In my inaugural piece for this series, I wrote about the general importance of doctrine: what it is, what it does, and why it matters. Now that we've laid the foundation, we'll unpack one doctrine at a time and examine the impact each one specifically has.
It only makes sense to start with the first doctrine revealed to us in Scripture: the Doctrine of Creation.
Questions Of Faith
Let me start with a personal story, because I suspect that what I grappled with is not unlike the struggle of faith that many of you are having right now. I'm sure many of you have searched, or are searching, for the surety of belief that defined my quest too.
When I was eighteen, I left home and went off to a Christian college. I've got to be honest with you: my Christian education actually left me with as many questions as it did answers. But that's not necessarily a bad thing; insightful people don't gain insight by having the right answers, but by asking the right questions.
These questions that I had from college, along with the outbreak of the Vietnam War, got me to enroll in seminary (maybe more the Vietnam War than my questions, but God used both to get me where I needed to be).
What were my questions? For starters, I was utterly driven by the thought that my faith in God must be credible; it had to be defensible and it had to be practical. Otherwise, a life of faith simply wasn't worth anything.
I was also convinced that there must be such a thing as truth. I was utterly persuaded that truth had to exist in this world. I was convinced that there had to be things that were true, and if there were things that were true, then by default, there had to be things that were false.
It made no sense to me that life could be a collection of equally valid (and often opposing) observations. If two plus two equals four, then two plus two can't equal seven, or nine, or five, or any other number, because then numbers wouldn't have any meaning. If two plus anything could equal four, then what's the point of mathematics? You could never add, subtract, multiply or divide. The world of calculation would be a world of utter irrationality.
The same must be true about life, I reasoned. There had to be some overriding fabric of truth that served as the explanatory grid of the universe.
Back To The Beginning
With this zeal for knowing what was true and what was false, I accepted a challenge from my older brother Tedd: "Go back to the beginning."
If I wanted to understand what is true in the catalog of ideas that makes up the conversation of humanity, I knew that I had to go back to the point where what "is" was being formed into what it became. That summer, I got my Bible and I began to read and study Genesis.
With a marker in my hand, I studied the first three chapters of the Bible. My life changed that summer; more accurately, the Word of God changed my life that summer! I was a changed man, convinced that there are few more practical things to do as you seek to live God's way in this fallen world than to regularly go back to the beginning.
You see, in that womb where all things were being formed, you find things of profound importance. In that womb of the first three chapters of Genesis, God says revelatory things about himself, about the world he created, and about the people he's placed in it.
This essay is about going back to the beginning: back to the beginning to discover our world; back to the beginning to discover our God; back to the beginning to discover ourselves; and back to the beginning to discover the meaning and purpose of life.
The Four Most Important Words
I don't know about you, but I like words. I like to read and see how authors employ words, assembling them to make a point that's emotional, dramatic, intellectual or humorous. I also like to listen to people. I like to listen and hear how they grab words out of that seemingly endless catalog of the human vocabulary and utilize them in a conversation.
God was careful and intentional with the words he chose for his Word; he wanted to make sure that his words carried the freight of his message. That's why I absolutely love the first four words of his Book: "In the beginning, God..."
Now, if you were to ask people in your church what the four most important words in the Bible were, I'm sure you would get a variety of responses: "I am the way" or "Thou shalt not kill." Those are four-word phrases with deep significance, but I'm persuaded that the first four words of the Bible are the most important because they lay the foundation for everything else that the Bible is about.
Think what the Bible is about: God. It's the story of his design - a perfect world with amazing, tangible glory. It's the story of his people - a race of creation that rebelled and destroyed everything good. It's the story of his redemption - a plan to rescue, repair, reconcile and restore.
So if this story is about God, it only makes sense that he dominates the first four words of the Book.
Before Anything, God Was
The first four words of the Bible put God not only as the origin of all things, but at the center of all things. I need to write that for you again, and I would encourage you to jot it down somewhere: the first four words of the Bible put God not only as the origin of all things, but at the center of all things.
If God was on site before anything was, he deserves to take credit for everything that is. If God was the Creator of all that exists, by default he has the right to define what is good, right and true. If God was the first and only source of life, then all meaning, purpose and identity is only going to be found through him.
Permit me a moment to celebrate:
Before the world was formed, God was
Before the sun, moon and stars lit up the sky, God was
Before the first flower bloomed, God was
Before the first fruit grew on a tree, God was
Before the first wing of an eagle flapped, God was
Before the first muscle of a gazelle leapt, God was
Before the first gill of a fish opened, God was
Before that first golden sunset
Before that first drenching monsoon
Before that first crash of thunder
Before that first gust of wind
Before that first fall of snow
Before Adam experienced breath in his lungs
Before he experienced grass beneath his feet
Before he experienced light in his eyes
Before he experienced taste on his tongue
Before he experienced sound in his ears
Before Adam ever laid eyes on the beauty of his wife Eve
Before they walked
Before the first family, house, village, or government
Before the first anything...
If God was, then everything he declares is. That means the universe and everything in it must be seen and understood in a certain way - God's way.
The doctrine of creation is the watershed belief, the line the line in the sand, and the ultimate game-changer. It destroys neutrality. You're either on one side of the fence or the other, and the side you choose will shape everything in your life, from the smallest little moments to the decisions of profound consequence.
Three Dangerous Lies
By now you're probably thinking, "OK, Paul - you've made your point. I understand that before anything, God was, and that he's at the center of all things. But what does that mean for me? How does the doctrine of creation apply where the rubber meets the road in my everyday life?"
Great question! That's exactly what this series is meant to do – take the big doctrines of the Bible, typically reserved for academic classrooms, and apply them to your real life.
The doctrine of creation exposes, then calls each of us away from, three very attractive and seductive lies. In some capacity, these lies have snared us all, and at some level, shape everything you do.
1. The lie of autonomy
Autonomy seduces us into thinking that we're independent creatures with the right to do whatever we want with the life that belongs to us. Just listen to some of the most popular songs in our culture - "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi or "I Did It My Way" by Frank Sinatra.
But listen to the song of Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning, God..." That song is played to a radically different melody. If God was first, our lives have never belonged to us. You and I don't have the right to think, desire, act and speak as if it does.
2. The lie of relativity
Relativity means that in the catalog of ideas that the human community constantly generates, there's no such thing as absolute truth. "To each his own" or "As long as it doesn't hurt anyone else" are popular phrases. Relativity declares that one idea is just as valid as the other, and we're free to choose from the buffet and build our world around it.
The philosophy of Genesis 1:1 would vehemently disagree. If God was here in the beginning, and if everything in the universe belongs to him, then what he says is true, and whatever disagrees with him is by its fundamental organic nature false. The doctrine of creation draws the line clearly in the sand – there is truth, there is falsehood, and there is no open catalog of equally valid ideas.
3. The lie of self-sufficiency
Self-sufficiency deludes us into thinking that we have everything within ourselves to pursue whatever it is that autonomy has granted us license to pursue and be whomever relativity says we can be. Self-sufficiency rejects the assistance of others and relies solely on self for existence, prosperity and well-being.
Genesis 1:1 paints a much different picture. If God is the source of life, and if we were a result of his life-giving creativity, then we are completely dependent on him for life, identity, meaning and purpose. Not only that - we're dependent on other people as well. When you look at the doctrine of creation in the first three chapters of Genesis, you'll find that Adam and Eve lived in constant community with both God and each other. Self-sufficiency never existed, even in a perfect world.
Make It Real
Before you close this essay and get back to your routine, I want to help you apply this doctrine to your life. Reflect on how you may be daily seduced by autonomy, relativity, and self-sufficiency.
- How does your heart tend to respond when you are required to submit to the authority of someone else?
- In what ways did you forget about the presence and plan of God this week, existing as if you were an autonomous and independent being?
- How does your heart tend to respond when someone criticizes or argues with your actions or views?
- In what ways did you compromise or minimize the truths of God's Word this week, living with some form of relativism?
- How does your heart tend to respond when you can't accomplish something on your own, or when someone else proposes a more successful alternative to yours?
- Reflect on how your day-to-day existence is dependant on both God and other people. How can admitting weakness be a strength?
Don't be afraid to examine your life in the exposing light of the doctrine of creation. Yes, God is all about himself, but he's not only the glorious Creator of everything that is - he's the gracious Savior of the human race. He died to forgive us when we pursue autonomous, relative and self-sufficient lives, and he rose again to free us from our bondage to self.
How sweet it is to consider that the Creator will give us the grace we need to live as he has designed in the beginning, even though the world has gone terribly wrong.