What Happens When God Speaks?

God called the light "day" and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning the first day (Genesis 1:5). And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water" (Genesis 1:6). And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered unto one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so (Genesis 1:9). 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" (Genesis 1:11).
As you read the above passages, what do you see happening? Are sound waves doing something? Is God giving orders to angels and they are doing something? Does the subject of each of the statements mean that something appears and then God gives recognition to it? Is this just a poetic expression that has no meaning and was not intended to describe anything that is happening at all? I have had people give me all of those answers to the question of what is going on when God says "Let there be light," as well as references like it.

Process is an important question in discussions about the Bible and questions about the existence of God. The Bible does not portray God as speaking everything into existence, because sometimes words like "God formed man of the dust of the earth" appear in scripture sounding like a direct physical manipulation. How literally we take the Bible is a function of what we do with these differences, and many disagreements about Genesis are rooted in the fact that people fail to think about the methods that God has chosen to use to bring things into existence.

On top of all of these biblical questions is the fact that as we look at the natural world, we seemany cases where the evidence strongly shows that natural processes produce the things that we see. Anyone who has worked with coal for any period of time has come across the remains of plants and the imprints of plants in the coal, implying that a natural environment produced the coal. In today's world we see oil produced in marine environments by a small form of life called a diatom. These microscopic animals form a drop of oil in their bodies as they live, and when they die they settle to the bottom of the ocean taking their drop of oil and their skeletal material with them. The skeletal material is called diatomaceous earth. When we drill oil wells we very frequently find diatomaceous earth in the area where we find oil. That leads petroleum geologists to believe that most if not all of our oil is produced by a natural process we think we understand.

Similar evidence exists for mountains. We see mountains produced today by volcanoes, by erosion, and by forces within the earth producing; faults by compression and by stretching. As we look at mountains from the pasts we see evidence of the same forces having produced them in ancient times. It is obvious that if you believe in God, you believe that God can create by any process that He chooses, but God is also described in the Bible as incapable of lying, misleading, or deceiving man and for God to place massive amounts of evidence falsely in the ground knowing that honest seeking men and women would be misled is a form of lying. God simply will not operate that way--it is incompatible with His nature.

Even the question of light can be approached with an eye as to whether it is produced by natural processes or not. Today we know that all light is produced by an acceleration of charge in one way or another. In the Bible it appears that many references to light are actually referring to energy; but in those cases where light is produced as the opposite of darkness (see verses 3-4), the question arises as to what did God do to accomplish what was done.

Speaking cannot be a methodology and is in fact normally a form of communication. There are those who believe that the sound waves spoken by God actually did the things that are being described. We have already pointed out that God can function any way He likes, but He will not mislead us. Sound waves are not physical material. All that sound does is to change what is already there. In the Bible there are cases where God speaks in a dream which is not actually sound, so the reference may not even deal with sound waves per se. Sound does not have an intelligence of its own, and the energy of a sound wave is not its own energy, but gets its energy from that which produced it and thus it is not creative or capable of intelligent action.

When sound waves are used, someone is communicating with someone else in the natural world. In the Genesis account there are some verses which clearly demonstrate that communication is taking place. The statement let us create man in our image, clearly is being spoken for purposes of communication. The whole purpose of the physical creation is to communicate and demonstrate to receptive beings God's communication (Ephesians 6:12; 3:16). The fact that Genesis is Hebrew poetry further supports the notion that the speaking references are for communicative purposes. Poetry is for the benefit of those who listen, not to explain complex scientific material. That does not mean that poetry is in error. but the question becomes what was God trying to convey and why was this style of writing chosen?

What the message is provides the key to understanding. The obvious purpose of Genesis I was to convey two messages to all who read it:  1)God has created everything and 2) God has created man specially in the image of God. There are secondary purposes in the Genesis language. The fact that there was a beginning, that the beginning was caused, and that God has created with purpose, logic, and intelligence are also set clearly before the reader. There is a sequence given to the creation and man's role is spelled out. The spiritual history of man and the need that man has for salvation and for reunification with his creator is clearly shown.

What is not given and not intended by Genesis is a detailed explanation of the methods by which God did the creating. God does not explain every thing that has lived on this planet, and with some 26 million different forms of life known now by man, we can understand why. The creation of minerals, the complexities of weather and all of the "why" questions that we hear are not included in the Genesis account. Any writing must be used for the purposes that it was intended, and using the Genesis account to explain science or to establish human creeds and denominational traditions is a destructive use of the Genesis message.

The role of science is to learn "how". The role of science and its relationship to the Genesis account is to learn how God did what He did, and use that knowledge to help mankind. Studies of the sun have given us the hope of developing fusion power to solve the world's energy problems. We have learned how to find gold, oil, and coal by studying the earth. The fact that God has used the methods He has used to create the earth give us this ability. If God had used methods that are alien to us to produce the coal, gas, and oil thousands of feet underground, we could never find them. The only way that the standard of living we enjoy is possible is because of the way God accomplished His creative processes.

God speaking things into existence is not a mystic fairy tale. The creation process spoke of God s power and wisdom to the forces and powers described in Ephesians 6:12. It is recorded so that we can know that God is and that He has created our world for us in marvelous ways that testify to Him every where we look. In Genesis 1:1, every word is pregnant with meaning scientifically. The fact that there was a beginning establishes God as the creator of time and places all other explanations out of reach. The word shanyhim (heaven) in Hebrew  conveys the notion that all of the cosmos was brought into existence by God--so there is unity and purpose in all we see. The word bara (created) tells us that God accomplished something that is peculiar to the power and nature of God, as bara is never used in reference to man or what man can do. The word erets (earth) does not refer to some fairy land where things functioned in an illogical and unnatural way. The normal use of the word erets is to refer to the earth we live on, farm, travel across, and are a part of. How long God used in developing that earth and what it was like is not spelled out to us because it is redundant to the purpose of the passage. I would suggest that it was part of the plan of God to prepare the earth for man. Natural designed processes produced our soil, and all that makes our form of life possible was developed during that time.

At the end of it all God says, "It is good." God communicates to us, to spiritual powers and beings, and the heavenly hosts that what has been accomplished in the creation of the earth has the potential for enormous good and for the purposes that God had in the creation from the beginning. It is up to us to make that goodness as evident to our fellow man and fulfill the promise that God gave us when He sent His Son.

--John N. Clayton

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