Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Bible and Me Part II - Creation

[I've struggled for a long time with my relationship with the Bible. It has been a rich source of insight and spiritual nourishment to me, but also at times, a source of deep doubt and confusion. My intention in this series is to share a little of how that relationship has developed over time. If you're a Christian and you're trying to work out your own approach to the Bible then it won't give you all the answers, but it may give you some questions and insights that could help you along the way. If you're not a believer, but you're interested in the Christian faith - or in Christians in particular - then it may give you a little insight into how some of us tick!]

[The Bible and Me Part I - Beginning to Question]

As I started to consider the idea that the Genesis creation account was a myth, I started to notice other things about the story that began to make a lot more sense. For example, God intially places Adam and Eve in a beautiful garden where all their needs are provided for, but as a result of Adam's sin, they are banished to the harsh world outside where he has to "work the ground from which he had been taken". But if the whole world was perfect, how come one bit was less perfect than the other? Had God been planning this "banishment" all along? Or does it make more sense to see the garden as a symbol of the goodness of a perfect relationship with God, which we are then excluded from when it all goes horribly wrong? Also, why is there a river flowing from Eden which separates out into four other major rivers? Rivers usually run into, not out of one another. Unless again, this is making some sort of symbolic point about the potency of this place - representing a perfect relationship with God - which is a source of the goodness of so much of the surrounding area. And where is the garden now, and what happened to the "cherubim" and "flaming sword" that God put there to guard the way back to the tree of life? There have been various speculations about its location, but it seems pretty clear that neither the tree of life, nor the sword, nor the cherubim have ever been found.

And what of the snake? Most Creationists seem to overlook this point, but if you're going to read the story literally, then read it literally! Adam and Eve were not tempted by the devil, they were tempted by a talking snake! And it is consistently referred to as "the snake" (my emphasis), so apparently there was only one of them - it didn't even have a mate! (This bit really does read like something from one of Aesop's fables!) And it seems like it must've had legs (although the text doesn't say so), or else God's subsequent curse - to "crawl on your belly" - wouldn't have counted for very much. Oh and also, as well as crawling on its belly, God told the snake it was going to "eat dust all the days of [its] life". But I don't know of too many snakes that do that...!

Or perhaps you could look at all this a different way...?: It is a common thread in Jewish and Christian literature and thought, that there are unseen and sometimes very powerful, non-human spiritual entities that play an important part in human life and history. The snake represents Satan - the adversary - who stands opposed to all of God's plans and purposes. Most Creationists accept at least this much anyway because even by their standards it makes more sense than the "literal" explanation given by the text for the snake's interference, which is simply that it was "the most clever of all the wild animals"! But when you begin to treat the whole story as more symbolic than literal, it suddenly begins to offer up other new layers of meaning. "Crawl on your belly" might not be much of a curse to a snake, but it is to a proud and powerful spiritual being - and it rings true! There are no depths to which the Adversary will not stoop. He has no honour - he abandoned all that when he decided to oppose God - hence the reason he is depicted as a snake in the first place. As for eating dust - snakes don't do that, but Satan does. There is no pleasure or fulfilment in a life devoted to destroying everything that is good and true. He is driven by jealousy and hatred and will never find satisfaction in anything he does. These are the kinds of important lessons that I think people are prone to miss, if and when they try to take the text too "literally".

There are actually two creation accounts in Genesis - a fact that is also easily missed when attempting to read this book as a straightforward historical narrative. The first account runs from the beginning of chapter 1, through to chapter 2 verse 2 (the chapter and verse divisions were added much later by Christian editors and unfortunately often bear little relation to the structure of the original text). The second account follows on from there. The distinction between the two can easily be seen by noting the different writing styles, the fact that the accounts overlap with one another chronologically, and the fact that they contradict each other in the detail (in the first account God creates plants on day 3 and mankind on day 6, but in the second account God creates Adam before any of the plants have appeared).

The second account (as just discussed) deals with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the story of the temptation, but the first is a beautiful chiastic poem describing the 6-day creation of the world. Chiastic poems represent the subject material in a symmetrical form, and are heavily used throughout the Old Testament. This may be done for effect, or to make a story easier to remember, or possibly both. This could be an indication that a story has been passed down orally for some time before being committed to paper.

The creation poem starts with 3 days of "separating" - the light from the dark, the water from the sky, and the land from the sea (and plants appear on the land). These are followed by 3 corresponding days of "filling" - the day and night are filled with the sun and the moon, the sea and sky are filled with fish and birds, the land is filled with animals and with man (who are given the plants for food). This is the reason for the rather strange order of events, in which light is created before the sun, which is its source! It really isn't necessary (or desirable!) to invoke strange cosmological arguments in order to try to interpret this in a "literal" fashion!

[The Bible and Me Part III - Inerrancy]
[The Bible and Me Part IV - Scripture vs Tradition]
[The Bible and Me Part V - Job]
[The Bible and Me Part VI - The Difficult Bits]
[The Bible and Me Part VII - The Supernatural]
[The Bible and Me Part VIII - Noah and the Flood]

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