Starting at the Beginning: Studying Genesis As We Reopen
Allow me to state the obvious: it has been a long time since we have met together with our churches and with the students in our ministries. I am sure that none of us, as we prepared our ministry for 2020, could have possibly foreseen the cluster of events that has turned our world upside down. Now, as the world slowly moves back towards normal rhythms, we must begin to prepare to meet the questions and hurts of our students.
When we are able to meet together again, we will meet in a context of nationwide pain and confusion over the coronavirus and the protests following the death of George Floyd. For our students, this time will be incredibly important in how they are shaped for the rest of their lives. Studies show that major world events are fundamental in shaping the way we relate to the world around us. Studies show that 9/11 and the Great Recession have had massive implications on the way Millennials relates to money, makes life decisions, and interacts with the world. In this moment of global turmoil, it seems likely that this moment will have similar implications for the lives of our students.
It is essential for youth ministers to bring gospel truth into our students’ lives as they process these events. This is why in the youth ministry I lead, we will be studying the Book of Genesis over the summer.
The Beginning of Life
The Book of Genesis begins by speaking to the origins of all that is good in this world: the Triune God himself. Into the void, he brings forth life, beauty, and order. Chief among his creation is the making of man and woman in his own image (Gen. 1:27). He empowers human beings as his vice-regents on earth, to protect it and lead it into flourishing (Gen. 1:28-30; 2:15). The paradigm for human flourishing is established: God and human beings dwelling together.
In the wake of so much darkness, it is essential that we point students toward God’s original intention for the world. As they observe death from disease and death from injustice, we must shepherd this rising generation in the beauty and importance of protecting life. The Book of Genesis, written by Moses to a people entering a land filled with foreign people and foreign gods, teaches that the people of God are to be champions of life, stewards of good, and promoters of flourishing following their Creator God. Not only does he promote flourishing in his original design, but he also acts to promote flourishing in the face of evil.
The Beginning of Evil
For many students, the days we are currently living in will be the most poignant experience they have with evil on a large scale. This may be one of the first times that they confront difficult questions about a world broken by sin.
In response to these questions, Genesis speaks profound truths that the loss of life and societal injustice is not God’s original intention for the world. Instead, evil has entered this world through human beings’ failure to know God (Gen. 3). It is sin that has turned family against family (Gen. 3:12; 4:1-16; 27:41; 38) and caused wickedness to reign in society (Gen. 4:17-26; 6:1-8; 11:1-9; 19:1-29; 34; 39). We are meant to see death and devastation as set against God’s original intentions, revealing the true depth of the world’s brokenness. Moreover, it reveals to human beings the need for redemption.
The Beginning of Redemption
Although sin has marred God’s good creation, he does not allow sin to have the final word. Instead, he intercedes immediately, pursuing fallen human beings, condemning sin, and promising redemption. God will not leave men and women in this fallen state. Instead, he promises a Seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). As the world spirals deeper into sin, God calls one man out of idolatry and covenants with him, promising that through him all the nations of the world will be blessed (Gen. 12:1-5). God marks this redeemed people as his own, to distinguish them from the wickedness of the world (Gen. 17:1-14). He leads them out of their own sinful ways into repentance (Gen. 32:22-32). He does not abandon them to the pain of this world, but he uses evil to accomplish his plans of redemption (Gen. 50:20). Most importantly, he promises that a Redeemer will come from this Seed who will establish God’s kingdom in this world (Gen. 49:10). God’s people will not die in exile; God himself will surely visit them and carry them out (Gen. 50:24).
We can confidently speak into the pain and confusion of our students with the truth that the state of the world now is not the state that it will forever be. We can show them that not only does our God hate injustice and hate suffering, but he has acted and continues to act to end its power in this world. We can show that the answers the world offers to these situations is insufficient, and it is only in our God that this world has any hope of justice and life reigning in this world.
The Beginning and the End
Genesis establishes patterns of God’s working in this world that we see throughout the rest of the Bible and in our world today. In Genesis we find imperfect people failing to live up to God’s standards. We observe a gracious God meeting imperfect people in their sin and lifting them out himself. Genesis reveals acts of horrifying injustice perpetuated at all levels of society. It points us to a just God acting in judgment against systems and people who set themselves over others. Overall, it shows us the true God acting in this world to redeem a people for himself.
As our students process these events today, we must offer them biblical patterns for interpreting the world around them. The Book of Genesis, as a book of beginnings, is a wonderful gift from God to do just that. What’s more, while it is a book of beginnings, it is also a book of endings: it points us forward to the man who was not simply the image of God but the fulness of deity dwelling bodily (Col. 2:9), to the Seed of Abraham through whom we are adopted into the family of God (Gal. 3:27), and to the Lion of Judah, who is both lion and lamb, sitting on the throne (Rev. 5).
Most of all, Genesis points us to Jesus. At the cross, Jesus took the wrath of God against sin on himself, crushing the power of sin and death. In his resurrection, Jesus demonstrated his authority over death and began his restoration of the world back to God’s original intentions. The gospel of grace is the message that though we have rejected God, as our parents did in the Garden, he has acted despite us to overcome the reign of darkness in this world. The gospel of grace is the message that sin, death, and injustice do not get the final word in this world, but that God will have the final word when he declares that he is making all things new. The gospel of grace is the message that our students desperately need at this moment, and Genesis can help us point them to the cross.