Major Texts: Gen 1:1-13; Isa 45:18, 1 John 1:5, Rev 22:5, 2 Cor 4:6, 2 Pet 3:5, Job 38:4-6
The adult Sabbath School lesson for this week focuses itself on the various particulars about planet earth that make it, to borrow a phrase, “rare”. This refers to the fact that there are many physical characteristics of earth that have to fall into a rather narrow set of parameters in order for life here to exist and continue. Those facts are valuable and intriguing for, at the very least, they make the existence of life on planet earth much more difficult to achieve by mere chance plus time. It is quite a question to ask how it is that all the parameters necessary for life can be found here on this little planet but nowhere else, at least as far as we know. And the kind of life found here is quite sophisticated and intelligent at least in sentient capacity so merely finding some bacterial growth somewhere else is not going to be a real solution to the problem! A place that fits all the narrow parameters of life, it seems, must have been a designed place.
But the questions of physics are not the questions of the biblical story. Rather, let us look at the creation story as a context-providing story, one that helps us understand our place in the universe, how reality itself is construed. Some helpful areas of discussion are these:
- Biblically speaking, how does the planet come into existence? Notice that the God who m ames it is sovereign, without peer or challenger or consort. He is also quite separate from his creation, not sharing the same essence with it at all.
- When did creation take place? What does the Bible say about it? If the Bible is silent on the date of origins, how do we get specific lengths of time connected to earth’s history?
- Look at the structure of the Genesis 1 story. Notice how during the first three days, God made domains while on the next three days He populated those domains with their appropriate elements. Does this kind of thing suggest a carefully written story? What might this suggest about reading this story with a western, sequential, chronological frame of mind?
- What does the story say about pre-existent time, time before the beginnings of the planet earth?
- What does this story teach us about the word of God and the power it has? What implications would accrue in the rest of the Bible from a God with such a power in just what He says?
- How do you understand the phrase “without form and void”? Does this indicate pre-existent matter? Was the planet here before life was created on it?
- How does this story fit within the cosmologies of the ancient world where the earth was perceived to be resting on foundations that were in the sea? What might this story have had to say by way of contrast to other stories of its time?
SOME “ONTOLOGICAL” TALK:
Beneath the things we do or don’t do, and beneath the explanations we give for our doings or non-doings, can be found some foundational ideas about how the universe – reality itself – is construed. These basic ideas about how reality is formed are known as “ontologies”. This area of thought is a division of philosophy, and is very complex and complicated and difficult to understand in its full array. But we can be comforted by the knowledge that, in the religious world, there appear to be five “ontologies”. Knowing something about them is very helpful.
The first ontology proclaims everything to be random, that all the processes and developments and future developments, are random. The pathway to human thriving is not apparent for thriving will simply be a matter of good luck. This ontology is not supportable and is really resident only in some human minds because the minute you begin to try to offer some rational description or explanation of it, you destroy its foundational assertion and it collapses.
The second ontology, though not so well-known in the western world, is quite prevalent in the developing world. It envisions reality as consisting of two realms, one supernatural the other natural. The two realms are in close communication with each other. The spiritual world is believed to be filled with all kinds of spirits, both good and evil. The most important spirits are those of a person’s ancestors, and it is very important that these ancestral spirits not be offended. At the same time, it seems most of the spirits are malevolent, out to make life hard or deadly for humans. The path to thriving under this ontology is by way of magic, divination, and the use of spirit practitioners to whom a fee must be paid. There is a lot of fear and superstition in this system, but magic, the right offerings and rites, divination and other mysterious arts, can be use to provide some protection from the supernatural realm.
A third ontology proposes there is only the material world, no supernatural realm at all. Proponents of this ontology often allege that the very Idea of a supernatural realm is imaginary, an Illusion, maybe even a neurosis. The pathway to human thriving here comes by way of giving up the silly ideas of religion and childhood in order to face the reality that we are all alone in the universe and will do best if we face each other and make the best we can of things.
The fourth ontology is a very ancient one that again sees reality as consisting of two realms, one material the other spiritual. This ontology argues that existence is best and purest In the spiritual world. By contrast, the material world is bad in and of itself. It goes on to postulate that beings are now trapped in the material world, but their essences (selves) remain participants in the non-material world. The pathway to thriving under this system Is for the soul to somehow find a way to clamber or claw its way out of the material world Into the realm of the spirit where it can be unified with the source of all things.
The fifth ontology is one that also sees reality as having two realms -the realm of a Creator and the realm of the created. These two must not be confused, and the cardinal sin in this system is for a created thing to try to take the prerogatives of the Creator. Under this ontology, the two realms are not inherently at odds for the Creator is good and interested and interactive with what he made. The biblical version of this ontology postulates that creation is now compromised by the misbehavior of a creature in trying to be God. In spite of the problem, the Creator has not abandoned things but has found a way to save the things He has made. Those who know the Bible will quickly see this last ontology is the biblical one.
So why all the ontological talk? Simply to make the point that the creation story, the one that relates the event at which the earth was formed, is far more of an ontological statement than it is a scientific one. The creation story sets the parameters of the universe for us telling who God is, what He did, and what relationship He has, and intends to have, with planet earth. The manner in which God worked is of little significance when compared to the statement made by the creation event. In the beginning, whenever that was, God established the reality we now occupy. And the presumption is that creatures will do far better if they recognize that reality and live within its parameters than if they do otherwise.
(ontological talk by David Thomas)