There is perhaps no book of the Bible more contentious than Genesis. And it all begins in Chapter One, with the story of creation so elegantly written.
Genesis causes us frustration – and consternation – for all kinds of reasons. Eve’s infamous act in the Garden of Knowledge, which has yet to happen in the sunny glow of this morning’s reading, has become a tool for sexist attitudes about the place of women with respect to men, and the political foundation, in many ways, for patriarchy. Many theologians, of course, with a modern look at an ancient text, have been able to see the ways in which Eve’s act was the freeing one for humanity, the next step for God’s people. Others would argue that the focus on which gender took the leap in the Garden, as the story tells us, has become too much the centre of the discussion – that it might have just as easily been Adam, as Eve.
Similarly, we have the seven days of creation. We heard this morning the story as told in Genesis and preached by the church for thousands of years: on day one, God created light; on day two, the water upon the earth. On Day 3, God raised the land around the water, and upon them a few plants. On Day 4, the moon and stars were born to govern night and day and to mark the seasons. The next day brought the creation of birds and fish, and life in the sea and in the air. And then on Day 6, God made the animals and, of course, humanity at the center.
On the seventh day, pleased with creation, God rested.
Of course, we know that this is not exactly what happened. Genesis, for a text written so long ago, is remarkably strong on science, as we now understand it. The sun was around before the earth. The continents were reshaped among the seas. The moon and the stars influence our seasons and our tides. The fossil records of the earth suggest that the first creatures were fish and birds, then animals and humans.
But all of this did not occur in seven days, not as we literally understand days. This argument, and how to interpret this passage in the Bible has led, as you will know, to all kinds of debate in the United States about whether the theory of evolution should be taught in schools. Is our faith called into question if we accept some parts of the Bible as literal, and others as allegorical?
Before I became a father, when I was younger, I often spent my time debating these questions, on a more abstract level. What did it say about my faith? What was my understanding of truth? But when you have kids, your role becomes not just to think about your own beliefs, but to be a teacher, to raise your children with the right balance of skepticism and faith, and how to recognize modern science in relation to centuries and centuries of faith.
To be honest, as I get older, I find this balance easier – rather than harder to strike. The world when you are young seems painted more black and white. As years go by, the wisest people I have met live comfortably in the gray. They appreciate that others may answer some questions differently. They accept that they don’t have all the answers. They are comfortable with the fact that they never know everything this side of heaven.
And fundamentally, this is where both sides of the argument about Creationism and Evolution seem to most often go wrong. Both sides assume certainty when it does not exist. The most hard core Creationists would throw out Evolution entirely, ignoring the vast bulk of science suggesting that a literal interpretation is unreasonable. This is what J.P. Moreland, a theological philosopher has called “an over commitment” to scripture that allows no room for information outside the Bible. Darwin’s disciples are often no less strident – equally blind to the fact that, as science has shown, shifting the human story time and again, we don’t know what we don’t know, that there is still mystery out there.
If we see our faith journey as one in which, having settled upon all the answers, it comes to a stop and we do not move forward then the literalists would hold the last word. Wouldn’t that make life easier? But even between the Old and New Testaments, we can sense the changing of the world happening, a new thinking seeping in through the teachings of Jesus, a flexibility to respond to new realities while still being true to the core teachings of the gospel. The story of Genesis itself implies evolution – otherwise, one might ask, why didn’t God just get it all done in a single day?
In the end, though, this is perhaps a question of what we see as the role of Scripture. Is it meant to be a tool we brandish, so that we might be considered the higher ground in the argument? Is it meant to catch us in blind ignorance when the truth is laid out before us? Or is its truest purpose to bring us closer to God, to clarify a loving relationship with God, and – perhaps most important – to make us people of God? It is hard to do that when we are wasting our time arguing about the world being created in 7 literal days.
We are reminded of one of the most important truths of our faith on this Trinity Sunday and Father’s Day that we would do well to remember. The creation story teaches us, at its most basic level, that God is a presence we cannot fully understand, that life is mystery to which we will never have all the answers, and certainly not all the answers for every context. We articulate our image of God though the stories and teachings of our faith just as we create the image of the Trinity to improve upon our understanding of God, even as we accept that our understanding cannot be complete. Faith is not about believing every line in Scripture as literal truth; it is thoughtfully living in relationship with God, and living out that relationship in the world. Amen.