Recently,a young adult friend of mine posted this as his Facebook update, "Rational arguments don't usually work on religious people. Otherwise, there wouldn't be religious people."
Among the thirty or so ensuing comments was his unconfession of faith and a passionate series of irrational comments about evolution and seven days of creation. This week as I read through the creation narrative a few things came to me.
Genesis 1:1-:2:3 pulsates with powerful images. A dark watery void. Chaos. Then comes the wind of God blowing over the deep, speaking order out the chaos, calling for light, crafting the sky, dividing oceans with dry land. Wind speaks trees into existence. Seed bearing plants appear. Sun, moon, stars, planets fly into motion. God speaks birds and fish into their elements. He gives voice and vegetation comes forth. Then out of the earth, the creation of humankind—male and female.
If I were to write something for my children to help them understand their origins, I could write about how Ken and I loved each other and how it took an eternity for us to decide to marry. I could tell them about the days around their birth and what it meant to us. There would be hyperbole, some figurative language. Nonetheless, a story of our family could add to their sense of identity, of their place in the universe. Now, if they need help determining their genetic make up to plan some medical treatment, my love narrative would not suffice. My story predates much of the latest genetic research.
When I hear some of the comments made about creation and science, arguments over the literal, figurative, or “scientific” nature of Genesis, I know why, in part, my young friend begins to find religious folks irrational. Besides, a literal interpretation is interrupted in the next section, Genesis 2:4b-25, as this second creation narrative differs in the order of events.
A venerable brother at a church I used to attend, a PhD in one of the sciences, makes an ornate argument for a literal--what is called “young earth” interpretation--of Genesis. When I listen to his various observations in support of a literal seven day creation, I find it fascinating, but fantastical. However, I deeply appreciate the disclaimer he gives at the beginning of his presentations on the topic. He explains that he thinks the discussion of these things is important because it is in the Bible, but there were no eyewitnesses to creation, so we remain limited in our knowledge in that way. We are left to examine, to consider. When it comes to salvation, however, we rely completely on Christ, for whom we have eyewitness testimony. This creation narrative matters--but the interpretation of it cannot be where we place our hope.
I think Genesis is a place to wrest a sense of identity—we are created with a spiritual likeness. There is love, power, and passion connected to our being. But what this story does not do, in my understanding, is put forth scientific proofs or assertions. It’s a story of beauty, love, and identity, but not a scientific treatise. The creation narrative predates science. It is not science. If we need science, we can go to science.
Come to think of it, this part of Genesis also predates history.
My children learning scientific details, even more historically accurate details, of the narrative of our early years and their birth, would not make my story a lie. It remains a true love story.
I don't think we should wage cultural war over this passage of scripture. We should wage confidence, courage, and wonder as creatures of a great and mighty God.
Nakedness and Trees
On the way home from work this week, I heard what I thought was an odd story on NPR about author Diana Wells, and her recent release, Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon History. She presents over 100 trees and stories about how these trees derived their names and how certain people have interfaced with these trees. She asserts that trees are very much bound to our lives and are, of course, important to our planet. She spoke of the Japanese Cedar and the practice of “forest bathing.” She says, "You go into the forest and soak yourself in the trees," she says. "I live where there are woods and I will [do that] quite often and let the trees feel as if I'm part of the forest. It's very, very soothing — it's beautiful." I am pretty sure she said this soaking takes place sans clothes. My gut reaction was “whack job.” More reflective second reaction was “pagan.”
Then, I went home and worked on my new commitment to read through the Bible in a year, and started reading the Garden of Eden narrative. Very naked. Very tree oriented. Not so pagan, really. I mean it is in the Bible. I have become fascinated by the life giving, wisdom giving nature of the tree stories in Genesis. Then, today we sent to see Avatar. Very naked. Very tree oriented. I started to think about Lord of the Rings. Not necessarily naked, but very tree oriented.
I was intrigued by the provision of God for men and animals of green plants and fruit bearing trees for food. First few chapters—pretty vegan. Seems like Able actually had better cred with God over the fruit of earth type sacrifice and that for some reason, the animal sacrifices didn’t cut it. I found it remarkable that it was only after the flood that the narrative included, “The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea; into your hands they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you, and just as I gave your green plant, I give you everything.”