I was honored to speak as a layspeaker at church this morning. Here is a copy of my sermon.
In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness and some gas. The Bible says the Lord thy God is one, but I think He must be a lot older than that. Anyway, God said, “Give me a light!” and someone did. Then God made the world. He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden. Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn’t have cars. Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel. Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.
Right from the beginning, we are confused on the creation story. And if this is what a child hears when we read today’s scripture, is it any wonder that even the theologians can’t agree on what really happened in Genesis? “Oh, Steve, We aren’t tackling Evolution vs. Creationism today, are we?” No, we’re not. We don’t need to. As Disciples, we have members who accept the creation story as historical fact; we also have members who believe it to be metaphorical, a creation story unique to Christians, but in many ways similar to creation stories from other cultures. We find that many of us fall somewhere in between. As Disciples, our tradition has been to encourage each other to study the scriptures, and respect each other for where we are on our individual journeys. So I’m not going to tell you what you must believe about God’s first actions. However, let’s look at the beliefs we hold about these early chapters of the Bible and why they can cause such controversy.
Christians who accept the Genesis 1 account as historical fact, must have a strong faith in God. I mean this in the most positive way. They look at the events of each day: separation of day and night,separation of the waters to create an expanse known as the heavens, and the water and land; and in these events they witness a powerful God, speaking a word and the elements of the universe moving to obey. In 3 days the stage is set for life to begin. In the next 3 days, God speaks the planets, ocean life and birds, and animals and humans into being. God pronounces all of it good, and takes a day off. We need only to look around us to find the witness of nature to God’s awesome power.
For some of us, it’s too much to take in, we just can’t believe that something so big, so majestic, so amazing as our universe could come into existance in a mere 6 days. In our quest to learn more about our selves, our environment, our planet, our galaxy and our universe, we have questioned everything. And we’ve found some clues that it may have taken more than 6 days to put this place together. As humans developed methods for studying every aspect of our planet and beyond, and learned that scientific methods could indeed yield answers about where we come from, the 6 day creation account has been called into question.
One of the most famous inquiries in the science vs. faith debate was the Scopes Trial in 1925. John Scopes was a science teacher in Tennessee who openly defied the law prohibiting the teaching of evolution, made popular by Charles Darwin in his book On the Origin of Species. The case went to court, and very quickly, instead of John Scopes being tried for breaking the law, the Bible seemed to go on trial. Clarence Darrow, the famous attorney, questioned William Jennings Bryan relentlessy about things most Christians consider miracles that which could not be explained scientifically. Mr. Bryan died 5 days after the end of the trial, and the enmity between Christians and Scientists has lingered since then.
If we could begin that discussion again, how would we bring together the opposing sides? Where would we find agreement? How could we find a current in which faith and knowledge flow together?
I say that we should begin with God’s love. I say that no matter what you believe about the creation story, it very simply demonstrates God’s great love in that God creates a world, an amazing universe for humans to occupy and share with the rest of the creation. It appears God’s motivation for the creative act is to receive honor and glory from beings who have a choice to do so.
The creation story comes to us, presumably through Moses, in a way that these early people could understand. The story was handed down in an oral tradition and finally put on paper by Moses, although I’m sure you’ll find some people who would argue that point with you. In doing some research for today’s sermon, I discovered a theory I’d never heard before: That the creationism vs. evolution argument is not about Science, it’s about literary genre. This makes sense to me. Did the original author intend to write, or recite history? Or, did the author intend to write something more like poetry? Could it be that giving the story somewhat of a symmetrical structure would make it easier to retell? A look at the structure of the text reveals that the first three days of creation MIRROR the second three days of creation:
- On the first day of creation God said “let there be light,” as well as darkness, and on the fourth day of creation he made the moving inhabitants of those realms (the sun, moon, and stars).
- On the second day God separated the waters above the earth from the waters below the earth, and on the fifth day he made the moving inhabitants of those two realms (the birds and sea creatures).
- On the third day God made the dry land and plants appear, and on the sixth day he made the moving inhabitants of that realm (the animals and man).
In the first 3 days, the stage is set, and in the following 3 days the actors appear. The story is set up to describe the things that “are” and the things that “move” – the living creatures. Is it possible that in the years this story was told in the oral tradition that it developed this form? Is it possible, like that old game of “telephone”, that with each retelling of the story the details were nuanced? When humans are involved, we need to acknowledge the opportunity for such changes, even error, but that does not negate the main idea: God loved and God created.
You may find people willing to stand on their arguments for or against the Creation story based on the words used. The simplest telling of the story teaches us that God made a man named Adam and a woman named Eve. Research tells us that those Hebrew words ‘adam and havvah may be more symbolic terms meaning mankind and mother of all life. For those who wish to discredit the literal or historical creation story, it’s a simple move to then ask about the children of this couple. In fact, it is a question that was asked by Clarence Darrow, back in the Scopes trial that I mentioned earlier: Where did Cain’s wife come from? Maintaining that Adam and Eve were the only 2 humans from which life springs, takes us to a place we’d rather not go when explaining how the earth became populated. Using a symbolic interpretation of Adam and Eve as “the people” that God created solves that problem, but makes many more for us. It becomes much easier to simply dig in our heels and lock horns with our adversaries, rather than do the research and discern what God wants us to learn from such a story.
And if this isn’t enough controversy for you, we’re given a second account of the creation in Genesis 2:4-25. The second telling of the creation doesn’t match the first telling in Genesis 1. In the first chapter of Genesis, humans are the last thing created by God; in the second chapter, humans are created before the other animals. In chapter one, the man and woman are created simultaneously; in chapter two we get the famous “adam’s rib” story.
At this point, do we get hung up on the controversy, or do we look beyond it to discover what God wants us to know? I’ve seen some of the arguments over these scriptures. They go off into tangents on issues that don’t matter, but all sides want to claim these words as proof that God agrees with them and not their opponent. We place our own prejudice and our own bias on top of the Word that we’ve been given. We can suddenly find ourselves in a place we don’t want to be. For example, in chapter two, Adam is alone. God says “it’s not good for man to be alone” so God creates the animals and brings them to Adam to be named. From the scriptures, it’s clear that Adam is to choose a helper from the animals. It seems that it is only after Adam fails to choose a helper, that God creates Eve. For those reading these verses with a literal viewpoint combined with a skewed agenda, it could sound like God expected man to have a working relationship with animals beyond what we already experience.
And we haven’t even gotten to the “Fall” of humans. Was it really an apple? What did the “serpent” look like before God made it crawl on its belly? Are the tree, fruit, and serpent literal or symbolic? Believe it or not, I even found a website that believes Cain was not Adam’s son, but Satan’s. Controversy! From the very beginning!
Does it make a difference in our daily lives if God spent 6 days working and 1 day resting? Do we lose our salvation if God’s day means thousands or millions of years instead of 24 hours? Is God’s love negated if the creation story is told as a narrative with some details changed to make it easier to remember as well as for better drama? More importantly, how does it benefit any of us to deride each other for holding the literal or allegorical view of the creation story? The Disciples slogan certainly is appropriate “In essentials, Unity; In non-essentials, Liberty; and in all things, Charity.”
From the very beginning, God has interacted with humankind. Whether it was through a booming theatrical voice to speak the world into being, or the voice of God as the Big Bang Theory, we may never know. The universe is an amazing place, full of things our human minds will never comprehend.
When Albert Einstein was asked if he believed in God, here was his response: “I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books, but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws.”