I received a book from the publisher last week, Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins by Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III. (Actually, the publisher sent it to Scot in December and Scot passed it along last week.) This book provides another angle on the question of creation and the intent of the creation narratives in Genesis. Richard Carlson is a research physicist at the University of Redlands in Redlands California. Tremper Longman III is an old testament scholar, the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. The book is short and readable. It complements Denis Lamoureux’s thinking as we discussed in the long series on Evolutionary Creation, but with some different insights and distinctions. I am going to put up two posts on this book – the first on creation in scripture and the second on the proposal Carlson and Longman make for the interpretation of the creation narratives in Genesis 1-2.
Chapter 4 of Carlson and Longman’s book looks at the portrayal of creation in Isaiah 40, Job 38-41, and Psalms 8, 33, 74, 104, 145, and 148. Chapter 5 turns to creation in the New Testament in John 1, Romans 1, Romans 8, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1. These passages are integral to the interpretation of Genesis 1,2. Given that scripture is inspired by God, one should not, they claim, interpret the Genesis creation narratives in isolation from the rest of scripture.
The creation Psalms express worship of God as Creator in a form consistent with the longer creation passages in Genesis, Isaiah, and Job. The ancient cosmology or ancient views of the method of creation are incidental to the expression of worship to God as the creator. The other creation passages, those in Isaiah, Job, and the New Testament will be considered in more detail below. The question I would like to consider is quite simple: What does scripture teach about creation – and how is creation used in scripture. More specifically:
How do the various references to creation in scripture help determine the appropriate interpretation of Genesis 1-2?
Isaiah 40:12-31, written during the Babylonian exile according to Longman and Carlson, presents ideas about creation in the context of rhetorical questions about the power of God and his ability to deliver his people from the Babylonians. According to Carlson and Longman:
The central message of Isaiah 40:12-31 is that God has the ability to carry out his promises to his people. The passage focuses on God and his relation to creation, to history, to pagan “deities” and to his people.
To summarize, Isaiah addresses the greatest difficulty faced up to that time by the people of Israel, that of the Babylonian exile. He did this through posing and then answering a series of rhetorical questions by appealing to YHWH as the creator, controller, sustainer, and wisdom of all creation. (p. 81)
Job 38-41. The use of creation in Job is worth considering carefully. The book of Job considers profound questions about the origin of suffering, the relationship of suffering to the guilt or innocence of the one who suffers, and the appropriate response to suffering. Job cries out to God and God responds to Job by reference to creation, to his hand in creation and to the mystery and paradox of creation.
In referring to the cosmic order and the animal creation, God does not simply give Job some scientific information. Instead, God asks Job to consider the mystery and complexity of the created order that God himself fashioned, and to learn important principles from that. The point is that the natural order of the universe parallels the moral order in many ways, some of the natural order being beyond human understanding. Som aspects seem hideous, futile, wasteful, or fearsome, but all represent the work of a wise God who intentionally made the cosmos in the way it is for his own purpose. (p. 87)
God points out to Job that all features of the cosmos and all animals are the result of his creation, all part of his deliberate order for the universe. If Job understands this, then can Job also accept the fact that at least some cases of human suffering arise simply from the unfathomable wisdom of God in terms of the overall plan of creation, a wisdom beyond human understanding? (p. 88)
Even the Behemoth and Leviathan, symbols of chaos, are part of God’s creation, and God is in control. In response Job worships and acknowledges that he is inadequate to understand. In the text God refers to creation to answer Job in his crisis of faith. The answer is not that God made a good creation and mankind messed it up. The answer is that the creation we see is God’s good plan, and that includes everything from the awesome, to the fearsome, to the useful, to the foolish, including the silly ostrich … “Because God has made her forget wisdom, And has not given her a share of understanding.”
The New Testament adds to the understanding of creation – but the intent, with the possible exception of Romans 8, is to reflect on Jesus as agent in creating and sustaining the world. Jesus was in the beginning, all things came into being through him, he upholds all things and he is active in redemption. The New Testament view of creation is thoroughly Christ-centered, not Christ as the solution to a problem, but Christ as the one who formed and sustains all.
[God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. Hebrews 1:2
He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. John 1:2-3
For by Him all things were created, … all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Col 1:16-17
This is a powerful addition and extension of the Old Testament creation narratives, but it is consistent with the way creation is referenced in the Old Testament. Now though, the power is shown to be through Jesus Christ.
Some thoughts. This compilation of creation references in scripture paint an interesting picture. In fact, they paint a picture of creation that seems to be at odds with the typical expression of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. In particular the reference to creation in the response by God to Job does not lay blame at the foot of mankind. Rather creation, with its mysteries, its paradoxes, and its seemingly pointless suffering is all part of God’s creation. While the idea of a human fall is consistent – the fall is not a cosmic reordering. This, I would say, causes one to think about the complaint that acceptance of evolution paints creation as red in tooth and claw. The book of Job provides no reason to think that this was not, or could not be, part of God’s creative plan.
The second aspect that sticks out here is the centrality of Christ in creation as the early church wrestled with the revelation given them in the incarnation, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The conviction of the early church was not that Jesus was the solution to a problem, but that Jesus was the one through whom and by whom all came into being. Jesus was the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature (from Heb 1:3). The view of Christ crucified preached in much of our church just doesn’t seem to go deep enough.
What do you think?
Is the reference to creation in the book of Job an important component of our overall understanding of God, his role as creator, and his creation?
How do the NT passages on creation change the picture?
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