I’ve been approached for two weeks in the past three after speaking in my church, with specific questions from people about the age of the earth. They want to pin me down on whether the earth is 6000 years old, or six billion years old, and the ones doing the pinning are convinced they know the right answer. I’ve studied young and old earth theories, and the gap theory, and have come to the conclusion that God wasn’t trying to tell us how old the earth is in Genesis one and two. Because God isn’t telling, I’m not either.
I have “young earth” friends. I also have friends who believe the earth is billions of years old, and love Christ deeply. The debate goes on and on, endlessly. There are the “Answers in Genesis” people, lobbing grenades at the “Answers in Creation” people, who pull the pins and lob them right back. It’s embarrassing and wrong on at least three counts
1. It utterly bypasses sound principles of Bible study and interpretation. The student of the Bible always has, as a primary goal, to discover the best answer to this question: “How would these words have been received by the original readers?” In other words, when studying Romans, I’d do well to try and read it through the lens of a 1st century Christian living in Rome because that’s who the letter was written to. In the same way, I need to try and read Genesis through the lens of its original audience. While there’s great debate about who that audience was, one thing is for certain: those first readers weren’t having any debates about the age of the earth. It simply wasn’t on their radar, and for this reason, I’m unclear that it should be on ours.
2. It turns a non-essential into an essential. With Job, I’ll ask, “where were you when God laid the foundation of the earth?” You weren’t there taking notes to share with all of us in powerpoint/seminar form? Neither was I. When people are told that they can’t be genuine Christians because they don’t believe that the earth is young, they’re being told that they can’t believe in Christ’s death for them, receive Christ, follow Him, and seek His kingdom, unless they’re willing to subscribe to a certain view of science or a certain interpretation of Genesis that goes far, far, beyond the scope of the what the text actually says. Adding unnecessary burdens to the gospel is tragic, because some will miss out on Christ because they can’t or won’t march to the nuanced drum we’re beating about the age of the earth. It’s all so reminiscent of Galatians and their insistence on circumcision as a condition of salvation.
3. It becomes a major distraction, sort of like going to the symphony and failing to hear the music because you get in an argument with your spouse about whether the Classicism of Mozart is better than the Romanticism of Brahms. There you are, whispering your arguments back forth, until someone finally whacks you with their opera glasses and says, “shut up – or at least go out in the lobby. I’m trying to listen the music”
The music of Genesis is this: God made the heavens and the earth. God made humanity, endowing us with body, soul, and spirit so that we have the capacity to display God’s character and function as His image bearers. The setting, prior to sin, was perfect, with a beauty, ecology, intimacy, and grandeur that exceeds the imagination. We’re broken though because of our sin. Because of that our world is broken too. God, though, has made provision for restoring humanity, and the rest of the cosmos, and the final condition will exceed even the spectacular beginning.
All are invited to join with God in the work God is doing, and invitation rooted in the death and resurrection of Christ, and His offer to live with us, and in us, and through us, making us whole in ways we could never be without Him.
This is the symphony of history, but to hear the music requires that we stop obsessing about how long it took to write it. It’s an interesting conversation, but the moment it diminishes my capacity to hear the symphony, it’s become a barrier. For many, sadly, that’s the state of it.