God Writes a Better Story
Have you ever thought much about how terrible your life would be if everything went according to your plan?
Think about what you thought you wanted out of the lifetime ahead of you when you were in college or high school. Or as a child.
My wife and I have a six-year-old son who already has a very specific plan for his adult life. He will tell you very matter-of-factly that he plans to work during the day as a fireman (or garbage man — something with big trucks), and then at night play baseball for the Twins, and then also maybe play football for the Vikings when it’s not baseball season.
Now, don’t get me wrong, that could be a pretty amazing life. And it could be terrible. But even in this circumstance, I know that God is writing a story for his life that is probably harder and more frustrating, and perhaps even more tiring, and much better than our son can ask or even imagine at age six. Notice I did not say easy, but better. God is not known for writing easy stories, but he always writes a better story.
And for those of us who are a few years out of school, or perhaps a few decades, how many of us find ourselves doing today what we would have planned back in those formative years? And most of us, if we are in Christ, and if the mind of Christ has made headway in shaping our thinking, would say, I’m glad God made things turn out this way. Now I can’t imagine another way. I’m so glad I wasn’t the one writing the story. My story would have been so boring. God writes the better story.
How God Starts His Story
Today we finish our sermon series through the first eleven chapters of the Bible. And one of the things that we have discovered together in these chapters is that history doesn’t typically proceed as we might expect it. There are some odd, enigmatic things in these chapters. It’s very obvious that we would not have written the story like this. But also what we’ve found is that God writes the better story.
So what we’ll do this morning is rehearse seven high points from these eleven chapters. Here are seven major takeaways for us from our study this fall. And with each of these lessons, let’s point out how we humans might be prone to write the story, and marvel at how God writes a better story.
1. God made everything, and his creation is very good.
Genesis 1:1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
God is the first subject of the Bible, and God is pervasive throughout Genesis 1–11. To make sure we get the message, “God” appears 31 times in the 31 verses in chapter 1. And then, from chapters 2 through 11, “God” appears more than 50 more times, and the name “Lord,” referring to God, appears another 50-plus times. These are profoundly God-centered chapters, that begin a profoundly God-centered Book.
And that begins with God’s exclusive role as maker of all things and author of the Story of history. History is his story. Now, if humans were writing the story of creation, there are two different directions we would take it. One might be to have God create everything all at once. Just poof, and there it all is, formed, filled, and ready to rock. God is powerful enough to do that. Why not do it like that?
The other way humans write the story is to say this world is the product of some impersonal, inexplicable big bang and then time-plus-chance gave room to the evolution of life in this world, and eventually to human life, such that there is no creator to which we must give an account (how convenient for living the way I want to live anyways).
But God writes a better story. He doesn’t create everything all at once, with no progression of days, and he doesn’t do it over millions of years of natural selection. Rather, he creates the universe, and forms it and fills it for six days, and then rests on the seventh. Sure, he could have done it all at once if he wanted. And he could have done it over millions of years if he wanted. But he writes the story his way, the better story.
He works by special creation, not evolution (ten times chapter 1 tells us that reproduction happens in God’s world “according to kind,” not the evolving of species). And God does it in six days, because he wants to teach us, from the very beginning, about his work in the world. He is a God who can do things all at once if he chooses, but he typically works progressively, methodically, one day at a time for six days, one important step at a time. The point is not just the end product, but what he reveals to us in the process. And his way of doing it, and the completed form of his creation is altogether “very good.”
Genesis 1:31: God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
Mark this: God’s created world, and all that fills it, is not evil. And it is not neutral. Six times in chapter 1 we hear that God declared his creation good (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). Then, after the creation of man and woman as the crowning jewel of his work, we hear in verse 31 that he looks out over the whole of his creation and “behold, it was very good.”
If we were writing the story, we’d be prone to see the world as evil or as god. That’s two very basic, and dead wrong, views among humans in the world today. But God’s story is better. His creation is good, not evil. And it is good, not god — a gift from him, not a replacement for him.
“Pleasant to the Sight”
Speaking of the goodness of God’s created world, a phrase captured me as I was re-reading these chapters to prepare this message:
Genesis 2:9: Out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.
God created trees not only to bear fruit that is “good for food” but also to be “pleasant to the sight.” God created an edible and beautiful world, for us to eat and to be dazzled with tastes (first plants, Genesis 1:29, and then later animals too, Genesis 9:3), and for us to see and marvel at sights. He is good, the very essence and standard of good, and his creation is an expression of his goodness.
2. God made humans with great dignity and with good limitations.
Genesis 1:26: God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
We are not accidents of nature, and we are not ourselves god. We were made in God’s image, after his likeness, to have dominion over the fish and birds and livestock, and over all the earth, including creeping things like serpents. We are designed to benevolently rule over creation as God himself would if he were in the creation.
What does it mean to be in God’s image? An image is something visible, but God is invisible. He is an uncreated invisible spirit, not a visible creature. What it means to be made in God’s image is to be made according to what God himself would be like if he himself entered into his creation as a creature. If God came into the world, if he wrote himself into the Story, what kind of avatar would he design for himself? What kind of body? What kind of mental and emotional capabilities? The amazing answer is the human being.
It is an awesome thing to be human. The God of the universe, who made everything, and sustains everything, designed a kind of creature with the body, mind, and heart for what he himself would want to be as a creature. We should marvel daily to be human. We take this glory for granted, and we bellyache about all our problems and frustrations. Even humans with physical and mental and emotional disabilities and challenges are spectacular creatures.
This great God-given dignity is why we protect human life from conception in the womb until God chooses to take it in his timing. This is why Genesis 9:5–6 in principle (not necessarily in every situation or context) teaches that the taking of human life warrants (“requires”) a reckoning, to protect the creatures in God’s image, and the honor of God himself.
Genesis 1 takes the big, global perspective on God’s six creative days of work, and then Genesis 2 shows God’s special concern and relationship with humanity. We find out in Genesis 2 that God made us to name creation (Genesis 2:19–20) in our calling as his stewards. And he expects obedience from his stewards. This is where the “limitations” come in. We are not God. We do not rule ourselves. He is God and he gives us limits:
Genesis 2:16–17: The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
So humans have great dignity and good limitations. We are not meaningless products of evolution, and we are not gods, left to rule ourselves. God writes the better story for us as his representatives and stewards in his creation.
3. God made us male and female.
Genesis 1:27: God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
In Genesis 2:18, we learn that woman will be a “helper fit” for man (Genesis 2:18). These chapters make plain that men and women are alike as humans, but different as male and female. Men and women are equal in value before God, and complementary in role in his world. There is one basic binary in the one race of humanity: male and female.
God created a fundamental human relationship called marriage. Marriage is God’s idea: one man, one woman, till death do them part. And procreation in marriage is God’s good creation and gift, not a necessary evil for populating the world.
If modern-day humans were writing the story, with all our blind infatuation with one-dimensional equality, we would write of sameness in gifting and role — that is, if we would even include binary gender. And perhaps ancient humans, and those in other parts of the world today, would have written a story of men and women being unequal in value. Some may have said that men are superior, just as some today would write that women are superior.
But God writes a better story. He creates a world of male and female — not just in the animal kingdom but in humans. Both men and women share in equal value before God, and both reflect distinct textures and hues of his glory in complementary inclinations, giftings, and roles.
4. God made us to work and rest.
Have you ever thought how good it is that God made us for a dynamic existence? For movement and respite. For advance and defense. For exertion and recovery. To be awake and to sleep. To work and to rest.
Genesis 2:2: On the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.
Genesis 2:15: The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. God didn’t design us to labor nonstop. Nor did he make us just to sit around on the couch or lie in bed. He made us to live, and enjoy the rhythms of life within his good limits.
And — I think this is so remarkable — even here in Genesis 2, we hear about God putting materials in the ground for us to make stuff with.
Genesis 2:10–12: A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.
And not only did God make human life dynamic with rhythms of work and rest, but he made us to grow and mature. Adam and Eve were originally naked and, in an important sense, immature. God made us to grow and learn and develop and mature. How rich is human life with babies and wise retirees, and toddlers and teens, and young adults and empty-nesters.
How might we try to write the story? Perhaps some of us who love the feel of productivity might actually want nonstop work. Others of us — perhaps the majority — would write a story of constant play and entertainment and rest, no work. And we might write a story of static existence, of all adults and no aging and no need for maturing and growth. But God writes the better story. He made us for work and rest, for growth and maturing, for rhythms and stages of life, and all the attendant joys.
5. Human sin is an assault on God and demands his righteous judgment.
So far it’s all been happy, from the creation accounts in chapters 1 and 2. But chapter 3 comes so quick. Next thing we know there’s a talking serpent, and we see how sin twists God’s words, paints him as a God of No instead of a God of Yes, ruins his good creation, and wreaks havoc. It’s so subtle, but so sinister, because it’s an assault on the very character of God himself.
Genesis 3:1–6: He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
In response to our first forefathers’ sin, God curses the deceiving serpent (3:14) and the ground (3:17), and promises pain for the woman in childbearing (3:16) and for the man in working the ground (3:17). Then we see in Genesis 4 how Adam’s and Eve’s seemingly tiny rebellion of eating the forbidden fruit escalates to their son Cain killing his own brother Abel (4:8). Sin consumes Cain and he becomes, in effect, the offspring of the serpent. He receives a curse in 4:11, and sin grows and spreads and deepens in his line, such that one of Cain’s descendant eventually boasts of being eleven times more wicked than him (4:24).
Genesis 6:5 captures the spread and pervasiveness of sin in the human race.
Genesis 6:5: The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
We are not just a little spoiled by sin, but spoiled all the way through — “totally depraved,” which means our sin is so great, and so deep, that we are unable to free ourselves from it. We are totally unable to save ourselves. Total depravity doesn’t mean that all humans are as bad as they could be, but that there are no parts of us unaffected by sin, and no way for us to rescue ourselves.
And sin justly brings God’s judgment. God curses the serpent and the ground. God curses Cain after he killed his brother. And God eventually brings a global flood because of the depth and intensity of humanity’s sin. Then we saw the pattern again last week in Genesis 11. Humans conspired together in rebellion against God, and he responded in judgment by confusing their language and dispersing them (Genesis 11:9).
That humans are sinful and beyond self-help — and that our sin requires a righteous response — is not the story that we would write for ourselves. Our society today is awash in self-help. But God writes the better story. It’s not an easy story, but it’s a good story. The hard part of the story is that our wickedness does indeed deserve his curse. We deserve to be wiped out by a global flood; in our sin we deserve the fire of his wrath. But his story is better, because he doesn’t sweep sin under the rug, but extends the offer of escape. Even in his wrath, he holds out his hand to rescue.
6. God promises to provide rescue, not wait for us to save ourselves.
God does not leave us to ourselves to work our way out of the mess of our own making. He doesn’t leave us to rescue ourselves, to help our own selves into qualifying for restoration, but he saves us utterly through faith — through relinquishing our own attempts to work our way to him, and acknowledging that we ultimately are powerless, and ready to receive his help.
The pattern that emerges in Genesis 1–11 is not just human sin followed by God’s judgment, but in each judgment he gives a token of his grace.
When Adam and Eve sin against his one prohibition in a world full of delights, he not only curses the serpent and the ground, and promises pain in childbearing and in work, but he gives us the first glimmer of gospel hope, when he curses the serpent,
Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
And then, the act of grace in Genesis 3:21, “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”
We catch a glimpse of God’s grace in chapter 4 in comparing Eve’s statements at the birth of her sons. In 4:1, she says, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” She tips her hat to God, but she casts herself as the main actor, and God as the auxiliary. But later, when Eve has learned that her own will and strength cannot produce the kind of offspring God promised, she says at the birth of Seth in 4:25, “God has appointed for me another offspring . . . ” I have gotten vs. God has given.
Then, in Genesis 6, in the midst of great wickedness on the earth, and every intention of the thoughts of humanity’s hearts being only evil continually, when God is grieved to his heart that he made man — even here in such darkness, with the righteous judgment of a global flood coming, “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). And when the flood clears, God hangs his (rain)bow in the clouds and promises “never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:11).
Even as human evil spirals downward and seemingly out of control in Genesis 1–11, God promises an offspring who will conquer the serpent, and he forms a special line for the deliverance, and he directs his favor — his grace — toward Noah.
In general, these primeval chapters are dark: the first sin, the first human ever born becomes a murder and fathers a line of depravity, and the godly line is compromised by intermarriage. Even righteous Noah has his own fall into drunkenness after the flood (Genesis 9:20–21), and then humans rise up together to make a name for themselves, rather than trusting in God.
And yet even in the midst of this growing depravity and some of the Bible’s darkest stories, and some of the darkest days in the history of the world, the light of God’s mercy begins to shine. We glimpse his grace in a small but growing stream of grace. God will not stand back and leave us to get ourselves out of the mess we got ourselves into. No, he writes a better story. He himself will come. He will be the offspring of the woman. He will crush the head of the serpent.
7. God will give the nations one lip.
Joe pointed this out last week in the account of the tower of Babel.
Genesis 11:1: Now the whole earth had one language [literally, “one lip”] and the same words.
Throughout Scripture, the “lip” typically has to do with a religious confession. So at Babel, when God “confuses their language,” he scatters them from their united unbelief, into diverse unbeliefs, in different directions. And yet, in doing so — even in his judgment — God is setting up the glory of the “one lip” that will again unify in worship peoples from every tribe and tongue and people and nation: the confession “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
As a result of Babel, there are many nations, but still just one race. So, as Jonathan said two weeks ago, we are all cousins; from the three sons of Noah “the people of the whole earth were dispersed” (Genesis 9:19). The story that evolutionists and ethnocentrists of all stripes have written of human racial origins is not the better story.
King Jesus’s glory will be greater when the one lip “Jesus is Lord” unites people who are not all the same, but from beautifully different tribes and nations and cultures and languages. However accurate or exaggerated are the reports of xenophobia right now in our country, this is a very good time to teach our children, and to remind ourselves (if not to learn for the first time) that ethnic and linguistic diversity is a beautiful thing. God doesn’t call us to be colorblind, but to see and enjoy all the colors. Ethnic diversity displays the creativity and glory of our God. He is not boring. He did not make us all to look and sound the same. There is one human race (we are all related to Noah), and there is one basic, binary difference among humans (male and female), and then God has adorned and decorated the world with his multifaceted glory by creating humans of every shape and size and color and sound.
Instead of seeing differences and feeling fear, God means for us to see the opportunity to appreciate more of him. Let’s help our children get this: Our differences in appearance are not causes for fear or suspicion, and our differences in appearance are not to be ignored or suppressed, but they are to be appreciated and admired.
Genesis and Beyond
God writes a better story. We’ve seen him do so in Genesis 1–11, and if we picked up in Genesis 12 next week, we’d follow the story of Abraham until chapter 25. The life of Abraham is a continual lesson in faith — or we might say, learning to live in the story God is writing, not trying to write your own. When Abraham’s wife was barren, he tried to write his own story with Hagar and Ishmael, but God wrote the better story: a son named Isaac given against all odds to Abraham and his wife in their old age.
Genesis 25–36 then tells the story of Isaac’s twin sons Jacob and Esau. Isaac tried to write his own story of prominence and privilege for the oldest son, Esau. But God wrote a different story: “the older will serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23).
Then Genesis 37–50, to the end of the book, tells of Jacob’s son Joseph, and God writes a story Jacob never would have written: Joseph in slavery and prison for seventeen long years before ascending to honor in Egypt and being instrumental in saving his own family.
Then right on through history: Moses, Saul and David, God sending his own people into exile in Babylon. And in the early church, and throughout church history, the story of God’s people has not unfolded as we would have written it. God has written the better story: of obstacles and difficulties, of setbacks and detours, or trials and tribulation, with unexpected turns and surprising triumphs.
And at the very center of history, when our story would never have included the bruising of the promised offspring, God writes the better story of a king who was a servant, of a priest who became the sacrifice, of a crucified Messiah.
God does not write his stories the way the world does. He makes foolish the wisdom of the world.
1 Corinthians 1:22–29: Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. . . . God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
To the Table
As we come to the Table, let’s take the big-picture vision of God writing a better story and make it personal. May God press this into our hearts, and get us ready for when his way of writing our story diverges from ours.
The world and life and reality is God’s thrilling big story, not our boring small one. This is not how we would write the story of the world — and if we wrote it, it would be so vanilla. God’s surprising, uncomfortable story is so much better than our predictable, comfortable stories would be. And in eating and drinking, we to embrace his surprising, uncomfortable, harder, better stories for us.
When trials come, when you feel the pain — and it can be painful — of God writing a different story for you than you would write for yourself, may God give you the eyes of faith, to trust that the story he is writing for you, painful as it might be, is the better story.
It is true for us as a church, and true for us as individuals that God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21).
As we eat together today, we’re saying, “God, I embrace your story. Even when it’s harder, more frustrating, more tiring, more painful, more lonely, more shameful, more demeaning, give me the grace to trust that your unexpected, often unwelcome stories always turn out better.