Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 54. Drowning in Knowledge (2)
Gen 1:1,2 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Quick Recap: We have suggested that as science pours out more and more knowledge, sometimes the size and volume of that knowledge appears to challenge or threaten believers, undermining their faith. We considered big numbers, big people and big theories and in considering history, I said we would pause up and consider how the book of Genesis fits in with modern perspectives of history. I have to warn you that because I am going to invent a story in a moment, this will be even longer than usual, but stick with me if you can. I hope it will be rewarding.
Contradictions: “Ah,” says an atheistic historian, “it is clear that the Bible is out of kilter with what we know of early history. Your Archbishop Ussher in the seventeenth century said the world was only 6000 years old (from today) according to the genealogies of the Old Testament.” Indeed, but perhaps both Ussher, our historian, and many other sceptics are guilty of, is making assumptions that don’t fit.
Genealogies? Taking Ussher’s genealogies first, to clear the ground, he assumed that Jewish writing was the same as modern western writing and therefore the names listed in the various genealogies were the only ones and therefore when you add up their apparent ages you only go back that length of time. However the mindset of those early writers was not like our modern chroniclers who insist on every detail being correct. The old Hebrew writers were not concerned so much with the detail as with the direction, so modern scholars believe the that genealogies are more signposts than accurate lists, theological points are being made, rather that detailed accurate-time history.
Adam and Eve? Did two such beings exist and if so, where in history? Traditional theology has assumed they were the first two human beings. Modern secular history suggests there were different strands of ‘being’ that became human beings as we know them today. But if the Bible lends itself to speculation so, no less, does modern history. If I may quote from the same book as before, “A History of the World,” the writer/TV presenter is remarkably honest: “There are almost no historical arguments as complex and heated as those about modern man’s origins. The reason is straightforward: scientific advances in the study of human DNA and in the dating of bone fragments and other material keep challenging, and sometimes overturning, earlier theories.”
Uncertainty: Listen to a quote from theologian Alister McGrath: “It is certainly true that the natural sciences aim to offer the best possible explanation of the world, and that they have had considerable successes in doing so. But there are limits to this. The scientist regularly has to propose certain ideas that certainly fit in with experimental evidence, but that cannot be proved, and are thus taken on trust. I notice a firm recognition of this point in … Charles Darwin himself. In his Origin of Species (1859), Darwin points out that his theory of natural selection has not been proven, and that all kinds of objections could reasonably be raised against it. But he still believes it was true, and that these difficulties will eventually be resolved.”
How intriguing and how honest. What am I saying here? I am saying that on both sides of the divide there are question marks. Yesterday I added to those question marks by challenging the concept of ‘uniform’ change. We just don’t know. The scientific world is concerned about what, in a different context is known as ‘false news’ which has arisen in the scientific world more than a few times, and to cite one reputable scientist (reported in the London Times newspaper some years back), “while plagiarism is undesirable, it may do less harm than the commoner practice of altering data analysis methods to achieve a desired result.” Humility is called for on all sides.
Mesopotamia? As I child I was taught that Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (strangely detailed in Gen 2:14) was the cradle of civilization. I was prepared, with the passing of years, to see that that was no longer believed and was surprised therefore when I find my modern writer still identifying it as such; not the place where historians believe our upright ancestors appeared, but certainly the place where civilization was first formed and developed, the land where we later find Abram comes from, a land that keeps on imposing itself in the Biblical narrative of the life of Israel.
And So? At the risk of shaking up some fossilized grey cells, may I make some suggestions, first those that are often now cited and then add a somewhat revolutionary concept for Evangelical believers. Let’s start with two general statements. First the Bible does not seek to be a science book, nor for that matter a historical chronology, at least in terms of nailing dates to the wall. Having said that it is written largely as historical fact, i.e. these things happened in time-space history, and using those things we can see how it aligns with secular historical records. But it is not a science book and does not in any way seek to explain how things came about, only why they did. Second, as we have indicated before, when it comes to people, those who are included are included for a specific reason and it is probable, therefore, that there are many others who existed in the Biblical period who have not been named. We would be wise therefore not to try to identify time by names.
The Big Purpose: Now if I may move on to a more revolutionary suggestion, in terms of the things to be remembered, third, may I suggest that Adam and Eve are certainly two historical characters who appear in a long, long line of human beings but they are mentioned, and their activities are mentioned (the Fall) in the Biblical record. Why? Because the primary purpose of the Old Testament is to reveal a family line, through which God would reveal Himself to the rest of the world, that eventually became Israel. The goal was to show God’s unique dealings with a group of people in history, in a ‘manageable’ way that did not dominate, oppress or impose Himself on mankind in a way that would override free-will. The genealogy lines go back to Adam and follow a specific strand of his family tree, flowing through Abraham, through David and so on, showing a people who had dealings with God for a specific purpose.
The Ultimate Purpose: That purpose was eventually, at a given point of time in history, to create an environment into which to bring His Son from heaven, to live on earth and his life to be recorded, before dying by execution for redemptive purposes and revealing himself as the unique Son of God. Everything that goes before it in the Old Testament is working towards that. THAT is why God goes to such lengths in this ongoing redemptive process that we have been following over these past seven weeks, to keep Israel on the right track so that they will survive and retain and preserve their history with God. Were Adam and Eve the first human beings in all of history, the only first human beings? No! Were they the first chosen by God to interact with Him? Yes? Did the events of Genesis 1-3 happen in time space history? Yes?
Read it again: Reread Genesis 1-3, not as a detailed-dates history book, nor as a scientific explanation but through the eyes of an inspired Hebrew writer, probably Moses, taking the stories passed down through the generations and confirmed and detailed by God in his times with Him in his forty years looking after Israel. Imagine Moses sitting in the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle) in the presence of God, wiling away the years, but then being aware of God and a conversation ensues:
“Lord, it is an amazing world.”
“I know, I created it, everything. Would you like to write that down?”
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
“What was it like then Lord?”
“Well after it had cooled down it was just a chunk of rock with a lot of water on it, and gases evaporating but just dark.”
“Wow!” “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.”
“But it’s not dark now?”
“That’s right, I just said, ‘Light!’ and there was, and it shone on the earth, so it was light on that side and dark on the other. That’s what you call day and night.”
“Right!” “Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”
“So what happened next?”
“Well, as the waters evaporated somewhat thick clouds formed and created a shroud for the earth that kept it at a uniform steady temperature. (Necessary for dinosaurs to exist for a period)”
“Amazing!” “Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.”
“Was it just static in space?”
“Oh no, it was like it is now, turning every twenty-four hours”
“Oh, OK. I see.” “And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day.”
And so the conversation continued on until Moses asked (in our imagination, remember):
“So we have plants and then animals and all the rest, what about man?”
“You’re not going to believe that but right back at the beginning I started it all off from just particles, dust if you like. So I’m afraid you all came from dust but with a very specific design and purpose in mind for the end. I empowered him with life, my life.”
“Awesome!” “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.”
“Hold on, how did woman come to be, so different from a man?”
“You really wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I think I’ll keep that one a mystery from you all. I’ll tell you when you come to live with me in eternity but for now, let’s say you both come from the same origin, very different but the same. Yes, I’ve made woman capable of bearing offspring so if you want to write it poetically, to give my people something to ponder on, simply say I took the human I had made, in the form of a man and then from that one, made a woman. That will give them something to think about.”
“Wow, well, OK.” “the Lord God took out a part of the man’s side and … made a woman from that part.”
“That’s how I did it from the beginning and many years later I chose this couple that you call Adam and Eve who lived in the area up between the Euphrates and the Tigris and we did stuff together there, and the rest you know.”
“But why did you do that? What about the rest of humanity, if they existed.”
“Oh they existed, but the point I am making to you is that this original couple that I chose, created a family tree that I have worked with ever since, right down to you – and I have lots more to do yet, but that’s not for you to know at this point in time. You focus on writing up the things that have been passed down the generations to you and I will add clarification as we share together.”
And thus Genesis to Deuteronomy came into being. Now that requires faith to believe but it accords with what is there in writing, and it makes sense!
Read this again: I am willing to concede that there is quite a lot here to take in, so I suggest you go back to the beginning of this particular study. There is a lot more we could have said but as we’ve gone way over our usual space, we’ll leave it there. Remember, take away all the ‘assumptions’ on both sides of the divide and I think you’ll find you can be a believer with complete integrity. Have I covered all the bases, dotted all the ‘i’s and crossed all the ‘t’s? No I haven’t and so where there are gaps, I’ll leave you to pray and think. All I’ve done is suggest some valid possibilities. We’ll have to wait for the complete truth until we arrive in eternity, but in the meantime, read the Bible more, study it more, pray more and be at complete peace in your understanding. Amen? Amen!