I realize that we’re already two weeks into 2017, but Happy New Year from the Belfry!
In the spirit of resolutions, I’m starting this new year with a new look and a new approach. My plan is to present a familiar point of controversy, address the issue as I understand it, state my opinion, then conduct an anonymous survey. I thought it might be fun for people to respond without having to put their names out there, though obviously the posts are still open for comments and discussion.
Also in the spirit of new beginnings, I’m starting this first post with the first chapter of the first book of the Bible. Specifically, the age of the earth debate.
Back when I was at Village Christian, I remember overhearing a statement like this in the teachers’ lounge: “If God did not create the world in a literal six days, the Bible cannot be trusted, and if the Bible cannot be trusted, we might as well throw out the whole thing, Jesus included.”
There was another person in the room that I knew would disagree. He was one of the high school science teachers, and he taught a theory in my home Bible study that he’d learned from a Christian astrophysicist named Hugh Ross. He showed us how each so-called “day” of Creation actually lined up with the large phases that science has revealed were necessary to prepare the earth for life.
If we put these two teachers together, I assume their conversation would go something like this:
“The Bible doesn’t leave the door open for the six days to be any longer than 24 hours. The author clearly says ‘evening and morning’ which is how a Jew would describe a 24-hour day.”
“But there were no eye-witnesses to the Creation, which means the Creation story had to be revealed to Moses by God. And we know that for God a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day. Do you really think the ‘Day’ of Judgement is going to be 24 hours?”
“Why are you so quick to dismiss the 24 hours? When God created humans, he created a man, not an embryo. We know the chicken came first, not the egg. So why couldn’t God create an aged earth? Why wait all those years to get started?”
“First of all, God doesn’t wait. Einstein proved that time is part of the material universe, part of the Creation. Time wouldn’t apply to the Creator. Secondly, what do you do with the fossil record? Did God bury all those things in the ground just to confuse us? What do you do with carbon dating, ice core samples, or the ever-expanding universe? God is not the author of confusion.”
“It’s not confusing. It’s called faith. Should Christians really have to prove everything scientifically before they believe it? Maybe God gave us this mystery to test us.”
“You really think God created hundreds of thousands of artificial snow layers in Antarctica just because he knew that scientists in our century would take core samples and Christians would have to make a choice about their faith in the Bible?”
“It’s not our job to question how or why God does what he does. It is our responsibility to trust his Word.”
“So there’s no room for interpretation.”
“Not when the Bible is clear.”
“According to your interpretation.”
“According to a clear, unbiased reading of the text!”
There are obviously a lot more directions this conversation could go. For the sake of stirring a pot that will always boil and may never fully cook, I’ll offer my current opinion on the issue, knowing that my perspective will probably evolve in time. (see what I did there?)
Ignored by Scripture:
My OT professor in seminary warned us not to ask questions of a text that it does not ask itself. The creation account of Genesis 1 is presented in poetic form, not narrative, which requires it to be approached and interpreted appropriately.
The presentation begins with places—heavens, earth and seas—covering the first three days. The next three days are concerned with the rulers of those places—sun and moon for the heavens, and human beings for the earth, managers of the plants and animals. The seventh day is when God rests from all he has made, presenting him as supreme ruler of all.
To keep reading Genesis is to see how this natural hierarchy is broken by Adam and Eve’s rebellion, setting up the entire narrative of redemptive history, the spine of the Scriptures. This approach would suggest that the author of Genesis wrote the Creation story with theological themes in mind, not scientific.
Ignored by God:
As I’ve mentioned many times before, the ancients saw the world in three tiers—the heavens, where the gods lived; the earth, where the humans lived; and the underworld for the dead. Throughout Scripture, God does not go out of his way to straighten out the science of his people. In fact, he seems to play along with their assumptions.
How often does God’s judgment or presence come from the sky? How often is heaven associated with it?
The Flood. The Tower of Babel. Sodom and Gomorrah. The Plagues. Meetings on mountains—Sinai, Zion, the transfiguration. The rising smoke of the sacrifices. The lighting of Elijah’s soggy altar. The ascension of Elijah’s fiery chariot. The voice from heaven. The dove from heaven. The visions of Ezekiel, Stephen and Paul.
Need I go on?
We still look to the sky when we think of heaven, but no one asks the International Space Station if they’ve seen God’s cube city on their scanners, or a resurrected man riding toward earth on a white horse.
The ground opens up and swallows the rebellious sons of Korah. Jonah slips beneath the sea, claiming a direct access to Sheol. Not only do the philosophers and poets of Israel affirm a belief in a subterranean destiny for the dead, righteous or unrighteous, so do the prophets.
Even when God himself speaks, he supports this false view of the universe, like a parent affirming a stork-based delivery system for babies. Check out this passage from Job 38:
Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this. What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years! Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
Even though Jesus introduced his people to a more spiritual way of thinking about the afterlife, he also played to the worldview of his listeners, telling a parable about a dead master and servant in Sheol, and literally ascending into the sky while claiming to return to his Father.
Apparently, for whatever reason, God didn’t address science even when he was a biological part of his Creation. Maybe he didn’t want people to be distracted. Maybe he didn’t think his first century audience was ready for it. Maybe science is something he wants us to explore on our own.
For me, the first chapter of Genesis affirms that there is an intelligence and a purpose behind everything, which puts me, as a created being, in a certain posture.
As for the age of the earth . . . I’m okay with young or old, as long as my priorities stay aligned with the priorities of my Creator. That would make my vote a solid “I don’t know.”