Bible Study with a Spiritual Atheist: Genesis 1

The first chapter a person will see when they open up the Bible is Genesis 1. It begins at the beginning, helpfully enough, and attempts to explain how creation came to be while revealing the character of the biblical God and His purpose for the creation of the universe.

Two key aspects of the biblical God are emphasised throughout the entire chapter: His power and His goodness. Even with the very first verse, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” the Bible conveys the power of God. Not only is God the all-powerful creator but also nothing is outside His power. This chapter conveys all of creation to be the domain of God, there are no lesser gods in charge of being the sun or creating waves in the sea, instead everything happens because of the power of God. We are also given a sense of the magnitude of God’s power through the words “And God said”. Think of how much work humans have to do to build an IKEA bookshelf and the Bible tells us that God was able to create everything we see in the world with just a few words.

The other characteristic of God emphasised throughout the chapter is His goodness. The words “God saw that it was good” appear repeatedly throughout the chapter to show that goodness is important to God and we can then infer this means the biblical God is good because the goodness of the world would not be important to Him if He Himself was not good. Part of the reason the world is good when it’s created is its peacefulness. We are told that God gave the humans “every plant yielding seed” and the fruit of every “tree with seed in its fruit” for food and God gave the animals “every green herb” which means that not only were the humans not eating the animals, but they were not even competing with each other for food. The goodness of the world when it is first created serves to make the argument that evil is not an inevitability nor is it a necessity. Thus, it provides the hope that a world without evil is possible.

The majority of Genesis 1 almost reads like a shopping list for all of creation. It’s very dry and without purpose, we are told God makes the universe and the planets and the animals but not what the point in making them was. You could be forgiven for suspecting God simply created the world to serve as His own personal nature documentary. However, the purpose of the world begins to come into view with the creation of the humans.

While Genesis 1 clearly sets up all of life as being sacred to God, all of it is seen as good by God after all, human life is clearly singled out as being uniquely special to God. Only the male and female humans are created in the image of God which separates them from all the other animals, also note the sense of equality in importance between the sexes as both are made in the image of God. This unique importance of humanity would then suggest that it is the focus of the creation of the universe, and thus the rest of creation can be understood through the lens of this relationship between God and humans. So the question, then, for why the world was created can only be answered if we know why humanity was created.

The Bible clearly shows that humans were created to have a relationship with God, and the rest of creation is there to facilitate that relationship. The days in which God created the universe can be separated into two categories as they pertain to God’s relationship with humanity. The first four days can be categorised as being used to create the conditions necessary for life to be sustained. The light was created so humans could see. The firmament was created so humans could breathe. The land was created because humans weren’t made with gills. The plants were created so humans had something to eat. And, the sun and the moon and the stars were created so humans would have days and years and seasons. Meanwhile, the last two days can be categorised as being used to create parallels between God and humanity. The animals of the water, the air, and the land are created to be cared for by the humans, imitating the way God cares for all of creation. It is almost as if He wanted humans to have something in common with Him to give a basis to their relationship. The creation of humans in the image of God also informs the reader that humans have been made to be similar enough to God to be capable of having a relationship with Him.

The argument for viewing creation, as described in the Bible, in this manner is strengthened by the commands that are given to the humans by God. God commands the humans to care for the earth and its creatures and to have dominion over them and to “be fruitful and multiply”. The part about humans caring for the earth and its creatures has already been discussed as to why it is important to God’s relationship with humanity. Therefore, the focus will now be on how the procreation of humans should be viewed through its meaning for the relationship between God and humanity.

The words “be fruitful and multiply” appear twice in Genesis 1. They are first spoken to the fowl and the animals of the water, and then they are spoken to the humans. However, when God speaks these words to the fish and the birds they appear to be serving as a blessing, and thus part of God’s divine will, rather than as a commandment so it seems there is no choice in the matter on the part of the birds and the fish but this is not so with the humans. When God speaks the words “be fruitful and multiply,” to the humans, they are separate from God’s blessing and so the humans appear to have a choice in the matter. It appears to be accepted by this chapter that humanity must be able to choose to have a relationship with God for it to be meaningful. This difference between the blessing of the animals and the commandment of the humans gives us a clue as to the function of both utterances. The animals are to multiply so that the humans will have something to care for, no matter how many there are, and the humans are to multiply to produce more beings that are capable of having a relationship with God, and for this relationship to be meaningful the procreation must be the humans’ choice. The question, then, is how many humans are enough?

In Genesis 1, the God of the Bible is portrayed as being all-powerful, good, and social. He was able to create the universe, created it to be good and peaceful, and He created everything to allow for Him to have a relationship with humans. This understanding of why the biblical God created the universe and the similarities and parallels between God and humanity allows for a richer understanding of the meaning of humans being created in the image of God. Humans care for the animals and earth in the way God cares for the universe and humans are conscious beings that have the ability to make their own choices as God is a conscious being that has the ability to make His own choices. In these ways, humanity is made in the image of God and only by being made in this way can humanity’s relationship with God be true and meaningful, as they can also decide to not have a relationship with God.

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