Confessions of a Badventist – Part 3 – What Does Genesis Say About Our Beginnings?

Part 3:

Another common issue that arises when questions about Genesis 1 come up is this: “If you can’t believe the Bible about our very beginnings, how can you believe it about anything else?”

A Straw Man, according to the google machine, is defined as “an intentionally misrepresented proposition that is set up because it is easier to defeat than an opponent’s real argument.”

This question is not quite a straw man’s argument, but it’s very close. This question makes the argument that Genesis 1 and 2 were written to tell us the literal beginnings of everything, and therefore, the only way to “believe” the Genesis Creation story is as historically, scientifically accurate fact. Believing anything otherwise “is infidelity in its most insidious and hence most dangerous form.[1]” However, this concept is a completely unverifiable assumption. We only know that Genesis 1 and 2 were written, eventually at that, but we do not completely know why they were written. We do not know that the intention was accuracy; we simply understand that the intention was to relay Divine Truths. Is historicity the only way to do that?

Our fundamental beliefs state that the Bible trying to express Divine Truths in human language is like “trying to teach quantum physics to a baby.”[2] If we can appreciate that complexity, why do we think the ancient Hebrew, with their limited understanding of the world they were in, let alone the universe, were any more prepared for actual quantum physics? Was Moses[3] ready for fission, fusion, infinite expansion, background microwave radiation, black holes, supernovae, or space-time? We didn’t even figure out that gravity existed until Isaac Newton fell asleep under an apple tree, and we still don’t really know what it is.

This is not an insult to Moses by the way. Genesis 1 is about God, not science. If I went back in time and gave Moses my iPhone he’d likely have me stoned to death for being in league with demonic forces. He would not understand what I was showing him. However, when I handed one to my kids, they were able to use it intuitively. They nor I can tell you how or why phones work, but we are able to properly use them. Maybe Moses didn’t necessarily need to know how creation worked any more than I need to know how my phone does. Maybe he knew how to make what he understood about Yahweh intuitive to the children of Israel. Is it possible that we are expecting, not too much from Moses, but something different than he was tasked to provide?

Is it unthinkable that the omnipotent Divine Source thought “If I’m going to express the unknowable, I’m going to have to predominantly use metaphors and stories? I’ll have to elicit questions to activate contemplation.” (For evidence of this, see basically all the red print parables Jesus left in your King James Bible.)

Question: Why do we shy away from terms like metaphor when we speak of the Bible?

Answer: because we view the term “metaphor” as a category for things that are “untrue.” But metaphor is not synonymous with fiction. Metaphor brings the material to the abstract. Metaphor places the mysterious in the palm of your hand.

If the Bible deals with anything, it deals with mystery, and as Richard Rohr put it “Metaphor is the only possible language available to religion because it alone is honest about Mystery.”[4]

With metaphor, the point of the story is the point of the story, not the story itself.

So, what does the Bible tell us “about our beginnings?” Take Genesis 1. There is no true consensus on what Genesis 1 means or teaches. It’s unclear on how large a scale creation is being addressed in the text. Is it just Earth? Is it Earth and its local solar system? Is it the entirety of the universe including heaven? If it includes heaven, where was God before Genesis 1?

Outside of the scale, it is also unclear as to exactly whether or not it even purports to speak of literal days. An Adventist will quickly point out that measuring time in the expression “the evening and the morning” clearly signifies individual days, and the word “Yohm” always means a day. Whereas, the Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties (a book that seeks to remedy all perceived biblical inconsistencies, but fails to do so despite being as thick as the Bible itself) will concede that Yohm can mean “a day,” but it only necessarily means a 24-hour day when conjoined with the definite article “the” like “the first day.” The original Hebrew text doesn’t say “the first day” which would be hayyom hari’son but instead says “day one” – yom ehad. Said book actually speaks of the Yohms as representing eras of creation that could have taken any amount of time as seen fit. It literally depends on what scholar you ask. I didn’t bring up this diversity of ideas to suggest one over the other, but to simply show there’s more than one way to faithfully “believe” in Genesis 1 as “literal” without believing it only took a week.

Assuming we settle on the scale and that a day means a day, what does the story say?

Genesis 1 paints a scene where there is nothing but water, called “the deep”- infinite darkness and water. Then God speaks light into existence (kind of interesting that ‘darkness’ was already there but ‘light’ wasn’t, but there’s probably no symbolism there.)[5] God institutes Day and Night while the Earth is still without form and void. This indicates that Earth’s time is disconnected from how the Earth moves.

It is not until the second day that the Earth is formed. To do that, God creates a “firmament” inside of the deep waters to create air and space for dry land to eventually appear. All that exists by the end of day-2 is water absolutely everywhere in the cosmos except for the space created by the firmament. This cosmic water remains above the firmament, as well as all around and below the space it created. Additionally, other texts indicate that this firmament is equipped with “windows” that open to allow the water from above in (rain as well as blessings after you’ve given your tithe and offering: “I will open up the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing.”)

On day 3 God allows for dry land to appear and the seas to gather themselves together in one place. Once there is dry land, God brings forth grass, herbs, and fruit, all bearing seeds necessary to reproduce themselves.

On day 4 God places lights in the firmament to “divide the day from the night, and to be for signs, for seasons, for days and years.” So now, 3 days have passed in Earth time before there was a sun or moon to regulate the Earth’s orbit or to create a 24-hour day or seasons. God creates the Sun, moon, and stars and places them in the firmament. What does this mean? The firmament has commonly come to mean the Earth’s atmosphere over time, as it is a particularly miraculous thing that allows us to breathe and for life to exist on the planet. Looking at it that way even seems to make sense in terms of having created the firmament for dry land to appear in day 2 as well as how the birds were made to fly “in the open firmament of heaven” as Genesis 1:20 states.

However, that’s not what the word in the original Hebrew (raqia) means. It did not mean an atmospheric expanse, but a solid vaulted dome. Remember that the firmament is said to be holding back the cosmic waters above Earth since day 2 and it is embedded with the stars and planets. Does that sound solid or atmospheric to you?

The solid dome has been expressly disproven by the fact that we’ve launched countless objects into space without hitting the dome, but it is what the text literally says. Even if it did mean something atmospheric and not solid, the text would then indicate that the sun, moon, and stars are inside Earth’s atmosphere; not out in space. If the stars and planets are in the vaulted expanse holding back the cosmic waters, wouldn’t this indicate that they are all equidistant from Earth’s surface or is the firmament infinitely thick?

On day 5 God makes birds and sea creatures. On day 6 God makes land animals and humanity. On day 7 He rested.

That’s what the Bible says about our beginnings – God created a dry island reprieve in an otherwise dark and deep cosmic ocean that completely surrounds us on all sides, top, and bottom. Earth’s sky or firmament contains all the stars that exist, and they exist only to serve humanity’s apparently divine need to keep time, which would also make it seem as though the universe is expressly geocentric. Should we develop the ability to travel past our firmament, we would only find more ocean, which should be no different than the oceans we have on our planet as it was all once one big infinite deep. If we develop the ability to travel downward further, we would not reach a core or the other side of the planet, but Sheol, the land of the dead, and eventually more water in the infinite Great Deep.

This biblical Earth doesn’t seem too much like the one we learned about in school or the one observed from the International Space Station. [6]

There is a statement in our fundamental beliefs that says “when we cannot harmonize science with Scripture, it is because we have an ‘imperfect comprehension of either science or revelation.’[7]” Whether Creation took 6 sequential 24-hour days or not, the Genesis 1 Scripture paints the picture of Creation inserted below:

Ancient Hebrew Cosmology

[8]

This is the world described in Genesis 1 and much of the Old Testament. Is that the world we believe we live in? If not, is it possible that we are operating under an “imperfect comprehension of revelation?”


 

Regardless of how someone massages Genesis 1 to seem like reality, they then must turn the page. The task of the Young Earth Creationist or the Adventist is not just jiving Genesis 1 with scientific exploration but jiving Genesis 1 with Genesis 2. Starting at verse 4 we are given another account of the creation story. This time, not only is it far less detailed, less rhythmic, less repetitive, though no less beautiful, the details that are included occur in a different order than in Genesis 1.

For instance, by the time mankind is created in Genesis 1, everything else has already been created. Everything was ready by the time humanity was introduced. Trees, plants bearing their own seed and fruit, animals in the air, sea, and land, everything. Genesis 1 actually reflects this dope cycle of the Divine first creating perfect spaces by separating things (light from dark, air from water, and water from land) and then creating something to fill those spaces (sun and moon to inhabit light and dark; birds and sea creatures to fill the air and water; and animals and humanity to fill the land).

However, in Genesis 2, that “habitat first, inhabitant later” system is nowhere to be found. In Genesis 2 God creates man first, then He plants a garden which causes trees and plants to grow. The text states that before Adam, there was no plant life because God had not sent rain yet nor made man to till the ground (vs. 5-9). Rain was not a prerequisite for plant life in Genesis 1 where the text says plant life was abundant and already seed-bearing by day 3 (vs. 12-13) which is 3 days before humanity’s creation on day 6 (vs. 24-31).

Also, Genesis 2 doesn’t mention God creating animals until after planting the garden, creating Adam, and instructing him about the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God creates Adam (whose name literally means Human) and places the Human in a garden that God planted “in Eden, in the east” (notice it does not say God planted the Garden of Eden, it says he planted a garden in ‘eden’ – a word that literally means delight.) God gives the Human the job of caring for the garden and then has the Human name every living creature God had created (earlier that day if the Genesis 1 storyline is to hold, though this requires not reading Genesis 2 for its plain meaning as it seems to switch the order.) Having been given the divine task of caring for the garden and then seeing the animals and their companions, Adam realizes how alone he is. In response, God slips Adam a heavenly Ambien, performs a ribdectomy (not a word), and makes Eve (whose name literally means Life.) Then after definitely officiating their hetero-normative wedding[9] and sending them off to procreate, God moves on about His otherwise Godly business.

In reading Genesis 2, you end up with a story that goes like this: God, a being defined as Love, created a perfect space in His “delight,” then He made “humanity,” infused it with desire for communion and companionship, then gave humanity “life.” That’s literally what the words used in the Eden story mean. These seem like beautiful Divine Truths, but the details contradict the previous page.

Now to be fair, many people see no discrepancy here. Literalist interpretation being that Genesis 1 is the general creation of everything on a macro level including what are the then-unnamed Adam and Eve humans, and Genesis 2 is the telescoping in on day 6 of the Genesis 1 event and expanding the details. In so doing, you must then insert a belief that God created all land and vegetation, etc. in the order of Genesis 1, but then planted a separate Garden of Eden on Day 6 that operated under different rules than the land outside of the Garden (as mankind was needed to tend to the garden, but the lands created in Genesis 1 were self-sufficient.) You must also accept that Genesis 2 was written in a confusingly random order that is not intended to be chronological, which is a dramatic change from the intentions of Genesis 1.

These ideas have some merit. I do not rule them out, per se, but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t still problematic.

If this was Day 6 of creation week, it’s notable that there is no mention of rest and completion this time. There is no nice little button placed on Genesis 2 like there is in Genesis 1. Genesis 1 (ending at Chapter 2:4 technically) appears to tell a whole story. Genesis 2 appears to be just the beginning of another one and the more personal one. It is also notable that whenever God created all the animals, before or after mankind, Adam somehow had to catalog them all and then he had to become unbearably lonely even though he was in Paradise with God, all in an afternoon.

Speaking of that loneliness, in Genesis 1, at the end of each creative day, we are told the things created are “good” leading to “very good.” In Genesis 2 the creations aren’t described that way. We aren’t told any of it is “good,” we are just given details without words of value or judgment. In fact, the only real judgment we run into in Genesis 2 is that it was “not good for man to be alone.”

We have already discussed the fact that seed-bearing fruit being abundant by day 3, but as of day 6, “no plant of the field was yet in the earth” is a touch confusing. However, in addition to the sequencing issues, a literalist interpretation does not, for me, satisfactorily deal with the “pillars of the Earth issue” that comes up elsewhere in scripture, where that original light from Day 1 went if the Sun, Moon and Stars don’t come about until Day 4, why and how there was evening and morning before there were the sun and moon to facilitate the earth’s rotation or orbit (a gap in explanation that the Ancient Hebrew had no knowledge of, or interest in, so give Moses a break), the whole Rakia – Firmament issue, not simply in that there’s clearly no dome over the earth or stars in our atmosphere, I would hope we’re on the same page there, but where are the waters supposedly being held back above that Rakia?

Not only do the stories told in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 seemingly convey different events, they also contain completely different characteristics of God. God takes entirely different postures toward creation in the two chapters. In Genesis 1, the Elohim use Their voice from “out there” to create all that is within the cosmos. Nothing appears from the text to have been made by hand. In Genesis 2 however, Yahweh (not a name mentioned in Genesis 1 and a very specific Elohim), stoops down and inhabits Earth, fully getting His hands dirty. He forms mankind from the ground, he physically plants a garden. He “puts” the man in the garden. He performs surgery to form Eve. In one chapter God is all-powerful and above it all, creating instantaneously. In the next, He’s right there in the muck of things taking His time.

The Literalist, the Adventist is tasked with taking these two stories in Genesis 1 and 2, though seemingly incongruous at first and second glances, and forcing them into positions where they are not contradictory and are both historically accurate… because that is what would make our Bible perfect? That’s what makes it inspired? Are you sure?

Almost all Biblical scholars, whether literalists, fundamentalists, progressive, new age, Jewish, Christian, Atheist, or what have you, almost all of them agree that the point the author of the creation story in Genesis 1 is making is roughly this:

All that is, exists on purpose, and all of it was created out of a sense of love, order, and a desire for relationship.

The point of Genesis 2 is that relationship:

God parading the animal pairs in front of Adam allowed Adam to feel desire for companionship himself and to understand the desire for companionship God had when He decided to create humanity. This God loves and wants to relate to us through a similar level of communion in which we are drawn to have with each other.

Translation:  1.) Life has Divine purpose and meaning.

                       2.) Humans are designed for connection, harmony, and partnership.

However, you get there, those two thoughts were revolutionary to the world. We know this to some extent in interpreting the words of scripture themselves and seeing how authors of later books in the Bible refer back to these texts etc., but we know this largely by comparing this story to other origin stories prevalent at the time Genesis was originally composed. Yes, Genesis was written by a human living in the world at a given point in time, a Yohm, if you will, and his enemy wasn’t scientific discovery.

Genesis was not written at a time when there was extensive scientific knowledge or exploration of the cosmos. It was not written during the age of reason and experiment. It was not peer-reviewed by astrophysicists. It was written in an age of myth, stories of pantheons of gods, transactional favor and tall tales. A time when all that existed was all that could be seen with the naked eye. Now, this is not to suggest that the Genesis story is itself a “myth” in the current connotation, but it came from a time, culture and society where these types of origin stories; this style of explanation of everything thrived.

It is very easy to forget that the first origin story you and I read in our westernized, Judeo-Christian religious paradigm, isn’t the first story everyone else read. Genesis 1, as written, made perfect sense to me as an origin story because it was my only one. I did not have a concept of anything else. For the initial readers, or likely hearers, of what we now know as Genesis 1, it would not have been the first origin story, but a new origin story. They would have woken up that morning under an entirely different paradigm than the one Genesis 1 sought to introduce, but one that would have freely accepted that everything was made by the gods. Today, the god part is perceived as the weird part, but it wasn’t then. Everyone believed in and had gods. So, what did they get from this story?

If Genesis 1, however you interpret it, is telling us who God is and why He is worthy of worship (arguably the ultimate point of any part of scripture), but it is doing so during a time of pantheons of gods with a wide assortment of powers and domains, then God’s creative act is only one part of the story and is not even the novel, surprising part. How it differed from the predominant views at the time is what would have made it unique. Genesis 1 may hold the keys to the ultimate origination of all that exists, but the question it was likely set up to answer isn’t “how, exactly, did all of this get here?” Most people and cultures at the time would have said “god did it,” or at least “the gods did it.” The question these stories may be set up to answer is “What kind of god did it?”

There’s a chance we’ve gone to the beginning of the book looking for a stenographer’s notes of the beginning of the universe, but the Bible isn’t a book about the history and future of the Universe, it’s about this particular God. This particular Elohim and His kingdom.

Where the origin stories of the ancient near east and Mesopotamian world tended to express great conflict amongst the gods and interfamilial wars that resulted in the accidental creation of Earth and mankind, as byproducts of chaos (i.e. the Enuma Elish), the Biblical text, the words themselves, suggest that a collective of God, (“Let us make man in our image”) made a community decision to create purpose out of chaos.

Like I said earlier, Elohim, is a plural word, like gods. To hear “in the beginning the gods created the earth” would not have been a new or an interesting idea. The first readers wouldn’t have even necessarily thought to ask which gods this was referring to. The weird part wasn’t plural gods, it was that they were “creating” singularly. You see, the noun Elohim is plural, but the verb used that we interpret as “create” is not. (In Hebrew, nouns and verbs both have singular and plural forms.) The Bible presents a plural form of God, singularly creating. Creation in unison. Creation in harmony. No war. No battle. No slaves. No accidents.

Where some nations worshipped the Sun, Moon, constellations, and planets as deities, in and of themselves, Genesis 1 speaks of a God who placed those objects in their places and directed their purposes. Our One True God created your gods and orders their functions.

That would have been new and interesting.

The Biblical creation story in Genesis is unique, but maybe that is not because it “explains existence.” Many other stories have been found that attempt to do that. The Biblical account might be special because it is 100% accurate, but it is definitely special because of the main character and star of the story. It is unique because this God, of all things, somehow tapped into Its creation to communicate a story. A story wherein The Divine Source is characterized by the outpouring of love and pride in His creation, rather than anger, jealousy or vengeance, and sought to express that eternal love to the entirety of that creation and, perhaps, humanity especially.

Genesis 2 then, at the very least says “as God created mankind out of the want for companionship, that divine desire was likewise embedded in us, the creation – the image, not only to love God back but to find and develop companionship with one another in the same way.” This can be further summarized by “Love God with all you have and love each other as you love yourself.” These being the Great Commands after all, right?

These are lessons that present themselves repeatedly throughout the text in many forms; some direct, and some not. That is what I believe about our beginnings.

Is it the story or the purposes of the story that should be deemed “infallible?” Is it the words or the lessons they teach that are “divinely inspired?” Maybe as Rob Bell put it in his book, “What is the Bible?” – “it’s not ultimately about the words – it’s about the powerful mysterious thing that happens when the words are acted out in the real world by real people.” The words are just words until they “become flesh.”

So now, as an Adventist of many years, I am no longer sold on the certainty that the words of Genesis Creation Stories are an accurate history because I’m no longer sold on the idea that they even purport to be.  Oddly, it hasn’t weakened my faith in the least. If anything, it has strengthened it, but that’s me. I wouldn’t dare speak for you.

What I will say is this: I’m not sure it matters how you interpret Genesis 1 and 2. I suppose there is a “correct” answer, be that metaphor or historic, narrative or poetic, true or truer than true, but I think the words have no effect until you find yourself resting in the comforting arms of their intent:

“All that exists, exists because of Love. Accept it and give it away.”

 

 

 

[1] https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/1493.2#3

[2] http://www.oakwood.edu/additional_sites/goldmine/sdoc/27fb/chapter_1.htm

[3] Or whoever penned Genesis 1

[4] Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self, Richard Rohr

[5] This use of italics = Sarcasm font.

[6] Actually, for all intents and purposes the Genesis Creation stories along with God’s reference to “fastening foundations,” “setting a cornerstone”, and “laying the measures” and “stretching the line upon it” in Job 38 and other biblical references, ultimately describe a flat earth. Though I’ve never heard an Adventist publicly challenge the fact that the Earth is a globe.

[7] Ellen G. White, The story of Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, CA. Pacific Press, 1958), P. 114.

[8] Image taken from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelpaukner/4077736695

[9] This use of italics = Sarcasm font

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