Sketching HIStory #5

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Gen 1 – God Formed Our World

Again, go ahead, open your Bibles and read Genesis 1:6-19 or click on Bible Gateway links below.

NIV     GNT    KJV

[GNT for Catholics]

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Like the Prophet Jeremiah, Albert Einstein (being Jewish himself) had no problem recognizing God’s hand in the creation of the universe. I recall reading somewhere that Einstein commented that when mankind probes the very recesses of space, they will find God staring back at them (something like that). Anyway, as spectacular as the creation of the cosmos was from Genesis 1:1-5, the verses after gave us no indication of how our own planet was developed. At that matter, verses 6-10 started up with our planet already formed and ready for seeding. Also, if we are to take verse 6 just a little bit literal, our entire planet may have been completely covered with water.

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And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”
So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault
from the water above it.
And it was so.
God called the vault “sky.”
[vs 6-8a]

What is the vault? And what does it mean ‘separate water from water’? Well, a vault is defined as a sloped ceiling like what you find in high domed cathedrals. The vault that God made is, of course, our own ‘sky’. Scientifically speaking, the sky is our planet’s atmosphere and it is made up of several layers. The most outer layer is the Ozone Layer which protects us from the sun’s radiation today. Ozone is a gas, but once upon a time, it was quite different.

God separated the water under the vault… that is the sea… from the water above it… that is the Earth’s stratosphere. God had placed a protective shell of water around our planet. Can you imagine the ‘greenhouse’ long term effect this will have on our planet? For later posts, I ask that you keep this primordial atmospheric condition in mind. For it will explain away a lot of the spectacular phenomenon we will observe until we get to Genesis 6.

And there was evening, and there was morning, the second day. [vs 8b]

Again, this is not an indication that the making of the sky took 24 hours. This part of the narrative is a poetic transition from one creation event to another.

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And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place,
and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.
God called the dry ground “land,” and
the gathered waters he called “seas.”
And God saw that it was good. [vs 9-10]

I think the verses above is quite obvious, God caused the land to be raised above the sea. But if you look at the words closely, in the beginning, our world only had one massive land mass not like the seven continents and thousands of islands we know today. This contiguous land mass is known by scientists as the super-continent, Pangaea or Pangea. Pangea, in early geologic time, incorporated almost all the landmasses on Earth.

Now, let me say, that this concept of Pangea was proposed by a German scientist* in the early 20th century. It is interesting to note that this concept was FIRST introduced in a book written thousands of years ago.

[* Alfred Wegener, the originator of the scientific theory of continental drift, in his 1912 publication, ‘The Origin of Continents’]

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Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation:
seed-bearing plants and trees on the land
that bear fruit with seed in it,
according to their various kinds.” And it was so.
The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed
according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit
with seed in it according to their kinds.
And God saw that it was good.
And there was evening, and there was morning, the third day.
[vs 11-13]

According to a Bible commentator, these verses refer to the second creative act. I think I’ll let you read the rest of the commentary.

The first creative act was the calling of matter into existence, which, by the operation of mechanical and chemical laws, imposed upon it by the Creator, was arranged and digested into a cosmos, that is, an orderly and harmonious whole. These laws are now and ever in perpetual activity, but no secondary or derived agency can either add one atom to the world-mass or diminish aught from it. The second creative act was the introduction of life, first vegetable, and then animal; and for this nothing less than an Almighty power would suffice.

Vegetation, therefore, did not reach its perfection until the sixth day, when animals were created which needed these seeds and fruits for their food. But so far from there being anything in the creative record to require us to believe that the development of vegetation was not gradual, it is absolutely described as being so; and with that first streak of green God gave also the law of vegetation, and under His fostering hand all in due time came to pass which that first bestowal of vegetable life contained.

It is the constant rule of Holy Scripture to include in a narrative the ultimate as well as the immediate results of an act; and moreover, in the record of these creative days we are told what on each day was new, while the continuance of all that preceded is understood.

[Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers]

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And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky
to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs
to mark sacred times, and days and years
and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.”
And it was so. [vs 14]

God made two great lights…
the greater light to govern the day
and the lesser light to govern the night.
He also made the stars.
God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth,
to govern the day and the night,
and to separate light from darkness.
And God saw that it was good.
And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day. [vs 15-19]

I feel that I have to reiterate to you that in these passages, God had not literally created the sun, moon and most especially the stars at that particular time period. We already read in verses 1-5, that the stars including our very own sun, our planet and moon were in the process of development. But doubt in the Bible have a tendency of naggingly creep into our minds. I should know, I had those same doubts, at first. But then, I was prompted to look at the literature a little bit closely.

As a rule, when it came to Scriptures, I have been trained to apply the inductive method of reading the Bible as a discipline. Part of that training was to look at the passage to see what it really ‘said’ before I can figure out what it ‘meant’. Keeping in mind that this part of Genesis was meant to be read as part poetry and part prose, I focused on the language style. Let us look at the first part of verse 14, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky”. Whenever, I read this verse out loud, my theater skills kick in. Always, at the words of ‘lights in the vault of the sky’, I instinctly look up. In other words, in a none-poetic way, this could almost be read this way, ‘let the sun, moon and stars be seen upon the sky from where you stand’. Perspective is the key! So, if I was to show God’s intention, I would paraphrase verses 14-19, this way.

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Behold! Look up in the sky! In the beginning, I have set there two great lights to separate the day from the night. The sun is the greater light and will light up your day. The moon which is a lesser light so that you would not stumble in the dark. To help the moon, you will also see in the night sky a blanket of stars laid out from horizon to horizon. Now, from these lights, you will mark your days, years and seasons some of which will become sacred for those who believe. You will read in them signs that will influence your agriculture, navigation, and yes, even your history.

Now, I probably did not do it justice with my paraphrase, but I hope you would look at the Bible in the same inductive method that I used and apply it to the rest of Genesis and the whole Bible.

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Having read how God formed our world, I think it best we have the right attitude toward our Creator, so far. The Prophet Isaiah said it best in his book.

Isaiah 40:26
Lift up your eyes on high: Who created all these? He leads forth the starry host by number; He calls each one by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

In my next post, we complete the Genesis 1 narrative with God bringing life into our world.

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Note: The Crimson Thread points to a connection between Old Testament passages to Jesus Christ.

Sketching HIStory #4

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Gen 1 – Creation of the Universe

I welcome you first to open and read your Bibles: Genesis chapter 1. For those who want to read online below are links to Bible Gateway in 3 English translations.

New International Version NIV
Good News Translation GNT  (for Catholics)     King James Version KJV

Here is an observation. Have you noticed that the account of the creation of the universe is covered only in one chapter of Genesis? In my old college library, I recalled seeing 5-6 tall book shelves dedicated to the sciences of our universe. In this age of computers, I’m sure you can find several terrabytes of the same research available in the world wide net. My point is, how is it that the most spectacular cosmological event was limited to less than a thousand words in the Bible? Keeping in mind that God inspired Moses to write it this way, I believe God intended Genesis 1 to be read so that the focus is not so much on the created but more on the CREATOR. This is after all HIS story.

As a storyteller, I always believe that Genesis was meant to be read out loud with a slight theatrical flair. Imagine those times when the Israelites wanted to hear more about Him from their leader, Moses. Besides preaching to the entire congregation from on top of a mountain, I think he would from time to time, join them in smaller groups at their open fires and regale them under the stars, strengthening their faith in God. So, let’s get on with… HIStory.

“Once upon a time…”

Hold on! I know that this is how most bedtime stories usually start. However, God’s story does not start this way.

In the beginning, God… [vs 1a]

As a matter of truth, God’s story didn’t start in Time, but way… way before it, in… Eternity!

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In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was formless and empty,
and darkness covered the deep waters.
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. [vs 1-2]

You know, I would have loved to present to you this part of the creation story from inside my old college planetarium. If I can get my hands on the planetarium’s animation generator, you… while resting in a reclined position, will be looking up into the dome ceiling and will see God’s spiritual hands laying out the heavens, in this case, the blackness of space.

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And in that vast expanse, He also made from nothing the earth. No, I do not mean our planet Earth with a capital ‘E’, but earth or ‘erets’ which means dirt in Hebrew (language of the Old Testament). This dirt is not the same you find on the ground. What is described in verse 2 as being formless and empty implies that this material, being so primordial, is in actuality an integral building block for all existing matter. Take note, so far, we have SPACE and MATTER. There is an acknowledged scientific process that when you take these two then add ENERGY, you get an ATOM. (Who said that the Bible and science can’t go hand in hand?)

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. [vs 2b]

What is God doing over the surface of the waters (by the way, this is not referring to a literal body of water)? He was ‘hovering’!? In other Bible translations, the word ‘moving’ was also used. Can anybody say… Kinetic ENERGY?!

It is right about here that something BIG is going to happen!

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. [vs 3]

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What is bigger than WOW!?

W O W ! ! !

Now, when God turns the light on, we’re not talking about Him flicking a switch and a light bulb comes on. No sir! This light probably and spectacularly lit up the entire universe. By the way, this almost sounds like what scientists call the Big Bang Theory (and I am not talking about the popular TV sitcom).

The Big Bang theory represents cosmologists’ best attempts to reconstruct the 14 billion year story of the universe based on the sliver of existence visible today. Most generally, it illustrates the arc of the observable universe as it thinned out and cooled down from an initially dense, hot state. The Big Bang theory found widespread acceptance for its unparalleled ability to explain what we see. [content from www.livescience.com]

And God saw that the light was good. [vs 4a]

In the Genesis creation story, God saw that what was created was good. In the surface, God was pleased that what He created and set into motion – will do what it was meant to do.

When He created the light (that I’m convinced was the BIG BANG), that event explosively pushed all that cosmological materials out into space forming gas clouds, dark matter, black holes, nebulas and galaxies.

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Imagine again, you sitting in the planetorium blinking rapidly after the effect of that bright flash of light from the Big Bang. Then you watch in wonder, blurred lights slowly float away from where the explosion subsided down to a distant glow. Those lights, as they come closer to you become swirling galaxies. Imagine 14 billion years of moving and expanding universe compressed into about a 10 minute planetarium presentation. I always loved those effects.

Anyway, one galaxy… a familiar one, at that… seem to be getting bigger than the rest. It is our own Milky Way Galaxy. And if it is like every planetarium show I’ve ever watched, we majesticall fly in toward one of our galaxy’s swirling arms to where God is preparing our world. However, before we fly in, let us finish our understanding the rest of Genesis 1:4-5.

Then He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day. [vs 4b-5]

The passage of where God separated the light from the darkness, besides the obvious, actually have spiritual implications which I will cover more in-depth in later studies. For now, let me explain that the usage of ‘day and night’ which is repeated 6 other times, by the way, in the creation narrative were not meant to represent a 24 hour Earth time period. In other words, God did not create everything in just 6 days. However, I am not saying that God Almighty can not do it in 6 days. Frankly, He could probably flick His fingers and create everything instantly. But His words reflect differently. Remember, Genesis 1-3 was meant to be read as an Exalted Prose – that is, it is neither pure narrative nor pure poetry, but tells a story using a number of poetic features and a clear literary framework like the usage of the transition from night to day. Consider again Moses, as he told each of the creation event at the end of which, he theatrically swung his arm, east to west, with his fingers spread wide open uttering “And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day”.

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The purpose of Sketching HIStory is so that you can get to know Him more personally. We have just read the biblical account of how the universe was made but besides the claim that it was He that created it (which should be enough reason to praise Him), how else can we know Him more? How can we go beyond the intellectual knowledge to the faith building way of knowing Him? I mean that we may experience Him… feel Him deep inside. The answer was already provided to us by God when He created the universe.

The Apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, said that what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. [Roman 1:19-20]

Do you want to experience Him closely? Then open your eyes and look closely at what He created. Go out where you can escape the light pollution of the city and find a field where you can cast your eyes at the spectacular view of the Milky Way. Or go to the nearest planetarium. Then, I encourage you to believe the words of the Psalmist below.

Psalm 19:1-4
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

In the next post, we will see how God formed our world. See you then.

Sketching HIStory #3

Sketching-HIStory-2-wIntroduction – The Bible is God-breathed

home-altar-w.jpgWhen I was growing up, we lived in the Philippines which was mostly Roman Catholic. In our home, like in many Filipino houses, we had an alcove that was traditionally reserved for family religious icons. On the wall panel, we had a statue image of Jesus as he was ascending into heaven. Underneath was an altar, a narrow table laid out with a beautiful white table cover intricately knitted by my grandmother (on my mother’s side). On the two ends of the table were a pair of candles on silver sticks. At the center, sitting on a slight tilted easel, was our large family Bible. I still remember it well. From a child’s perspective, it was massive and looked quite heavy. I remember my grandmother would scare my siblings and especially me that if we were bad, we’d have to kneel before the altar holding that heavy book up. As the naughtiest, she would dramatically point at it whenever she was annoyed by me. Funny thing though, she never did carry it out.

Anyway, I can still see it in my mind’s eye. It’s thick fabric cover was faded white (almost beige) with the words THE HOLY BIBLE and the cross embossed in whitish-gold on it. Just under the cover, on the second page, are the names of my family and our respective birth dates. I considered it quite sacred, though at that time I didn’t really understand what it meant. As a kid, I was always attracted to that book. Little did I know that written in it were words that would eventually change my life. It was almost three decades later that I got myself a smaller Bible that guided me through my greatest challenges in life and even beyond. Can you believe it?

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However, before I get to that part of my own history, allow me to put out this unmistakable statistic. The Bible is still the best-selling book of all time.

Did you know that when the printing press was invented, the Gutenberg Bible was the first printed book to hit the market? The Bible has been a massive influence on literature and history, especially in the Western World. According to the March 2007 edition of Time, the Bible “has done more to shape literature, history, entertainment, and culture than any book ever written. Its influence on world history is unparalleled, and shows no signs of abating.” [content from Wikipedia]

Of course, it was not statistics nor its influences that impressed me. You see, during my ‘wild and rebellious’ years, the sacredness of the Bible had less an effect on me. Mainly, I got into my head that it was outdated and probably was not relevant to my life. Keep in mind, though, that the only Scriptures I knew were those that were more or less taught in Catholic catechism. The catechism was promulgated by the Catholic Church to reinforce principles and beliefs of the Catholic faithful. I was a kid then and I must admit, I was a lousy student.

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fr-peyton-w.jpgBesides that, what else I knew about the Bible and God was from stories told by family and… believe it or not… from Cecil B. de Mille movies like The Ten Commandments, Samson and Delilah and The King of Kings.

Oh, I almost forgot about the 1960s TV series, Father Patrick Peyton’s Family Theatre which showed dramatized episodes of the Gospel.

That was the extent of my knowledge of God which, looking back, was superficial at best.

I say superficial because I had my own ideas of God. It was either incomplete or most of the time, downright wrong and not based on knowledge (Romans 10:2). How did I know? In hindsight, my little knowledge of Him had not stirred my life to fruition. Even with my college education, I felt empty, unfulfilled and a man with no direction. Like a ship with no rudder, I was subject to the winds and tides (trials & problems of life) that would eventually push me to the rocks and destruction. But then the Bible miraculously opened up to me. What do I mean? Before, others tried to get me to read the Bible but every time I tried… nothing! The words didn’t move me. Today, I know why. During those times, I had no real desire to get to know God. It was only when I came to the realization that I really needed to find out more about Him was when His Word breathed life into me (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

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I became inspired. As 2nd Timothy 3 says above, the Bible, even after 25 years since I thoughtfully opened the book, is still teaching me. I can never exhaust learning from His word. His word is truly living especially when it rebukes, corrects and trains me in righteousness.

So, how did I discover the true God when my eyes first open to His Word?

road-to-emmaus-4-wLet’s go back to the road to Emmaus. Jesus, who those two disciples were still prevented to recognize, took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. [Luke 24:27 NLT] The master teacher of all time brought them back to the beginning of the only Bible they had at that time, the Old Testament. Luke 24 verse 27 mentions first the writings of Moses. Moses wrote five crucial books the first of which is the Book of Genesis. This is the beginning of the Bible. This was where the Lord started me on more than 25 years ago.

Sketching HIStory (SH) will follow the same chronological path through the Bible and I will take on the role of a storyteller. In those stories, I will include my own thoughts and questions I had at that time. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will also provide related illustrations sketched out either by me or from other sources. My goal is that you will get to know HIM intimately like the way I did. But this blog will only highlight the Scriptural mile stones. It is not an adequate substitution for you to read His words on your own. In fact, I would encourage you to not take my word on face value but seek out what Scripture actually says. Then, you would be prepared and equipped to do every good work, like I have witnessed time after time from those that read and believed.

crimson-thread-wOne other thing that I want to emphasize as we walk together along the chronological trail of God’s story. I believe I will not be committing ‘spoiler alert’ violations when I stipulate what is widely taught that the Old Testament ultimately pointed to Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus was talking about on the road to Emmaus. As a storyteller and follower, I can do no less than try to emulate the Teacher. So, as I post my SH blog entry, I will layout a… CRIMSON THREAD. When you see this symbol, I hope you can see the connection. The rest is up to you.

Well, this is the end of the Introduction. In my next post, let us meet God in the beginning.