In the beginning
Right now the whole world is considering beginnings. But usually they’re the beginnings that we will make. “New year, new you” and all that.
What about the beginning that God has made? Let’s think about that for a minute.
Wind back the clock to the time before people and planets and protons, what was there?
Where do your thoughts go? What images spring to mind?
Here are some popular answers to the question, What was there in the beginning?
There was nothing in the beginning. Just a big dark endless expanse of empty space. (Of course, that’s not nothing, that’s a whole lotta black something, but let’s not get picky).
I don’t know about you, but this was my reflex thought:
‘Before the universe?’ I scoff silently, ‘What else is there? What could possibly predate that? The universe is everything!’
These are the instinctive reactions of a supposed bible-believer. But I’m a bible-believer who, like you, has soaked for long years in a religious story very unlike the bible’s.
The story we’re told in a thousand ways and from a thousand sources begins, “In the beginning, there was nothing. And then – BANG – something (everything!) from nothing.”
In this story our origins lie in some kind of absolute zero point. Bring it all back to basics and what do you get? Nothing. King Lear said “Nothing will come from nothing.” But this story says, everything comes from nothing.
Therefore what is life? It’s trying to work a something out of a nothing. Forget our origins, we came from nothing – just make it happen. Forge something, impose something, be a self-creator. Make some resolutions dammit! But know that ultimately, at bottom, it’s nothing.
Here’s another popular answer. What was there in the beginning?
Many of the world’s creation myths tell of wars in heaven. Battling gods jostle for pre-eminence and the losers are cast out. Creation may be explained as the place of exile for naughty deities or the body of a dead god. Or cosmic storms destroy the harmony of heaven and the universe is the rubble. Essentially the world comes out of conflict, killing and chaos.
This is a story of struggle and storms and selfishness. Life, therefore, is about fashioning something from the cosmic debris. But ultimately, at bottom, it’s chaos.
Or how about this for an answer. What was there in the beginning?
A lonely god.
Here’s one for the pious among us. Perhaps, this is what you imagined in the beginning. God.
Well, ok good, you’ve read on in the verse. But which God did you imagine? There are millions to choose from. I’m guessing that if you live in the west and you thought of God, you thought of a solitary God. All on his own.
But you know, such a thought is quite chilling.
Can you imagine this lonely god existing from all eternity. With no-one and nothing besides him. Just his own thoughts for company. He knows nothing of relationship, nothing of back-and-forth or give-and-take. He only knows absolute power and supremacy. That’s what comes naturally. Love does not. He’s like an awkward, older single guy who’s never had a girlfriend. For all eternity.
Now just imagine if this god was in the beginning. Imagine if this god created the heavens and the earth. To be honest I’d rather not live in that universe.
Because what would our lives mean if this were the story? Well they wouldn’t be nothing and they wouldn’t be chaos. They’d be slavery.
If the universe begins with the lonely god, then living in tune with reality means living before this god. And remember, for this god love does not come naturally. But power does. Most basically the world would exist to be in submission to the absolute will of this god. Therefore the meaning of life would be slavery.
You’ll be pleased to know that the bible points to something very different when it says “In the beginning.” Here’s the bible’s answer to the question, What was there in the beginning?
Let me explain.
The phrase “in the beginning” comes up three times in the bible. Once at the start of Genesis and then twice at the start of John’s Gospel.
In Genesis it says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And it goes on to describe God’s creation in plural terms. The Spirit of God moves upon the waters (Genesis 1:2). The Word of God brings everything into being (v3ff). And when this God decides to make humanity, it’s a committee decision: “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26)
In John it says: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2)
John is just refreshing our memory of Genesis. In the beginning there was not a lonely god. In the beginning there was one Person called “God”, who John later calls “the Father” (v14). But there was another Person called “the Word”. He also has the right to the title “God”. And soon John will give Him some more familiar names: “The Son of God” and “Jesus Christ” (v14,17). Later on John will also tell us about the Holy Spirit – He too was in the beginning.
So this is ultimate reality according to the bible. Before anything else was, there was a Father loving His Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit. For all eternity there was give-and-take, back-and-forth. There was closeness, friendliness, interaction, intimacy. In short, in the beginning there was love.
Now what’s the meaning of life when we understand this beginning?
Well we’re saved from nothingness and we’re saved from chaos. But wonderfully we are not delivered into the hands of the lonely god, to be mere slaves. No, this God does not create to display His power but to spread His love. The meaning of our lives is not to cower before our creator but to be wooed by our heavenly Lover.
So then, whatever beginnings we resolve to make today, there is good news. An ultimate beginning has been made – one that shapes everything. We have not come from nothing or from chaos or from selfishness. We have come from a God of love. And His unshakeable resolution is to draw us in.