Jesus Christ came and “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” [John 1: 1, 14]. God “spoke” to us through His Son Jesus Christ. In our world today, some would argue that God is not “tangible, visible and audible” yet there was a time when God was able to speak “clothe Himself with a body which could be seen and touched” [Stott, 14]. John in his first Epistle proclaims “That which was from the beginning, which you have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands…we proclaim also to you.”
Why did God act in this manner, sending Himself to earth so man could understand His ways? God knew that man needed this experience. Just telling man what to do was not working, for just words alone were not adequate to explain how man could avoid sin. God had called Abraham promising that his descendants would populate a great nation. God delivered that nation from slavery in Egypt, created a covenant with them on Mount Sinai and finally lead them across the desert to the Promised Land. All the time this was happening He was teaching them.
But it was not enough.
Man needed to be delivered from his sin. This slavery was the most significant type of slavery, more significant than the slavery endured in Egypt by the Israelites. To rid man of the slavery of sin was the reason for the coming of the Christ.
It says in Matthew “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” [1: 21] It says in First Timothy 1: 15 “The saying is sure and worthy of acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” It says in Luke 19: 10 “For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”
One of the most common images of Christianity is the shepherd who leaves the flock to search for the missing sheep. God tried and tried to get man to understand His ways until He determined that speaking the word was not good enough; He had to live in the world and communicate by example.
God created the world from nothing and He created man in His own image. God gave man an inquisitive mind but a mind incapable of understanding God’s ways. Speaking to man was not adequate. God had to act. God had to attempt to save man from himself, from his own desire to sin. Stott describes the basics of Christianity in these words: “Christianity is a religion of salvation, and there is nothing in the non-Christian religions to compare with this message of a God who loved, and came after, and died for, a world of lost sinners” [Stott, 15].
God has spoken…
God has acted…
God has saved…
*My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross. I think readers may find this interesting. For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020. I have never worked on two books at the same time but I feel now is the time to do this.