When we come to the creation narrative at the beginning of Genesis we find ourselves at the pointy end of the story. The pointy end of that supposed clash between science and faith. We can’t read Genesis 1 today without the questions and doubts and alternatives expounded by science coming to the fore in our minds. It raises the question how do we read it? How do we hold it together? Is it true?…
Jeremy England an assistant Professor of Physics at MIT (that’s the Massachusetts Institute of Technology not the Manukau Institute of Technology) is working on some very radical theories of the origins of life…Theories on a molecular chemical level which leaves my limited grey matter bubbling away like a Rotorua boiling Mud pool. England is also an orthodox Jew and is often questioned about how he holds the two things together; and so his reflections on this matter are helpful for us…
Firstly he comments on the nature of scripture. He says that ‘the Torah, that’s the first five books of the Old Testament, is not troves of scientific treasures to be mined as such. That would be a foolish way to read the Torah, and would make him a bad scientist.”
However he goes so far as to say that living with the faith science tension makes him a better scientist.
“When you encounter a contradiction or something that seems really difficult and you’re forced to work very hard to resolve it, without simply getting to ignore or reject one side of the contradiction, it’s very productive.”
The creation narrative at the beginning of Genesis is at the pointy end of the story in another way. There is nothing before it, if the bible were New Zealand we would find ourselves at Cape Reinga, that northern most tip, steering off into the vast pacific our view going only as far as the horizon. It’s not a horizon constructed of myths but shrouded in mist, mist that we cannot look beyond. It leaves us with unanswered questions, as it starts with the affirmation that God created the heavens and the earth. Then we have the particulars of how that shapeless void becomes life as we know it. We are left with questions of time scales, what was before, where angels fit and Satan’s fall may fit into it, even the very eternal existence of God. Augustine of Hippo, from the 5th century would jokingly reply, to students who would pester him about what God was doing before the creation, by saying he ‘was preparing a hell for those who were too curious’. John Calvin, the father of our reformed faith in the 15th Century, enjoyed that Joke but standing at that pointy end summed it up by saying “I do not know, what I do not know.”
And while Genesis One is the pointy end of the story, a place where all of humanity can stare off into the eternal, it does have a lot to say to us today if we will let it speak. There is a beacon of light, like the light house at Cape Reinga for us. It has a lot to say to us about the Creator, about Creation and about us, both our relationship to the creator and to the rest of creation. It has a lot of timely and significant things to say as we face ecological crisis.
Last week we saw that the writer of this creation narrative wanted to tell us some important things about God. That God is eternal that the story starts with God. That God made all that there is, It wasn’t made by accident or chance, it didn’t come from conflict or the incessant wildness and clash of chaos, but was made in an orderly manner with care and craftsmanship, it was made good, and it was made with purpose. The writers concerns were not with the origin of life so much as the story of God’s relationship with his people. Creation wasn’t an isolate act of a distant disinterested deity rather the creator God is also the God of Israel, and as we from beyond the cross and the resurrection can see is the God who stepped into our world and invites us to become new creation in relationship with the Creator as our heavenly father through Jesus Christ. Genesis one is the pointy end of that story of God’s love and grace. A couple of weeks ago we looked at Psalm 136 with its incessant repetition of the phrase “God’s love endures for ever” and the Psalm starts with the creation saying that it was the start of the enduring faithful love of God. This week we are going to look at what it has to say about creation, the things that God made.
When you read through the Genesis narrative you see that it is a comprehensive list of things that God made. The Genesis story actually reflects the cosmology of its day that the world was created in a dome, a firmament between the waters above, where we get the rain and the blue colour of the sky and the waters below for the ancient writer, the impenetrable ocean depth. In the film The Turman Show which is full of reflections on Humanity and our relationship with our creator, the vast studio that the shows director and creator Christoff creates for Turman reflects that. The sun and the moon and the stars are seen in the genesis narrative as travelling on that dome, that firmament. While the cosmology may not stand up to our understanding of the vastness of space, we tend to think of that firmament as a poetic construction of the various layers of our atmossphere, but it still has a lot to tell us about the created world.
The first thing God creates is light. It’s important because it is by light that we are able to see and make sense of the world. In 1 john 1: John tells us that God is light, and creation is first and foremost part of God’s revelation of God’s self. While we may not be able to make sense of light without associating it to sun and moon and stars, here the write of genesis is poetically asserting that time itself is a created thing. Part of our created-ness is that we exist both in time and in space. It separates us from the eternal nature of God, unlike God creation it and we has a beginning and an end, whether we like it or not we are all subject to time. Bethany is doing Biology at University at the moment and came home with an interesting fact that they have discovered a tree that is so old that it is literally dying of old age, it can no longer regenerate and replicate its cells, until that discovery they didn’t realize that there was a limit to how long a tree could exist. In scripture the fleeting nature of human beings is affirmed, using the metaphor of grass and flowers, and part of the amazing reality of God is that this eternal being still cares for us. We also want to try and quantify God’s eternal nature in relationship with time, but it might sound very sci-fi-ish but God exists outside the space time continuum, he is not affected or changed by time. God is not waried by the passing of the years. God is not worn down like seashore rocks by the incesant pounding of ocean waves, God is not distracted or attracted and influenced by this trend or that novelty.
Another part of what Genesis says about creation is very consistent with what believe in modern science, that is that all things we see in creation are simply that created beings, physical in nature. The creation narratives come from the context of the cosmology and theology of the world in which they were written. If it is during or after the exile they are written against the background of nature worship, of seeing a spiritual reality in creation. The sun and the moon were worshipped as deities; Babylon was probably the first heavily astrological civilization with its focus on the influence of the stars on people’s lives. The creation narrative demythologises and speaks against that. The writer does not use names, which were associated with gods, to describe the moon and the sun… they simply become a greater and a lesser light for the day and night. Called to move at God’s command and to tell the time, show the seasons, remember for Israel seasons were not just the patterns of nature but times to hold festivals to worship and acknowledge God. Stars hold no mystical power, elsewhere in scripture God calls them out like one would an army, following his commands. He made each of them and knows them by name. For the Judaeo-Christian understanding it is only the creator not just any created thing that is to be worshiped.
We see that God creates living beings to reproduce, they reflect their creator by being able to recreate or procreate. In fact for the creatures of the earth it is part of God’s blessing for them… It’s interesting that Darwinism is often quoted as being a theory about the origins of life and thrown up against the creation narrative as a way of disproving it, but Darwin’s theory was always about the origin of the species and his observations are primarily about how various animals have adapted to their environment. It is an attempt to explain how this happened through selective breeding and change, at that level there is no conflict with the creation narrative as God’s blessing on the creature he created was that they be fruitful and fills the earth and sea and sky. In Theological terms this is known as the freedom of creation, it is made and given purpose and then sent to fulfill that purpose. Not micro-managed, fated but given liberty to adapt and develop and change. Bio diversity itself is a blessing and a gift of God.
The creation narrative also shows that not only did God create animals and plants but also provided for them. We see plants being set aside for animals and later for humans. In this genesis narrative it does seem that all life was vegetarian, even humans. The creature (in the image) behind me is a rock Hyrax. And if you have a look at the hoto you'lll se that there is alwys one in every crowd who just wants to be different. The Hyrax is an interesting creature, you may think that it’s a rodent, or some kind of rabbit like creature, there are four varieties, it’s found in Africa and the Middle East. Its not a rodent or part of the rabbit family, it’s a unique genus in fact genetically its nearest relative are… (any guesses)… well they are the Elephant and sea cows like the north American manatee and the dugong which can be found round the shores of the Indian ocean. One of its unique characteristics is that it’s got sweaty feet, or at least the pads of its feet secrete a sticky substance which helps it to move very quickly over steep rocky terrain. In Psalm 104 this animal is mentioned because God created the crags in mountainous terrain to be its habitat. The creation narrative gives us this wonderful glimpse into God’s provision even coming down to each animal having its natural habitat and living in within that. As we’ll see next week it leads us to look at the challenge of conservation.
The last thing is in the wonderful style of the writer of the creation narrative after each step of the creation process we hear that God says it is good. That all of creation has its own intrinsic value not simply in and of itself but because it gives glory and praise to its creator, before choirs could sing and prophets proclaim, poets wax lyrical and give us the words of adoration, creation itself is a symphony of praise to its creator. When we explore and examine and describe and name and observe and ponder and see its complexity its beauty, sometimes a very savage beauty it reflects its creators handiwork, or rather its creators voice print…
…Even as we are thinking about today in the terrible grandeur and power of storms, but which play their part in the ecosystem. When we look at creation we may not be able to ascertain that God is Good, we can only really come to that conclusion as we look at God’s dealing with humanity and in particular the cross, but we can see he greatness and providence of God.
With the creation narrative we find ourselves at the pointy end of the story and while we may have finished today just before lunch on Friday in the days of creation. Creation points us towards the creator. We find ourselves wondering and marvelling at it all, its purpose is to show the wonder and sovereignty of God so we can revel in and enjoy the providence of God. Sometimes I wonder if Richard Attenbourgh and his wonderful BBC nature shows are not like worship leaders inviting us to see the goodness of what God has made and the greatness of the creator. Next week, we willseee how creation was made to know and experience God’s grace love and care through a unique relationship between humanity and God. It was marred an changed by the breaking of that relationship and longs and groans for its restoration.