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In The Beginning: The character of God (1/3)

In The Beginning: The Character Of God

Summary: The Biblical account of creation and fall is examined (Genesis 1-3), and the implications for our knowledge of God and the universe are assessed. It is shown that Genesis 1-3 reveal to us the character of God, and the way in which He wishes us to be personally involved with His plan and purpose. It is demonstrated that He is not an impersonal force, but a loving and caring Father who cares for us as His children.

In The Bible

For someone with no knowledge of God, the best introduction they could read is in the first three chapters of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible. In these three short chapters, we find a wealth of information about God, His character, and His purpose:

· He is a creative being
· He is an interpersonal being
· He is a loving father

God Is A Creative Being

The very first aspect of God’s character to which we are introduced, is His ability and desire to create:

Genesis 1:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

The statement describes something we can all identify with – the desire to make something. Every person has the desire to structure, order, and arrange their environment to reflect something of themselves.

We know personally the satisfaction which is found when we are making something, and invariably we identify creation as a positive concept. Instinctively we read this opening sentence and feel a sense of ‘goodness’, that all is ‘well’. None of us would see this statement as anything but positive.

The very next few verses continue the theme:

Genesis 1:
2 Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.
3 God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light!

We identify with this passage, just as we identified with the first. It makes us feel that we know how God feels. We feel that we share something with a being who sees chaos, and seeks order, who finds disorder and seeks structure, we understand something about them because we feel the same way. As early as these first few verses of Genesis we find ourselves identifying with the being to whom we are being introduced.

We see already, in this being some common feeling with ourselves. We sense already, that we can in some way understand this being, identify with them. We can say ‘I know that feeling’.

Three verses into Scripture, and what have we found?

· God reveals Himself as a creative being
· God reveals Himself as a positive being
· God reveals Himself in such a way as make us identify with Him
All three of these elements of the Divine identity have profound results for the way we consider God, and are the foundation of certain truths concerning Him. They are not only the basis for certain key teachings, they are the reason for them. Whatever teachings we may choose to believe, unless they are in harmony with these truths, they cannot be accurate – they cannot be Divinely inspired. What does this tell us about the identity and the character of God? What can we say already about Him, and in what way does this affect our understanding of other passages of Scripture?

The creativity of God informs us that He is more intent on creating life than destroying it, on building rather than casting down.

The creativity of God informs us of the essentially positive nature of His character, which in turn informs us that His character is naturally inclined towards good, rather than evil. A being whose natural inclination is to create rather than destroy, to make order of chaos, is a being who is fundamentally positive in its outlook and intent.

Further, the very creation of something when there was nothing, and the transformation of that matter from chaos to order, informs us that this being has a particular purpose in mind, which His creation is intended to fulfil. Now ask yourself what God revealing to us that He has a plan and purpose actually tells us.

God Is An Interpersonal Being

In the very first chapter of Genesis, we find that God is an interpersonal being. He is not a silent force, or an impersonal power. He is not an inanimate thing, He is a person. He is a person who takes pleasure in meaningful relationships with those who are like Him:

Genesis 1:
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”
27 God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.

In this passage, we find God communicating personally with others (‘Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness’). He speaks with the angels, involving them passively in the creative process which He is performing, as observers of His act.

The New English Translation contains the following useful footnote on this verse (emphasis added):

In its ancient Israelite context the plural is most naturally understood as referring to God and his heavenly court (see 1 Kgs 22:19-22; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Isa 6:1-8). (The most well-known members of this court are God’s messengers, or angels. In Gen 3:5 the serpent may refer to this group as “gods/divine beings.” See the note on the word “evil” in 3:5.)

If this is the case, God invites the heavenly court to participate in the creation of mankind (perhaps in the role of offering praise, see Job 38:7), but he himself is the one who does the actual creative work (v. 27).’

There are many people today who believe in some kind of ‘higher power’ or being, but do not believe that this power or being is personally involved with the universe and the life forms which the universe contains. They see this being as impersonal and uninvolved (even disinterested), a being who does not interact even with what it has created.

The God of the Bible is the opposite of this. The very fact that He has chosen to reveal Himself explicitly in a number of ways (through visions, the word of the Bible, and through the created universe itself), demonstrates that the God of the Bible is intent on communicating with us, and becoming involved in our lives.

Not only this, but in Genesis 1:26 we find that of everything in the universe, humans hold a unique position. When we were created, we were made in the image of our creator. This means that we are in some way like God.

The revelation that we are in some way like God, informs us that He can understand us, and that we should be able to understand Him. It also informs us that He wishes to emphasis the similarities between we and Him, as much as He also identifies the differences. He has made us this way deliberately, for His purpose.

This tells us that we should expect God to be able to communicate intelligibly with us. He should actually be capable of this. We should also expect Him to communicate with us in a manner which draws from our own personal experiences.

We should expect the terms and languages He uses to be familiar to us. We should expect that He is communicating Divine thoughts with human tools – He describes what we cannot comprehend, by using analogies of the comprehensible.
We have already seen evidence of this in the first three verses of Genesis 1, in which God communicates to us using language which we can understand, and which is designed to create an emotional response in us.

Now ask yourself, if God is communicating intelligibly with us, and He wishes us to understand that He made us in some way like Him, what is He telling us?


God Is A Loving Father

What God is telling us first, is that He sees our relationship with Him as one of children to a father. He is the one who gave us life, and He intends that we share a family likeness with Him:

Genesis 1:
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”
27 God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.

The fact that God reveals Himself to us as a father also tells us something about our relationship with Him. It tells us that He cares for us, that He understands us, and that He is also involved in the process of our character development, which includes disciplining us when necessary.

This is shown in the way in which God deals with the first man and woman. God showed that He cared for them, by providing them with an environment which was designed specifically to provide for their needs:

Genesis 1:
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
30 And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” It was so.

Genesis 2:
8 The Lord God planted an orchard in the east, in Eden; and there he placed the man he had formed.
9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow from the soil, every tree that was pleasing to look at and good for food. (Now the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were in the middle of the orchard.)

God showed that He was involved in the process of their character development by providing an environment for which they were responsible, and by setting boundaries on their conduct (the actions of any responsible parent):

Genesis 2:
15 The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for and maintain it.
16 Then the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard,
17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.”

God further showed that He was involved in the process of their character development by providing for Adam a counterpart, a companion in whom he would find himself reflected.

This companion would be complementary to him, and would be the means by which his character could be developed. In this way God showed that He wished His special creation (man and woman), to be interpersonal beings just as He was, and that He wished them to share a relationship with each other which was similar to that which He shared with them:

Genesis 2:
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”

But before He did this, God wished the man to realise that his character was incomplete, that he was in need of personal development. He wished the man to experience the loneliness which results from the absence of a like mind, a companion with whom he could share his experiences:

Genesis 2:
19 The Lord God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
20 So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found.

In this way, God also showed Adam that he was a unique creation – there was nothing among all the animals which could correspond to him. Adam was being shown that although in many ways he was like the other animals, he was not to identify himself as one of them. He was created in the image of God, and therefore would never find a counterpart among the animals who did not share this image.

This also showed Adam what it meant to be in God’s image – it meant to possess and exhibit characteristics which were Divine, not those of the animals. This was a means of showing Adam the kind of behaviour which was expected from him. He was not to behave like the animals, he was to imitate the Divine character.

When Adam cannot find a counterpart among the animals of the field, God creates a counterpart from Adam himself:

Genesis 2:
21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh.
22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this
one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family. [Hebrew ‘one flesh’]
25 The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed.

By doing this, God not only showed Adam that the only true counterpart for him would be someone sharing the Divine characteristics (like himself), but showed that both man and woman would only be complete when they were joined together in a harmonious union. They were made for each other, and were placed in a relationship in which they would develop each other’s characters.

Having set boundaries for His children, and warned them of the consequences of crossing those boundaries, God demonstrates that He is both a loving and responsible parent by disciplining his children when they fail to obey.

Despite being warned not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, Eve falls to the temptation presented by the serpent, and disobeys God’s commandment, and Adam follows her example:

Genesis 3:
1 Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard;
3 but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.’”
4 The serpent said to the woman, “Surely you will not die,
5 for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it.

The serpent presented his temptation in a way which naturally appealed to the innocent and childlike character of Eve. It attempts to focus her mind on what she is missing out on, rather than what her loving father has provided.

First the serpent attempts to create in Eve’s mind the idea that her father has been keeping things from her unfairly, asking her ‘Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard?’ (Genesis 3:1). This question implied that God had denied Adam and Eve all of the trees of the garden, but God had not done this, and Eve knew it (‘“We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard’, Genesis 3:2). Eve rightly identifies the fact that God had given His children all they could need, and that there was only one tree withheld from them.

Next the serpent attempts to introduce doubt into Eve’s mind, encouraging her to question whether or not her father’s word is reliable (‘Surely you will not die’, Genesis 3:4). Like the first question, this was an attack on the character of God. The first question challenged His generosity in providing for His children, and the second question challenged His honesty and reliability.

The serpent combines this attack with a suggestion that God is keeping something from Eve which she should rightly have, something which God has not even told her about (‘God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil’, Genesis 3:5). The enticement to become independent of the parent is a powerful temptation to disobey, a temptation felt strongly by any child.

After Adam and Eve sin and God seeks after them, they predictably run and hide from their father, as children do when they know they have done wrong (Genesis 3:8). When God confronts them, He shows Himself to be a fair and loving parent, even as Adam and Eve continue to show themselves to be childlike in their thinking:

Genesis 3:
12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.”
13 So the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman replied, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

Both Adam and Eve are questioned individually by their father, and both of them attempted to pass the responsibility for their actions to someone else (as children so often do).

However, God not only requires them to take responsibility for speaking on their own behalf, He also requires them to take personal responsibility for their own actions, and the man and the woman both receive a punishment for their disobedience (Genesis 3:16-19). They are both excluded from the garden of Eden, and are denied the opportunity to take of the tree of life and live forever (Genesis 3:22-24).

Yet the punishment is accompanied with a strong message of hope, and a demonstration of their father’s love. When speaking to the serpent, God promises that one day faithful men and women would overcome their struggle with sin, through the victory of a saviour (described as the ‘seed of the woman’):

Genesis 3:
15 And I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; her offspring will attack [Hebrew ‘crush’] your head, and you will attack her offspring’s heel.”

The saviour would receive a temporary wound (a wound to the heel), but the serpent would receive a deadly wound (a crushing blow to the head).

An early Jewish commentary on this passage identifies the ‘seed of the woman’ as those who faithfully keep God’s commandments, and the ‘serpent’ as a personification of sin and death. The commentary also identifies the fact that the victory of the seed of the woman would be achieved by a saviour, the ‘Messiah’:

‘And it shall be when the sons of the woman consider the law, and perform (its) instructions, they will be prepared to smite thee on thy head to kill thee; and when the sons of the woman forsake the commandment of the law, and perform not (its) instructions, thou wilt be ready to wound them in their heel, and hurt them.

Nevertheless there shall be a medicine for the sons of the woman, but for thee, serpent, there shall be no medicine: but it is to be that for these there shall be a remedy for the heel in the days of the king Messiah.’

Targum Jerusalem, paraphrase of Genesis 3:6, 1st century

The early Christian writer Irenaeus was the first to explicitly interpret this as a reference to Jesus:

‘For this end did He put enmity between the serpent and the woman and her seed, they keeping it up mutually: He, the sole of whose foot should be bitten, having power also to tread upon the enemy’s head; but the other biting, killing, and impeding the steps of man, until the seed did come appointed to tread down his head, – which was born of Mary, of whom the prophet speaks: ‘Thou shalt tread upon the asp and the basilisk; thou shalt trample down the lion and the dragon [Psalm 91:13].’’

Irenaeus, ‘Against Heresies’, Book III, chapter 23, section 7, 185 AD

‘Christ has therefore, in His work of recapitulation, summed up all things, both waging war against our enemy, and crushing him who had at the beginning led us away captives in Adam, and trampled upon his head, as thou can perceive in Genesis that God said to the serpent, ‘And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; He shall be on the watch for thy head, and thou on the watch for his heel.’

[…]

This is the seed of which the apostle says in the Letter to the Galatians, ‘that the law of works was established until the seed should come to whom the promise was made [Galatians 3:19].’

This fact is exhibited in a still clearer light in the same Epistle where he thus speaks: ‘But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman [Galatians 4:4].’’

Irenaeus, ‘Against Heresies’, Book V, chapter 21, section 1, 185 AD

It is significant that both the earliest Jewish and the earliest Christian interpretations of this passage agree with each other. This proves that the Christian interpretation of this passage as applying to Jesus was not their own invention, and was not a forced reading of the text, since some of the Jews themselves read the passage as a reference to the promised saviour, the Messiah.


The Divine Character

From the first three chapters of Genesis, we have seen the character of God described in the following way:

· He is a creative being
· He is an interpersonal being
· He is a loving father

In other passages of Scripture, we find God described in the same way.

God is described as a creative person, who has an eternal purpose which He intends to bring to pass with His creation and the people in it:

Numbers 14:
21 But truly, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.

Isaiah 55:
10 The rain and snow fall from the sky and do not return, but instead water the earth and make it produce and yield crops, and provide seed for the planter and food for those who must eat.
11 In the same way, the promise that I make does not return to me, having accomplished nothing. No, it is realized as I desire and is fulfilled as I intend.”

Revelation 4:
11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, since you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created!”

God is described as a father who wishes His children to be like Him:

Deuteronomy 10:
17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe,
18 who justly treats the orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing.
19 So you must love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

Matthew 5:
44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

48 So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Luke 6:
36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

1 Peter 1:
14 Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance,
15 but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct,
16 for it is written, “You shall be holy, because I am holy.”

God is described as a father who is involved in the character development of His children, who understands and has compassion on their weaknesses, and who disciplines them when necessary, for their ultimate good:

Psalm 103:
13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on his faithful followers.
14 For he knows what we are made of; He realizes we are made of clay.

Proverbs 3:
12 For the Lord disciplines those He loves, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights.

Isaiah 64:
8 Yet, Lord, you are our father. We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the product of your labor.

Hebrews 12:
7 Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline?
8 But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons. have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons.
9 Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life?
10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness.
11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it.

Part two.

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