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“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  Genesis 1:1

Those ten words changed the world.  How?  By giving us the precious gift of rational thought.

Until God spoke, our m.o. for managing reality was sympathetic magic.  Like voodoo.  You get a doll representing your enemy, say the magic abracadabra, stick a big pin into the doll, and somehow that might trigger a disaster in your enemy’s real life.  So in pagan religions, ritual sex, for example, was not due to normal human glandular intensity.  It was felt to be the means by which human behavior could precipitate the fructifying of the earth by the gods.  The burden of sustaining life lay on us.  The divine powers above had to be activated by a corresponding stimulus from below.  And we had no idea what to do about that except to try something, anything, with our own made-up, sub-logical mumbo jumbo.

Then Genesis 1:1 exploded into the world.  Ten words wiped the universe clean of the filthy gods and goddesses.  It was as if this cosmic haunted house was finally lit up, and we saw there was nothing there to manipulate.  Instead, we saw a transcendent Creator God outside the universe, not subject to our control but controlling all things with blessing and judgment according to revealed and just principles that can be known and thought about and discussed and obeyed.  God was finally glorified.  We were finally dignified.

The world changed forever, for the better, with the ten words Genesis 1:1.

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6 thoughts on “Ten words changed the world”

  1. Julian Hardyman says:

    That is my text for Sunday morning! I am starting a series on Genesis 1-11 as the Cambridge undergrads return
    Thanks for some extra-special stimulus

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      Cool. Glad for this timing of things. Thanks, Julian.

  2. Pastor Paul says:

    Appreciate the thoughts about our transcendent Creator revealing himself from heaven, but can’t get past the notion that those 10 words changed the world. That notion implies that the world, with its pagan religions, was there to be changed when they were spoken. Since God is Creator, it does not make sense to me to speak of his creative act as modifying anything. Genesis 1:1 can certainly explode into people’s lives today, as the living and active word of God. We shouldn’t confuse the timing of our hearing God’s words with the timing of when they were originally spoken. Thanks for the compelling article.

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      Thanks, Paul. It was in the fifteenth century BC, when Moses wrote these words, that the world started changing, making possible, eventually, modern medicine and other benefits, which could have been realized only within a rational worldview. God gave us that, for his glory and our blessing, when this verse rocked the world.

  3. Mel says:

    This probably sounds off topic but doesn’t the painting go against the ten commandments in portraying God, who is in heaven in a graven form? Perhaps I don’t understand the text correctly.

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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