Where does your thinking begin? Suppose you had a mysterious pain in your body. Where would you go? If you believe…
In science - to a doctor
That sickness is not God’s will - to a faith healer
That sickness is caused by demons - to an exorcist
That doctors are suspect - to a chiropractor
That we use too much medicine - to a naturopath.
But where do these belief’s come from? What is your understanding of the world which has developed your beliefs? The way we live is based on what we believe and what we believe is based on our worldview. A worldview is the fundamental truths which form how you look at the world. All people have a worldview. I have been reading an encyclopaedia of mythology which describes Egyptian, Greek Roman and other ancient worldviews. What is your worldview? As Christians, our worldview must be formed by the Bible.
Today I want to begin a series on Genesis in which the opening chapters reveal The World According To God.
I. An Ancient Worldview
A. Tell The Story
Let me tell you the story of an ancient worldview. We know about the Assyrian Babylonian mythology from a series of 7 tablets found at an excavation of the library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. The material dates to between 700 and 1000 BC. Here is the worldview of the people of that time.
“In the beginning when the sky above had not been named and the earth below was nameless there existed only Apsu, the primordial ocean, and Tiamat, the tumultuous sea. From their mingled waters came forth first Mummu(the tumult of the waves) then a pair of monstrous serpents, Lakhmu and Lakhamu, who in their turn gave birth to Anshar, the celestial world, and to Kishar, the terrestrial world. To Anshar and Kishar were born other great gods: Anu the powerful; Ea, of vast intellect; and the other divinities.
“Soon the new gods and their turbulence disturbed the repose of old Apsu who complained to Tiamat: ‘During the day I have no rest and at night I cannot sleep.’ The two ancestors argued about the annihilation of their descendents. ‘Why should we destroy all that we have made?’ asked Tiamat. ‘Even though their way is troublesome.’ But Ea, who perceived all things, learnt of Apsu’s design and by his magic incantations was able to seize Apsu and Mummu. Tiamat, enraged, gathered around her a certain number of the gods and gave birth to enormous serpents ‘with sharp teeth, merciless in slaughter’, to terrible dragons with glittering scales, to tempest-monsters, savage dogs, to scorpion-men, furious hurricanes, fish-men and rams. To command this troop she chose Kingu, to whom she gave sovereignty over all the gods, pinning on his breast the tablets of fate.
“Meanwhile Ea, who knew of Tiamat’s plans, went to his father Anshar. ‘Tiamat, our mother,” he said, ‘has conceived a hatred against us. She is gathering an army together, she storms with fury.’ Listening to his son, Anshar was moved. At first he sent Anu against Tiamat, but Anu lacked the heart to confront the goddess. Ea was no more courageous. Then Ea summoned Bel-Marduk, ‘the son who makes his heart swell’, and bade him do battle with Tiamat, promising him the victory. Marduk accepted, but first insisted that the assembled gods should confer on him supreme authority. They acknowledged his rule over all the world and accorded him the sceptre… giving him the unrivalled weapon which repelled all enemies. ‘Go’, they said to him, ‘and slay Tiamat. “They rose up, Tiamat and Marduk the Wise, among the gods,
‘They marched to war, they drew near to give battle.
The Lord(Marduk) spread out his net and caught her in it.
The evil wind which followed him, he loosed it in her face.
She opened her mouth, Tiamat, to swallow him.
He drove in the evil wind so that she could not close her lips.
The terrible winds filled her belly. Her heart was seized,
She held her mouth wide open.
He let fly an arrow, it pierced her belly.
Her inner parts he clove, he split her heart
He rendered her powerless and destroyed her life.
He felled her body and stood upright on it.
“Then returning to Tiamat… he contemplated the monstrous corpse, he ‘conceived works of art’. He clove her body ‘like a fish unto its two parts’. From one half he fashioned the vault of the heavens, from the other the solid earth. That done, he organized the world. He constructed a dwelling place for the great gods in the sky and installed the stars which were their image; he fixed the length of the year and regulated the course of the heavenly bodies.”
Thus the earth was formed. Then ‘in order that the gods should live in a world to rejoice their hearts’ Marduk created humanity…Marduk moulded the body of the first man using the blood of Kingu…Finally there appeared the great rivers, vegetation and animals, wild and domestic..”
That is the creation story according to the ancient Babylonians. The library contains other descriptions of what people believed the gods were like in their relationship to people.
“The essential privilege of the gods was immortality. But they had the same needs and passions as mortals…They were subject to fear… The gods were also greedy…They were equally fond of sacrifices…like men the gods had wives and families…they would congregate…at the beginning of each year, on the feast of Zagmuk, in order to determine men’s destiny.”
Some of the gods are described in this way: “Anu…presided from above over the fates of the universe and hardly occupied himself with human affairs.” “Enlil is the dispenser of good and evil. It was he who in an angry mood sent down the flood to annihilate the human race.” “On every occasion the goddess, Istar, was irritable, violent and incapable of tolerating the least obstacle of her wished.”
B. Worldview Assumptions
This story describes the worldview of the ancient Babylonians. There are a number of things we need to take note of about how those people looked at the world.
They believed that there were many gods. No one of these gods was supreme, but each god had a power over different things. In some way, these gods were connected with aspects of nature. They believed in the sun god, the moon god and also sea monsters were seen as powerful deities. That is the worldview from which the ancient people worshipped the sun and the moon and looked for direction from the stars - they believed they were gods. Because there were so many different gods, if you needed some help from the gods, you would need to know which god to approach for your particular problem.
This worldview also had a particular view about how the world came to be. It was believed that matter had always existed and that it was organized by the gods in to the world. But it was organized out of violence. It was from a war between the gods, which ended in the defeat of the god Tiamat. From her body, it was believed that Marduk divided her body in two and made the heaven and the earth. Although we didn’t see it as much in the little bit of the story I read, they also believed that the world began in chaos and disorganization and has been getting better ever since. As the gods got organized, things improved.
We also learn about what they believed the gods were like. They had power, but not all power. They were seen, in many ways, just like people. They fought, they were fallible, they got angry and acted according to their whims. As a result, people could not expect anything for certain from the gods. If they appeased them, they would help, but they could just as quickly turn on a person and do something nasty.
This worldview also tells us a lot about how people were looked at. They were created as an afterthought to supply the needs of the gods. They were made so that they could make food for the gods. As a result, people did not count for much, only for what they could do to help the gods. Because the gods were capricious and people were just slave labour, life was quite uncertain and people were filled with fear because they never knew what would happen next.
What we get with this worldview is an unstable world in which people live with uncertainty and fear and for whom there is very little in the future to hope for.
II. Genesis Worldview
The first five books of the Bible are sometimes called the “Books of Moses.” When Moses wrote these books by the Spirit’s guidance, he was writing to a people whose worldview was like that above. I think we know that although Abraham and his descendents were the people of God, they were not a people who followed God and were like today’s Spirit filled Christians. Their worldview was much more akin to that which I have just described. One illustration of that is found in Exodus 16:2, 3. When they had just come out of Egypt, they found themselves hungry and thirsty. We read, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” This statement reveals how they looked at God. We may wonder how they could experience the amazing exodus from Egypt and then complain against the God who delivered them. The reason is that they looked at God with the pagan worldview described above. Sure, God could deliver them, but then he could just as quickly turn on them and do something nasty. It would be just like a god to do that. They believed that God was playing with them like a cat with a mouse. They had a pagan worldview.
Moses wrote Genesis in order to show the people a totally different worldview. He wanted to let them know what God was really like, who they were and what they could expect from God.
A. There Is Only One God
The first major difference we see is that there is only one God. Right in Genesis 1:1 we have a totally different perspective. It does not speak of a war of the gods or of relationships of many gods. It speaks of God who is one and who is sovereign over all. The first words in the Bible are about God - “in the beginning God.”
The sovereignty and creative power of God is seen throughout the rest of the passage as we see God creating. God did not organize pre-existing matter, but first created matter and then organized that matter creating first light, then separating water and sky, then creating land and sea and vegetation then the sun and moon and stars, the fish and the birds and on the sixth day of creation, animals and people.
When God finished creating, he pronounced all that he had made as very good. The supremacy, power and authority of God above all is powerfully brought out in the Biblical creation story to show us the difference between the ancient myths and the one God who made all things.
B. God Created By A Word
The power of God is further seen in the way in which he created. If we would read further in the pagan myths, we would find the important place which magical incantations and utterances played in this worldview. As we read the creation story in Genesis, we see something totally different. We see God speaking things into creation. In verses 3,6,9, 14, 20 and 24, we read, “And God said…” Simply by declaring a word, God brought everything into being. Each time we read, “And God said…” it is followed by a new thing coming into being. For example, in verse 3, “and there was light…” in verse 7 “and it was so…” God’s singular power and authority is seen in that he created simply by a word. God is without peer and competitor.
C. Creation Is Not Divine
Another major theme in the Genesis creation story is to let these pagan people know that creation is not divine, it is matter. When we read “And God said let there be…” repeatedly, we learn that all things are not gods, they are matter, they are created things. They have no divinity.
The place we notice this particularly is in the creation of the sun and the moon. It is worthy of note to see that in verses 14-19 the words used to describe the sun and the moon are not the words “sun” and “moon.” This is deliberate. When Moses wrote this, he did not want to name these bodies so as to reinforce the ideas that the people had about the divinity of them. Rather, he used the words “greater light” and “lesser light” to show that the sun and moon are simply creations of God.
In the pagan myths, sea monsters are significant and often have divine proportions. In Genesis 1:21, the sea creatures are specifically mentioned because the writer wanted the people to know that they also are simply animals that God had created.
So often Israel went back to worshipping idols. Idols make sense if a tree or a rock is accorded divine status, but if a stick is just a stick and a rock is just a rock, then there is no reason to make a god out of it. Genesis reveals that that is the case because all of creation is matter created by the one and only powerful God above.
D. People Are The Pinnacle Of Creation
If the worldview of the pagan myths is different in relationship to how the world came to be, it is even more radically different in the relationship to people. As we saw earlier, in the pagan myths, people were an add on created to please the gods and provide for them. What a different picture we have in Genesis. What a radically different worldview. Genesis 1 and 2 are written to show us that people are the pinnacle of God’s creation. He created them last. He created them in His own image. He gave them the dignity of meaningful work by giving them the task of keeping the garden. Instead of creating them so that they could prepare food for him, he created food so that they could enjoy life. God planted a garden so that people could enjoy all that God had made for them. God created them and desired to have a relationship with them. In this relationship, God is revealed as one who is just and who can be trusted. He is not like the gods who you never knew how they would act or what they would do. God is loving, compassionate and can be counted on. This gives us a totally opposite worldview than that of the pagan world.
Man is not a lackey of the gods to keep them supplied with food. He is God’s representative and ruler on earth, endowed by his creator with an abundant supply of food and expected to rest on every seventh day.
E. We Need God’s Grace
The further difference we see is in the progress of history. In the pagan worldview, the world began in chaos and was getting better. Yet, for people because of their place in the world, there was not much hope for the future.
The Genesis worldview has a totally different explanation for how things are today. Repeatedly in the Genesis story, the conclusion after each day of creation was “And it was good” and after the last day, we read in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” But today we do not see that it is very good. How can that be explained? Well the pagan world explained it by suggesting that things are getting better, but people don’t count. Genesis says, it was very good, but it is not good now because of the sin of people. Sin has destroyed the good creation of God and apart from the intervention of God by His grace, there is no hope. Later in Genesis, we will see that gracious intervention of God.
Genesis was written to a people steeped in a pagan worldview to show them that the world according to God is a world in which we have a sovereign loving God who has created us and loves us and wants a relationship with us.
III. Biblical Worldview in Our World
A. A Modern Worldview
Although many of the assumptions about the world underlying our society today have Judeo-Christian roots, many aspects of paganism have also begun to creep in. What is interesting is that our modern world believes in a worldview that is not very different from the pagan worldview.
In evolutionary theory, we see many aspects of this pagan worldview. Just as the pagan worldview described the beginning of the world in violence, so evolution proposes that the world began in violence with a “big bang.” Just as the pagan worldview saw the beginning of the world as chaos which is gradually improving, evolution says the world began with chaos which is improving through the survival of the fittest. Just as people are not highly esteemed in the pagan worldview, so evolution sees people merely as animals that are more highly evolved than all other creatures.
We also see elements of pagan mythologies in the new age spiritualities. Some speak of Gaia, the mother earth, the female goddess of nature. There are many today who like to get away into nature and commune with nature. Their perspective comes very close to seeing nature as having some aspects of divinity. There is a modern interest in magic which is akin to the incantations of the ancient world and there are those who make no apology for seeking the spirituality of the ancient myths to define their modern world. The continuing interest in astrology, which you can read in the newspaper every day, is an evidence of a continuing interest in seeking guidance from the stars. When we look at things that way, we realize that things haven’t really changed all that much.
One writer says, “Genesis 1-11 is setting out a picture of the world that is at odds both with the polytheistic optimism of ancient Mesopotamia and the humanistic secularism of the modern world.”
B. Living As Christians Today
As much as ever, we need to understand the message of Genesis and be thoroughly schooled in the worldview presented there so that we as Christians can live according to the Biblical worldview. We need to be aware of the pagan worldview which surrounds us but even more, we need to know the Biblical worldview so that it can form our beliefs and help direct our lifestyle.
Let me suggest some very practical and specific ways in which the worldview of Genesis must impact our life today.
It is a Genesis worldview which supports scientific research. One writer says, “Were the world controlled by a multitude of capricious deities, or subject to mere chance, no consistency could be expected in experimental results and no scientific laws could be discovered.” The entire world of science is based on an understanding of laws of nature, laws put there by a consistent and loving creator.
Concern for the environment is a popular concern these days. As Christians, we have shied away from involvement because some of those who promote these concerns do so because we are “brothers with the whales” or because our world will be destroyed by our evil practices if we don’t be careful. I would suggest that we should be at the forefront of environmental concerns, but for totally different reasons. We should be leading in this area because a loving creator has given us this world and has put us in charge of caring for it. Concern for the environment comes out of a response to the first mandate God gave us when he first created us.
As we think about how we relate to the difficulties of life, a Genesis worldview becomes very important.
When we have difficulties, what hope do we have? One of the things which has impacted many of us recently is the weather which has made it a difficult year for farming. If the world is totally random, if we are subject to malicious forces in the world around us, then we should fear. If our lives are in the hands of a loving Father who has created the world and us and loves us, then we can trust our lives to this loving Father and know that no matter what happens, we are in His hands and are being cared for.
When we have difficulties, where do we look for help? We must not consult mediums or astrology. We have a loving Father who invites us to read His Word and pray to Him and listen to Him because He will let us know His will and His will is good.
In all of life, the Genesis worldview supports a living relationship with our creator. He is not a god who is demanding, mysterious and hard to please. He is a God who has created us in love and wants a relationship to Him. Therefore, we do not need to live in legalism hoping to appease one whose ways we do not understand. Instead, we can live in obedience to one whose truth is consistent and evident and whose way leads to life.
We have just scratched the surface of the implications of living by the Genesis worldview and I would encourage you to take the main points of this worldview and think about how it impacts your life.
The point to which the Biblical worldview must inevitably draw us is to worship. As we see the power of God in creation and his loving concern for his people, we cannot help but give glory to Him. As we stand in the presence of what God has created, we do not only say, “wow what a beautiful creation.” We must go further and we must always say, “wow, what an amazing creator.” As we recognize that we are a people created by God because He chose to create us and create us for a relationship, we cannot only say, we must bow down, give glory to Him and worship him by trusting Him.
May our understanding of the world according to God lead us to give honor, glory and worship to the one who alone is God.