Outside my study window, autumnal winds have stripped bare the trees and a grey squirrel is busy hoarding away another chestnut. I briefly ponder the wonder of the natural world with all its abundance and variety.
The news on my mobile phone awakens me to a contrasting reality. It makes for grim reading: Ukrainians lacking electricity and water due to missile attacks; Afghans giving sedatives to their starving children because they cannot afford bread. A mass shooting.
We live in a world of dichotomies. Good and evil surround us. Both touch our lives. A close friend dies suddenly, and life is turned upside down. We feel powerless. Is this how God intended things to be?
Trying to make sense of the human experience leads some to conclude that we live in an absurd world. As the author of Ecclesiastes observes, life under the sun appears meaningless. From a purely earthly perspective, it is difficult to explain the dichotomies of our existence.
But the Bible, as divine revelation, offers another perspective on our world, a view from beyond the sun. It describes the source of all our ills and offers the only solution that can give us long-term security from the chaos that surrounds us. Through its library of inspired writings, the Bible provides a grand story that begins with the creation of our present world and anticipates the creation of a new world. Importantly, the inhabitants of this future world consist of those who, having experienced this present world, are redeemed by God to enjoy eternal life in his glorious presence.
To understand the world that is yet to come, we must begin with the creation of this present world, for these divinely created worlds are intimately connected. At the heart of the opening chapter of Genesis lies the creation of humans, whom God privileges above all other earthly creatures by bestowing on them authority to rule over this earth. However, humans are not given autonomy to rule as they see fit. Their authority comes from God, and they are to rule as his vicegerents. As the human population expands, they are to establish God’s kingdom throughout the earth. Consequently, the earth will become God’s dwelling place, a temple-city where the Lord God will dwell in harmony with those who love and serve him.
God’s creation project, however, suffers a dramatic setback. As the early chapters of Genesis reveal, Adam and Eve betray their creator. They opt to believe the deceptive lies of a mysterious serpent who cunningly persuades them to disregard God’s instructions. With tragic consequences, Adam and Eve dismiss the trust that God placed in them as his vicegerents. Not only do they fail to control the serpent, but they become enslaved to it. Consequently, the serpent, later revealed to be the devil/satan, takes control of this earth. With good reason, the devil/satan is known as ‘the ruler of this world’ (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). As such, he can tempt Jesus with ‘all the kingdoms of the world’ (Matthew 5:8-9; Luke 4:5-7).
Despite being slighted by Adam and Eve, God does not abandon them to their fate. He announces that the serpent will eventually be defeated by one of Eve’s descendants (Genesis 3:15). This promise has long been known as the protoevangelium, the first announcement of the gospel. In the light of this expectation the rest of Genesis traces a unique family line, a patriline that will eventually lead to Jesus Christ.
The story of this family line shapes the book of Genesis. Due to Cain’s murder of Abel, the quest for the woman’s offspring is linked to the descendants of Eve’s third son Seth. A linear genealogy, naming only one person in each generation, records the patriline from Adam, through Seth, to Noah (Genesis 5:1-32).
Against a background of almost universal violence, through righteous Noah, God saves from drowning a handful of humans and other creatures. With the subsidence of the floodwaters, a fresh start is made, but human nature remains corrupted.
Like Adam and Eve, the post-flood population aspires to depose God as their divine king. Constructing a city, they deploy their God given skills to create a tower that will give them access to heaven itself (Genesis 11:1-9). God, however, thwarts their aspirations and undermines their ability to work in harmony by dividing them into tribes and nations that speak different languages.
Despite this splintering of humanity, God does not abandon his commitment to send a serpent-slayer who will bring salvation to the nations. To this end, the patriline of Noah, through his son Shem, leads to Abraham (Genesis 11:10-26). With Abraham God establishes a special covenant, guaranteeing that he will be the spiritual father of many nations (Genesis 17:4-5). In this context, the concept of father is used metaphorically to denote someone who has authority over others. Importantly, the eternal covenant of circumcision guarantees that one of Abraham’s biological descendants will be a faithful vicegerent who will establish God’s kingdom on earth.
The promises given to Abraham are subsequently inherited by successive members of the unique patriline. Isaac pronounces on Jacob a blessing that nations will serve him, and people bow down to him (Genesis 27:29). Despite being sold as a slave, Joseph becomes “father to Pharaoh” (Genesis 45:8) and saves many nations during a time of famine. And Jacob’s blessing of Judah looks forward to a future king who will enjoy “the obedience of the nations’ (Genesis 49:10).
By anticipating the coming of a future king, who will defeat the serpent and bring God’s blessing to the nations, Genesis looks forward to the coming of Jesus Christ. Through him, God will ultimately enable the spiritual children of Abraham to enjoy his presence on a renewed earth (see Revelation 21:1-22:5). In Jesus Christ we find the answer to all our personal and global problems.