SCRIPTURE – Gen. 1:1 – 2:3
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Where Are the Dinosaurs?
June 19, 2011
The author of Genesis chose an incredibly understated way to start the most famous book in history. “In the beginning.” Those words launch a story that has profoundly shaped and transformed culture to this day. Who knew that three little words could be the start of a book that inspires such great faith and such great controversy? “In the beginning.”
Here’s what I want to know: In the beginning of what? That’s a very dangerous question. Because as soon as you start asking questions about the Bible, you have to start looking for answers. The Bible in general, and the creation story in particular, has been mined repeatedly for answers to all the significant and meaningful questions in life. And some people have claimed to have found all the answers. Really? If they’ve found all the answers, I’m not sure they’re asking the right questions.
Let me explain that statement this way. A four-year-old boy came to his mother one day and said, “Mommy, where did I come from?” The mother, caught off-guard, began hemming and hawing, trying to figure out how to appropriately answer. She mumbled something about when a man and woman really love each other, they hold hands until a stork comes to give the woman an epidural and brings a baby in a basket. The boy looked puzzled for a second, then said, “That’s weird, because Jimmy said he comes from Indiana.”
When we are looking for answers, we have to be sure we understand the question, or else we may end of finding a perfectly plausible answer to the wrong question. I believe this happens a lot with the creation story at the beginning of Genesis. People ask questions like, “If God didn’t create the sun until the fourth day, where did the light come from when God said, ‘Let there be light?’ Where did the water come from? Where did the seeds come from for the first plants? Where are the dinosaurs? Why does God say, ‘Let us make humans in our image?’ Who’s us?’”
These are all very good questions that deserve answers. So why doesn’t the Bible answer these questions? How are we supposed to reconcile the Creation Story with what we have learned from archeology and physics and chemistry and biology and other scientific fields? Some people say science and the Bible can’t co-exist, that you have to choose one or another. But I’m not so sure. In fact, I believe the Bible and science can complement each other through what we learn from them. But we have to be aware of our cultural context. One danger of our times is that children are being educated in matters of technology and science, but under-educated in matters of religion. That’s a serious problem. To bridge this wide gap, we have to help them learn how to understand the purpose of this story and what questions it is – and is not – addressing.
I’m in no way condemning or condoning a particular scientific understanding of how we got to where we are, be it creationism or evolution or the Big Bang Theory or intelligent design. But what I have learned is that the book of Genesis wasn’t written to for that purpose. There is not a single example of God revealing scientific information to the Israelites. God didn’t create the plant life and then say, “Let’s watch this filmstrip about how photosynthesis works.” Using Genesis to support a scientific hypothesis is like using a cookbook to learn how to fix a car or using a Picasso painting to explain human anatomy.
We can’t prove the events of the creation story. But we don’t have to, because the Bible and science aren’t trying to do the same things. Instead, they could be seen as working in harmony with one another. My understanding of harmony is that different notes and different voices combine together to make the final product. Likewise, scripture and science work in harmony to help us try and understand what is ultimately not understandable. In fact, you could say that science is one way of describing the work of God in this world.
When we approach Genesis, we have to be sure we’re asking the right questions. We shouldn’t ask, “Can I use Genesis to defend this or that theory of creation?” We should ask, “What is God trying to tell me here? What can I learn about my faith through this story?” If the primary purpose of the Bible is to reveal God to us, we shouldn’t ask, “What does this story say about us?” We should ask, “What does this story say about God?”
To me, the creation story is first and foremost a proclamation about our Creator. It’s a revelation about the nature of God and God’s relationship to his creation. It’s not a story about how things began; it’s a story about why things exist. It’s not a scientific description but a theological affirmation. It’s a statement of faith. Through this story we learn some very important things about the nature of God that undergird our faith and lay the foundation for our relationship with God and with God’s creation.
So what does this story tell us about God? First and foremost, it tells us that God is a Creator. When we enter the story, there is chaos. The earth was formless and empty and darkness reigned. The Hebrew word for “formless and empty” is “tovu vabohu,” which sounds like what it is. In fact, I learned from a German teacher that Germans use that same word to mean “ruckus” or “mess,” as in, “You’ve sure made a tovu vabohu of things!”
What God does is take the tovu vabohu and make order out of it. There’s nothing inherently sinister or evil about this chaos. It simply means that God has not finished working. The Spirit of God hovers over the waters and God says, “Let there be light” and separates the light from the darkness, creating our understanding of time. How do you mark time without day and night? You can’t. What God does here is order our lives by giving us day and night.
Another thing we learn about God from this story is that creation was meant to be good, to be life-giving. Each time God steps back to survey his creation, he blesses it. “Yes. This is how it should be. This is good.” This is especially true for God’s last creation, his piece de resistance — us. Now, when you look at us today, it may be hard to believe that God created us and called us “good.” We’re more likely to believe the Far Side cartoon I saw. In it, lying on the ground, there’s this giant broken jar with the label “Humans” on it, and two naked people running away from it. And then we see a voice descending from a cloud, and it says, “Uh-oh.”
But according to the Bible, God didn’t create man and woman and say, “Uh-oh.” After God creates humans, male and female, and gives them their instructions, God steps back and saw all that he had made and says, “Yes. Yes. Very good.” We forget that sometimes, but it’s true. Do you think God created any of Crestwood’s children and said, “Uh-oh?” No. God created them and you and me and said, “Very good.”
But obviously, all is not very good with God’s creation. At some point, something got out of order down here. Maybe it started when Adam and Eve took a bit of the forbidden fruit, or when Cain killed Abel, or when someone refused to share for the first time. Regardless of when it happened, it happened. Things are chaotic, out of order.
You may wonder why God doesn’t do anything about it. Why doesn’t God make an appearance down here and set things right? When Sydney was a baby one of her favorite pastimes was pulling all my CDs off the rack and throwing them on the floor. She didn’t even have the decency to put them on the floor in alphabetical order. She’d spend the whole afternoon clearing off my CD rack, and I’d spend the evening re-alphabetizing them. Like God, we have a desire for order. So why doesn’t God come and put things back in order? Why does God leave things so messy, allowing us to mix up and mangle the order God so lovingly and joyously created?
When God created us, he made us special. God is our creator. We are made in God’s image and likeness. Therefore, we are creators. Being made in God’s image doesn’t mean we look physically like God; it means we possess the essence of God. It is the creative potential in each of us that is the image of God.
Part of that creativity is the ability to take chaos and make order, the ability to look at a situation that is messy and disorderly and bring about order. That, more than anything, is what separates us from animals. We can take the raw materials given to us by God and arrange them in a pattern that bears the stamp of the creative mind. We can take a jumble of words, a mix of colors, a lump of clay, a scale of musical notes, a pile of bricks, or a hunk of marble, and shape them into something that has never been. When we do, we live up to the image of God woven deep inside our innermost being. But too often, we forget we’re supposed to be creating something, not destroying it.
When people die of hunger, things are out of order. When people sleep on the street, things are out of order. When people don’t have the freedom to be the people God created them to be, things are out of order. So many bad things that happen to good people. So much suffering. So much sickness. So much tovu vabohu. We’ve been in the hospital beds, we’ve been in the funeral homes, we’ve stared at the stack of overdue bills. So many questions that seem to go cruelly unanswered. So many endings – of dreams, of promises, of lives.
But the good news of this story is that our God is a God of beginnings. Not just repetitions or moving pieces around or rehashing old patterns. God is a God of beginnings, of order in the midst of chaos, of resurrections. To all our questions, God provides an answer. It’s not a scientific answer. It’s not an historical answer. It’s something so much more. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God.”
Our life is about more than just eating and sleeping and working and dying. We are called to create, to help people see the light in the midst of darkness, to see hope in the midst of the tovu vabohu. When we do, we are doing more than just helping others. We are living out the image of God within us. The image of God is in each of us. God sent Jesus to remind us of that. For me, that’s the ultimate answer to all my questions.