For the last few years I have been in the habit of reading through the entire Bible each year. It’s January, so I have started again and I am back in the book of Genesis. Creation. I think this account of the origin of the cosmos and the origin of mankind is beautiful and glorious and brilliantly written. But, I find myself disturbed once again by the sharp divisions within Christendom over these first two chapters of the Bible.
On one side are those who believe the earth to be relatively young (several thousand years) and the days of the creation week in the first chapter of Genesis to be standard 24-hour days. Some in this camp are quite insistent on the Church and individual Christians holding to this view. To not believe this way is to compromise on the Bible’s authority, it is to capitulate to the secular science of the day, it is to want to be acceptable to the world rather than faithful to God’s word. Churches should insist that its members believe this. This should be a test for orthodox faith.
On the other side are those who believe the age of the universe and the earth to be measured in billions of years. They believe that the scientific data and the biblical account of creation are not incompatible. There are several different camps under this larger umbrella, each with a nuanced theory of how God brought things about over the course of the aeons. Those holding this belief often view the young-earth camp as having lost their intellectual credibility and thus their voice in the marketplace of ideas.
My concern is not to convince anyone that one or the other of the above beliefs is the correct one. Those arguments, from my experience, tend to generate more heat than light. It grieves me that Christians can demonize each other and break fellowship over such things. We can act like a “right belief” about creation is as important as belief in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And the way we speak about and treat each other seems to neglect Jesus’ prayer for His followers on the eve of His crucifixion – that we all be one, even as He and the Father are one. He told us that it would be our love for each other that would let the world know we were His disciples. And I’m telling you, in this area of disagreement – I ain’t been feelin’ the love. So, a little ditty about birthdays and cake.
If we were good friends, and I sent to you a fancy cake of your favorite flavor for your fiftieth birthday, certain questions about the cake would be of little value. The central value and issue is our relationship. If I sent the cake to your office at noon by a special courier, answers about the cake’s appearance would center around “who” and “why” rather than “how” and “when”. “Why is this cake here? Who sent it?” Those might be asked. But to ask “When did they make it?” or “How did they make it?” is to miss the point. I might have bought it at Publix or made it from a Duncan Hines box mix or made it from scratch from an old family recipe. I might have made it that morning or the day before. Heck, I might have made it a couple of months ago and frozen it. If someone compiled a pictorial chronicle of your half-century birthday and included a picture of you blowing out the candles on the cake, it probably would not be a particularly relevant question to ask in the future, “Why isn’t there a recipe for this cake in this book?” It might be a question if the book happened to be a cookbook, but not if it was a pictorial history.
And that’s where attaching the right questions to the Genesis creation account is so critical. Genesis is not a scientific textbook. The first few chapters are concerned to tell us where it all came from (God), and why we and the universe exist (that we might know Him). It doesn’t seem to care two figs to answer our burning questions about how long ago and by what processes God did it.