Genesis is a book that says, ‘start here’. If we want to understand the world around us and our role in it, start here. If we want to understand the mess that we and the world around us are in, start here. If we want to understand the role and value of science in our world, start here.
Interestingly, even our unbelieving, scientifically-minded friends know to ‘start here’. You may have discovered that it doesn’t take long in a discussion about Christianity for the questions surrounding origins to come up. ‘Surely you don’t believe that the world is 6000 years old?’ ‘Doesn’t Christianity deny evolution?’ ‘What do you think about dinosaurs?’
As a recent graduate of Physics, I am familiar with these questions. I am familiar too with the challenge of being a Christian science student seeking to wade through the endless articles and books that provide often seemingly contradictory answers to those questions. How do we grapple with those questions in a way that allows us to honour God in our conversations with our friends? Well, Genesis says ‘start here’, and through the Relay Science Network elective study I had the joy of ‘starting here’ for 3 months at the start of 2022.
There’s something deeply intriguing, and, in some ways, mysterious about the creation narrative in Genesis 1-2, and getting to live in those well-known chapters for 3 months only served to deepen my experience of that. My study has shown me in some ways just how complex the whole thing is - but one thing I think is clear is that it’s not meant to be read as a scientific textbook. It’s too easy to come to the Bible with our 2022 brains on and read out of it what we want it to say. All Scripture is of course breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16), but we must be mindful of the fact that it was first written for a people in a very different world to our own.
It is a challenge, but if we leave behind our preconceived ideas of what Genesis 1 says, as reading it for the first time, we discover a wonderful pattern of a formless and empty earth (Gen 1:2) being given form and being filled. We read about day and night being defined on the first day and the sun and moon being given roles on the fourth day. At this we often freak out and think ‘how can light exist without them!?’, but we need not panic (at least not as much!) as we see this pattern showing us the wonderful order of forming and filling.
Of course, spending so much time in Genesis 1-2 prompted many questions to come up that I had never considered before. Are the heavens and earth created in chapter one verses 1-2 and then we zoom in to start day one in verse 3? Is there sufficient reason to believe that these aren’t consecutive days, before even wondering about the 24-hour question? What about the intriguing nature of chapter 2 discussing on a local level what has already been described on a global level in chapter 1? Oh, and did Adam really name all the animals in a single day and still have time to feel lonely?
These questions, and many more besides, I’m sure are the subject of hot debates amongst university students across the world (and perhaps I’ve just prompted a few more), but the problem is that we tend to get stuck here. Genesis says, ‘start here’, and we do, but then we never get any further because there is just so much to debate.
My study has prompted many discussions with some of my fellow Relays as I’ve excitedly shared my new discoveries and thoughts with them, and there’s definitely a place for those discussions, but I wonder if sometimes we miss the wood for the trees. Or rather, the garden for the trees.
What if, instead of getting stuck in them, we leave our wrestles aside for a moment and read Genesis in its place in the grand sweep of the Bible narrative? Genesis does after all say start here, and so we must avoid getting stuck in it and allow it to move us on and point us forward to what’s to come.
Start here, Genesis says, because this first garden points us to a second garden.
You may not have noticed it before, but the first two chapters and the last two chapters of the Bible serve as bookends to all that comes in between. The Bible starts with God creating the heavens and the earth, and it finishes with God creating a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1). It starts with darkness and night, it finishes with no more night or need for a sun because just as he did in the beginning, the Lord God will give us light (Rev 22:5). It starts with a river and the tree of life, and it finishes with a river and the tree of life (Rev 22:1-2). It starts with God walking with humanity, it finishes with God dwelling with them (Rev 21:3).
There is a wonderful parallel nature to all of this, and I’m sure there is deep, deep theology that lies within it all. But I wonder whether in getting bogged down in the complexities of understanding Genesis 1-3, we miss the big picture that it is ultimately pointing us to. Whether any of the views on origins are right in the end (and I suspect none of them really grasp the reality fully), our joy is found in knowing that the reality that we see broken in Genesis 3, and broken in our lived experience of this earth, will one day be restored.
Excitingly, this gives us an opportunity in conversations with our friends to be able to move from the past to the future, from beginnings to new beginnings. But how? What links all of this? How do we avoid getting stuck in Genesis and move through to Revelation? How do we get from curse to blessing? How do we get from broken to restored? How do we get from the old garden to the new? Let’s look at the Gardener.
In Genesis 2 we find the LORD planting a garden in Eden, filled with all kinds of trees and plants. In this garden he places a man and a woman, and he walks with them in it. This is a beautiful image of a garden paradise with mankind in a right relationship with God, walking side-by-side with him.
As we know however it doesn’t stay this way. Mankind ruins their relationship with God and are kicked out of the garden. They can no longer walk with the Gardener. Access is blocked by a flaming sword (Gen 3:24). So, at the end of Genesis 3 we’re left with a problem. The world we’re made for, the relationship we’re made for, is blocked with a flaming sword.
What this shows us is that someone must be put to the sword so that access can be restored. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), and we deserve to pay those wages. Yet, on Good Friday, we find that the person paying the price is not you. It’s not me. It is Jesus.
On the cross Jesus takes our sins upon himself, taking the flaming sword of divine justice with them. The rejection we deserve, the Son of God, the Gardener, gets instead. “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” he cries out, but the access line is severed (Mark 15:34).
And so, on Good Friday, with Jesus’ body lain in the tomb, our access to the Father is restored! The curtain has been torn in two (Mark 15:38)! But death still blocks our hope of a future paradise. The Gardener is dead in a tomb. Will we get to walk with him again?
Enter Easter Sunday. Enter Mary.
In John 20, Mary finds an empty tomb and while Peter and John enter and flee the scene in a typical whirlwind of activity, Mary remains at the mouth of the tomb, a wreck. Someone has taken her Lord. How could this be?
Two angels are sitting like brackets advertising the empty space between them, but she can’t see the reason why. Then approaches a man she presumes to be the gardener, and, in some ways she’s right. However, the garden that he presides over stretches further than simply just this graveyard. He is the Gardener.
The Gardener speaks. “Mary”. It’s all it takes. The personal call of her Master and Lord opens Mary’s eyes to the wonder of the resurrection. The Way, the Truth, the Life, is standing before her. He has given us access to the Father and defeated death so that we can too. This means that all we are left longing for from Genesis 3 is now available to us. The broken and lost have been redeemed. We can walk with the Gardener again.
In fact, since Christ has ascended to the Father and sent his Spirit to us, we now walk with him 24/7. While he was on earth he was limited by time and space, but since he now sits at the right hand of his Father, we can now walk with him in closer intimacy than even Mary could as she clung to him in that garden 2000 years ago. As Dane Ortlund puts it: “Through his Spirit, Christ’s own heart envelops his people with an embrace nearer and tighter than any physical embrace could ever achieve.”1
This truth can’t not fill us with awe and wonder! It can’t not fill us with excitement for the future when, like Mary, we will cry ‘I have seen the Lord’ (John 20:18), for we will see the Gardener face-to-face (Rev 22:4).
The end, and the beginning
Because Jesus is risen, we know that Genesis 1-3 is true. Our fallen nature may not be able to understand it in all its fullness, but it sees enough to lead us to cry out with the psalmist, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” (Ps 8:1)!
Because Jesus is risen, we know also that Revelation 21-22 is true. Our fallen nature, again, may not be able to understand it in all its fullness, but we know that one day our faith will be turned to sight. As the sun sets on this earth for the final time, we know that the light of the Lord will be rising on the next. The end will be just the beginning, and so we join in saying with the multitude:
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” – Revelation 5:12 (ESV)
 Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly, pg 33
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