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Willing the World into Existence

A sermon by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo.

Trinity Sunday

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

May 26, 2002

Psalm 8; Matthew 28:16-20; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

In reading the drama of creation in Genesis, we learn there’s only one central character, God. And for the longest time God is the only actor on stage, the only one saying words. There is no audience as humankind is not created until late in the week. No matter, in traditional Hebrew faith, one did not utter the name of God because it’s considered so holy one would not dishonor God’s name by saying it. [It was considered a form of idol worship. It also doesn’t help that God’s name has no vowels.] However, the ancients had an Aramaic nickname for God, “Ancient of Days.” Even Alfred Einstein had a pet name for God whom he envisioned as one with whom he wrestled for the secrets of the universe. He affectionately called God, Der Alter, meaning playfully “the Old One.”

In just six days, the Bible tells us, God created the entirety of the universe. The creation is a staggering marvel and stunning to the senses. The poet-Psalmist struggled to reach for words and images in describing what was observed about the created world:

“O Lord, our Sovereign,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory in the heavens …

when I look at your heavens,

the work of your fingers, the moon

and the stars that you have established;

what are human beings that you are mindful of them?

Mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

and crowned them with glory and honor.”[1]

That heightened sense of awe came from taking a holy, respectful look at the created world we live in. Looking that deeply into the beauty and immensity of the creation, the world and the vastness of the universe, creates in one a sense of awe. The psalmist poetically sang in reverie at the marvel and the sheer beauty of the creation. Behind it all (the psalmist understood) a Creator had brought it all into being. Behind and beyond the majesty and beauty of it all, God had stretched creativity beyond any human possibility of imagination. The Bible says it simply: God willed the world into existence by the power of speech.

In the middle of my sophomore year, I transferred to Baylor and found myself sitting in my first religion class, Introduction to the Old Testament. I quickly learned this wasn’t Sunday School anymore; by entering the university, we were now young scholars and it was a course where any squeamishness about studying the Bible academically was ignored. No more devotional theology, no pious sentimentality to keep us from thinking critically. It was there I realized almost everything I knew from my home church was inadequate. It was like graduating from grade school and going to college.

In studying Genesis academically I learned that in the ancient world creation stories were a dime a dozen. Everyone in the ancient Middle East had a version of a story meant to explain how the world came into existence. I learned the creation story found in Genesis was similar to but also different from those other stories of that period. I also learned the Bible not only had one creation story, it had two stories. Mind you, those stories were hiding in plain sight because I had never read enough of my own Bible to even know this. I learned they weren’t necessarily contradictory stories, but they were different. While different, they were complementary, written by two different writers for two different purposes. In those religion classes, I learned the story of creation was not meant to be understood as either science or history. Rather it was something altogether different; it was a religious story.

That one thought alone is the basis for much of the discussion, heated at times, about the nature of the first book of the Bible. Even today, even in a church of this size, we might have spirited discussions on this one single observation. Trust me in saying, no matter what view you or I hold there is not a consensus on these issues. The scholars disagree and debate and so should we. I would add that my views are not authoritative and they do not close the discussion.

Credo:  It’s my belief the creation story in Genesis is a religious story rich in faith but not one meant to be understood in a scientific or literal way. I believe in science and so do you. Anyone have a cell phone? I use a Garmin to go places I don’t know the way. Do you trust the information the satellites send to the pilot of the jet you’re flying? Do you think meteorologists stick their heads out the windows to see what’s happening outside?

The book of Genesis was written in an age before science was known or understood. To hold the Bible up as scientific writing is to do harm to its original intent or meaning. The scientific revolution first began a thousand years ago by emphasizing how to formulate a question, followed by a reasoned process of gathering information and coming to a conclusion not formed by religious conviction, but rather by reasoned investigation and truth that can be verified by scientific process of test replication. This is the process Galileo followed in the 17th century that caused him to be tried for heresy by the church and who forced him to recant his views as he shed new light on ancient belief.

The goal of a scientific inquiry is to obtain knowledge in the form of testable explanations that can predict the results of future experiments. Science is religiously neutral, but it does hold incredibly powerful implications for faith.

Some, however, hold the creation story to be scientific according to the formulations of what’s come to be called “creation science,” holding implausible interpretations of the physical world where science is held hostage by religious views. This belief holds to a literal creation of six 24-hour days some six thousand years ago and supported by an arbitrary manipulation of well-established scientific knowledge. While many Christians object to the use of religious mythology as an explanation for things, one must remember that pre-scientific mythology was simply the way things were understood in the absence of scientific discovery.

Also, please realize there are variant models between what I’m describing simply as science and faith; there are hybrid models that seek to describe the middle ground and many hold to one of those versions.

So in this delicate dance between the polar views of interpretation in the dialogue between faith and science, let me read one writer’s playful scientific rendering of the creation story:

In the beginning some fourteen billion years ago, God created the Big Bang which was followed by cosmological inflation. God saw that the Big Bang was very big, too big for creatures that worshiped him, so God created the earth. And darkness was upon the face of the deep, so God commanded hydrogen atoms (created out of quarks and other subatomic goodies) to fuse and become helium and in the process released energy in the form of light. And God called the fusion-light the sun. God saw the light was good because now God could see what He was doing & the evening & the morning were the firstday.

And God said, “Let there be lots of fusion-light makers in the sky.” God grouped the fusion makers into galaxies, and these appeared to be millions and even billions of light years from Earth. And God created many wondrous splendors, including red giants, white dwarfs, quasars, pulsars, nova and supernova, worm holes, and even black holes out of which nothing, not even light, escapes … And the evening & the morning were the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, & let the continents drift apart by plate tectonics.” God decreed sea floor spreading would create zones of emergence, & cause subduction zones to build mountains & cause earthquakes. In weak points in the crust God created volcanic islands, where the next day God placed organisms that were similar to but different from their relatives on the continents, so that still later created creatures called humans would mistake them for evolved descendants. And in the land God placed fossil fuels, natural gas, & other natural resources for humans to exploit [but not until the sixth day]. And the evening & the morning were the third day.

And God saw that the land was lonely, so God created animals bearing their own kind, declaring “Thou shalt not evolve into new species.” And God placed into the land’s strata, fossils that appeared older than 4004 B.C. And the sequence resembled descent with modification. And the evening & morning were the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that hath life, the fishes.” And God created great whales whose skeletal structure & physiology were homologous with the land mammals God would create later that day. Since this caused confusion in the valley of the shadow of doubt God brought forth abundantly all creatures, great & small, declaring that microevolution was permitted, but not macroevolution. And God said, “Natura non facit saltum” — “Nature shall not make leaps.” And the evening & morning were the fifth day.

And God created pongidids & hominids with 98 percent genetic similarity, naming two of them Adam & Eve, who were anatomically fully modern humans. In the book in which God explained how all this was done, in chapter one God said he created Adam & Eve together out of the dust at the same time, but in chapter two God created Adam first & later created Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. This caused further confusion in the valley of the shadow of doubt, so God created Bible scholars & theologians to argue the point.

And in the ground God placed in abundance teeth, jaws, skulls, & pelvises of transitional fossils from pre-Adamite creatures … And just as God was finishing up the loose ends of the creation, God realized that Adam’s immediate descendants who lived as farmers and herders would not understand inflationary cosmology, global general relativity, quantum mechanics, astrophysics, biochemistry, paleontology, population genetics, & evolutionary theory, so God created creation stories. But there were so many creation stories throughout the land that God realized even this was too confusing, so God created anthropologists, poets, folklorists, mythologists and even preachers to explore and interpret the issue.

By now the valley of the shadow of doubt overrunneth with skepticism, so God became angry, so angry God lost His temper & cursed the first humans, telling them to go forth & multiply. They took God literally & now there are over 7 billion people. And the evening & morning were the sixth day.

By now God was tired, so God said, “Thank me its Friday,” & He made the weekend & it was a good idea.[2]

Margaret Guenther claims, “The sight of the night sky makes mystics of us all.” Anytime we pause long enough to turn our eyes to the heavens and pay attention to the wonder of the creation, we involuntarily call out God’s name, no matter how we think of God. We cannot help doing so. Because we’ve seen the creation, the work of God’s fingers, we know who we are.

[1] Psalm 8:1, 3-5, NRSV

[2]  Loosely adapted from an article originally published in Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition (Edited by Philip Appleman) New York: W.W. Norton 2001, 625–626, http://www.michaelshermer.com/2001/12/genesis-revisited/