9/4/16 – Science and Creation – Genesis 1:1-5, 2:1-3
Posted on September 4, 2016 | Posted by Pastor Daniel
Pastor Daniel’s sermon for September 4, 2016
Genesis 1:1-5, 2:1-3 – “How does one make sense of creation and science timelines?”
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
… Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
I remember someone asking me this question in my very first interview right out of seminary. I think I was still in seminary, actually, getting ready to graduate. I had driven way up north in Minnesota, farther north than I think I’d ever been, to a small congregation on the shores of Lake Superior.
It was a fine interview. Good people. After it was done we went to lunch. Through the windows of the restaurant, you could hear the cold waves of the great lake pounding on the shore. Sort of felt like the kind of place you could live, you know? Then, as she passed me the bread, someone from the call committee said “You know, my son’s in school and they started teaching him evolution and it really bothered me that they’re doing that. What do you think?”
Silly me. I had thought the interview was already over.
I paused for a second and then gave the most non-committal answer you can imagine. It was beautiful. Something about how our faith is what’s most important. I probably mentioned Jesus in there somewhere. Point is, I wiggled my way out of that question better than even the slipperiest of politicians could.
I didn’t get the job. And given my cowardice in answering the question, I didn’t deserve it. But I’ve had other opportunities since then. “What do you think of all these folks teaching evolution instead of scripture?” one might ask. Another might take a different route, betraying a different set of beliefs: “What do you think of this creationism nonsense?” Others really wrestle with it, asking not so much to label me as a friend or foe in some culture war, but rather because they want to see a way through it. A way to preserve their faith and their knowledge. As the questioner put it this week: “How does one make sense of creation and science timelines?”
Well, here it goes: Our Bible is not a science book. It’s purpose is not to make scientific claims on the truth. Rather, the Bible makes a theological claim. The Bible tells us about God. About God’s intentions and actions and hopes and despairs. The Bible is a book about God.
And that goes for the opening chapters of Genesis as much as any other piece in scripture. These are words about God, not words about how the world works.
We have other books for that. Books that tell us how old our universe is – about 13.7 billion years. Books that tell us about how our ancestors evolved from earlier primates. Books that tell us about how stars are made of gases and plasmas which are made of atoms which are made of quarks which may be made of pieces of string! These are science books, and they are full of words about how the world works, but they usually don’t have too many words about God.
That would be an answer to the question. One that I hope is both faithful and intellectually honest. I don’t believe the purpose of Genesis is to give me a historical timeline of our universe anymore than I believe I can find a whole lot about grace in the owner’s manual to my 2007 Toyota Corolla. And yet, both of those books are true.
So there it is. Except, that’s a pretty crummy answer, isn’t it? I mean, for heaven’s sake, if this first chapter of Genesis is full of words, of truth, about God, well then we could at least explore what it has to say. Also, there’s a deeper question here, one that matters even more than knowing how old the world is. What is this place where we live? What is this universe? And what’s the point of it? Or, perhaps the best way to put it is along the lines of our question this week: How do we make sense of this place? This life?
That’s what we really want to know, isn’t it. How do we makes sense of this place? Both science and faith are actually seeking to answer this question, but from different perspectives. Science from the perspective of what happened to bring us to this point in time, and how do things work now. And faith wants to know where God’s involved.
I think it’s the same question that was asked by a group of folks living in exile about 2500 years ago. How do we make sense of this place? These were the Jews in Babylon. They once had their own mighty nation. Ok, well mighty might not be the right word, but at least they were their own. Small compared to their neighbors, but they had a functioning government and food enough for most and culture and architecture and faith.
And when life was good, they didn’t think to ask the question. Or, at least the question wasn’t so critical to them. But then, things fell apart. And all of the sudden this tiny nation was no more. Buildings were torn down, even their great Temple, and those who weren’t killed or forced to assimilate were sent away to live in exile.
Which is a good place to start asking some questions. A whole lot of our Bible was likely written by those living in exile. In the grand scheme of things, it was a short period, but so much came out of it. As these people struggled to make sense of what was happening, God worked through their historians and prophets and poets to respond to their deep questions. Who are we? Who is our God? Have we been abandoned by God? Is there a future for us? How do we make sense of this place?
They’re good questions for us, too. And I hope we don’t have to go into exile in order to ask them. (Although rumor has it that this November about half our country is fleeing to Canada. If they don’t build a wall, first.) How do we make sense of this place? These are the questions that form who we are. These are questions that give meaning to our lives or take meaning away. These are the questions which give us comfort and courage, or despair and fear. Like those exiles, perhaps we should be asking such questions. Like those exiles, perhaps we should be asking them not just of science or history, but also of God. And like them, maybe we should be listening for answers in these holy writings.
So, let’s take a second whack at it. How do we make sense of this place? How do we make sense of our lives? How do we make sense of so much senselessness out there in this world? How do we make sense of this place?
“In the beginning … the world was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” I don’t know what that means. Not really. And neither do you. But it sure sounds right. And terrifying. It sounds like chaos and meaninglessness. It sounds like something we experience still. Like in cities across Syria that were once filled with thousands of people and are now filled with ruins. Like the carcasses of homes flooded out in Louisiana. Like a marriage that isn’t what it used to be. Or a career. Or a body. Like that ancient people who were once a nation, treasured by God, and then exiles, prisoners of their conquerors. The world was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep.
And then God spoke.
It starts with a word. A word against the chaos. A word floating over the formlessness, over the darkness. A word that brings forth light. A word that separates the light from the dark. Another word from God will create sky and water. Another will create land and plants. Another stars and comets and asteroids and quasars. Another fish and birds. Another dogs and cats and iguanas and humans.
It starts with a word. A word against the chaos. A word which by it’s very speaking does what it says. If you don’t believe me on that. If you don’t believe words can do what they say just by saying them, try saying “I love you” to someone. Try saying “I forgive you.” Try hearing the words “shed for you.”
Our God speaks a word, and with it God begins to bring order to the chaos. Form to the formlessness. Life from the inanimate deep. And with each word there is more order, more form, more life. And with each word God looks at what has be spoken into being and says: Good.
“How do we make sense of this place?” asked the exiled living in Babylon. And a poet among them, a prophet perhaps, one bringing a divine message, responds by telling them of a God who brings order to chaos. A God who forms the formlessness with a word. A God who creates life and treasures it and calls it good.
You can imagine a Jewish family gathered at some secret meeting in Babylon. They sit in a tent someplace, where everything is spoken with hushed tones for fear of being found out. And then the leader pulls out this fresh scroll and reads a story about God creating and ordering and making life. Not a story about the past, so much as a promise about God.
And as they leave the tent, the mother probably doesn’t whisper to her husband “I wonder if those were 24 hour days.” No, but with desperation she says “I wonder if God is creating, ordering still. Still speaking a word against the chaos and lifelessness of this world. I wonder. I hope so.”
There are books you can read and classes you can sign up for and PBS specials you can watch that explain the history of our 13.7 billion year old universe. They can show us the beauty of this world, the beauty of our lives. They can explain our origins. They can even point to an order, a form, and maybe even a goodness in this world. And, in doing so, they respond from a specific perspective to that question we all ask: “How do we make sense of this place?”
And alongside those PBS specials and classes and books, sits this book that answers that question from another perspective. Not one that contradicts the other, but looks at it all differently. And this book tells us of a God who speaks against the chaos. A God who forms. A God who creates life and then calls it good. A God who did that long ago, in the beginning. A God whose spoke then again among exiles. And a God who speaks still today against all the formless voids of our world. That is our God. And it is good. Amen.
As an aside, I really like the telling of this story from Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah.” Here’s the clip.