10 September 2013
Creation and Understanding
I don't find believing in a literal six-day creation story to be necessary to the Christian faith. I think it runs counter to our understanding of the world and significantly limits the power of God. What I find to be much more fascinating is the idea that God exists outside of the universe and was able to orchestrate its creation and is able to work very subtly and effectively through existing natural means.
So, when thinking about things like "the big bang," think of how incredible it is that all of these events resulted in you. Think of all the possibilities that could have been, and yet the one that happened was you. Just the way you are. That is pretty incredible. There was a point when there was nothing, and then there was everything, exploding and changing and forming and becoming new things, and taking completely random paths. And then somehow, amid the chaos, our planet was created and positioned in a very precarious place where it was able to sustain life. And then life actually happened. All the things that had to fall in place for that to work are astounding! And then life developed and eventually consciousness developed! We are self-aware. How wild is that? How did that happen?
And now we are discovering crazy new things about the universe, like the fact that it is continually expanding, or that there are subatomic particles out the wazoo that don't follow the laws of physics as we previously understood them. The fact that matter is nothing more than a relationship of energy, which forms objects when held in place and can explode with incredible force! The story of God designing and orchestrating all of this is just as impressive, if not more so, than a literal six-day creation story.
So what of the six-day creation story? Why do we have it, and why is it so specific if we aren't to take it literally? Well, do you take every piece of writing from thousands of years ago literally? How about Greek mythology? Is that literal? Did that really happen? I would classify it as one of many etiological myths. It is a story used to explain how something came to be in terms that people at that time could understand. So there is likely some truth to it, but understand that the story was told from the perspective of a person whose understanding of the way the universe works is somewhat more limited than ours is today. I don't mean to suggest that the people of the past didn't follow God fully, but they just understood God in a different way, the best way that they could. In other words, God is our explanation for things which we do not understand, but as we understand more, our understanding of God changes. It doesn't change God, just how we understand God.
And if the six-day creation story isn't literal, and if other accounts from the bible also turn out to be etiological myths, what does that change in your life? How much do the accounts of various events from the bible affect your daily life? I'm not saying that we can't learn things from the bible or use it as a resource. And I will still use the bible in that way. But recognizing the shortcomings of a book written by people, divinely inspired or not, does not change the way that I live my life or the principles I hold. I find the principles of love, peace, social justice, and basic human dignity to be central to the story of the bible, whether the stories are literal or not, and central to the creation of a better world. Better for me, and better for those around me, and better for those thousands of miles away from me. My faith runs deeper than just a few stories in an old book. And lastly, I am comforted by the words of 1 John 4, which say that "everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." I take that to mean that people might be serving God and know more about God than the most pious Christian in the world, they just don't realize it. Likewise admitting that you and I can't understand God does not mean that you cannot be a part of God's plan.