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2CH sermons

God, us and the meaning of life

A sermon by Dominic Steele

What is the meaning of life?

Here’s what I think.

There is no meaning to life.

The whole thing is a gyp, a never-ending corridor to nowhere…

We are replicating DNA and that’s it.

The chicken is just the egg making another egg.

I am a Steggles Number 14.

They are the words of John Casimir. I think he is a great writer, but here I think he has got it wrong. I think there is meaning to life and that I am more than replicating DNA. I am more than just a Steggles Chicken Number 14. Why do I think that? What reason would I have to think that there is any meaning to life, that I am more than replicating DNA, and more than a Steggles Chicken Number 14? If we are here by accident – just “slime plus time”, a bit of this, a bit of that, which has accidentally come together, then our lives have no meaning. We just accidentally happen to be here. And what is the purpose in life? There is none! There is no right or wrong, no morality, no basis for ethics, and there is no reason to respect others. We are all stuck here, so we might as well be selfish.

As Steve Turner puts it in his poem “The Conclusion”, in the book, Up to Date:

My love, She said
That when all’s considered
We are only machines.
So I chained Her to my Bedroom wall
For future use
And she cried.

If we are here as accidents, then there is ultimately no reason not to treat each other like that. If we came about by accident, then we are purposeless. However, if we are made by a creator, then our creator gives us a purpose, a meaning, a morality, a right and wrong.

The God we will meet in this book, is not a God that we might invent, or one with whom we might feel the most comfortable. Instead, we will be introduced to the God of the Bible. There are many different attitudes to the Bible. Many people doing the Introducing God courses have said to me: “I don’t accept the Bible as authoritative,” and I reply “That’s fine” and then I suggest they suspend judgement on that question just for a moment.

For now, come with me for a walk in the Christian worldview which is found in God’s Word, the Bible. On the first page of the Bible, we meet the God who made the world and us. He loves us, made us for relationship with him, and gives us a purpose in life.

***

The first key section of God’s biography starts on page 1 of the Bible, in the book called Genesis (which means “beginning”):

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3And God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night”. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day. (Genesis 1:1–5)

That is what God says and does on the first day! It is majestic writing and beautiful poetry. Once you hear it, it stays in your memory; but not only that, it is a worldview. The first chapter of Genesis paints a picture of God, his creation, and us; which forms the foundation of everything else we will learn about God.

To help us see the significance of what is said here, we will compare and contrast it with another creation account from the ancient world. Some 4000 years ago, many major cities had various creation accounts. Babylon, in modern-day Iraq, was one of the world’s major cities. Let us look at the story of how the ancient Babylonians thought the world was created. This is a paraphrase of the Babylonian creation account, Enuma Elish:

There were two gods, Apsu and Tiamat. Apsu represented the fresh waters (male), and Tiamat the marine waters (female). They had sex and a second generation of gods was born. Apsu could not sleep because the young gods were making so much noise, so he wanted to kill them, but before he could do that, Ea, the god of wisdom and magic, killed him. Tiamat plotted revenge on her husband’s killer, and raised an army. The little gods appealed to another god, Marduk, to save them, and so there was a confrontation between Tiamat and Marduk. Marduk won, and cut the corpse of Tiamat in half, creating heaven from one half of it and the earth from the other half. Then Marduk had another god killed and ordered that humanity be made out of his blood.

It is fascinating to compare the two accounts. Both are poetic, and both account for our existence, and yet these two documents from four millennia ago present very different worldviews. The God we see in Genesis is a God who is a unique and supreme creator.

Notice in the first sentence: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. There is not a whole range of gods: there is one God, supreme over everything, who made everything. There is not a bunch of gods squabbling: “I want to do this”, “I want to do that”, or “I want to be in charge of that”. There are just two categories of things in the universe: God the creator; and everything else that God has created. Second, the God that we are introduced to is a God who creates effortlessly by speaking – with no sweat, and no struggle.

In the third sentence: “God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light”. God speaks, and a world comes into existence! An illustration might help. If I were to say, “Let there be a stadium built here”, nothing would happen. However, if the Prime Minister were to say, “Let there be a stadium built here”, then something would happen. Civil engineers will busy themselves, designing a stadium, contracts would be let and a stadium would appear. The Prime Minister would turn up, two months before the election, to open the stadium and say “I built this stadium” – and he did. Yet, he would not even know the first thing about building stadiums – he does not have a civil engineering degree and he is not interested in how stadiums are built.

How the stadium was built is an engineering issue, a science issue. But why the stadium was built was because the Prime Minister spoke. The why is a theological question, a political question. The Prime Minister built the stadium by his powerful command. The issues we will particularly focus on in this book are the who and why questions, not so much the how questions. What we see in Genesis Chapter 1 is an answer to the who and why questions.

Science says there was a “big bang”, and maybe there was, but if there was a bang, it was God who said, “Light the fuse”. Science speculates on the answers to the how question, while Genesis tells us about the who and why. Third, the God we are introduced to in Genesis is a God who creates in an orderly and structured way. You can see a pattern emerge as you read it.

This is what happened on the second day: And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 7So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8God called the expanse “sky”. And there was evening, and there was morning – the second day. (1:6-7)

The pattern is: God said, “Let there be”, and there was, it was good, evening, morning – first day. God said, “Let there be”, and there was, it was good, evening, morning – second day….   It is ordered, structured and poetic. Everything is controlled and deliberate. There is no disorganisation and no mad panic to make a deadline. The world has not been thrown together haphazardly with “a bit of this, a bit of that”, God trying to cook up a stew in the kitchen, hoping it will turn out all right. Everything has been made the way God wants it to be.

The greatest construction job of all time comes in on time and on budget – amazing! Fourth, when God makes the world, he makes a world that is good. The last line of Genesis 1, says that: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good”. At this point there is nothing in God’s world that is intrinsically evil, everything is good.

Take the example of a knife. A good sharp knife is excellent for carving chicken. I could put it to good use, and take my Steggles Number 14 Chicken to carve it up for dinner. Or, I could put it to bad use – I could kill someone; but that would not make the knife evil. At this point, there is nothing in God’s good world that is evil, in and of itself. God looks at his world and says, “That’s good”. God’s world is perfect and he is not emotionally detached. He looks at the birth of His world, and says that it is very good, just as I looked at the birth of my little girl and far from being emotionally detached thought that is very good!

***

How do we fit into this world that God made, his creation?  Then God said, “Let us make man [people] in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (1:26-27)

We are made by God, which means we are more than accidents, because if you have a maker, then that maker can give you a purpose. We are not an accident. We may not know what our purpose is yet, but we have a purpose. Think about a coffee table. Somebody made the coffee table and made it for a purpose – that is, essentially, for us to put our coffee cups on. When God made people, he made them for a purpose. We are not purposeless, because it is the maker who determines our purpose.  Not only are we made by God, we as humans, are made by our heavenly father, God, in his image. We are “chips off the old block”.

In Genesis 1, verse 26 it says:  Then God said, “Let us make man [people] in our image, in our likeness.” (1:26) I was picking my kids up from school when my daughter Hannah asked if she could go over to the house of another girl to play later in the week. I said, “Let’s go and talk to her mum.” So, Hannah took me over to the mum in the playground, and I started to introduce myself. She looked at me, paused, then said, “Dominic Steele, you’re not related to Jeremy Steele, are you?” I said, “Yes, I am his son! How do you know him?” She said, “Well, I haven’t seen him for a long time.”

It turned out that she had studied engineering at university, and my father was on staff in that department. She had graduated in 1983, and it had been more than 20 years since she had seen my father, yet she still recognised me as Jeremy Steele’s son. For I am in his image, in his likeness. Someone once said about children and parents, “I am nothing like my father. And yet, when I walk, I walk with his walk. And when I smile, I smile with his smile.”

What does it mean for us as humans to be made in the image of God? This is a crucial question – it is what makes us special, different, and human. It is what separates us from apes, cats, dogs, pigs, whales, dolphins, and the rest of creation. Being in the image of God has much more to do with our responsibility/role on the planet and the way we relate to each other than with our appearance. What is our role on the planet?

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (1:28) One of our main responsibilities is to fill the world. In God’s good world, the man and the woman are told by God to fill the earth; in effect, to “go for it”. There is no hint that God looks down from heaven, sees Adam and Eve jumping on each other and exclaims in horror, “What are they doing?” No, the first command given to humanity in the Bible, instruction number one is: “Fill the earth!”

So, contrary to popular belief, God is very positive about sex – after all, he invented it. However, sex is like a knife, it cuts both ways. It was purposed by God to be a good thing, but it can be used by us for good or for bad. God also gives us the task of ruling the earth under him. In the last part of verse 26, God says: “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground”.

God gives us a privilege and responsibility as humans to rule His earth under His authority. You might think as I sometimes do, “But I don’t feel like a world ruler.” Maybe not, but animals do not rule the world – we do. God has given humanity collectively the task of ruling the world; and individually? Well, I rule my side of the bed – we all rule our little bit! Collectively, God has given us the responsibility of ruling his world under him. Even though God gives us this task of ruling the world, we are not free to rule it any way we like; we are to rule his way, because he is still God.

In Genesis Chapter 2, verse 15, it says: The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (2:15) Free to eat from any tree! I put my kids in the family room to play when it is “room time”. I say to them, “You are free to play with (to rule) anything in the family room. But, do not touch the DVD.” And that is what God says. He says, “Eat from any tree – do whatever you like! But do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

It is a restriction, but it is one for our own good. My dad owns a staple gun. When I was young, I used to think that my Dad’s staple gun was the king of all staple guns. When we were growing up, my dad kept the staple gun in the chest of drawers in the lounge room, in a cardboard box. Dad wrote on the box: “Dominic, no touching till aged 17”. I was allowed to play with all of Dad’s things, but I was not allowed to touch Dad’s staple gun, circular saw or chain saw. I was allowed to touch anything else in the house. It was a restriction for my own good and not an oppressive restriction.

You see, my dad loved my sisters, so he, in his wisdom, he would not let his son touch his staple gun, circular saw or chain saw. When God says, “You must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil” it is sort of like saying, “Do not touch the staple gun”. For me, as my father’s son, to touch the staple gun would have made him angry. For my daughter to touch the DVD when she was told not to, would have made me angry. And for us to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that makes God angry. As he warns, “for when you eat of it you will surely die”.

To touch the DVD, to play with the staple gun, to eat from the tree – they are more than just doing the wrong thing. They are statements of defiance, declarations of autonomy. We say, “God, I don’t care that you have given me everything else in the family room to play with! I am going to touch the DVD!” We say, “God, I don’t care that you said don’t touch the staple gun.” We say, “God, we don’t care that you have given us all the trees in the garden, we are going to eat from the tree that you told us not to.”

In stubborn defiance, we who are the created, shake our puny fists at the Creator, our Heavenly Father

***

In this session we have begun to be introduced to God. He may not be the God that some people would go shopping for, but he is the God who is there and has made himself known. He is a God who loves us, a God who is unique and sovereign, and a God who creates effortlessly by speaking. He is a God who makes us in his image, who has given us a purpose, the privilege and responsibility to fill and rule his planet.

The implications of having a creator, and of us being made in his image, are massive. I am not just “slime plus time”. I am not an accident and my life is not meaningless. There are also other implications. I have a real basis for anti-racism and anti-sexism: whatever my skin colour or gender, I am made in God’s image. I have a real basis for understanding other issues, such as, why murder is different from and worse than whaling – for a person is made in the image of God. I have a real basis for not being materialistic: as someone made in God’s image, I am not going to live for something material, something less than me, a car or a house; because we have a creator who gives us a higher purpose.

So what is our purpose? What is the meaning of our lives? Well, it is really not a matter of what but a matter of who we are to live for; and our question about the meaning of life becomes, “God, you are our creator: how would you have us live.”

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