From Creation to Incarnation and Back
From Creation to Incarnation and Back
In 1994 the late Astronomer Carl Sagan, published a book entitled, “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.” In that book he said, The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. … Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
Outside the rhetorical flourish, this tells us much about the general atheistic worldview and mindset concerning creation and our place in it. This perspective will tell us we are insignificant in the vast schema of cosmic reality; we are no different than any other cosmic spheroid; we are not unique; whatever calamities we envision and enact upon ourselves, we are left to our own devices to remedy them – there is no help coming from the outside or from anywhere else for that matter; we are alone, isolated, and to be pitied for our self-aggrandizement. How dare we think that we have some special place in the cosmic scheme of things.
These few insights from our atheistic friends, and there are oh so many more, tell us numerous facts about the atheist; however, it also gives insight into one of the reasons there is such a cacophonous harangue concerning the opening chapters of Genesis. It helps us to understand one of the reasons why atheists must destroy the traditional understanding of the Creation Narrative of the first 3 chapters of Genesis. Because Christianity stands and falls on this narrative.
Imagine, if the first 3 Chapters of Genesis are false, there is:
No creation of the universe.
If there is no creation of the universe there is no creation of a replica of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
If there is no replication of the kingdom of heaven, there is no earth.
If there is no earth, there is no Adam and Eve.
If there is no Adam and Eve there is no Fall.
If there is no Fall there is no alienation from God (if there even is a God).
If there is no Fall there is no Sin.
If there is no Sin, there is no need for redemption.
If there is no need for redemption, there is no need for sacrifice.
If there is no need for sacrifice, there is no need for a savior.
If there is no need for a savior there is no need for Jesus.
If there is no need for Jesus, there is no salvation.
If there is no salvation, there is no heaven (or hell for that matter).
If there is no heaven, all we have is what we have here.
This is a very simple presentation as to the importance of the first 3 chapters of Genesis. Which should prompt us to also see the importance of the Incarnation, to which we will now turn our attention.
As Christians we place our trust, justifiably so, in the Word of God. The infallibility of its contents, the beauty of its prose, the power of its message, leave us with a sense of awe that the God of the universe would bless us with the gift of verbally expressing Himself and revealing His character to us.
However, our love for God’s word can sometimes morph into an odd, albeit attenuated ancient heresy – Gnosticism. We place SO much emphasis on the verbal and conceptual that we ofttimes fail to recognize or even, omit, the physical reality of what God has communicated to us in that very word.
Even then, when we have occasion to recognize the physical reality of what God has revealed to us in His Word, it seems we give it a half-life of but the briefest of moments. Here today, forgotten tomorrow.
One of the reasons for this, I believe, is we have an underdeveloped, faulty perception, or just plain lack of understanding of the true starting point for all things revelatory – heaven. So that, when we come to a doctrine such as the Incarnation, we want to begin on the physical plane (ironic as that appears) instead of the heavenly.
The Incarnation, if we would only pause to reflect for the briefest of moments, begins in heaven. For it is in heaven where the God of the universe utters His divine pronouncements. It was from the throne of Grace that the triune Godhead determined to create the universe as the physical extension and representation of His Heavenly Kingdom! The Bible tells us that the entire cosmos, the universe is His temple!
The Unifying Thread
When we, as Christians, do attempt to acknowledge the import of the physical in our understanding of theological motifs, we often focus on the wrong syllABLE; we major on the wrong point.
Ancient Near Eastern Cosmology in general and Hebrew Cosmology specifically, understood the Temple (in this case the Jewish Temple) to be a miniature version of the universe, which was to function as a giant temple itself. Consider the following by Jason Lowe:
The Temple was built in 7 years (I kings 6:38).
Temple priests were ordained in seven days (Ex. 29:35)
The temple was dedicated on the seventh month for seven days (1 Kings 8:31-55)
The tabernacle instructions are structured by seven divine speeches (Exodus 25-31)
Temple instructions are given in sections of seven (Ex. 24:1-34:28)
The priestly instructions are in sections of seven (the book of Leviticus)
How the high priest must enter the temple’s core is explained in sections of seven (Leviticus chapter 16)
The connection of seven to temples would have been thoroughly understood by the original audience, including its meaning and significance. By making the creation in seven days, Genesis is portraying the construction of the cosmos as the building of a temple.
Further, the literary structure and vocabulary of Genesis 1-2 is carefully riddled with groups of sevens.
7 days of creation
7 pronouncements that creation is “good.”
7 Hebrew terms in vs 1
14 (7 x 2) Hebrew terms in vs 2.
To cite a few.
While Christians and atheists such as the late Dr. Sagan get hung up on whether creation occurred instantaneously (St. Augustine), in 24-hour periods (the majority of evangelicals today), or large epochs, we miss the core purpose of the creation account, namely, the sovereign, triune, transcendent God of the universe, created this universe TO DWELL WITH, RESIDE WITH, LIVE WITH US!
Don’t get me wrong, the manner of creation is important so long as we understand its import is that God Created IT. All of those other issues become secondary once we understand that fact.
The Meat and Potatoes
So, God has labored to reveal to us that:
a) He has created the universe to be a complete cosmic temple;
b) in this cosmic temple He specifically identifies this “pale blue dot” to be His specific Garden-Temple Sanctuary;
c) He has created and placed His vice-regent, His representatives in this Garden-Temple to dwell with Him, to rule under His authority, to minister to Him, to proclaim His sovereign love and goodness all the days of their lives.
Creation, as the cosmic expression of God's intent to create an environment of perfection where He would dwell, created man as the capstone of this divine activity. In other words, He placed man in His earthly residence/Temple Sanctuary to be Prophet, Priest, and King! And they, placed there, we to represent NOT only God to His earthly people but represent us before God! Adam’s representation and all of its ramifications and consequences draw us directly into the story. If there is no physical Adam and his representation of mankind in the garden, there is no Christ and His substitution for His people on the cross. Death is our lot in Adam, but life is only found in Christ (Rom 5:12ff).
The import of the physical should now be seen, not as an afterthought, but as integral to the entire theological project of Christianity. As stated at the beginning, “No creation, no …” etc (you fill in the rest). The physical nature of Christianity is so theologically critical that the cosmic treason of Adam and Eve requiring redemption, atonement, and reconciliation with God became the narrative of virtually everything that follows in Scripture!
God immediately performs the physical act of sacrifice to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness. This then becomes the foreshadowing of redemption throughout history. He offers the promise of grace, of restoration, and reconciliation to Adam and Eve, through their progeny, to all humanity. First through Shem. Then He narrows it down to a specific ethnic representation of mankind, the Jews, in Abraham. He further narrows it down to a particular family of Jews, Judah, and then to a very specific family within Judah, the house of Jesse and even then, God wasn’t satisfied with this limited representation, particularity, and specificity, He further narrowed it down to one person in the House of Jesse, David. From this one person would come a savior and all of mankind would know redemption!
If we don’t see how important the physical nature of Christianity is to our understanding of what we believe, how can we truly understand anything that we do IN THE FAITH? This redemptive narrative is both spiritual and physical. We are, once again, drawn back to the Temple picture; a House, a House of worship, a House for us to worship where God dwells, a House for God to dwell among and with us! If we don’t see the power of the physical nature of this, how can we understand that God dwelling with us reaches its zenith in Christ! And it doesn't end there for we must worship Christ in some manner, in some location! Spirituality and physicality linked; united.
Everything we subsequently see in scripture has both the physical and spiritual inexorably, indivisibly, undividedly linked! We are not adherents of Greek, Platonic philosophy where the “body” is the prison house of the soul. NO! For in creation God made it perfectly clear, 7 times as a matter of fact, that the physical is good! In Christianity, you cannot have the one without the other!
A Pale Blue Dot indeed! One that was created, with the attendant universe surrounding it, by God, where God placed mankind, specifically – not Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Saturn, or Alpha Centauri – to be His prophet, priest, and king and for God to dwell with us now and forever. Christianity is not only a spiritual religion, but it also revels in God’s Good physical creation and makes that physical element an integral part of all that she is, does, and will be! For Christ came in the flesh! And it was GOOD for us!
Soli Deo Gloria.
Next week, we will conclude with “God Dwelling with Us!”