The Old Testament begins in darkness. “Darkness was upon the face of the deep,” Genesis says. Darkness was where it all began. Darkness, void and without form.
But the darkness of Genesis is broken by God, who in great majesty speaks the Word of creation. “Let there be light.” And there was. That’s all it took. And God called the light good! He doesn’t say anything about the darkness.
And when all is said and done, when the creation glistens in its bright array…out of that darkness the voice will first be heard, “Did God really say?” “How do you know? You weren’t there!”
The big names in the early Christian Church were fascinated by the Book of Genesis, especially this opening chapter. In the 4th Century, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and St. Basil the Great all found a seemingly endless source of inspiration in the creation account as they wrote their books of Christine doctrine.
Martin Luther, 12 centuries later, was lecturing on the Book of Genesis in his last years, because he saw in that text the best foundation to summarize all that he had been working for in the Reformation of the Church based upon the Gospel. For Luther, Christ is hidden in Genesis, and Genesis becomes clear in Christ!
Ah, you say, but that was then and this is now. We know so much more than they did. Oh do we, really? It has become a commonplace to be rather dismissive of this famous first chapter in the Bible, even by theologians and preachers. Without any sign of the hard work of real thought, we have uncritically accepted the gross popular distortions about faith and science.
The overblown critics of Genesis, like the outspoken zoologist, Richard Dawkins, have said that misguided religious zealots might believe that ancient superstition, but it “has no proper basis in evolutionary biology.” The Princeton ethicist with his curious ethics, Peter Singer, has said that it’s a stubborn, dogmatic religious prejudice to continue to believe today that humanity enjoys a special place in the cosmos.
So it’s no surprise that many a student who grows up in the Church goes off to college, hears such things in a lecture, and with the kind of pride that only a college student sometimes has, concludes that those rubes in the church back home just don’t know anything at all.
But then, how often does the Church shoot itself in its own foot? I remember listening to a man recount how his Lutheran school teacher had insisted that dinosaurs did not really exist because they’re not mentioned in the creation. I don’t know which is sadder…someone who sincerely wants to defend Genesis but does so in such a foolish way, or those who have drunk the devil’s Kool-aid and are so afraid of the critics that they avoid Genesis altogether, or reduce it to the status of myth or epic poetry…certainly nothing to be taken literally.
It’s sad, because it was the literal Genesis account of creation that inspired Christians for centuries to become scientists! Instead of buying into the tempter’s question, “Did God really say?” they got busy doing the hard work of thinking. “What did God say and what does it mean?” The sheer orderliness with which God creates in Genesis inspired the likes of the great Sir Isaac Newton to develop all his theories of physics; theories which, with minor variation, have proven reliable for centuries.
“What did God really say?” It was this same orderliness in Genesis with which God sets the heavenly bodies into their rhythm of days and months and seasons and years that first inspired Christians to adopt Ptolemy’s view that everything revolves around the earth, and later rejecting that for the heliocentric view because of discoveries made by Galileo, Copernicus, and the Lutheran, Johannes Kepler. Even in the 20th Century Albert Einstein recognized that God does not play at dice.
Where once we thought the world ended beyond the Pillars of Hercules at the Strait of Gibraltar, lo and behold, there was more beyond. Intrepid explorers set out to find more of what God had said. They sailed away in ships. They looked into microscopes and peered through telescopes…to find what God really did say.
It was the Genesis account and its repetitive description of creation that inspired biologists to pursue the interconnectivity of all life. There’s nothing in this chapter to prohibit finding things in common between man and animals. What Genesis insists upon is that regardless of what man has in common with the animals, he holds a unique place in the cosmos apart from the animals.
“What did God really say?” Long before the take-no-prisoner debates of the last 2 or 3 centuries between science and faith, theologians wrestled with those days of creation. Are they figurative or literal or both…or something else altogether? And what is gained or lost with each option? It’s still a discussion worth having, and Genesis inspires that discussion! Ambrose, Basil, Augustine, the big three, all wrestled with this, and with what the ancient Greeks believed about matter being eternal. Was that true? Is the earth old? Or is it young? Back then and even more so today, there is ample evidence to support and to question either view. Genesis inspires that debate. “What did God really say?”
But we in the Church have been duped into playing by the rules of the secularists. We have too often argued ourselves into positions that are impossible to defend concerning what Genesis must say…or what Genesis cannot say. Thus, with religious zeal gone too far, together with those equally impossible to defend outbursts from the likes of Dawkins, Singer, and others, it’s no surprise that this incredible text from the beginning of Genesis suffers so much abuse…and we are lured into the darkness by that ancient doubt, “Did God really say?”
It is as though we…we people of faith…have forgotten…or we have woefully underestimated…the word of the angel to Mary. In the beginning of that creation, a creation which certainly boggles both science and faith, when the Spirit of God hovered over the scene and God Himself became His own image and likeness in Jesus…Gabriel had said to Mary, “Nothing shall be impossible for God.” “Nothing!” And with the Incarnation, with God in human flesh, “by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made that has been made,” with Jesus, we Christians have the best invitation to try and think God’s thoughts after Him.
Unlike ancient creation stories with their ambivalent deities, their battling gods, slaughtering one another and making the cosmos out of their body parts; unlike modern creation stories with their materialist, random view of the cosmos, reducing everything to mere equations of chemistry and physics and biology…unlike everything else Genesis lays out the rationality which imbues all creation…even if we in the 21st Century, with all of our discoveries, still haven’t quite grasped that rationality! Genesis rejoices in the gift of science, but offers so much more than mere science. Genesis shows us God’s goodness, and the beauty of His handiwork.
The Genesis creation account calls on us, demands of us, the hard work of studying, weighing and pondering, testing and proving, sifting and winnowing what God has said, and by His Word what God has brought to be. Science is a good gift all in its own way, but science can only explain what science can explain.
So no longer listening to that ancient voice of doubt out of the darkness, we walk in the Light of what God has said, in order to pursue that better question with each new generation: “What did God really say?” For indeed, from the get-go, faith recognizes that what God has said is so very good!