In The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis a senior demon, Screwtape, is explaining strategies against their “enemy,” God, to an inexperienced demon, Wormwood, and in the process showing us what is happening on the spiritual plane.

Screwtape says:

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

The little choices we make every day to believe, to trust, to stick with God, even when things scream out that there is no point….those choices to obey strike major blows in the spiritual warfare in which we are all engaged.

What about me?

copyright Jim Dobbins, The University of Virginia

Children often ask their mom or dad, “Where did I come from?”  Depending on the age of the child and the comfort level of the adult, this may be followed by an awkward pause while Mom or Dad frantically considers how to explain the answer!

No such awkward pause ensues when we ask God that question.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV)

This comes at the end of a long description of God’s creation of our world and everything in it.  When a painter finishes a new work, it is his or hers to keep, sell, give away, or throw in the trash.  Same for an author or a woodworker. What we create belongs to us. Because God created everything in this world…including us!…it all belongs to him.

His right of ownership also gives him the right to set the rules, make the decisions, exercise justice…to rule.  But he decided to delegate this authority to us. Go figure!  Our original job as humans was to rule as his representatives on this planet, as he would: mercifully, generously, responsibly.  We ruled this planet; he ruled us.  To equip us to govern well, he made us in his own image….like him.

The original readers of Genesis were Israelites who lived in the ancient Near East where it was commonly thought that the the king of a country was the image of the god he served. But for the ordinary guy or girl on the street no such luck.

How shocked must the Israelites have been when Moses told them in Genesis that they, recently freed slaves, were made in the image of the true God?!  Not long before they had been considered disposable by their overlords. But the true Ruler of a far greater empire than ancient Egypt says they are anything but.  They are, in fact, incredibly valuable because they are made in God’s image.

Many people struggle with self-esteem, questioning whether they have value. It doesn’t seem to matter whether our job is doctor, investment broker or stay-at-home parent; at some level we all seem to wrestle with whether what we do, and therefore who we are, is significant.

But Genesis tells us that our value doesn’t come from being the kind of person who actually gets everything crossed off the to-do list or from having a lot of education or a lot of money.  We aren’t valuable only if we look like the people in beer commercials.  Every human being is valuable simply because we bear the imprint of God.

Interestingly, when Jesus was on earth and fielding a trick question from the audience designed to get him in hot water with the Roman emperor Caesar over whether or not to pay taxes to the Roman government, he volleyed the question back to the crowd by asking them whose image was on Roman money. Since each emperor minted money with his picture on it, they replied that it was Caesar’s image on the money. Then Jesus said,

“So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Matthew 22:21 (NIV)

The coin had Caesar’s image on it, therefore it belonged to Caesar.  We have God’s image on us, therefore we belong to God. Giving to God what is God’s would mean that we are to give ourselves to God.

That’s a little different from how I normally think.  Usually I think in terms of how much of MY time I am going to give to God or what percentage of MY resources I can spare for him. The stakes get a lot higher when he says I am to give myself to him….all of me, no reserve, nothing held back, all in.  Suddenly all of my resources and my time (and a whole host of other things!) belong to him.  My whole life, in fact.  I may be immensely valuable because I bear God’s image, but I am also not my own.  No one is.

But we struggle with more than our own significance, we also struggle with the significance of others. No, wait, that’s not true. We don’t struggle at all.  We know exactly how significant they are; we decide precisely each time they interact with us.  If they get in our way, annoy us, make us late, don’t do what we say, cut us off in traffic, give us a hard time when we call in for customer service, or forget to run the errand we asked them to and the bottom drops out of their significance and their value goes way down, in our opinion. We treat the other person badly because we figure they don’t matter, or at least they don’t matter as much as we do.

But whether it is the checkout clerk, the telemarketer or our spouse, they too were created in the image of God. They are incredibly valuable and important, whether they seem so to us or not.

This shows up most strikingly in the way we treat the opposite sex. Men are considered stupid children who need to be taken care of and women are considered bodies that exist for someone else’s pleasure.

But Genesis said: “In the image of God he created THEM; male and female he created THEM.”  It takes both men and women together to accurately reflect the image of God. We need each other. Men and women are partners in reflecting the image of God.  Men and women are a team. The commands are given to both of them. The mandate to rule was as well.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 1:28-2:3 (NIV)

Humanity was God’s final creation. And when God looked back over all that he had made in its totality it was very good.

You were created by the great God, in his image, to rule for him on this planet.  You have valuable, important work to do.  You are not defined by your employer’s job description. You are not valuable only if other people tell you that you are.  You are not successful only when you win.

We are valuable because like that Roman coin we are stamped with God’s image…we belong to him.

The god in your head.

Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso, Blue Period, Public Domain

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day. And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:20-25 (NIV)

In Genesis 1:2 we were told that the earth was formless and empty.  “Without order” or “chaotic” might be other ways to say it. That sounds kind of scary to me. Yet as Genesis 1 progresses and God assesses what he had made he says they are “good.”

What a person creates tells you a lot about that person.

During Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period all of his paintings were done, not surprisingly, in blue and were somber and dark. He said that he began painting in blue when he learned of the suicide of a dear friend.  The sorrow, the grief, the depression that were inside were coming out in his work.  Picasso’s creations tell us about him.

What God creates tells us about him as well.

God took that chaotic beginning and organized it into atmosphere and oceans and landmasses.  Then he filled those spaces with creatures.

What was formless God ordered. What was empty he filled. And everything God created was good…very good.

That tells me that the true God is not random or unpredictable.  He is God who brings wholeness and fullness and goodness.

The ancient Egyptians, among whom the original readers of Genesis had been living for over 400 years, said far different things about their gods.  In the ancient way of thinking gods were unpredictable and undependable. Some brought evil things more often than good things.  But the true God isn’t like that at all.

What’s the god like you worship?

You might say, I worship the God of the Bible. Do you?

Or is the god in your head a god that can’t quite be trusted? A god who brings brokenness as often as goodness? A god who empties more than he fills?

If you answered yes to those questions then you may need to reintroduce yourself to the God of the Bible. Genesis will help with that.

Who’s in charge here?

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day. And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day. Genesis 1:2-19 (NIV)

If we were tempted to worship the sun and the moon, this account should raise some doubts for us.  As Moses recounts creation for the Israelites (recently freed from slavery in Egypt), he shows them that the sun and the moon are created objects like everything else and not worthy of worship.  An important point considering that for the previous 430 years the Israelites had been submerged in the ancient Egyptian culture which worshiped the sun, calling him Ra. Ra was, in fact, the most powerful god in their pantheon.  But if Ra was created then that means whoever created “him” is greater still!  You’ll notice that this greater God needed no help from Ra to create light.

While you and I may not worship the sun, we do worship something….whether we say we have a religious affiliation or not.  Humans were built for worship and will find something to fix our lives and our hopes on — a sports team, our spouse, a job….or even ourselves.  Something or someone always gets the final say in our choices and in how we live our lives.

Take a moment to assess who’s in charge of your life.  When you are faced with a decision, what tips the scales in one direction?  Your personal comfort? You sense of obligation? Money? Your kids?

Many of us say we worship one thing while practically worshiping something quite different. Remembering who is God and who isn’t can free us from serving all sorts of things that were never designed to bear the weight of our worship…or our expectations.  Knowing who is really in charge also keeps us from missing the rescue ship because we won’t loosen our grip on the life-preserver we are clinging to.

In his account of Jesus’ time on earth, John wrote this about Jesus.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. John 1:9-10 (NIV)

All light, whether physical wavelengths or spiritual rescue, comes from one person, Jesus. That is how he could create light without the help of the sun.  Interestingly, in the description in Revelation of what our world will be like once God restores it to the way he created it to be, we read this:

The throne of God and of the Lamb [Jesus] will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. Revelation 22:3-5 (NIV — brackets mine)

Try this.  Make a list of the things you think are most powerful in your life; the things that you depend on and hope in.  When you get done, put Jesus at the top of the list.  Everything else on the list is something created.

Make sure you are going to the right place for rescue.

Creation?! Are you kidding me?

As you read through the account of creation in Genesis 1 remembering a couple of things will result in it making a lot more sense.  First, the whole story is told from the perspective of earth. The creation of the rest of the universe barely gets a footnote.  That’s because God is telling us our story. Second, Genesis was not written to 21st century people living in a technological age and as a result it does not address all sorts of questions we would like to have answered.  For example, it is not an instruction manual on how to build a universe.

Rather Genesis was written to people living in about 1500 BC who didn’t really care about the mechanics star formation. What they desperately needed to know was that the sun they saw in the sky was not a god who controlled their destinies but a created object with a very practical purpose in their lives. A created object, provided for them by the One who is God.

If you focus on the questions that God sets out to answer in Genesis, you’ll hear a lot more clearly what he is saying.

In the beginning….

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 (NIV)

There’s an awful lot packed into that first verse of Genesis. For one thing, the fact that there was a “beginning” means that everything that exists around me had a starting point.  Also, the fact that God was already there at the beginning of everything I know means that he was around even before the starting point.

Some people say that God is something we’ve made up…it sounds more like we’re something he made up!

The other fascinating thing about this verse is that it says God created the heavens and the earth…i.e., all matter. That means he had no raw ingredients to work with when he started creating.

When we create something – a report for work, a dinner for our family, something to give as a gift – we start with materials that already exist.  But the beginning, by definition, is before anything exists.  So God’s power to create is different from ours: he can create without having raw materials to work with.

The author of a letter to the Hebrews that is included in the New Testament said it this way.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. Hebrews 11:3 (NIV)

If God can create things without having raw materials, that tells me a lot about how powerful he is. I also learn that he is the ultimate source of absolutely everything in my life. I may have bought the set of dishes and the house and the car but they exist because God created the materials from which they were made and God created the people who were smart enough to design them.

But there is one strange thing about the first verse in Genesis: it says that God created the heavens and the earth. Why is “heavens” plural and not singular? Why doesn’t it just say God created heaven and earth?

The answer is apparently because the Hebrew people believed there were three heavens. The first heaven is what we call “atmosphere”: where the clouds are and where birds fly. The second heaven is the rest of the universe: stars, planets, and such. And the third heaven in the Hebrew mind was the spiritual realm where God and his angels are; in fact, where all spiritual beings are.  Even demons and Satan are there because they are just angels created by God who ended up rebelling against him.

In Egypt, the Hebrews had heard a lot about spiritual beings and gods…all sorts of gods…but Moses was telling them that even the spiritual realm was created by the true God.

There is no human or spiritual being that can do something to you that God doesn’t want to happen. God is greater than everything and everyone.  What this meant to the Hebrews is that they didn’t have to worry about Pharaoh or the Sun god or the river god.

For us what it means is that our job or lack of one doesn’t ultimately determine whether we are provided for or not. God does. Our doctor isn’t ultimately the one who makes us well. God is. Our president and our congress don’t decide our economic future. God does. Our spouse or the person we are dating isn’t in control of our happiness. God is. Even the drunk driver doesn’t ultimately control our destiny. God does.

Someone once said that even evil has to flow in the channels God carves for it.

Although God didn’t create evil, even it has to answer to him.

While we are at a serious disadvantage compared to the original readers of Genesis because our lives and culture are so different from theirs, we have one enormous advantage over them: we have been told what the story is ultimately about.

When Jesus was on earth, he was having a discussion at one point with the most religious people of the day. These were the Jewish religious leaders and their Scriptures were what Christians call the Old Testament.  Listen to what he said to them.

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me… John 5:39 (NIV)

Did you catch that? Jesus says that the Old Testament is about him.

A little later in the same conversation, he also said.

If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  John 5:46 (NIV)

Since Genesis is one of the books written by Moses that means that Genesis is ultimately telling us about Jesus.

The Apostle John who wrote one of the accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament helps us see how Genesis is about Jesus.

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. John 1:1-4 (NLT)

John begins his book with the very same words that Genesis begins with…. “in the beginning.” He does to draw his readers’ minds back to the account of creation.

If we read a little more of the opening chapter of John’s book we would quickly discovered that in John’s writings “the word” is Jesus.So let’s substitute Jesus’ name for the Word.

In the beginning [Jesus] already existed. [Jesus] was with God, and [Jesus] was God. [Jesus] existed in the beginning with God.  God created everything through [Jesus], and nothing was created except through [Jesus]. [Jesus] gave life to everything that was created, and [Jesus’] life brought light to everyone. John 1:1-4 (NLT, additions mine)

That really changes things, doesn’t it? Jesus did not start his life in that manger in Bethlehem.  Jesus was there at creation.

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter which is included in the New Testament that explains this further.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Colossians 1:15–17 (NLT)

Jesus is the agent through whom God the Father created everything. And everything continues to exist and work and spin because Jesus commands that it should.

The reason the seat you are sitting in as you read this post doesn’t collapse is because Jesus is holding together the molecular bonds in it. The reason you just took that breath is because Jesus made the perfect combination of gases in our atmosphere to enable us to breath, and because he gave you the health to expand and contract your lungs.

(By the way, Johann Kepler, a German scientist and mathematician from the early 1600’s, once said that scientific discoveries are thinking God’s thoughts after him. I like that.)

So when we read “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” we need to know that Jesus is God himself who was there at creation.

That should have a big impact on more than our Christmas plays; it should transform the way we think about Jesus.  Suddenly he should appear much bigger than we thought him before…much more powerful…perhaps even a little dangerous.

Who is really calling the shots?

The book of Genesis in the Bible was originally written to a a large group of people, a nation really, probably about 2 million of them, called the Israelites or the Hebrews. They and their parents and their grandparents and their great grandparents, and several more generations, had been living as foreigners in Egypt. Their family had spent over 400 years there.  During the last chunk of that time they were slaves; required to do hard physical labor and getting nothing for it. They were physically beaten; their children were murdered.

Then in a stunning display, God showed them his passionate love for them by freeing them from the Egyptians and setting them on a journey that would eventually lead them back to their own land.

Moses, as you may know, was the man God put in charge to lead them out of Egypt.  But Moses had an even bigger job to do as well.  Moses needed to re-educate the Israelites on who they were and who the true God is.  The book of Genesis is part of that reeducation process.

My family came to this country back in the early 1700’s….before it even was a country.  I know very little about my ancestors, what they believed, how they lived their lives.  I have names and dates and I can guess a little from history about why they came, but that’s about it.  And that was less than 300 years ago. If I tried to go back over 400 years to their lives in Europe, I would know even less. But one thing I do know: I no longer live or even think as they did. I am a 21st century American.  I am influenced by what I hear on the news every night, what I read in magazines, by the music I listen to, by what advertisers tell me, by what my friends are saying and thinking, and by the books I read.  I may not fully realize it but those things have all impacted my thinking and my way of looking at the world. I am vastly different from my ancestors who lived 430 years ago in Europe; but that change didn’t happen overnight.  Each generation of my family changed a little from the one before.  And I’ve added to that change.

When the Israelites first moved to Egypt to escape a famine in their own land, they worshiped the one, true God, Yahweh.  They still worshiped him when they left Egypt, but they had spent 430 years in Egypt hearing about a lot of other gods. The ancient Egyptians worshiped the sun, a variety of animals, the Nile river, Pharaoh himself….every area of life was believed to be controlled by a different god.  If they were having trouble having kids, they figured they must not have been doing what a particular god wanted them to do. If they weren’t able to feed their family, then they would go to a different god for help.

After soaking in Egyptian culture for all those centuries, the Israelites needed to learn again who the true God was and what he was like. They also needed to learn who they were.  After being slaves for so long, it would be easy to question whether they had any value, any significance.

It might seem that we have little in common with these people. But we too live in a culture that worships many different gods. You might not know anyone who worships the sun or the Nile river, but there are plenty of gods in our culture nonetheless. A god is anything or anyone you depend on to take care of you or that you build your life to please, and  most of us have a nice little set of gods of our own. Our family can be a god in our life; so can our job.  But one that’s hard to escape is the god of money.

You might say, Donna, that’s really not true of me.  I don’t live to shop, I can do without a lot of stuff, I’m really not a greedy person. Really? Think about these questions.

What are you depending on to take care of you when you retire? A retirement account? Social security?

What are you depending on to take care of you if you lost your job or if your spouse lost his or her job? Unemployment benefits? Savings?

When do you feel safest? When you have extra money? When you get a raise?

I feel most comfortable when I’ve got a budget and a savings plan and am sticking carefully to it. When unexpected things come up, it’s easy for me to panic because I depend on The Plan to take care of me. The Plan becomes a god which I faithfully serve.

Anything, even good things, can become gods in our lives: a parent who we desperately want to love us; a house that we’ve worked hard to get perfect; a boyfriend or girlfriend we want to marry us; the self-help books that tell us how to fix ourselves or fix others…the list is endlessly customizable.

What are we trusting in to rescue us? Does it even occur to us to talk to the true God first and then pick up the phone? Who is really calling the shots in our lives?

Just like the Israelites, we too have the opportunity to worship lots of different gods.

And although we aren’t recently freed slaves, we too struggle with trying to figure out who we are, why we’re even here, and whether we matter. Whether they are an investment banker or a parent staying at home with young children, everyone wonders, at least sometimes, whether what they do and who they are has any value.

So, as it turns out, we have a lot in common with the original readers of Genesis. Keep that in the back of you mind as you read it.