Today’s guest post comes from Rocky Muñoz, one of an excellent class of students from Bethel Seminary who recently studied the intersection between theology and science.
I used to be a young earth creationist. And when I say that what I mean is that I was that kid who tried to debate my biology teacher in class over whether or not evolution is true. I once left answers to questions on a science test blank because I didn’t agree with any of the multiple-choice options. And anytime my friends and I would go to the zoo we would talk about how ignorant evolutionists were because they believed that natural processes could account for irreducibly complex systems. “I mean, look at the bats!” I would say.
Now, why did I believe in young earth Creationism? It admittedly wasn’t because I was a really astute student of science. I very much was not. Rather, it was because I was taught to begin my investigation of the Book of Nature by first holding to a particular interpretation of the Book of Scripture. So, what changed? Why am I no longer a young earth creationist? Is it because the overwhelming scientific evidence convinced me? Was it because I wanted to sound smart and be accepted by the academic community? Was it because I was secretly living in sin and I wanted to justify it by looking for reasons to disbelieve in God? Nope, none of that.
The reason that I am now one of those evolutionists is because of the Bible. Not that the Bible actually teaches evolutionary theory (that would be silly), but because I learned how to read the Bible for what it is, an ancient book about God, and not what I would make it to be, a modern book about science. In fact, I adopted a literary-framework interpretation of the creation account in Genesis years before I came across the scientific evidence for evolution. I truly believe that having a proper hermeneutic of Scripture freed me up to be able to find other forms of truth elsewhere. Once I learned to read and interpret Scripture in its own historical-cultural context, I no longer needed the Bible to be scientifically accurate. I no longer needed evolution to be false. And I no longer needed the earth to be only a few thousand years old. Instead, I came to understand the stories in the Bible (and particularly the creation accounts) as needing to be first and foremost pieces of literature. When we stop looking for the science in Genesis and start looking for the story, we discover so many things that we would otherwise miss. And this is something that I think so many believers could benefit from.
For instance, if you would have asked me ten years ago to explain to you the meaning behind Genesis 1:1-2:3, I probably would have said it shows that (1) God is powerful enough to create everything in existence, and (2) it shows that He is powerful enough to do it all in less than a week. And at the time that seemed like plenty. However, the older I get and the more I read, the less and less I am satisfied with that. Thirty-four verses of text, and that’s all (or even the bulk) of what you can get out of it?
On the other hand, when we read the creation narrative through a literary-framework, we find that…
- There is more to this story than just what is actually in the story, a whole prologue in fact. The tohu wa bohu (“void and formless”) we find in verse two is not nothing, but rather the chaotic and wasted aftermath of a primordial cosmic conflict that raged between YHWH and the forces of darkness, often characterized as rebellious waters, vicious monsters, and terrifying sea dragons (Cf. Job 38:6-11; Ps 29:3-4, 10; 77:16; Ps 104:7, 9).
- The repeating refrain, “there was evening and there was morning, a ___ day,” is not some misunderstanding of what constitutes day and night, but rather a poetic emphasis on the good that God is bringing to a dark and chaotic place (v 2). God is not just making stuff. He is bringing order and purpose and light to what was once the shadowy remnant of a world.
- Mankind is not just the icing on the cake to God’s nice and neat little creation. Rather, we are intended to be the guardians of this very good garden that God planted in the midst of the tohu wa bohu wilderness (cf. Gen 2:5-8). We weren’t merely set down in God’s backyard and told to have fun; we were placed on the newly founded beachhead in God’s battle against darkness, and commissioned to “subdue” and rule over our new surroundings (1:28).
- Each day of creation is not just a record of what God happened to be doing at that time. Rather, the first three days demonstrate God’s efforts to combat the formless world (tohu) by creating space for things to exist, and the second three days demonstrate God’s efforts to combat the emptiness in the world (bohu) by filling these new spaced with suitable things. So, the light-giving bodies created on day 4 fill the role that God created for them on day 1. The sky and seas, which God fashioned on day 2, give occasion for the birds and sea creatures on day 5. And the land and vegetation that He produced on day 3 become the environment for the animals and humans that He would create on day 6. It’s not just that God made stuff because He can. Instead, it is an ingenious way of showing the design, purpose, forethought, intentionality, and meaning with which God brought His very good creation into being.
And that’s just scratching the surface! Just imagine what more beauty and truth we might discover if we are willing to let go of the need to impose our modern mindset on the ancient text, and rather let the Bible be what it is, what it was intended to be all along. I think we would be pleasantly surprised.