Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Monday, October 09, 2006

Ambiguous or Unambiguous Beginnings Lesson #2

In the Beginning Lesson 2

What is the purpose of stories about the origin of life? Is the purpose to provide a literal account of the beginning which was seen by no human? When you read the ancient myths of origins does it seem that they are trying to recount a very literal record of events? Is the Bible’s Genesis account so different from other Eastern creation stories?

This is the second lesson of the quarterly but it has still not addressed the real foundation of Genesis. The story tells us in the Beginning God, and God created, but it does not talk about the how of creation as it cannot explain that which even today we can’t envision. So it speaks to us in simple language and simple sequence which divides creation into the commonly observed elements that make up our world.

Pretty much all religions and cultures have a creation story yet few of them have felt the need to hold to their story as literal historical truth. Many have the same characteristics as the Genesis account, water as chaos, gods creating and often talking animals, peaceful and then conflict. There are many internet sites with these creation stories and they are interesting yet again few hold them as literal.

So the question we must ask is what is the message of the story, none of the myths really sound very plausible to the modern mind though in primitive times it is likely that they were found to be very acceptable. For the Jew and Christian we need to look at the story and draw our lessons from it based upon what we know today as well as what our sacred Scripture says.

This is where the foundation is laid between the literalists and those who are not literalists about the story of Creation. If it is literal then for them as our lessons says

“If one is correct, the other has to be wrong. Even more so, the Bible offers no wiggle room for theistic evolution or any theories that seek to integrate a long evolutionary process with the work of God in creating life on earth, especially human life.”

If we stand by this then will faith and reason ever survive in Christianity. The Tuesday lesson says:

“Probably no aspect of the Creation story comes under more attack than the time frame it depicts for the creation of life on earth, culminating in Adam and Eve. Almost throughout the Christian world, where the Bible is supposedly held in high esteem, few accept the Genesis time frame as it reads, with its clear and unambiguous depiction of six literal 24-hour days of Creation. Apparently, evolution—a teaching that at its core denies everything that the Bible stands for and teaches—has made deep inroads even in the Christian community. Jesus once said, in reference to His second coming, "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Unless there's a radical change, He certainly won't find much faith regarding the Bible's account of Creation, that's for sure.”

Our lesson sets up the Bible to fight against Science and reality. The Bible does not place itself in that position only the assumed literalism of the Genesis account sets up this conflict. Even with the lesson’s insistence upon an unambiguous Genesis story they are forced to accept evolution because clearly the plants and animals that exist today would not peacefully coexist. Lions and crocodiles clearly have teeth that are not meant to eat vegetation. We may assume that it was once not that way but we are left with what we see today. In general we can’t even picture a world without death and decomposition, the lesson writer thinks the story is unambiguous about the origin of death but it is not. Death as being the result of being in a world that has separated itself from God’s authority is presented to us, our present condition and the beginning of God’s plan to correct our human selfish characteristics are presented but how a world could exist without death and decomposition is not related.

The Lesson on one hand says that the Genesis account in unambiguous and then goes on to try and parse the word heaven so that we can allow for the much greater time frame found in the universe as a whole:

“When Genesis 1:1 says that God created heaven and earth, some believe that "heaven" here includes the entire universe. A study of the use of the word heaven in the rest of the chapter shows that's not what's meant.”

How unambiguous can the story be if some think heaven means the entire universe and the author things it is something else. Heaven has various meanings even earth has various meanings but perish the thought that any of this is ambiguous.

“Read carefully Genesis 1:4, 5. A simple reading of these two verses makes it clear that it is talking about a single day, as we understand a day—half light and half darkness, "day" and "night." These two elements, the text says, made up "the first day." These verses, then, are talking about the creation of the 24-hour period we use to mark off each single day. And this account ends with a formula that reads in Hebrew, "And there was evening and there was morning, day one."

Again, so certain that there is no ambiguity the author assumes the meaning of the day as half light and half darkness just as we understand a day. Yet those first days had no sun to give us half light per day. The first day gave the creation of light yet no one has a real idea of what that is talking about unless they assume the creation of the heavens and earth already includes the sun and stars and moon and the rest of the universe. If those are meant to be included then what about the later verses which specify the lesser and greater lights and the stars?

To answer the problem we don’t have to rewrite the Genesis account we have to move away from the literalistic days of creation view. We can view the story as more a mnemonic device, a way to teach a story about the power of God and his provision for mankind. The story groups the visible world into commonly understood divisions, birds, fish, plants and animals and the far less understood heavenly bodies of the sun moon and stars which had a permanence and could be used to navigate and tell seasons but were otherwise unknown lights in the sky. So lets review what we have really learned from the lesson this week:

Oct 10:“Genesis time frame as it reads, with its clear and unambiguous depiction of six literal 24-hour days of Creation.”

Oct 11:“God then brings forth dry land, and then upon the dry land there came vegetation, grass, herbs, trees (all of which needed land first in order to exist) "whose seed is in itself" (vss. 11, 12). This is followed by the presence of the sun and the moon and the visible stars (why these are depicted here, in this manner, in this part of the sequence, is one of those questions we'll probably have to wait to get answered in heaven)”

Apparently it will be clear and unambiguous when it is answered in heaven. For those who don’t want to wait that long the answer is staring us in the face and it is not literalism.

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