God’s plan for our world
If someone asked you, “What’s your idea of a perfect world?” what kind of world would you think of?
You’d imagine a world without fear or pain or suffering or death, a world without poverty or pollution. You’d imagine a world without earthquakes, hurricanes or floods.
You’d think of a world of perfect peace and beauty and joy, a world where there weren’t any arguments or fights or wars, a world where we were all friends, a world where everyone loved everyone else.
That’s the kind of world I want. And I’m sure you’d want a world like this.
God wants a world like this, too. And one day He’s going to bring a world like this into being!
God tells us about this world at the very end of the Bible. He showed a man called John a vision of a perfect world. John saw a world without pain or tears or death, a world without evil, a place of purity and peace and plenty. It was – quite literally – heaven on earth. That’s the kind of world God will one day bring into being. And the most amazing thing about this world is this: God Himself will live here on Earth with His people.
But the world we live in now isn’t like that. Things are not what they ought to be. Think of all the suffering, the crime and war, the violence and pain and wanton destruction that blight our human race. This image from the First World War shows soldiers trudging through landscape that’s been utterly devastated by artillery fire. What was a woodland is now a graveyard of charred and broken stumps.
Think, too, of the anxieties, the petty injustices, the unkindness and misunderstandings that each one of us encounters thoughout our lives.
The natural world suffers, too. Natural disasters ravage our planet. This image shows the destruction of San Francisco by earthquake and fire in 1906. Groups of residents, not quite knowing what else to do, watch their devastated city burn.
Disease and death, too, throw their own dark shadow over this beautiful world.
Why is our world like this? And how is God going to put everything right and bring about a perfect world?
That’s a long story. It’s a story God tells us in the Bible.
But first, what is the Bible? The Bible isn’t just one book. In fact, it’s a whole library of books. It contains 66 different books, written by around 40 different people over a period of around 1,500 years.
But although ordinary people wrote these books, God inspired them in a unique way as they were writing them. The Bible is actually God’s book. He wrote it for us. When we read the Bible, we’re reading what God wants to say to us.
These 66 books in the Bible contain all kinds of writing. There’s history and biography. There are genealogies and laws and practical guidelines on how to live. There are songs and poems, prophecies and letters.
But through the Bible runs a single story. The Bible tells us how God created this Universe. It explains what’s gone wrong with this world, and how God is putting it all right.
And the Bible shows us why we’re here on Earth. In the Bible we discover that our lives have purpose and significance beyond what we could ever dream of. In fact, we can only really make sense of our own individual lives in the context of God’s great Story – the Story we read in the Bible.
And the story we read in the Bible is the greatest story ever told. It’s the greatest story that ever could be told. And that’s the Story we’ll be telling in this series.
A drama in four acts
The Bible story is a drama in four acts. One writer neatly captions this drama in four simple words – the good, the bad, the new, and the perfect.
Act 1 – the Good. God creates the universe – the earth and the heavens. He creates all the living things on our planet. And He creates the first humans, Adam and Eve. Everything is good – very good.
Act 2 – the Bad. An evil angel called Satan tempts Adam and Eve, and they rebel against God. That brings catastrophe upon mankind and upon the natural world.
Act 3 – the New. In our suffering world soiled by sin, God does a new thing. Step by step, our holy, loving God puts right all the consequences of our rebellion against Him. He conquers Satan and all his evil forces. And He transforms heaven and earth.
Act 4 – the Perfect. God’s new humanity lives with Him on the renewed Earth. It’s literally heaven on earth. God’s creation will never to be troubled by Satan or sin again.
That’s the Bible story in a nutshell. The good, the bad, the new and the perfect.
So let’s begin our journey through the Bible story.
“God created the heavens and the earth”
We begin in the first two chapters of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible. Here, God tells us how He made everything. He does so, not in scientific language, but in simple language that anyone can understand.
There’s a lot of debate over exactly how God created the universe and all the living things in it. For example, did He create living things through a process of evolution from chemicals to simple life forms through to complex plants and animals, and ultimately humans?
Or did He create each of the different kinds of living things instantly, out of nothing, fully formed?
Another question is this: Did God create the world in just six days, or did He take millions of years to create it?
We can at least be certain of these four facts. Firstly, the Bible (in its original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages) is perfectly accurate and without error.
Secondly, God created everything. This Universe did not come into being by chance. God designed it and made it.
Thirdly, God created the world and all the living creatures progressively, stage by stage.
And fourthly, God created the first man and woman as the final and crowning act of His work of creation.
In the beginning
Genesis chapter 1 verse 1 tells us this: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
This phrase “the heavens and the earth” probably means ‘the entire universe’, including the Earth, the sun, the moon and the planets and all the stars.
The “heavens” probably also include the invisible heavenly realms. God’s holy angels live there. And entrenched in another invisible heavenly realm are spiritual forces of evil headed up by the evil angel Satan.
We can’t see these heavenly places. But they’re every bit as real as the world around us. We can think of them as another dimension of God’s creation.
In the next verse of Genesis 1, God, so to speak, ‘zooms us in’ to planet Earth. We read this:
“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, . . .” (Genesis 1:2 NIV).
This planet wasn’t finished. It was a dark and lifeless world. Earth was completely covered by a vast ocean. There was no dry land anywhere.
The sun and moon and stars probably already existed. But it seems likely that Earth was blanketed by a thick layer of cloud – rather like this image of Earth taken from space.
Such a thick blanket of cloud would have completely shut out the light from the sun, the moon and the stars. So, if you had been there on the surface of the Earth at that time, you would have been in total darkness.
But “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).
God’s Spirit was hovering over the Earth, ready to bring light and order and life and beauty to this dark and watery world.
Bringing order to the Earth
The Earth was just a vast ocean – a dark and watery wilderness. So, on the first three creation days, God lit up this world, then he organized things.
Firstly, God said “Let there be light. And there was light” (Genesis 1:3). And God separated the light from darkness. But the sun and moon and stars didn’t yet appear. It seems that the Earth was still enveloped by cloud. But this cloud now thinned out. Light now penetrated through the cloud and lit up the vast ocean that covered the Earth.
On the second day, God said “’Let there be an be an expanse in the midst of the waters, . . . .’ . . . . And it was so.” (Genesis 1:6-7). God created an expanse in the midst of the waters. He called this open expanse ‘the sky’. The waters above the expanse seem to be the clouds. The waters below become the sea.
On the third day, God said “’Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so.” (Genesis 1:9). God gathered the waters of the sea together. Dry land now appeared.
Filling the Earth
But the Earth was still “empty”. So from the third to the sixth day God filled it. He filled the land with vegetation.
Then, He filled the sky with sun and moon and stars. As we’ve said, it’s likely that the sun, moon and stars already existed. But now, it seems, the clouds broke up. The sun began to shine by day. The moon and the stars began to light up the night sky. The sun and moon and stars could now be used to track the time and the seasons.
Then God filled the waters with living creatures.
And He created birds to fill the skies.
Then God said, “’Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’ And it was so.” (Genesis 1:24).
“Let Us make man”
Then, on the sixth day, God said something quite remarkable. He said this: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)
God was creating something new and different from anything He’d made before. God created mankind in his own image and likeness, male and female.
Then God blessed them. He said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28)
Notice that God didn’t say “Let Me make man”. He said “Let us make man”. God refers to Himself here in the plural. Although our God is one God, the Bible makes it clear that He is also plural. God is three Persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That’s probably why He uses the plural here.
All Three Persons of the Godhead were involved in creating the Universe. The Father designed it. The Son created it. And the Son created it through the power and energy of the Holy Spirit Whom we first meet in Genesis 1 verse 2 hovering over the waters.
Everything was “very good”
So God finished all His creative work. On the seventh day, He rested.
Everything was now finished. Everything was now exactly as God wanted it to be.
When He had finished creating, God declared the Universe to be “very good”.
This created universe is good. Physical, material things can, of course, be used to do evil things. And material things can come to dominate our lives – that’s something we call ‘materialism’. But material, physical things aren’t intrinsically evil. On the contrary, they’re intrinsically good. They’re good because they were created by our good God.
And that means that our own physical bodies are good, too. In fact, God Himself became a Man with a physical body. This image of a mother and baby recaptures the scene when Jesus was born – a human baby nestling in his mother Mary’s arms and – just like every baby – dependent on her for all his bodily and emotional needs.
And after we die, we won’t be disembodied spirits floating about on clouds! God’s people will have physical bodies with new and amazing properties unknown to us now. They will be at least as solid and real as those we possess now. In fact, we couldn’t be human without them.
God’s revelation in Creation
So the Creation is good. Secondly, the Creation reveals God’s power and artistry.
Everywhere we discover exquisite beauty and order that can only come from our creative and all-powerful God.
This photograph captures a glorious masterpiece of the night sky – the Whirlpool galaxy, so called because of its shape.
Here’s another of God’s masterpieces. You can only really see this one in all its glory with a microscope. It’s the eye of an ordinary horsefly. It consists of thousands of individual eyes all arranged in this wonderful geometric pattern.
This little creature, towards the left-hand side of this photograph is actually a fish – a pygmy seahorse. It’s less than an inch long, a little miracle of the sea, brilliantly camouflaged in this fan coral.
Finally, here are just a few of the marvels of colour and design from the world of plants.
These are just a sample of the glories of God’s creation. They all reveal His character – His power, His goodness, His glory and His inexhaustible creativity.
So the creation is good. And creation reveals God’s power and character.
At the centre of the Universe
Thirdly, our Universe is centred on planet Earth. Earth may, or may not, be at the geographical centre of the universe. But it’s most certainly at the centre of God’s purposes for creation.
This famous image is of the Earth seen from the moon. It was taken by Apollo 8 crewmember Bill Anders in 1968.
Compared with the mind-boggling vastness of the Universe, Earth is just a fragile, insignificant speck.
Here’s one of the most remarkable images ever captured on a camera. It doesn’t look much, does it? But if we scroll down we’ll discover a little pale blue dot. There it is marked out by the arrow.
This image was captured in 1990 by the spacecraft Voyager 1. At the time, voyager was about 6 billion kilometres from the Earth. That’s about 40 times the distance of the Earth from the Sun.
So what’s that little blue dot? That’s our planet. That’s Earth. That’s where we all live. That’s our home. If you were alive on that February day in 1990, you are in this photograph.
This photo was taken so far away from the Earth, that this planet looks like a tiny blue dot. It is on this dot that God created beings made in His image. It was on this speck of dust that God Himself became Man, and lived and suffered and died and rose again. Here on our little planet God, changed the destiny of the whole creation.
The Garden of Eden
The creation account continues in Genesis chapter 2. Remember how, in chapter 1 verse 2, God zoomed us in to the planet Earth. Now in chapter 2 verse 4 God ‘zooms us in’ even further to a specific land on Earth. That land was called Eden. It was somewhere in the Middle East.
Here in Eden, God planted a garden with beautiful and fruitful trees, watered by a river. This wonderful image pictures the Detian Falls in the far East, on the border between China and Vietnam. I think it gives us some idea of how wonderful the Garden of Eden was.
That garden was to be mankind’s first home. We’ll explore this paradise in the next session. And we’ll look at exactly how God created the first human beings, called Adam and Eve.
CREDITS ► Text copyright © 2023 Robert Gordon Betts ► Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.► Scripture citations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition) Copyright ©1979,1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). UK trademark number 1448790.