If we refrain from Biblical Literalism and take an imaginative look at the two creation accounts in Genesis, we find both some logical problems and marvelous convictions written by our faith ancestors. Imagine being in a culture where one is close to the land, not a victim of light pollution at night, and which uses stories to convey eternal truths as well as to entertain. Imagine too, a culture where religion has established particular rhythms of life, and not only is the earth the center of the universe, but this culture, this people is at the center of God’s heart. It is a people who know sin and distance from God. It is a people who long for that close, intimate relationship with God that they’ve heard about before.
Most people really don’t give much thought to how or why the Genesis creation stories were written down … or for that matter, told in the first place.
I’ll not take a scholarly close analysis of Genesis here. That would require more time and effort than I’m willing to invest. But I will make some observations, and will start with Genesis 1.
The view of Genesis 1 is that in the beginning what existed was God, darkness, and water. (Water often represents chaos, danger and mystery in scripture.) God creates light, and separates it into day and night and the source of that separation from day and night, light and dark is not known (the sun is not created until the 4th day). But, the creation of light and day and night allows for a time line of sorts.
I’m actually quite fascinated by what is described for day 2. A dome (firmament) is created to separate the waters. This dome creates within the water a space for the rest of creation. It keeps the water that is overhead from flooding in. This dome is called sky. It is understood in Genesis to be a physical shell-like dome. When it’s gates are opened, it rains. The water that falls from the sky is understood to come from the waters above the dome. Later, in day 4, lights are set into the dome, some for day and some for night.
Day 3 has its problems too. The waters are gathered together so that dry land may appear. Since water finds its own level, it would have been much more accurate to say that dry land was gathered together and placed in the waters … but the theology works better if we understand that God is in complete control of the chaos … the water … and that God has established its limits. Vegetation appears, before the sun is created. But that’s not a huge problem, I guess, because the sun will be created tomorrow, and there already is some unknown source of light.
Day 5 has creatures being brought forth from the waters … interesting! But, before the evolutionists over emphasize that part, the dry land also brings forth creatures in day 6. But the point can be made that it appears that animal life in scripture emerges first from the water.
Scientifically, the first account of creation in Genesis is indefensible as is. It must be tweaked, modified, adjusted, and massaged in order to even get something like a realistic account of creation that will be accepted with modern knowledge. Those who understand themselves as creationists, must make some decisions that significantly alter what is presented. A simple example is that the “dome” must be understood to be the atmosphere encircling our planet, and that those who first told and wrote the story of creation couldn’t be expected to understand the world beyond their experience. (Remember that it wasn’t until at least the last 500-600 years that the church even accepted that the earth was a globe rather than being flat, because their source was this description from scripture validated by their own experience.)
If the Bible is inspired, does this mean that God “lied” to the people who told and wrote this creation story? Or, is the story really to be understood to be making a theological point? Many modern “creationists” accept that the theological point is more important, and this has given rise to “intelligent design” theory.
A quick look at the second creation story in Genesis 2:4-24 the order of creation is slightly different. A human is created before animals and plants. The story is simpler, and revolves around the creation of humans, male and female. It emphasizes that humans are relational beings … with one another and with God. In the next chapter, sin is described as the breaking of relationships for selfish motivation. Because it is a very different type of creation story, most who are using scripture to describe the process of creation simply ignore it and relegate it to an entirely different genre.
What do I see as the theological points in the story of creation that are most important?
- God is the source of creation.
- God brings order out of chaos.
- The authors of the story have noticed that life is particularly well-suited for existence on earth, and that the creatures became increasingly more complex as creation continued. The goal of creation was to create a place for human beings to live in relationship with God.
- There is order and purpose visible in that which God has created.
There are more, but for our purposes this will suffice. Critics of evolution might celebrate here, but it would be premature.