Sunday, September 23, 2012

Creation for Christians

The topic of Creation may not exactly qualify as the road less traveled, but I was inspired recently to blog about it. I don't have anything too new or revolutionary to say on the topic, but perhaps some readers will be presented with a position they hadn't heard before, or a new delivery on old material that makes one think. I know that I, personally, never think about anything before I first think about it and that everything I know is something I didn't know prior to having learned it, but that might just be me.

For us writers, one of the most crucial parts of what we do is being able to effectively and clearly communicate. It really doesn't matter how great the ideas in your head are if you can't put those ideas on paper in a way that the reader understands. I'm not saying that the picture in the author's head needs to mirror that in the reader's head precisely—imagination absolutely plays a part, and that's part of the magic of books—but, if the author is writing about a bank robbery but half the readers think that she's describing a night at the opera, you're going to have some very confused readers when the violinist makes off with $149 and a pack of Marlboros. There are times when an author can be deliberately obtuse, and some surely even write whole books in this manner, but most stories have basics that must be communicated fairly universally to the readers for the whole thing to make sense or to satisfy.

There can be no doubt that the Bible contains figurative language. Sometimes the authors of Scripture use estimates instead of precise numbers and figures of speech that are not technically, scientifically accurate (similarly to how we might say that the sun is setting, even though we know that the sun is stationary but the earth is moving). How can we tell which of passages are literal and which are figurative? I feel like it's usually (although not always) fairly obvious to ascertain what the human author's intent was and that the context helps a lot. I like to employ what I call The Desert Island Test: take fifty babies and raise them in isolation on different desert islands with absolutely no outside influences except nature and the Bible. Poll them about a given passage in Scripture to see whether they consider it to be literal or figurative or allegorical or whatever.

Okay, so I haven't actually done this test a great deal. A lot of parents don't like having their babies snatched for bizarre hermeneutical experiments, and this test wouldn't account for the context of the original human authors. But what it would do is take away all the bias that our own society would apply to text and probably get closer to the original intent. Someone might insist a certain miracle performed must be allegorical because their personal experience and worldview doesn't allow for such supernatural occurrences, but it seems fairly clear that the original authors were writing about something they believed had actually happened.

What does this mean for the Creation account found in the opening chapters of Genesis? You've probably figured out by now (especially if you've come 'round here before) that I believe in a literal six-day Creation (that's twenty-four hour days) that occurred thousands but not millions (or billions) of years ago. I think this interpretation withstands The Desert Island Test, and would, in fact, suggest very strongly that any doubt in a literal reading of Genesis originates not in a careful reading of Scripture, but rather in philosophies based in human tradition and understanding (see Col. 2:8). I think it's foolish to, when there is a conflict, rely on the ever-changing nature of science rather than the always-constant truths of God's Word. I'm not anti-science by any means. I simply think that the current theories are completely contradictory with what the Bible has to say. If one has to be wrong and the other right, I'm going to choose the Bible. Period.

But are the two really at odds? Some have gone to great effort to try to make what they think science has proven (which really isn't accurate) fit with what the Bible teaches. You're probably familiar with the various views. What they  all have in common is that they do not begin and end with God's Word; rather, they depend as much on current worldly theories as they do on Scripture. I'm not a scientist and I won't pretend to be able to know everything about that side of things (although come on. . .the Cambrian Explosion? Seriously?). I'm a writer, and, as a writer, I want to put the following question to Christians who try to force Genesis to fit with current scientific theories:

If God wanted to convey the message that He had created the earth in six literal days, what would He do differently?

Think about it before you answer. If His goal was to communicate clearly the Creation story, how could He have phrased it differently, so that all believers would take His Word over the opinions of man?

For my part, I think that the first couple of chapters are nothing short of brilliant. They seriously affirm my belief in a sovereign, omniscient God. I see how He refuted theories that would not be advanced for thousands of years, and think He did a marvelous job of communicating very clearly to those willing to learn.
To those who think that He isn't talking about literal, 24-hour days, He goes out of His way to say that He is: “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (Gen. 1:5); “And there was evening and there was morning, the second day” (Gen. 1:8). Six days of Creation are described, and six times, we are told explicitly that these are literal days with an evening and a morning (we might say morning and then evening, but this follows the Jewish reckoning of how days were counted).

In no other story would we take that information and try to look for loopholes.

Johnny awoke before his alarm went off on the morning of the third day. Everything—breakfast, coffee, the commute, work, lunch, dinner, American Idol—everything went by in a blur. When he lay down in bed that evening, he couldn't believe it, but  there was no denying the truth: day three was gone.

Raise your hand if you think I was trying to communicate that Johnny's day had lasted a million or so years. Now, those of you with raised hands, thwack yourself on the forehead because you are wrong. I was writing about a literal day, and even a semi-intelligent platypus would have understood that, assuming there wasn't a scientist reading over his shoulder and telling him he was wrong (that was snarky, but I was joking so it's okay).

I wonder what the original readers of Genesis thought when they saw that each of the animals reproduce “according to their kinds” (Gen. 1:24). Did they think much about it? “Of course they reproduce after their own kinds! What else would they do?” It sort of takes on new meaning in light of theories about Darwinistic evolution, doesn't it?

If God wanted to communicate that He created the world the way that He describes in Genesis, what could He have done differently?

For me, still, the most convincing biblical evidence for Creation comes far from Genesis. In Romans 6:23, Paul writes, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Consistently, throughout Scripture, death is presented as a consequence of sin and the fall, and is even portrayed as an enemy defeated by Christ's work on the cross (1 Cor. 15:26, 55-57). Millions of years of life and death before mankind means that death existed before the fall, and that is a message very much at odds with the truth of Scripture. To suggest that God instituted death as an evolutionary device is so opposed to what the Bible teaches that it might be tantamount to blasphemy.

I read somewhere recently (I don't recall where) that anyone who deliberately chooses to reject any portion of Scripture cannot possible be saved. It's an interesting claim, and I can't refute it off the top of my head. Still, you won't hear me looking someone in the eye and telling them that they are not going to heaven because they deny a literal reading of Genesis. I just don't think that's my place, for one, and I don't see that requirement in God's gift of grace in salvation. But neither do I think that a biblical view and an evolutionary view can truly be reconciled (and I believe I've heard all the attempts to do so), and I wonder how one can follow Christ without believing what He has to say in His word.

If death is a part of God's design, then how can it be the consequence of sin? If sin and death are part of God's perfect design, then what does this mean about the cross?

For me, it just doesn't add up. If you have a different view, or would like to refute anything I've brought up, feel free to in the comments below. Differing viewpoints are welcome so long as everything stays civil."rs of Genesis thought when they saw thang over his shoulder and telling him he was wrong.

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