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Better Than the Beginning: Creation in Biblical Perspective Paperback – February 27, 2013
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"God’s story [recorded for us in the Bible] tells us that He created, what He created in the first place, why He created man and what man’s supposed to do, why there’s so much trouble on the earth, and where history is heading."
God’s act of creation and purpose for it did not end at Genesis chapter one. Of course there are many places in the Bible that speak about creation. In many of the verses that reference creation, we see Christ’s role and preeminence in creation. Christ is central in creation, for after the fall and ruin of it, He entered into it for the purpose of redeeming it.
First Barcellos points out that the universe – all of creation, everything we see or that has ever existed, both living and inanimate – exists because of and for God. Why?
"Because God is the source, originator, and creator of all things… He is the designer of all things, and He needs no help… God is the sustainer and providential ruler of all things…God not only made all things, He preserves all things, and He does so the way He wants to."
The truth is that all that God made and all that He does with what He made is to reveal who He is and to display His glory. Barcellos states,
"God has made all things and sustains all things for His glory and does not need to consult us concerning how to bring glory to Himself in what He does… God is in the business of fetching glory for Himself….He regards Himself supremely. God created all things so that He would have a stage on which to display Himself. God takes supreme delight in making Himself known."
Because of who He is, this is not inappropriately or arrogantly prideful or narcissistic of Him, as it would be for any created being. He did not have to make Himself known to us; we can only know God in as much as He has chosen to reveal Himself. Indeed, if He did not make the effort to do so there is no way we could ever know about Him, let alone have a relationship with Him. The author heavily draws from Scripture to show that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each have a role in creation and are united in this purpose: to make Him known. Creation tells of God’s glory. It reveals His existence, His attributes, and His “otherness” or divinity. However more was needed, as Barcellos explains,
"The Bible is God’s testimony of His condescending love to sinners, centering upon Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. It was for us and for our salvation that the Son of God assumed human nature. And it was for us and for our salvation that God took the time to record His way of salvation in a book. Though creation testifies of God’s existence, only Scripture reveals the way of salvation through Jesus Christ."
God did not reveal to us in the first chapter of Genesis how the world was created merely to satisfy our curiosity or to establish the foundations for the sciences to be studied. He revealed it to lay the groundwork for His plan of redemption – the "scarlet thread" that runs through the entirety of scripture. The theme emphasized throughout Genesis 1 is “God made…and it was good.” We cannot appreciate or understand the seriousness of our fallen condition without understanding the state from which creation fell. Only by seeing the serious consequences and impact of sin can we grasp why redemption is needed and what we need to be saved from. Additionally, we will come to realize that only the Creator Himself could provide the remedy and restore His creation to its original state, for the fallen creature is incapable of doing so for itself.
In light of creation, it’s important to understand what man is. Is man any more special or important than the rest of the organisms in the universe? According to such passages as Psalm 8, the Bible makes it clear that man is unique, that the Creator breathed the spirit of life into him (something He did not do with the other living creatures), He set His eye upon humanity; in fact, the second person of the Godhead would become one of them. Man is indeed the climax, the masterpiece of all of God’s creation. In what way is man set apart? Genesis 1: 26-28 and 2:7, 15 identify a couple of these right off the bat.
Man was made in the image or after the likeness of God before the corruption of the fall; this involved man’s having moral uprightness, a true knowledge of God, and a right (unbroken) relationship with God. Being made in God’s image, it was man’s responsibility to reflect God, “more than any other aspect of creation.” Barcellos explains what Adam’s identity and calling was, why his failing was so tragic, and why a remedy was required. Looking at the orders God gave Adam after placing him in the garden (the place where Adam communed with God and served Him, and thus can be considered to be the first “temple” of God), Barcellos proceeds to demonstrate how Adam was given the roles of a prophet, a priest, and a king. In these roles he failed, unable to carry them out perfectly, but they later would be fulfilled perfectly by the second Adam, Jesus Christ. I found the section that compares the life, roles, and work of the second Adam with that of the first very helpful and insightful, and an encouraging reminder of why we needed Christ and all that He accomplished by His life and death.
The book ends with an overview of the concepts and themes that tie the beginning of the Bible with the end. This is where the title of the book is really brought to light. In considering these observations, I recommend reading the first three chapters of Genesis followed by the last three chapters of Revelation. Look for all the parallel language and symbolism; this is not a coincidence. For example, compare Genesis 1:1 with Revelation 21:1; and Genesis 2:9-12 with Revelation 21:10, 19-21 and 22:1-2. The devil, the curse, and death itself, which are introduced at the beginning, are done away with at the end. Both Eden and the New Jerusalem are described using temple language. Eden can be seen as the first temple, where God dwelt with His people. Like the temple of Jerusalem, Eden and the New Jerusalem are described as being situated on a mountain. These bookends help to put the entire Bible into context. It is not a collection of random people and stories. It’s one story, from beginning to end, of what God started and what He will bring to completion.
Finally, Dr. Barcellos gives an enlightening explanation of the idea of the Sabbath in light of both the creation week and the eternal rest that awaits Christ’s people. When God rested on the seventh day after creating the world, it signified that his work of creating, or as Barcellos phrases it, “temple-building,” was complete, and He then could sit, enthroned as ruler over His creation. The Sabbath was instituted, not in the Ten Commandments by Moses, but at Creation. As an ordinance to be observed, it pictures a future reality. Unlike the many Hebrew ceremonies, rituals and festivals which pointed forward to the work of Christ that He fulfilled, God’s rest points to the eternal state. The writer of the book of Hebrews refers to this in quite a few passages, as Barcellos points out by citing them specifically. He goes into much more detail than I can provide in this brief overview, but let’s just say that in my personal opinion, the last three chapters alone are worth purchasing the book for.
The important conclusion Barcellos makes is that no matter what society tries to do to correct what it views as social injustice or inequity, or a national government tries to do to bring freedom, or a global organization tries to do to bring about world peace -- no acts of humanity will ever be able to fix what is wrong in this world, because humanity is what introduced sin, the ultimate cause for all that is wrong and evil in the world. No, the answer can only be found in the Bible, which shows that from the very beginning, even before the Fall took place in the Garden of Eden (which, by the way, did not take God by surprise, forcing Him to come up with a Plan B), God has had a plan for redeeming His creation through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Like Randy Alcorn points out in his book Heaven, God is in the business of restoring, redeeming, resurrecting and renewing. He did not abandon His creation, but sent Christ to redeem, not only mankind, but all of creation, and to restore it to its perfect state, in fact, a glorified, "new and improved" version of the original! Barcellos writes,
"The gospel is news from God that He has devised a way to repair human nature and take all creation to a glorious end. That glorious end, the city of God, new Jerusalem, the eternal state, the new heavens and new earth, is better than the beginning."
I don't think most of us give much thought to this in our every day lives. Surely this is something to be excited about and to look forward to, and it will be something we will marvel in and praise God for throughout all of eternity!
The question of origins is something everyone must address, believer and atheist and all in between. Either affirms the God of the Bible as Creator or they seek some other alternative means by which everything in the universe came into existence. Believers, if they are to remain true to the Scriptures, must declare God as Creator. So beyond the argument over the length of the days of Creation and the age of the earth, God as Creator has to be an agreed upon element of the overall discussion. Perhaps more importantly is the question of why God created everything. To this question, Barcellos declares “The answer of the Bible is that the God who speaks to us through that which He has made and in His written word, the Bible, made all things for His own glory.” It is that fundamental premise which Barcellos builds his discussion upon throughout this excellent book.
Because through Him all things were created, this presents an important focal point for believers to grasp, namely that nothing exists apart from God and for His glory. Such a viewpoint and worldview greatly impacts how we live our lives and Barcellos continually drives home that point, specifically the issue that things such as divine providence, sovereignty, and quite frankly who God is and why He alone is worthy of worship. For instance, Barcellos rightly comments in relation to Romans 11:36, “Knowing that God made all things, preserves all things, and directs all things to their ordained end, and all for His glory, is a marvelous comfort for believers in Christ.” As finite human beings, we continually will have questions of why certain things happen. Understanding God as Creator provides an answer to the why mysteries of life.
Creation also speaks to other theological truths such as the trinity. When one looks at the account of creation found in the opening chapters of Genesis as well as in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, it is quite clear the entire Godhead was involved in the act of creation. Barcellos does an excellent job of discussing a rather involved aspect of theology, namely the concept of the trinity, nicely tying this theological truth to the account of Creation, along the way noting why it is necessary to look at the account of creation and the various passages throughout Scripture that speak of that event to build your theology concerning the trinity. This is an element one might not expect to find in a book focused on creation; however, Barcellos understands the overall discussion of creation is more than just arguing over the days of creation or the age of the earth, both topics which he does note are very important and issues which he does tackle.
One thing anyone can attest to if they have been around the globe or even looked outside the window of their home is creation is marvelous. But what does this marvelous creation tell us about God? Barcellos avers using Psalm 19 as the springboard for his discussion on this issue that creation shouts out the glory of God. This is what is known in theological terminology as natural revelation. Nature reveals the glory of God. Unfortunately, as Barcellos so rightly notes because of sin man is unable to look at God’s creative works and come to a place of realization of God as Creator and sovereign Lord. Furthermore, he aptly states “The problem is not that there is no evidence for God’s existence. The problem is what we do with the evidence.”
As one who affirms a biblical creationist position, namely a young earth and six literal days of creation whereby God created ex nihilo all things, I appreciated the manner in which Barcellos addressed the first two chapters of Genesis. He rightly notes that God is eternal, something clearly found in the first four words of Scripture, “In the beginning God…” It was by the very word of God that all things came into being. Barcellos states “Here we see a definite, intelligent, designed, controlled act of God. And we should expect that what God makes reflects a definiteness, intelligence, design, and control. God is not viewed as a cosmic mechanic here, working with pre-existing parts and putting them together. He is the cause of the material which comes into existence by His power.”
Perhaps a more important aspect of Genesis 1 that many overlook but which Barcellos aptly points out is the reason why the account of creation is found in Scripture. He asserts and rightly so “The reason why Genesis 1:1 exists is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end and the end is not that you would admit that you are made or even that God made you. Genesis was written to the people of God. It was written as part of a covenantal document. It was written to show the ancient people of God where they fit in God’s purposes on earth.” That excellent commentary reveals the necessary understanding that God is a God of relationship. He is certainly Creator; however, He created everything for a reason, to give Him glory and to have relationship with His creation. This is why when sin entered the picture and impacted that relationship, it was necessary for a Redeemer to come to rectify and restore that relational aspect of creation.
When it comes to the issue of the days of creation, one can cut the tension with a knife when the opposing viewpoints begin to clash. Barcellos keeps the issue rather simple commenting “There are no compelling reasons in Genesis 1 to understand the word “day” when referring to each of the six days of creation in any other way than the ordinary day cycle, which is twenty-four hours in length. He then does on to demonstrate from the context of Genesis 1 the textual and hermeneutical reasons why six literal days of creation is most consistent with the biblical text. I was pleased to see Barcellos also include in this discussion Exodus 20:11 as that passage clearly connects a literal six day work week and a literal one day Sabbath with God’s activities during the creation week.
One final element of this excellent book I would like to draw attention to is the discussion of how the front of the Bible and the end of the Bible are tied together by creation and the concept of the Sabbath rest. Barcellos aptly states “The issue of the Sabbath has caused much ink to be spilled in our day as well as in previous days. Sabbath simply means rest…In order to understand the Bible correctly, we have to understand what the Creator’s Sabbath means, not only for us but for God.” It is rather obvious that an omnipotent God did not need to physically rest. This means the idea of rest carries with it much more than catching up on physical sleep or taking a break from working all week long. What perhaps is often overlooked is exactly what God was creating and why He rested. Barcellos brings up some very interesting points concerning the connection between the temple and rest. Concerning why God rested on the seventh day, Barcellos comments “The Creator’s Sabbath indicates the completion of the earth as God’s temple and the announcement of His enthronement over it as King.” In blessing the Sabbath day and making it holy, it is thus set aside as a time for the creation to recognize God as King. Barcellos notes regarding things of a future nature which believers look forward to that “it is a symbol of what could and will happen in the future for man. This rest of God is something man will one day enjoy”, specifically the elect who will one day be in the presence of their Creator for all eternity. Thus a “temporal, earthy symbol exists as long as the consummation of rest is not enjoyed in its fullness.” Perhaps this discussion by Barcellos on the real nature of the Sabbath, its importance, and what it ultimately points to will scale down some of the argument over this issue, serving to refocus us to what the Sabbath is all about and why God established it.
Better Than the Beginning by Richard Barcellos is an excellent book on the subject of creation and how that issue weaves its way throughout Scripture. I highly recommend it for scholars and layman alike. Written in a scholarly yet accessible manner, this book will challenge some preconceived notions on certain subjects such as the Sabbath and it elaborates on other issues such as the trinity and the purpose of creation, thus providing a holistic perspective on why creation matters when studying Scripture.
I received this book for free from Reformed Baptist Academic Press for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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