STUDY ONE: IN THE BEGINNING …

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

Note: For extended comment check out the Genesis studies here - https://www.godswordforyou.com/bible-studies/genesis.html

In Genesis 1 and 2 we read about God’s creation of the world. This decision of God, this grace, this act of creation, was one that brought forth joy:

‘… the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy’ (Job 38:7).

But now,

‘the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time’ (Romans 8:22).

As we study suffering, an important truth to keep in mind is that none of us have ever known the world as God created it. We know only the world as it is now, not the world as it was created - sinless, painless, good.

 

A. THE WORLD AS GOD CREATED IT

Study the following verses. What do they say about the original creation – the world the way God made it? How is this different from the suffering world we live in?

Genesis 1:4,10,12,18,21,25

Genesis 1:31a

Genesis 1:26a, 27

Genesis 1:28a

Genesis 1:28, 2:15

Genesis 2:23a; Matthew 19:8b

Genesis 1:29-30

Genesis 2:25

Genesis 2:16, 19

Genesis 2:17a

Genesis 2:9; see also 3:22

Genesis 2:17

Genesis 1:28-30; 2:15-22; 3:8ff

 

From these texts we discover:

A.1 The goodness of the world God created
The world that God created was very good. ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ (Genesis 1: 31a). The goodness of the created world, and everything in it, is also affirmed in verses 4,10,12,18,21,25.)

Look at each of these aspects of the created world. What suffering is now caused by or associated with each of them that challenges their description as ‘good’ and ‘very good’?
The land/sea (v10)

 

The vegetation (v12)

 

The sun, moon, stars, light/darkness (v18)

 

The sea creatures and birds (v21)

 

The land creatures (v25)

 

Now imagine … what would life be like if …

There were no such things as droughts, hurricanes, floods, heatwaves, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, climate change, or any other destructive, life-threatening aspect of the land and the sea?

There were no such things as dangerous or nuisance plants?

There was no such thing as sunburn, or skin cancer, or sunstroke, and no fear of the darkness?

All the sea creatures and birds were friendly and non-threatening?

No insect, spider or other small creature caused pain or sickness?

All the land animals were similarly friendly, and not even snakes were harmful?

It is impossible for us even to imagine it. We have never personally known such a world. Only in our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, did we know it. Perhaps that is why we all, consciously or sub-consciously, long for a perfect world, a world without fear or threat. Somehow we know that this world, this life as we know it, is not how it’s supposed to be. It ought not be like it is.

A.2 Humans reflected the glory of God
In the world that God created human beings reflected the nature and character and glory of God: ‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1:26a,27). And God said ‘it was very good’ (1:31a). There was nothing about humans that was not ‘very good’. Apart from their createdness, there was nothing about humans that did not mirror God.

But that is not what we observe today. Our deepest suffering is caused by our fellow humans.

Discuss or make a list of all the suffering that humans cause themselves or each other

 

 

 

 

Now try to imagine how your life would be if …
You never doubted yourself

No one ever hurt you with their words, attitudes or actions

You never hurt anyone with your words, attitudes or actions

You had never known what it was to be hated or rejected

You had never known guilt

You had never known what it was to fear another person

You had never felt angry or received anger

You never had to strive to be loved and accepted

 

Again, we simply cannot imagine such a world, such a life. The people that we are, and the human life we experience, is not what God created us, and not what God created us for. He created us for glory and for honour. He created us with the high and holy responsibility of imaging him, of reflecting his glory, his nature, his character. We were created to be as humans a mirror of what he is as God. And when we are, when we most image God and his glory we are ourselves most glorious.

Isaiah 43:7: ‘…everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.’

Psalm 8:5: ‘what is man … You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.’

God created us for love, not for hatred and cruelty.
God created us for glory, not for shame and despair.
God created us for integrity, not for dishonor and deception.

From time to time we see powerful glimpses of the love, glory and integrity, shining through the darkness of our human guilt, our human cruelty, our human despair. Reminders of what we are capable of, of what we were created to be.

 

A.3 Family life was a blessing
In the world that God created, reproduction and families were a blessing, and the relationship between husband and wife was one of satisfaction, fulfillment and unity.

‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth ...”’ (Genesis 1:28a).

‘This now is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ (Genesis 2:23a).

‘… a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24).

How do family life and relationships as we experience and observe them today differ from this original blessedness?

 

 

 

 

A.4 Work and responsibility were a blessing
In the world that God created work and responsibility were a blessing:

‘God blessed them and said to them . . . “fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”’ (Genesis 1:28)

‘The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it’ (Genesis 2:15).

God’s decision to create humans included not only the image of God factor, but also dominion over the earth and all of its creatures:

‘God said, “… let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’ (Genesis 1:26).

Discuss these three questions:
[1] To what extent does the human race engage in, and/or succeed in, this dominion over the earth and its creatures?

 

[2] In what ways is this work/responsibility currently a ‘blessing’?

 

[3] In what ways is this work/responsibility yet another area of life that is difficult and a cause of suffering?

 

 

A.5 A world without killing
The world that God created was a world without killing.

‘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 of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground - everything that has the breath of life in it - I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.’ (Genesis 1:29-30)

Again, this is something we cannot imagine, and might not even want. We would all be vegetarian, or maybe even vegan. But so would the wildlife … perhaps we would want that. We could walk among wild animals, we could swim among sharks, without a care in the world. And they would not fear us. We would never grieve because we saw a lion snatch an antelope, or a hawk swoop on a sparrow. Such tooth and claw activities would not exist.

But for those who are persuaded that the theory of evolution is true, this is a nonsensical concept. Evolution requires millions of years of death and destruction: the life forms we currently observe are the result of a whole series of deaths.

Not so the original world described by the Creator in Genesis. Here, there is no killing.

 

A.6 A world without shame
The world that God created was a world without shame: ‘The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.’ (Genesis 2:25) They had none of that inhibiting, destructive self-awareness which causes us so much heartache.

No inferiority complexes (nor superiority complexes either). No self-negation. No inter-personal misunderstandings, tensions or conflicts. No regrets. No despair. No second-thoughts. Only inner peace, quietness and confidence. An undisturbed self-acceptance. A bubbling, unquenchable joy in being who you are and what you are.

How different is this from life as we know it today?

 

 

 

 

 

A.7 A world of freedom
The world that God created was a world of freedom:

‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden ...’ (Genesis 2:16)

‘He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.’ (Genesis 2:19)

‘… fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground’ (Genesis 1:28).

‘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’ (Genesis 1:29).

There is immense freedom here. Except for one boundary, which we will see in the next point, there is unlimited freedom. Where there is no sin, there is no need for law. There is no need to define ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. There is no need to outlaw destructive, hurtful actions. Such actions did not exist. They were not even thought of.

Law is necessary only in a world in which sin exists. Only sinners need to have their freedom restricted. Only sinners want to do the things that the law forbids. Law is necessary only in a fallen world. It is necessary to define, forbid, expose, and punish sin. If there was no law, there would be no limit on suffering.

Suggest how life would be in your local community if all law was removed.

 

 

 

A.8 The one boundary
In the world that God created, man’s freedom was not autonomous, but was within the fence of God’s command: ‘... but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ...’ (Genesis 2:17a).

This boundary is consistent with our human identity as dependent, responsible creatures. Only God is completely autonomous. That is, only God is not dependent on some other entity, and only God is not answerable to some other entity.

The one boundary informs us of our human dependence on God and our human accountability to God.

While at one level, the sovereignty of God is reflected in human dominion over the earth, at another level divine sovereignty is reflected by human responsibility/accountability to God. Similarly, while God’s dependability and faithfulness is reflected at one level by human dependability and faithfulness, it is also, at another level, reflected by human dependence on God and trust in God.

How do we best image the sovereignty of God? By submitting to him as our Sovereign Lord.
How do we best image God’s dependability and faithfulness? By depending on him and trusting him.

This one boundary expresses both who God is and who we are. It keeps us from reversing the two identities. [We will be looking at this boundary again in Study 4.]

Discuss and comment on how the following human ideas mess with the existence and/or purpose of this boundary:

Atheism, which believes there is no such thing as ‘God’.

 

Secular humanism, which believes that humans hold their destiny and that of the universe in their hands.

 

Post-modernism, which teaches that there are no absolutes regarding either truth or morals.

 

Hedonism, which believes that if something feels good, or makes you feel good, it is good.

 

A.9 The potential to live for ever
In the world that God created, humans had the potential to live for ever: ‘In the middle of the garden (was) the tree of life ...’ (Genesis 2:9; see also 3:22).

The promises of the gospel make it very clear that God’s desire for us is eternal life.

Check the following texts. What is the promise and result of the gospel?
John 3:16

John 10:10

John 11:25,26

Romans 5:21

Romans 6:23

Titus 1:2

Titus 3:7

Revelation 2:7

Revelation 22:2

Revelation 22:5

What Jesus both promised and accomplished for us, was here, in the world as God created it, freely available. This access to ‘the tree of life’, this eternal life, is what God created us for.

 

A.10 The possibility of sin and death
In the world that God created sin and death did not exist. They were possible only outside the boundary of God’s command: ‘...but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’ (Genesis 2:17)

In the world that God created sin and death, and the suffering caused by sin, and the suffering that causes death, thus existed only as a possibility inferred by God’s one prohibition. We will look further at this in Study 4.

 

A.11 The relationship between God and humans.
In the world that God created there was an uninhibited relationship between God and humans.

Read these verses. What do they infer about the original relationship between God and humans?
Genesis 1:28-30

 

Genesis 2:15-22

 

Just as we have never experienced a world without suffering, so also we have never experienced the perfect relationship that existed between God and Adam and Eve in Genesis 1 and 2. This was a relationship without prohibition or inhibition, without shame or guilt, and without anxiety, uncertainty or fear.

For those of us who are reconciled to God by the death of his Son significant elements of this relationship have been restored; others are in the process of being restored. And the more we know and believe Jesus Christ, and the salvation we have in him, the more we will experience the relationship with God for which he created us, and then saved us.

Read these verses about salvation. What aspects of the original relationship are restored by the death of Christ for those who believe in him?
John 5:24

Romans 5:1

Romans 5:9,10

Romans 5:17

Ephesians 2:18

Colossians 1:19-22

 

Hebrews 9:14

Hebrews 10:22

 

From God’s perspective, the relationship is already completely restored for those who believe in Jesus Christ. God has made peace. He no longer takes account of our guilt. He no longer bans us from his presence. He has set us apart as his own, his precious treasure, his dearly loved children. Nothing can ever again interfere with this relationship. He has already removed us from ‘death’ and put us forever in ‘life’.

But, from our perspective, we perceive our restored relationship with God only imperfectly. At times, we think and we live as though things that we do, or things that we fail to do, can again interfere, can again sever the relationship, can diminish God’s love, can again attract God’s wrath.

But the angels announcing the birth of Christ said:

‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy
… on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests’ (Luke 2:10,14).

The original relationship between God and humans was one of peace and joy. The relationship restored by the death of God’s Son is, in God’s intention and from God’s perspective, similarly one of peace and joy. But three things inhibit our enjoyment of this restored relationship:

The fact that we live in the context of sin and suffering. This will end only with the creation of the new heavens and the new earth.

The imperfection of our understanding of who Jesus is and what Jesus accomplished by his death and resurrection for those who believe in him.

The imperfection of our trust in what Jesus accomplished by his death and resurrection.

There is nothing much we can do to alter the first of these. Sin and suffering continue during this age of grace. However, we can do something to reduce the sin (in our own lives) and to alleviate the suffering of others as Jesus did. [More about that in Study 13.]

But there is a lot we can do about the second and third:

We can diligently study and strive to understand the Bible, where God has graciously recorded all that we need to know about him and about the complete salvation that he planned before the beginning of time and accomplished once-for-all in and through Jesus Christ his Son.

We can, through increasing our understanding of both salvation and of God himself, also increase our trust in God as God’s Spirit opens our eyes and strengthens our hearts and minds. The more we know him and what he has done, the more we are enabled to trust him, his work and his word.

Only then will the peace and joy in his presence, that he so dearly desires for us, dominate our relationship with him.


A previous Australian Prime Minister used to say ‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy!’ The truth is that life was meant to be easy.

And how often do we hear people say things like ‘There’s got to be more to life than this!’ The truth is that there is more than this.

The first two chapters of the Bible and the last two chapters of the Bible tell us how life was meant to be, and what it will be. They tell us that there actually is more to life, far more, than the proliferation of sin and suffering that surrounds us. Those of us who know Jesus Christ already see in micro and in part what we will one day experience in glorious and unlimited macro.