In 1969, as Apollo 11 circled the moon, Neil Armstrong’s voice echoed down to earth with some of the Bible’s most familiar words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. As Genesis 1:1 stands, it is a simple yet profound statement of fact. Yet it is also more than that. It is factual, yes, but it is also liturgical. Genesis 1:1 is the first call to worship. In the first line of Scripture, God calls us to worship him for who he is and what he has done in creation.
The theology behind the liturgy
Genesis 1:1 is liturgical because it is primarily theological. By a good and necessary consequence, we can reasonably deduce twelve attributes of God from this one verse.
1. God is one
In the beginning there was God and only God. This is one of the great affirmations of the Bible: there is one God, and besides him there is no other (Isaiah 45:5). The unity of God, otherwise known as simplicity, is tied to this truth. Because God is Creator and not created, he is a simple being and not a compound being. God is one; it has no parts. Indeed, in the Old Testament, the oneness of God is at the heart of the worship of Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4).
2. God is Spirit
Before the creation of the heavens and the earth, there was only God. Space, time, matter and energy were all created by it, which means that it does not itself consist of space, time, matter or energy. As Creator, God is distinct in essence from the world he created. In the New Testament, Jesus explicitly states what is implicitly said here: “God is spirit” (John 4:24).
3. God is eternal
For God to be present in the beginning, he had to exist before the beginning of time, which means that God is out of time. His existence is eternal. He was there at the beginning because he had no beginning, and he will be there at the end because he has no end either. God was and is and must come—he is eternal. “Before the mountains were formed, or you formed the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity you are God” (Psalm 90:2).
4. God is infinite
The phrase “heavens and earth” is a merism: two polar opposites that also include everything in between. In other words, “In the beginning God made all.” By all, however, we should not just think of the physical universe. The heavens and the earth include the invisible as well as the visible, invisible and visible realms. Given their created nature, these kingdoms are finite, but for God to create finite kingdoms, he himself must be infinite. The Bible conveys this truth by affirming his vastness or omnipresence (Isaiah 6:3; Jeremiah 23:23-24), but also by declaring how unfathomable his majesty is: “Great is the Lord, and most praiseworthy, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3).
5. God is immutable
Before God created everything, he simply was. This means that there was nothing outside of God that could change him – his being was the same throughout eternity past. And after he created everything, since the universe was (and is) dependent on him, he could not (and cannot) change it. God remained the same in past eternity, and he will remain the same in future eternity. The God who was, who is and who is to come is the same God. In short, it is immutable. “Every good and perfect gift comes from on high, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
6. God exists by himself
God existed before the world, and therefore he did not depend on what he had created. In his essence, God is independent; he does not rely on anything or anyone for his existence. Theologians call this that of God aseityLatin one se, which means that God is “from himself”. That is, God derives his existence from himself and not from anything else. God is to be pure; indeed, his name East To be. When Moses asks God his name, he replies, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:13-14).
7. God is life
For God to create life in the heavens and on the earth—angels, vegetation, fish, birds, creeping things, animals, and men—he had to have life in himself. God had to be the living God to create living things. The Bible affirms that God is life itself (1 John 5:20), has life in himself (John 5:26), is the source of life (Psalm 36:9) and is he in whom we live, move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Indeed, God says of himself: “As I live forever. . .” (Deuteronomy 32:40).
8. God is immortal
Since God lived by himself in an undisturbed life before creation, there was nothing that could take his life away. And since what he created depends on him for life, there is still nothing that can take his life. God has life in himself, which means that nothing in heaven or on earth can take it away from him. God cannot die. He is immortal. As Paul told Timothy:[God] alone has immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16).
9. God is Creator
The verb to create is a rather unique verb in the Old Testament. It occurs about forty times and never has anything but God as its subject. In the Bible, only God creates, which is just another way of saying that only God is the Creator. “All the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens” (Psalm 96:5).
10. God is omnipotent
If, in the beginning, God the Creator made everything out of nothing, then he must be almighty. He must be omnipotent – able to carry out his will as he pleases. As Paul affirms to the Church of Ephesus, God “is able to do more than anything we ask or think.” Therefore, “to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus in all generations forever and ever” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
11. God is omniscient
If, in the beginning, God the Creator made everything out of nothing, then he must be infinitely wise. He must be omniscient – able to carry out his will without instruction or interference from anyone. As Jeremiah the prophet says, God is “who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding extended the heavens” (Jeremiah 10:12).
12. God is Sovereign
If God is the all-powerful, all-wise Creator of everything, then after creating the heavens and the earth, he must have retained control of them. The heavens and the earth cannot escape the sovereignty of God because they were created by God and remain dependent on God. Thus, everything that unfolds in the history of the heavens and the earth must remain under the sovereign control of God. “I know you can do anything, and none of your purposes can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
Spirit and Word
We can summarize these twelve great truths about God from Genesis 1:1 in one sentence:
God is one spirit, eternal, infinite, changeless, self-existent, living and immortal in his being, the omnipotent, omniscient and Sovereign Creator of all things in heaven and on earth, of all things visible and invisible.
“God remained the same in eternity past, and he will remain the same in eternity to come.”
This is the God we encounter in the first verse of the Bible. And as such, we are called to adore him. Worship is what the living creatures in heaven are doing right now as they sing, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory, honor, and power, for you created all things , and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11). If this is the response of the heavenly creatures as they contemplate who God is and what he has done in creation, then what should our response be as his creatures on earth?
However, Christian worship is more than just wholehearted worship of God as the Creator of all. The verses that follow Genesis 1:1 can help us here. After the initial act of creation, the Spirit of God is said to be present (Genesis 1:2), hovering over the waters. And then God speaks through his word to form and fill his creation (Genesis 1:3-2:3). We could therefore accurately summarize God’s work in creation as follows: In the beginning, God created everything out of nothing through the agents of his word and his Spirit.
The apostle John expands on this truth at the beginning of his gospel, declaring that it was indeed Christ, the eternal Word, who was present in the beginning with God, acting as his agent in creation (John 1:1-5). And the apostle Paul writes of Christ in similar terms:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created by him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him everything holds together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
“In the beginning there was God and only God.”
So what we have in Genesis 1:1-3 is a call to worship God for who he is and what he has done in creation – through Christ and for Christ.
Our worship of God, of course, involves so much more. But the first verses of the Bible provide us with the beginning and the foundation of Christian worship. So the next time you hear the opening words of Genesis, listen to them as God’s call to come and worship him through his Son and his Spirit. This is what celestial creatures have been doing since the beginning of creation:
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, now is and always will be an endless world. Amen.