In the Beginning – studies in Genesis (Spring 2009)

Session 1 – In the beginning, God …

Do you know where the following opening lines come from? 2 points if you know the exact book, 1 point if you can tell whether the book is fiction or non-fiction (answers below!)

a)  “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”

b)  “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy”

c)  “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much”.

d)  “A – first letter in our alphabet, as in the Roman etc…in music, the major sixth of the scale of C…”

e)  “Apart from life, a strong constitution, and an abiding connection to the Thembu royal throne, the only thing my father bestowed upon me at birth was a name, Rolihlahla” (Note: the person in question is better known as Nelson Mandela)

The opening lines of books are important. They tell us, firstly, what kind of book we are reading, and secondly, they introduce the subject and themes of the book.

What about the Bible? Over the next two terms we’ll be looking at the opening chapters of Genesis, thinking what kind of book we are reading and considering the issues the book throws up – issues, which as we shall see, are still highly relevant for us today.

And because the initial lines of any work in particular are just so important, we’ll be spending the first three sessions looking in greater detail at the first chapter Genesis 1:1-2:3 and seeing what we can learn about (a) God (b) man (c) the theme of rest. Today’s session therefore is particularly focused on God.

Now I guess that as you read Genesis 1:1-2:3 (or listen in audio here), you are probably very familiar with these words. But imagine for a moment you are an Israelite living in exile in Babylon. Your country is occupied, your temple has been destroyed, your family has been scattered and some of them killed. How would Genesis 1:1-2:3 give you hope in such a situation?

Share your reactions and responses before you answer the following questions:

  • What kind of book are we are reading here? A scientific textbook, a work of fiction, or what? And why is this question so important anyway?
  • “In the beginning, God”. How would you respond to someone who opposed this statement?
  • What is the popular view of God? How does this chapter support or challenge such an understanding of God?
  • How would you respond to someone who says, “It doesn’t matter what you believe – it’s all the same God in the end”?
  • How does John build on these words from Genesis at the start of his gospel? Read John 1:1-18 and see how John develops some of the ideas we have been exploring in this session.

(The quotes of opening lines, by the way, are a) Pride and Prejudice b) The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe c) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone d) Chambers’ Dictionary e) A Long Walk to Freedom. The last two are non-fiction!)

Session 2 – Made in God’s image

Have you ever been told you are the spitting image of your father or your mother? Or has anyone ever told you that your son or daughter is a “chip off the old block”? As we come to today’s session, spend some time sharing what features you have inherited from your parents, or what your children have inherited from you. This is meant to be a fairly light-hearted exercise – only
share those things you want to talk about!

And now let’s come back to our passage from Genesis 1:1-2:3, and look more particularly at Genesis 1:26-31. Because as God’s work of creation comes to a climax, we come to the creation of man, made as it says here in the image of God. So after we read the passage, let’s consider the following questions:

  • What did we learn about God in our previous session? What does it mean for man to be made in His image?
  • How does the fact we are made in God’s image tie in with the command to rule over creation? What should our attitude be to the environment as Christians?
  • Why does Genesis 1:27 say explicitly that both male and female are created in God’s image?
  • How according to this passage does God show us His care and concern for us? How often do we remember the blessings God gives us?
  • How does Paul use this passage when debating with the Greeks in Athens?  Read Acts 17:22-31 and think how this passage is relevant to us today.

Session 3 – Sabbath Rest

“There aren’t just enough hours in the day!” How many times have you said that? As we start to think about this session, try to work out how many hours you spend each day on sleep/family time/work/housework/shopping, and how much time you spend focusing on God. (I realise of course it is possible to focus on God while doing some of the other things, although whether we actually do is another matter!).

When the medieval scholars came to dividing the Bible into chapters and verses, they finished Genesis chapter 1 at the end of the sixth day, as if the final act in creation was the making of man and God’s commission to Him. But in fact there is a seventh day to creation, and its focus is not on work, but on rest. We’re going to spend today thinking what this might mean for our lives.

So let’s begin by reading the whole of Genesis 1:1-2:3 again.

  • What does it mean to say that God rested on the seventh day? Is this rest something designed only for believers, or for everyone?
  • What are the advantages and the disadvantages of having a particular day set aside for rest?
  • Look at Matthew 12:1-14. What is Jesus’ attitude to the Sabbath?
  • How do we hold on to the idea of rest in today’s society? How far should we be willing to make a stand?
  • Look at Hebrews 4:1-11. How does this passage help us understand the ultimate significance of this rest described here?

Session 4 – Not good for man to be alone

In our first three sessions we looked at creation from God’s perspective. We saw how God made the world in six “days” and heard His verdict on what He created – “that it was good”. In our passage today,  Genesis 2:4-25,  we have a different account of creation, not a conflicting or contradictory one, but one that is, so to speak, from man’s perspective. It is a passage that draws out and explains what it means to be made in God’s image, and it touches on important issues such as work and marriage.

It should also be made clear, before we go any further, that this passage is designed to provide us with an ideal, rather than make us feel guilty about our failures and shortcomings. Many people find discussion about marriage difficult; they may never have married, or been in a difficult relationship, or had a failed relationship behind them. It’s important therefore to be very sensitive when discussing this topic. But at the same time it’s also important to state this is an issue that we must talk about as a church. In a society where soon the majority of children will be born out of wedlock, where the family unit seems to be breaking down, and where the state no longer accepts the special nature of marriage, it is vital that we wrestle with the question of marriage and work out how to uphold the Bible’s teaching today.

But before we go further, read the passage and hear what it actually says …

  • Genesis 2:15 tells us that Adam was given a commission to work in the garden and care for it. Why is work so important for us as human beings? Is all work good?
  • For the first time in the book of Genesis we come across God saying that something is not good. How should we as a church respond to the whole issue of loneliness?
  • What can we learn from this passage about the way men and women are meant to relate to each other?
  • Why does Genesis 2:24 specifically state that a man will leave his father and mother?
  • Read Matthew 19:1-12. How does Jesus take up and use this teaching from Genesis? How can we apply His teaching today?

Session 5 – Deadly Temptation

Do you know the source of the following quotations? What do they all have in common?

  • “Play it, again, Sam”
  • “Elementary, my dear Watson”
  • “Money is the root of all evil”
  • “Romeo, Romeo, where art thou, Romeo”

You are probably thinking of Casablanca, Sherlock Holmes, the Bible and Shakespeare. But the thing is, none of these quotes are actually accurate. They are phrases and sayings which have become part of the English language, even though nobody ever said or wrote them.

In our first four sessions, we looked at the account of creation and God’s original design for mankind. But even as we have considered how good and perfect God made everything, we have found ourselves wrestling with the question of how things have gone wrong. Work isn’t always pleasant and creative, and it’s doesn’t often feel like we get a day of rest. Relationships strain and fail, and people frequently end up in situations of great pain and loneliness. The lovely world God has made is polluted, and we have broken God’s command to be good stewards of it. We seem, in short, to have departed a long, long way from God’s original master-plan, and whatever we think about the garden of Eden, we seem as far away from paradise as it is possible to be.

So how did it all this happen?

Let’s look at Genesis 3:1-13, which in its own way poetic way seeks to provide an explanation.

  • How does the serpent tempt the woman? Can we learn lessons from this encounter for those times when we face temptation?
  • Why does the woman also misquote God’s original command? Why is it so important to know the truth of God’s word?
  • Adam and Eve didn’t die when they ate the apple. So wasn’t the serpent right? Or was he telling only half the truth?
  • Why did Adam and Eve hide when God called them? In what ways do people try to hide from God today?
  • “The man blamed the woman, the woman blamed the serpent, and the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on”. What would be the consequences if we did accept full responsibility for our actions?
  • Read Matthew 4:1-11. How did Jesus deal with Satan’s temptations?

Session 6 – Life After the Fall

“If there is a God, why does He allow so much suffering in the world?” That, I find, is one of the common questions I am asked as a Christian. Some shocking crime is splashed all across our newspaper screens, a fine, talented person dies tragically young, a natural disaster wipes out a whole community. Why, we wonder, does God allow this? Where was He when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers, or the Jews were transported to Auschwitz, or the troops were sent over the top at the Somme? Sometimes the case against God seems unanswerable.

Yet against this, even in these most appalling circumstances, there are cases of men and women who discover God present with them. For example, although many in the trenches no longer found their Victorian religion gave them comfort, there were others who had a direct conversion experience in the trench or the shell-hole. We have stories like Maximillian Kolbe, who willing sacrificed his life on behalf of another prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. And then in the Bible itself there’s the story of Job often seen by Jewish people as telling the story of God’s suffering people, Israel.

And what often happens – as has happened in the recent letter exchange in the Herald – is that those on one side of the argument point out what’s gone wrong, and those on the other point out signs of God being at work. But as both sides are convinced by the rightness of their argument, nobody ends up being any the wiser, and there ends up being generated far more heat than light, each convinced they have won on points.

This is why understanding the Fall is so important. This chapter in Genesis 3 doesn’t seek to answer all the questions about suffering, and it doesn’t aim to provide cheap and easy solutions. But it does tell it like it is, and it provides a devastating analysis of man’s natural condition.  And it’s by wrestling with the bad news about ourselves, and the state of the world, that we come to understand why we need a Saviour and why the good news of Jesus is such good news, even today.

Let’s pray and then we’ll read Genesis 3:14-24

  • Look at verses 14-15. How should we as Christians see the struggle between good and evil? Is it always equal? How should we respond when evil seems to triumph?
  • Look at verse 16. We have come a long way from that equal relationship between man and woman portrayed in chapter 2. How do we as the church strike the right balance between accepting people where they are, often in difficult and painful relationships, and upholding the ideal of marriage as God meant it to be?
  • Look at verses 17-19. Why is life without God so unfulfilling? How do we show people there can be so much more to life than work, rest and play?
  • Look at verses 21-24. How people try and find their own way back to God? Why are their attempts always unsuccessful?
  • Read Romans 8:18-24. Explain in your own words the hope we have as Christians.

Click Here for the remaining studies in this series …

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