Saturday, February 18, 2012

Six days or 4 billion years?

It's been a good week of reflection, discussion and feedback for me; I'm grateful to those of my friends who have responded to me with grace and their own sense of ambiguity towards the scriptures. I've been doing some digging lately into something I remembered back from my correspondence studies. There's a stream of theology I'm being drawn to called Neo-Orthodoxy, which was a reaction to the liberalism of 19th century European Christianity. The theologian Karl Barth and German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was martyred by the Nazis, held neo-orthodox views. I like the idea that the Bible is a reflection or record of the Word of God, as opposed to the evangelical view of Bible being the Word itself. Jesus warned against making an idol of the scriptures, saying that the scriptures pointed to Him. You can't destroy the Word of God if you burn every single Bible; it's eternal, unfailing, intangible, subjective, powerful, alive and personified in Jesus Christ. This is what the Bible tells us about itself; it also says it's up to God to prove His Word is true and that we can know that the Word is real when we obey God's commands. So even though the history of the Bible may be questionable there are other ways to test its authenticity.

So, having said that I want to take one more stab at biblical history - or rather an interpretation of that history. If you really want to upset someone whose reading of the Bible is more concrete than abstract you tell them that God didn't create the world in six days. If you're someone who reads Genesis 1 literally I don't wish to offend, and I do apologize if you are offended. But there are problems with reading the opening chapter of biblical history in such a way. The Hebrew rendering of Genesis 1 is an ancient form of poetry, which is lost the translation to modern English. There's a pattern concerning the days, where in day 1 there's light but no stars, moon or Sun til day 4; on days 2&3 the sky, sea & land are formed but on days 4,5&6 are they filled with birds, fish, animals and, finally, people. So there's this literary relationship between the spaces created and what fills them. And then Genesis 2 gives a different account of creation, where the heavens & earth are made, then a single man, then plants, animals and then finally a woman (God obviously saved the best for last here!). So that, plus the science that points to an evolutionary development of life, tells me that God took His time in making the world what it is today.

Now there are what's called "Theistic Evolutionists" - people who believe that God created through natural selection. Timothy Keller is among them and wrote a paper on the subject. But some have problems reconciling science and the Bible here. The Bible depends both genealogically and theologically on a literal Adam & Eve. The Bible traces Jesus' ancestry back to Adam, and the Bible teaches that sin entered the world through one person - again, Adam. Theologian & professor of science Denis Lamoureux, who firmly believes in the literal life, death and resurrection of Christ, believes that there were many Adams & Eves, who all lost their way. The biblical account of creation, according to Lamoureux, is God's coming down to our level (or ancient man's at least) in telling us He made everything. This could become a slippery slope, again as the Bible depends on a literal Adam. I have no problem with evolution so long as there was a literal Adam somewhere in the process. But where to make the transition from (dare I say it) legend to history is tricky. Genesis 12, where the story of Abram starts, seems likely to me.

Questions swirl my limited mind, and I take comfort in knowing that while science, which is tentative, tells us how life developed, it can't explain how it all started. And even if it did, it can't tell us why. These questions are left in the realm of the divine. One thing is certain for me, and that is I can't accept a six day model of creation anymore. If being an evangelical means I have to believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1&2 then I guess I've flunked that litmus test too.

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