Thoughts On Creation, Evolution, & Sacramental Time
I live in a college town, just two blocks over from a campus with over 8,000 students. Thanks to that proximity I’ve had the pleasure of participating in a number of faith and science related dialogues on the campus. What surprises me time and again isn’t the worldview or beliefs of the scientists/agnostics/atheists; rather, I am continually surprised by the worldview and beliefs of those Christ Followers who hold to a very rigid, rational, and naturalistic understanding the Bible. One thing in particular is the understanding or interpretation of time and the Creation Account.
40 Days…40 Years…10 Days…12 Tribes…7th Day…7th Week…7th Month…7 Weeks x 7 Weeks…Jubilee…When we read a Bible and we come across a reference to time, e.g. it states that a certain day is coming, it’s not necessarily a reference to time and space as we conceive of these finite things. There isn’t necessarily a time frame. In the Book of Genesis we read that Adonai created the heavens and the earth. We don’t know how much time comes after the initial statement, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” What caused the darkness to occur? What caused the light to return? Time…
It’s difficult to understand time, at least in the Biblical context, apart from an understanding of the Jewish Calendar. While references to time may not always mean a specific date that doesn’t mean things occur arbitrarily. Ezra arrived in Israel on the Passover, “And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him.” Nebuchadnezzar arrived in Jerusalem on the 7th of Av and by the 10th it was burned to the ground, “In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem.” What is it about time? What did God intend for us to know?
In the first book of the Torah, the Book of Genesis, it relates the story of Creation. This story declares that Adonai created the universe ex nihilo via his spoken commands, “The world in which we live is God’s world, conceived by the wisdom of God, fashioned, designed, and brought into being by the powerful speech of God.” There are Christ followers who hold to a literal interpretation of the account of Creation. They believe that Adonai created the world in seven literal days. Furthermore, those that hold to this view often hold the view that the earth and indeed the entire universe is a very recent creation. On the other hand there are Christ followers who hold to a less literal interpretation. They may hold to a plethora of interpretations of the Creation account and may in fact believe that the earth is billions of years old and that evolution may be one of the methods the Creator used to bring man to life.
There are no shortage of groups and individuals who have appropriated the account of Creation to further their own agenda in the war of information and worldview between science and theology; between men like Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins. Yet those that appropriate the text to further their own interpretation and worldview have have “[appropriated] the text for purposes that are quite foreign to the biblical narrative.” The oral tradition of the Hebrew people and their understanding of the universe and God has very little to say in the debate between regarding evolution, creation, and the origin of man. Rather, the “first account of creation reflects Israel’s understanding of the structure of the universe” To the author of Genesis and his people the earth was a flat circular disc. This disc was covered by a dome-shaped sky or firmament that rested on the mountains around the edge of the earth. Rain came from water above the sky. The circular disc rested on pillars that floated in the water below. The water below supplied the various springs, streams, and rivers.
The oral tradition of the Hebrew people stands so far outside the context of what we term scientific, so much so that science is almost irrelevant when attempting to interpret the Creation account. When using the term ‘science’ I invoke the definition put forth by Postman, “science then is the quest to find the immutable laws that govern processes, presuming that there are cause and effect relations among these processes.” He further explained that science can’t exist apart from empirical data that we can all objectively observe. The Genesis account of creation does not allow a great deal of observation concerning immutable laws nor does it offer any empirical data that science can quantify.
What then was the purpose of the Creation account? It addressed the “more practical aspects of creation that surround our experiences of living and surviving.” The, author did “not attempt an analysis of the physical properties of light nor is he concerned about its source or generation. Light is the regulator of time.” For those who passed on the oral tradition of the Creation Account were interested in how the cosmos functioned and the order and rhythm for life. They wanted to take up the song of Creation written by their Creator. They were not interested in “physical makeup or chemical composition” of the universe. The transmitters of this oral tradition described “what they saw and, more important, what they experienced of the world as having been created by God.”
Personally, I’ve experienced that Christ followers who hold to a literal interpretation of the Creation account will become rather heated when those who don’t hold to their interpretation offer a different interpretation. I’ve even heard accusations of apostasy and heresy. Any deviation from a rigid literalistic interpretation is considered relativistic and a dilution of the Bible. Strong terms to toss out there when we consider that historically terms like apostasy and heresy were decided by groups of men with rather dramatic hats coming to a carefully reasoned consensus. The blogosphere has only added to an explosion of these types of allegations an accusations, which only further splinters an already fractured Christendom.
Those who interpret the Creation account literally see the Hebrew word that we translate as day (Yom) and say that this word literally meant one day, as we currently understand it and observe it to be but, “There is no satisfactory explanation of the day in the first account of creation.” This word that we translate as ‘day’ in English is used in in different ways and to connote different durations of time in the Torah, e.g. “measured time…indefinite duration of time…etc.” If we look at Genesis 1:5 we read “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” This statement does not lead us to proof that Adonai took action within a 24 hour period of time; rather, this leads us back Again, many assume this means a literal day, as we currently understand it. Instead this phrase reveals the importance of time and the belief in a rhythm for life established by a Divine Creator. It shows us “faith placed the creation narrative within the framework of the Jewish understanding of the day.”
Christ Followers who read their literalist interpretation and Christ Followers who read Evolution into the Creation Account in the Book of Genesis both strip the Creation Account of mystery and wonder and revealed how their view of God has been tainted by the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, and Rationalism. Both views attempt to place God within the confines of their own limited worldview. This universe holds wonders that surpass man’s ability to understand, categorize, or reason. Can we recapture the spirit and the context in which the Creation Account was originally intended. Can we let go of our need to place God in a box and treat open hand issues with just that; an open hand? Can we find unity in the Song of Creation? Perhaps God cared more that we find his rhythm and sing His song than create further division over an open hand issue that can’t be settled this side of Eternity.