Guests: Alden Thompson and Bob Cushman
Major Texts: Gen 1:1; Heb 11:3; Ps 19:1-3; John 1:1-3; Col 1:15,16; John 2:7-11
The lessons this quarter focus on the big and foundational question of origins, a question that is much agitated these days mostly because of the on-going tensions that persist between the findings of truth by way of revelation as opposed to truth by way of investigation. It will not be our purpose here to engage endlessly in this never-ending debate, but to look more directly at the Bible itself.
The subject of origins is challenging and difficult but a very important and significant one for a number of reasons. First, it is foundational to the biblical picture of things. We all know the Bible begins with the words “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” If this foundational assertion is tampered with, the whole biblical view of reality becomes endangered for the theme is not just in early Genesis, but it is found throughout the Bible. Secondly, the subject is challenging because of all the possible ways in which this foundational assertion can be understood. Not the least complicating factor is the tension between creation theories and evolutional theories, or even combinations of the two. Thirdly, this subject is difficult because of the inherent tensions between knowledge obtained by revelation from God and knowledge obtained by careful, empirical observation. Linked to this last item are questions of just how revelation is to be understood for, like it or not, all things written or spoken in human language have to be interpreted. Put another way, there are no uninterpreted facts in any body of knowledge.
So, we enter on this challenging topic by listing a number of areas of thought that would provide fruitful discussion:
- What is the relationship between science and religion? Or, put another way, how should information drawn from revelation be seen when held up against information drawn from empirical observation? This question becomes particularly challenging when one stops to think about the fact that the assertion that God made the “heavens and the earth” is the foundational assertion as far as the Bible is concerned, an assertion that runs throughout the Bible like a thread all the way from Genesis to Revelation, that reigned unchallenged in the western world for millennia but is now challenged because, over the past several hundred years, humans have become fascinated with a different way of knowing, one that claims to deal in what is known as “indubitable” knowledge, the kind of knowledge that cannot be doubted. This kind of knowledge is mostly found in the mathematical world, and, to a lesser extent, in the empirical world. In our time, the prevailing opinion is that even information about God and the future must pass muster with the indubitable knowledge test or else be discarded out of hand. How shall we resolve this issue? What can empirically-based evidence do and what can it not do? What can revealed information provide and what can it not provide?
- What is the main purpose of the creation story in Genesis? Here think about the power of stories to explain and contextualize life, grand narratives that enable people to find place and meaning in life.
- What foundational picture of reality emerges from the Genesis telling things? And how does this background reality (ontology) compare to other views of reality? (A hint would be the establishment of a Creator/creature dynamic instead of a material world only idea).
- How do we understand the world “literal” and its usage (a word commonly used when talking of creation) when the account is in narrative or story form, for do we not tell stories because literal language is not capable of conveying the fullness of an idea? Would it not be better to talk about an actual creation rather than a literal one?
- What picture of God do we get in early Genesis and what is His relationship to His creation? How does this compare with other ancient stories of origins?
Several things should be noted about stories. The first is that the word “literal” is of little use when dealing with stories for the very reason we tend to tell stories is that literal language is not able to achieve what a story can or must. In other words, stories are told in place of blow-by-blow literal language because stories have a lot more power to tell expansive truths. In view of this, it seems better to speak of biblical creation as “actual” rather than “literal”.
Notice the type of story the creation account is. Set as it is at the very beginning of the biblical story, it serves as the grand contextualizing story of the Bible giving the context within which life on planet earth should be understood. In every culture there are such great contextualizing stories. We routinely use them for making sense out of life, as instruments by way of which we are able to find meaning and purpose for our existences. From the grand stories, we derive personal ones. If someone were to task you about yourself you would tell a story. If they asked about your country, you would tell a story. If you were asked about the society you live in, you would tell a story. And the stories you would tell are very powerful in that they are what give context to your life. They are what explain your place int he universe. Without those stories, you would not be able to find meaning or identity in life. You would be left to wander rather aimlessly. These great, context-providing stories are called by a technical name – “myths”, or “mega-narratives”. In most cases, nobody asks whether they are try or not. Such a question in ancient culture would probably have been regarded as absurd. But with the biblical story, the claim is made that this is not only a story it is THE story of how things began.
Things we learn from the creation story… First, that there is a sovereign and mighty God. Interestingly, in the biblical story, God has no consorts or rivals as would be found in most other ancient stories of origins. God acts sovereignly, and He is powerful enough that His word is able to accomplish what He says. Second, God is not distant or uninterested i what He creates while at the same time He is not enmeshed with it. When you read the biblical story, you get a picture that God is over “here” and what He is making is over “there”. Unlike in pantheism, the essence of God is not intertwined with the essence of what He is making. We see God having His own being, and what He is creating ends up with its own being, too. At the same time, God puts within creation some capacities of its own. It can reproduce, grow, become somewhat different from the way it was made. Lastly, creation itself is declared to be good. This is remarkable because, in many ancient opinions the material world was thought to be bad. Not so here. And when God is done, He rejoices, repeating emphatically the truth about the goodness of what He has made. And He is happy enough that He declares a rest day, a memorial of what He has made. And God gives that day to His creatures to enjoy and rest and worship in, also. The intent is that they revere the Sabbath and, by doing so, remember the Creator.
A foundational conclusion is that we are here at the hand of a mighty, involved, and distinct God who has interest in what He has made. Interestingly, according to John 1:1-3,14, Colossians 1:15,16, and Hebrews 1:1,2, we are given a little glimpse into the fact that Jesus, who later came as our Savior, was involved in the creation of the world as was the Holy Spirit.