"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
So the Bible begins, and for good reason. The Genesis account establishes several critical themes in the relationship of man with God, and man with man:
1. God has given each human being tremendous value. According to Genesis 1:27, "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." You are created in His image, so you bear the imprint of divinity. You are important. And so are all the men and women around you--of every ethnicity, every cultural background, every gender.
Apply this teaching to the people around you: if you want to live according to the Bible, you cannot allow even the tiniest hint of racism, or xenophobia, or discrimination, to dwell in your heart. Too often the church has justified these practices, rather than casting them back into the pit of hell, whence they came.
Apply this teaching to yourself: in spite of all your failings, you have great worth in God's eyes. He created you in His image, so you bear the mark of nobility and greatness, whether you are a janitor or a CEO. Even if you are on Death Row for a horrendous crime, you can receive God's gracious gift of salvation and life renewed. If you feel useless because you have spent the past year unemployed, remember that your greatness does not depend on your economic output. God has already established your worth, by creating you with His imprint.
2. We are accountable to God for the conduct of our lives. According to Genesis 2:16-17, "the LORD God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'" Contrary to the message we get from advertising, we are not created to maximize the pleasures of the moment. Our Creator has set limits for us, and if we do not respect them, we will--in the end--fall tragically short of our calling.
It has become popular of late among anthropologists to try to anchor an ethic in our conjectured evolutionary background. Chimps groom each other, show loyalty in the family group, and have at least a rudimentary sense of fairness, so we humans (their nearest living relatives) manifest similar behaviors. This theory is supposed to be not only explanatory, but prescriptive; we are supposed to be fair to one another, for example, because that sense of fairness must have provided some value in the competition for survival of the fittest. However, this theory ultimately is quite unscientific, as it emphasizes certain favored traits like fairness--traits that are highly valued in the Biblical heritage of our culture, I hasten to add--over other equally observable traits, like treachery and warfare. The behavior of Saddam Hussein, Josef Stalin, and Adolf Hitler strongly resemble the behavior of chimps engaged in a deadly fratricidal brawl. So basing an ethic on evolution ultimately results in not being able to divide between good and bad, right and wrong. Love and lust, generosity and genocide, helpfulness and hatred: all must have their roots in our evolutionary past, if the evolutionary past is to be given its full meaning.
It is not necessary to claim that the earth was created in 6 literal, 24-hour days 6000 years ago and that evolution never occurred in order to accept our accountability to God. Godly scholars like Augustine of Hippo believed that the Genesis account of creation was not to be taken in the most literal fashion. The key point is that somewhere in the recent past, God stepped in and stamped His image indelibly on homo sapiens. Because of this, we can readily distinguish between Mother Theresa and Saddam Hussein; the one obeyed her Creator with all her being, while the other chose instead to engage in unspeakable cruelty.
3. God has charged us with the stewardship of His creation. According to Genesis 2:15, "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." We have a responsibility to take care of the environment as best we can. Too often, Christians have thought that if we preach the gospel, we can ignore the environment. I respectfully disagree. In today's American economy, of course, I have little choice about owning a vehicle. However, I can choose which vehicle to drive based on God's command to take care of the environment. I have been driving my little Mitsubishi Mirage for 8 years now because I want to minimize the amount of greenhouse gases I am spewing into the air. If you see a champagne-colored subcompact with a "What Would Jesus Drive?" sticker on the back bumper in the vicinity of Columbia, SC, beep and wave hello!