“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s how it all begins. And when I say “all” I mean all. This is the source of all things. It was an event that is absolutely unrepeatable. Unreproducable. Unobservable – because God was the only one there. Out of nothing, God made “everything.”
God created not out of boredom, because eternity was getting a little stale. Not out of loneliness, for God is completely and totally sufficient in and of Himself. God created out of love. It’s not unlike the reason why we have children. Some people have kids because they’re lonely or because they feel like there is a void in their lives. But often times, when kids come into the picture, it doesn’t necessarily fix that hole; it might put a band aid on it for a while, but it will come back. The best reason a husband and a wife have children is out of an overflow of love for one another. They love each other, and they want that love to spill over into others as well. So they have kids.
Before anything was created, there was an inexhaustible amount of love among the members of the Trinity. And that love spilled out into the creation of all that we see and know. So in the beginning God created. He created the molecules and the cellular division. He created the ecosystems that work in tandem with each other through His common grace. He knit together the vast number of individual species in all their glorious variety. He set the orbits of the planets in such a way that the tides on earth don’t rise more than they should. He planned night and day to be an appropriate amount of time to support different life systems in different areas. God not only created, but He created in such a way that all of His creation fits together in a harmonious way.
But let’s not stop there either. For in as much as God created the physical universe, He also created things that are invisible to us and yet are integral for the way we live. Take time, for instance. God thought that up, too, in the same way He thought up the Venus fly-trap or the brown trout. This too sprang from His creativity.
And so the process of creation went for six days. The heavenly bodies. The creatures and plantlife of the seas and the air. Then humanity, stamped and made uniquely with the imprint of the image of God. And then, quite suddenly it seems, creation is over. The end and conclusion comes at the end of day 6, as recorded as chapter 1 closes and moves into chapter 2, beginning in verse 31:
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. But the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
That’s how the account of creation ends. And at first glance, it doesn’t seem to end with a bang, but with a whimper. Don’t we expect some more? Some bigger fireworks? Something more extensive? Like one final grand act? What’s more interesting and even confusing, is the use of the word “rest” to describe God’s lack of activity on day 7. That seems to contradict much of what we believe to be true about God.
That sounds more like a term that should be applied to us, because that’s what we do on the weekends. We work and work and work until we can’t work any more, and finally when the weekend rolls around us, we want to do nothing except rest. To nap. To stop thinking. To lay on the couch. We want to rest because that’s what you do when you’re exhausted. But God?
Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure it’s exhausting work to create. It’s not like He had been idle for the previous 7 days; God had been busily working hard during those days. But rest? Our God? The one who doesn’t slumber or sleep? That God?
And we’re right to suspect something fishy going on here, because a better translation for the word “rest” is actually “cease.” That’s the context in which we should read this. God stopped, but He didn’t stop because He needed a break. God doesn’t need breaks. He stopped because He was finished. There wasn’t any more to do. It was very good. The verb translated as “rest” in most other contexts carries the implication of taking up a position of safety, security, or stability; of settling down or settling in. It is marked by God’s ceasing the work of the previous six days and settling into the stability of the cosmos. And that is important.
In our eyes, this might be the “bang” that we think creation should end with, but the institution of the Sabbath is more than just an appendix to bring creation to its closure. This is actually the climactic moment of creation – the thing that brings it all together for us.
The reason we have trouble seeing Sabbath as the climactic moment is because it’s not centered on us. We would much rather that the climax be the creation of man and woman, and that this seventh day is just something tagged onto the end, but it’s not. It’s the summation. And we struggle with that because if that’s so, then it’s not about us. It’s about God. It’s about His completed and very good creative work and recognizing it as such.
Those two elements – completion and celebration – are what the Sabbath is all about. It’s not about exhaustion for God, and it shouldn’t be about that for us. God doesn’t invite us as His people into the story of creation until this moment. And by inviting us in here, indeed commanding us to be regular partakers of this Sabbath moment, we know that in Sabbath-ing we are to have the same purpose as He did on this first Sabbath. We are to celebrate the completed, creative work of God. But as we close the Old Testament and move to the New, we begin to see the true implications not only of Sabbath but of creation as a whole.
The creation of the universe, as it turns out, is a paradigm – a precedent – that is repeated over and over again throughout redemptive history. And it’s one we have a personal knowledge of. Though this was the first time when God called light out of darkness, substance out of the void, and life out of nothingness, it wouldn’t be the last time. This model of creative activity has been repeated over and over and over again throughout the years following His initial creative work.
The same thing has happened in us. At one time, we were all children of darkness. Slaves to the kingdom of the air. Void of hope and life. And yet the Great Creator once again stepped into the darkness and the void and spoke, and life sprang up again inside of us. He called us from darkness to light, from nothing to significance, from outsiders to children. And He created a new heart inside of us that is bent toward Him. What God did at creation started the pattern He has continued throughout the rest of history, and we stand in the long line of His workmanship.
And now, much as He did on the seventh day then, after He created life in us in Christ, He stands back in Sabbath. Not because He’s tired, but because He’s finished. When Jesus hung on the cross, His pronouncement was one that has great meaning for the followers of Jesus and the children of God. It is indeed finished. We don’t need to strive any more. We don’t need to improve on what God has done. The work He has done in us is His work, and it is very good. The call for us now is to Sabbath along with God, reflecting on and enjoying His finished work in creation. Creating us in Jesus.