March 16, 2010

Reflecting on the Bible – Part 3 – Genesis 1 and God’s Possessions

Genesis 1 and God’s Possessions

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
(Psalm 24:1-2)

  • Since God is the Creator of all things, he is their rightful owner. As the psalmist declared above, the whole earth belongs to God, and everything in it (including us). In Jeremiah, the Lord says, “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me” (Jer. 27:5). The Bible makes several applications of this truth:
    1) God is sovereign over his creation. God has total freedom in the way he deals with creation. This is not simply “might makes right,” but more like “the world is rightfully mine, and I will do what I please with it.” This means that if he determines it is right to hand the whole world over to Nebuchadnezzar, then he is free to do so. This is often not on our grid, but God himself determines the boundaries and reign of nations and peoples, and he does so to carry out his purposes on the earth (Acts 17:26; Job 12:23; Deut 32:8). King Nebuchadnezzar came to realize this after his humiliation (Dan 4:34-35). Since all belong to him, all are subject to his authority without exception, whether willing or rebellious. As John Frame describes in his book, Doctrine of God, “His authority is so universal that when he speaks, things that don’t exist obey by coming into existence” (paraphrase).
    2) Every created thing is good when used properly. The apostle Paul applies this truth to the question of whether the Corinthians could eat foods in the marketplace or at someone’s house which might have been sacrificed to idols. Paul says to eat freely, without asking questions, for the whole earth belongs to the Lord (1 Cor. 10:25-26). It is only for the sake of the other person’s conscience (if they mention that it had been sacrificed) that the food shouldn’t be eaten. The guiding principle here is that all things were made by God and declared by him to be good. The fact that the meat is sacrificed to idols does not change the properties of the meat itself, rendering it evil. The evil is in the idolatrous heart, so we abstain when it may lead someone astray, or when eating involves participating in idolatry. Jesus strikes a similar note in Luke 10:8, and is even more explicit elsewhere (Mark 7:14-23). God’s judgment in Genesis 1 stands (Gen 1:10,12,18,21,25,31) – all that he created is good and nothing to be rejected, if received with thanksgiving (1 Tim 4:4). In another place we read, “To the pure all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure…” (Titus 1:15). The impurity arises not because of anything inherent in the creation, but from a deviation of its intended purpose and appropriate use. This applies to every substance and every activity under the sun – whether food, sex, recreation, or anything else. For believers who know the truth, determining the lawful use or abstinence of these things falls under the all-encompassing rubric of “the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31; Col 3:17; 1 Pet 4:11). This is not lawlessness, but the only true kind of lawfulness – with the law of God written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
    3) Everything we have is a gift. In David’s prayer before the assembly, he acknowledges a critical implication of God’s ownership – that nothing we have is ours, except what he has given us as a gift. When all of the offerings for the temple were brought forward by the people, David says, “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own” (1 Chron 29:10-16). Our entire lives ought to be shaped by this doxology. The way we hold onto (or let go of) our possessions, the way we spend our time, the way we view ourselves in relation to others, and the way we worship should be shaped by this understanding that there is nothing we have that we have not first received as a gift.
  • As creation’s owner, God takes responsibility for maintaining and upholding it. The God who made and owns this universe, also cares for it, tends to it, and maintains it. The Bible leaves no room for the Deistic image of a creator God who sets the wheels in motion and then sits back to see how things turn out. Far from it. Instead, we find an amazing picture of God’s care down to the smallest detail of his creation. Psalm 104 paints this beautifully. Zooming in from laying the foundations of the earth, to forming the mountains and valleys, to bringing forth the streams of water, we find God “causing the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate” (Psa 104:14). He provides trees for shelter, and even provides the food for lions (Psa 104:21). The psalmist is not ignorant of secondary causes. The agrarian society knew well that seeds needed planted and watered and that lions hunted their pray, but they rightly understood that these things ultimately come from the Lord. Jesus also teaches us that God feeds the birds, and clothes the grass of the field (Matt 6:26-30). We should rejoice in God’s care and admire it, and as Jesus says, we should learn to trust our Father’s loving hand, who keeps track even of the very hairs on our head (Luke 12:7).
  • As God’s Son, Jesus Christ is heir to all that is God’s and exercises all of the authority which is rightfully God’s. In Psalm 2, the Lord declares to the Messiah: “Ask me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth as your personal property” (Psalm 2:8 NET). In Daniel 7, he is granted the reign and rule over all of God’s creation (Dan. 7:13-14). Jesus lays claim to this inheritance, declaring that it is he who has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:20) and everything that is God’s is his (Matt. 11:27; John 3:35; 5:26-27; 13:3; 17:2). We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign (Rev. 11:15-17)

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