This Monday we got to see a solar eclipse. This is just one way that we can look out at the world and see creation.
The Scriptures have a section in it called the Psalms. These are poems of prayer, praise, lament, thanksgiving, and confession, compiled for God’s people to recite in worship to God. At some point, perhaps next summer, I might preach through a number of Psalms.
The Psalms are poems by the people of God, usually king David, that speak inspired truths about who God is, who we are, and in this case, the beautiful universe we live in. It really takes a poet to describe the beauty of God and the world, doesn’t it?
Psalm 19 is a brilliant Psalm. It is brilliant because of the movement of the poetry. It goes from seeing God in the beauty of the universe, then in the laws of morality, and this moves David to humility and repentance. Beauty moves us to responsibility, which moves us to humility and repentance. This is the way this Psalm wants us to experience something beautiful like a solar eclipse.
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
The Heavens Tell the Glory of God.
What is glory? That is a term we often use as Christians. Some people after watching the movie Dunkirk referred to that battle as “glorious.” What does that mean? The Hebrew word for “glory” is kavod, and kavod has a rich meaning. It means about three things:
It means splendor, the way a king’s throne and robes and throne room has splendor. Ever come into an old cathedral and feel moved by its beauty? That is splendor. It is beauty kicked up a notch. It is beauty that moves us.
It also means honor. A king is glorious not merely because of his robes, but because of his significance. Think of a king returning from battle, securing stability and safety for his people by risking his life, fighting with courage. That warrants respect and honor.
When we honor someone we recognize their importance for us. When we give God glory in worship, we honor him. We tell God the importance he has. We do this not because God needs it, but because it is good to tell God we love him, to remind ourselves how important God to us, to remind ourselves of all that he has done for us. God has given us life and redemption, if we forget to honor him, that is a step of vast stupidity on our parts.
So, glory can mean splendor and honor and also abundance. That is not the best term. Magnitude would be better.
Have you been in a situation where you realized that this is a moment that could change your life? I remember the birth of my son, Rowan. Holding my first son in my arms reminded me of the weight of responsibility I had but also the privileged and joy. I felt the magnitude of the situation. Glory is the magnitude of God.
When we look up at a starry sky we are reminded of the glory of God: his splendor in its moving beauty, his honor, knowing his importance – that if the universe is so big, and God is bigger and we are so small, so dependent on God, God is important.
We are finite creatures; he is infinite. We are dependent; he is absolute – seeing the universes size, knowing his magnitude, the creator of all this. It leaves us awestruck. It leaves us without words. It takes our breath away.
The heavens tell the glory of God.
Are You Listening?
The next few lines are odd. Day after day the heavens pour our speech, but there are no words. Oh. No voice is heard, but indeed, there is a voice. What is the poet, David, here trying to get at?
At Laurentian University, there is a large library where I go to get out books. I usually go get books when I have a spare moment. I am always pressed for time. Hunting down books can be really annoying.
In front of the Laurentian library there is a Starbucks, and one time, I was feeling in need of a pick-me-up to keep slugging through stuff, so I got a coffee there (I’ll say something blasphemous, but I like Starbucks’ coffee better than Tim Hortons – but I also really like super strong coffee). I sat and sipped a coffee before I headed back to my office. I looked up and there was a massive painting, three panels, taking up the entire wall above me. I had never noticed that there before. I had been so much in a hurry that all the dozens of times I had walked past it, I never noticed it.
Finally, sitting there, I got to just take in the artwork. It was just a beautiful array of color in the shapes of exotic flowers. In ended up being just a delightful moment in my day, enjoying the beauty of this painting.
But I never would have seen it if I did not stop and look.
It is amazing how we can become blind to things around us. It is even more amazing that we can become blind to God’s glory. We can become deaf to this voice.
Our faith has profound answers, but many now, are too distracted with work and pleasure and all the wrong in the world to even bother asking the questions. That includes us Christians too. We have become deaf to the voice. Too caught up in work, too caught up in routine. We fail to see the beauty.
You look up at a beautiful sky, how can you not feel small and ask, “Is there something more to us?” Or look at the sun and moon and stars and ask, “What made all this? What is the purpose of life? Why is there all this rather than nothing?” If you don’t, I suspect you are rushing and missing their full splendor.
When we wonder, we start listening. We beginning listening to that voice that speaks without words, as this psalm tells us. Something made this. Something bigger than them. This all has a purpose. This all has a meaning. Their beauty reminds us of God. The question is, are you listening?
Are we watching for God’s splendor? Are we listening for the traces of God’s honor? Are we a wake to his magnitude all around us?
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
A Flat Earth? God Meets Us Where We Are At…
Notice that it describes the heavens as a tent for thus sun. That warrants a bit of explanation.
The other day I had perhaps one of the most bizarre conversations I have ever had in my life.
I met a person on line (which if there is anything good about the internet, it is for meeting bizarre people).
This person was convinced that the earth was flat. I asked, “why?” I did not even think this perceptive existed, so I really was curious how he came to hold this view. He said the Bible teaches the earth is flat. He used this very psalm. He also gave a set of really bad pseudo-scientific references.
Anyways, for sake of this person, not that many people hear are worried about this kind of thing, but the Bible was indeed written for a people that thought the world was flat, yes.
It is important to say, the Bible assumes that language, but does not teach it.
This is because the ancient world assumed the world was flat with the sky as a hard dome over top, much like this picture here. The earth was flat and rested on pillars.
Here is a picture of the universe how Egyptians believed it was. See how they thought the sky was actually the body of a goddess, Nut, held up by the air god, Shu, resting on the earth god, Ged? They believed that the sky was a surface, a person actually.
Notice that the Bible resists deifying these things. But why does it talk this way? The Bible uses a bit of this language because God means us where we are at. Jesus teaches that faith is like a mustard seed, which he says is the smallest seed. Now, actually in point of fact, the iris seed is smaller, but for that time and place, they knew of no smaller seed. Is Jesus interested in correcting their inaccurate understanding of the size of seeds? No. He is interested in teaching redemptive truths in ways the people at the time would understand.
Other passages of the Bible mention the monsters Rahab, Lilith, Leviathan, and Behemoth. It is not because these things are real, but because the ancient people thought they were real.
It is sort of like how my son the other day was scarred that monsters were going to get him. At first I told him, these things don’t exist, but that did not take the fear out of the situation for my son. So, I got him to pray that God is greater than anything that could ever hurt us. That worked. I think that is what is going on here. God is not interested in saying, “those things don’t exist silly!” but something more like, “whatever you could be afraid of, I am greater than that.”
God meets us where we are at.
We don’t think about the world is flat that way and Christians truth is not bound to that kind of cultural assumption. God was just meeting them there where they are at.
That is just the way a non-scientific culture thought about the world.
It was Greek astronomers in the 3rd century BC that discovered the world might actually be a sphere, and Christians had no problem accepting this.
We still talk that way when we say “sunrise and sunset” even though we know that the sun does not actually move, it is the earth that revolves around the sun.
We know that because Copernicus and Galileo discovered that the earth revolves around the sun, not the sun around the earth. The church originally held that the sun revolves around the earth, but very quickly adopted Galileo’s findings because the church realized that this was not harmful to the essence of Christian faith.
So again, Christians have no problem accepting new legitimate scientific findings, since we know that God is always pleased to talk to us where we are at, as we are in a process of discovery.
This psalm uses the ancient language of the culture around it because God was meeting them where they understanding was and teaching them his beauty in the way they knew.
Some have called the Bible sexist, but again, it is important to keep in mind that the Bible met us where we are at. It assumes a patriarchial culture, but that does not mean we teach that today.
Some have called the Bible too violent, but again, while God met people when they were at their mist brutal, God pulled them deeper into non-violence. The Bible assumes great violence, meets us there, but does not teach it today.
Some have called the Bible oppressive. It has slavery in it. Again, while the world of the Bible has slavery, that does not mean, when we listen to its spirit, that we are to teach slavery today.
The Bible meets us where we are at, then seeks to advance us forward into a more redeemed way of life. It speaks to the young gang-member just as much as to the old missionary. It uses the language we understand to move us from where we are to where God wants us to be.
So where are we at today?
Here is a picture from the Hubble space telescope. It is a picture of hundreds of galaxies. Each dot is not a star, but a galaxy, going off into space. Beautiful is it not? The Hubble, a remarkable piece of technology, is showing us aspects of God’s creation that we never knew existed.
We are but a planet with a sun, in a galaxy of about 300 billion stars, and the milky way galaxy is just one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in our universe.
The ancient people might not have had the instruments like a Hubble space telescope to understand that figure, so God was not interested in telling them something they did not understand.
And make no mistake, the magnitude of that is beyond our comprehension as well. But does the truth of this ancient poem, inspired by God still ring true?
Yes. The grandeur of this speaks to us again. Its splendor speaks: who made this? What brought this into existence? Who has ordered all these stars and galaxies?
Are we watching for God’s splendor? Are we listening for the traces of God’s honor? Are we awake to his magnitude all around us? The heavens tell the glory of God! Are you listening?
If you are, the next step is realizing our responsibility…
From Beauty to Responsibility
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is pure,
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
When we see parallel statements, I think the poet is trying to make a point. Six times David mentions the law of God six different ways using six different adjectives: law statutes, precepts, commands, reverence, decrees, which are perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, and firm.
It is like he can’t say enough good things about the law of God. He is almost nagging us about its goodness, trying to get it into our heads, the way a parent keeps nagging their children to wash their hands before dinner.
The philosopher Immanuel Kant once said, “Two things fill me with wonder and awe: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
These two are connected for Kant and for King David. Beauty moves us to responsibility.
As the stars remind us that there must be something bigger than ourselves physically, it suggests, perhaps, all our ways are accountable to someone bigger than us, spiritually.
When we recognize the grandeur of beauty, we are humbled to responsibility.
If the world is wondrous, life is sacred. If it is sacred, it ought to be protected.
If the world is lovely, life is a gift. If it is a gift, it ought to be cherished.
Here is the jump from “is” to “ought.” If life has value, it demands a responsible way of valuing it.
And so, God did not just give us the world, we have us a way. He did not just give us life, he gave us his law.
God did not give us laws to burden us, but to liberate us. When we understand God’s law through Jesus’ example, through his summary of the law as love, obeying Jesus is a way of cherishing life in the fullness God wants for us. All the commandments, understood through Jesus, do this.
Don’t lie…God knows life is better when we are honest with ourselves and each other.
Don’t kill…God knows life is better when we don’t seek to hurt one another.
And so on and so forth.
But the first law is important for our purposes today: The first law God gave us is I am the Lord your God, you will not have any other God except me.
While there were not many, there were fractions of wiccans that used the solar eclipse as an event to engage in ritual worship of the sun last Monday.
They worship the sun because they believed that the eclipse had the power to bring new life in them. It is important to note that while the ancient people looked to the sun and saw something so powerful it obviously should be a deity, the Hebrew people under God’s guidance knew the true purpose of the sun. It shows the splendor of God and it gives us heat. That’s it.
Nature moves us to awe at it, God’s law stops us from worshiping it.
We do not worship creation, because creation did not make itself. But there is other important thing.
If we worship the way things are, we are saying there is no force out there that can make this world better. That which is, is all there is, and the way things are, are the way things will stay.
But God is a living God, able to make this world new, better. That is why we honor him.
Also, the sun cannot give new life. The stars cannot give us a better future. We do not buy into horoscopes or astrology, why? God gives us a choice to embrace a future that these things cannot predict or predetermine.
Only God can forgive sins. Only God can have a personal, renewing, saving relationship with us. Not the sun. That is why we worship him.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
From Responsibility to Humilty
We see the movement. Beauty moves us to responsibility, responsibility to humility. This humility is expressed in repentance and prayer.
We just don’t do the beauty of the world justice if we look at it, without thinking there is something bigger than ourselves. We cannot think of something bigger than ourselves without realizing we are accountable to something more than ourselves. And we can’t realize that we accountable to something more than ourselves without realizing we have failed to live up to that standard.
Discount all this: Even if the only standard we have for morality is ourselves, we do not live up to even our own standard, let alone God’s perfect one.
I commit to being selfless, but I am always selfish.
I commit to loving my wife, but I know I don’t do enough everyday there.
I commit to telling the truth, but I am aware that under pressure I don’t give accurate statements.
I could go on. What is it for you? Even by our own standards of integrity we fail.
This is why there must be more than all this. There must be a God that made us. There must be a God that knowns us. There must be a God that loves us and wants to forgive us.
We know the sun cannot do this. There is nothing in the world that can do this. Forgiving ourselves is too easy. We don’t have the right to forgive ourselves when we are not even faithful to our own standard, let alone if we wrong another.
Where do we find forgiveness? Some people might look at the stars and conclude there is a God, but only the Bible, only its witness to Jesus tells us God is forgiving.
David knows he is forgiven even of his unintentional faults because of who God as revealed himself to be.
God has revealed himself as not only a God that exists, but as a God that forgives.
This revelation came to perfect fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He drew near to us taking on our humanity. He lived a perfect life to show us a perfect moral standard. Yet people put him to death, because they could not stand to be reminded that there was a greater standard than their self-righteousness.
He chose to count his execution as a sacrifice, atoning for the sin of all people, a sign that God himself was willing to die the death penalty on our behalf to show that God forgives us of even our worst sins.
All we need to do is to trust this, to ask forgiveness, to let the light in.
Clear me from hidden faults! Says David. Clean me from the inside out. Then I shall be blameless.
Then he says,
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
God is a rock and redeemer. He is strong, unmovable, secure. He is someone you can build your life on. He is our redeemer, our rescuer, our savior.
Knowing this, it is our joy to live our entire lives devoted to him, walking with him, trusting that the God who loves us enough to die for us, has the best life possible in mind for us.
This leads us to pray, longing for every aspect of our lives to be in conformity to his will: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you. Nothing else matters.
Can I let you in on a secret? The solar eclipse in all its beauty is simply dull in comparison to a heart that has awoken to God’s glory.
Can this be your prayer today?
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
The truth of Genesis two, the truth of Eden is that we are all the man and the woman of this passage. We are all born into a state of innocence, and we all have the choice before us: to live life with God, eating of the tree of life, or to be our own god, eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. One means death; the other means eternal life.
It is amazing how this simple truth gets obscured by loony assertions about the geographic nature of Eden, attempts to find it, and the requirement to have it as a historical place or else the whole Bible is worthless. Consider the following a therapy to return us to a more spiritual simplicity. This may take some explaining of some complex fine points, but, like I said, it actually returns us to the simple truth of the text.
In this post and those subsequent we will look at Genesis two and point out obvious literary contours that suggest its character is often just as spiritual or poetic as it is historical, and so, its truth is its theology not necessarily its geography or history.
Myth or History?
Are the early chapters of Genesis history or myth? Well, technically both and neither. The either/or notion of history or myth is a modern invention. In fact, conservatives that attempt to force these passages to be history in the modern sense, ironically accommodate the Bible to a system of thinking very foreign to Genesis. While the Gospels are eyewitness accounts and memoirs, Genesis is not. While the whole Genesis narrative is enveloped in features of historicity – being written in a genealogical account with a rough chronology, it is simply not history in the precise modern sense. Ancient story tellers passed along their accounts orally, embedding them with rich poetic detail from the surrounding culture and its mythology. The stories were a set of oral traditions, passed along in a tradition of story telling and they retain that flavor. God was pleased to have it that way. Eventually the stories were written down hundreds of years later. God was pleased to do it that way.
Note what this process looks like: they were passed along without any fact checking (or worry of factually) and they were passed along because of their ongoing theological truth as told and retold in a community who understood themselves as being a people in covenant with God. The notion of writing history from primary sources and eyewitness reports, critically fact checking them is really a method of historiography that is only a few centuries old, developed in the Enlightenment. So, the narrative intends history, but its form is more complex than that. It intends historicity but is not bound to its historicity. Whether or not the passage happened is just not a worry of the ancient world. Thus, for us, we need to have a similar mentality. The value of the narrative is not in the history behind it, but in the story retold. These narratives are God’s word, using the means the people of the day had to communicate salvation truths today. As the baptist theologian James McClendon reminded, “The Bible is the story of God, retold in the way God was pleased to tell it.” God was pleased to use the ancient discourses just as much as he is pleased to have the present imperfect church as his body.
This poetic aspect has its own theological weight to it, as we will see, since literary devises suggest theological truths beyond historical references. While Genesis two is written to be an event occurring in the ball park of 4000 B.C. and Eden is in some way described like it is a physical place, there is also signs that the Eden is an ongoing spiritual reality fitted into this history-like account.
As we will get into, putting even all arguments about evolution aside, humans have been on this earth for a lot longer than 6000 years. The standard estimate is somewhere around 200 000 years. Young earth creationists, who, as we say in the previous post on Genesis one, bring an uneven literalism to the Genesis text, making up arguments to make their interpretations work such as Carbon dating is completely inaccurate or that before the flood the rays of the sun somehow made fossils look older. This is a far-fetched theory. It still does not reconcile why no human fossil is older than, for instance, dinosaur fossils, let alone how there are human fossils still that are dated around 6000 years, while others are far older, mostly found in Africa, not Mesopotamia. While most forms of carbon dating start to get less precise after about 50 000 years (which is determined based on the half-life of forms of carbon, after which point the carbon traces become minuscule), within that span of 50 000 years, it is reasonably accurate. If humans have only been on this earth for 6000 years, why are we finding perfectly persevered 10 000 year old totem polls in bogs in Russia, bogs where neither light nor air touch? Why are we finding cave paintings, sealed and protected in hundreds of feet of rock, that date 30-40 000 years (such as the Cave of El Castillo in Spain or the Chauvet Cave in France)?
Given that Scripture is true because it witnesses to Christ and shows us salvation truths to live righteously (2 Tim 3:15-17) and not because it gets every historical detail correct, we can apply what Baptist interpreters call the “form/substance” distinction. This moves the meaning of the passage from what the passage said to what it is saying. The ancient form of this passage is an origin story, assuming a 6000 year old earth and that humanity is relatively new. Yet, these are incidental. The enduring message of this text is that all humanity as well as the whole world was born into innocence and that all humans have a moral choice between obedience and life or disobedience and death. That is as true now as it ever was, with or without science.
So, in this post, we will look at (1) how Eden is talked about through the Bible, which applies to how Eden in Genesis is understood. This is in a way working and reading backwards. (2) We will look at features within Genesis two that corroborate a spiritual-poetic meaning. Note that this post only addresses Eden as a place. We will cover the nature of Adam and Eve, the Serpent, death and the curse, etc. in another post.
1. Eden throughout the Bible
In Genesis two, we see this particularly with how the geography is set up. As God forms the man the text mentions that “the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east.” Eden is a place existing before anything else, and then the garden is planted in it. This begs the question what was Eden before there were no people or plants? Hmmm…
The passage continues to mention that in the garden there is two trees and “a river flows out of Eden to water the garden” (2:10). Out of Eden proper to water the garden. Eden is still talked about as somewhat distinct from the garden. These should give us clues that, as Rabbinical commentators thought, what is being talked about here is a garden participating with the celestial Eden. I know that sounds bizarre, but treat it as a hypothesis that we will continue to test and explore.
Eden in Ezekiel is spoken of as a spiritual reality. Eden is the garden; it is also mount Zion, where salvation will come to earth; it is heaven above, and oddly it is all of these simultaneously. It is deeply mystical. In chapter 28, the king of Tyre is understood to be “in Eden” like he is a fallen cherub, a glorious being with jewels like those on the priest’s breastplate (Ex. 28:17-20). This is metaphorical, but it is also spiritual. The passage reads as follows:
Mortal, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God:
You were the signet of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering,
carnelian, chrysolite, and moonstone,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, turquoise, and emerald;
and worked in gold were your settings
and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
they were prepared.
With an anointed cherub as guardian I placed you;
you were on the holy mountain of God;
you walked among the stones of fire.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day that you were created,
until iniquity was found in you…
Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground (Ez. 28: 12-15, 17)
Again, while the king of Tyre is being metaphorically compared to a fallen cherub at the time of creation, notice how Eden is being talked about. The cherub is in the “garden of God,” which is also the “mountain of God” (Sinai and/or Zion in Jerusalem); it has the “stones of fire,” which may be referring to how God often appears as a pillar of fire, particularly as he did to Moses at Sinai. The pride of this person was so great that God threw him “to the ground” from above, either from the holy mountain or from heaven. The complexity of reference here simply does not work if Eden is a physical place in the past. It only works if Eden is a spiritual reality, interconnected in the past, present and future, paradise, Zion, and heaven.
What is interesting about this passage is that it is referring to creation and the fall, but it is not to a creation and fall strictly at the beginning of history. After all, Eden somehow also has the mountain of God in it, Zion. Eden is a present reality. It is talking about the king of Tyre’s creation and fall in the present. Eden is referring to the king’s former innocence and un-corrupted beauty. If Ezekiel had a doctrine of original sin, much less an idea that the fall was one historic point in the past, then he would not be able to talk about a pagan king being formerly “blameless” and “perfect” then being corrupted by pride iniquity. Instead of Eden and the fall being a moment and place in the past, it was a spiritual figure, a spiritual pattern we all participate in, rediscovered and relived in every person’s life as they moved from innocence to responsibility to fall.
Continue on in Ezekiel and we find a stronger example of Eden being a present spiritual figure. Chapter 31 has Pharaoh identified as a tree in Eden. Ezekiel 31:2-4, 8-9 reads,
Mortal, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his hordes:
Whom are you like in your greatness?
Consider Assyria, a cedar of Lebanon,
with fair branches and forest shade,
and of great height,
its top among the clouds.
The waters nourished it,
the deep made it grow tall,
making its rivers flow
around the place it was planted,
sending forth its streams
to all the trees of the field…
The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
nor the fir trees equal its boughs;
the plane trees were as nothing
compared with its branches;
no tree in the garden of God
was like it in beauty.
I made it beautiful
with its mass of branches,
the envy of all the trees of Eden
that were in the garden of God.
Here we have an interesting set of metaphors describing spiritual realities. Assyria is metaphorically described as a “cedar of Lebanon” that rises to the clouds with the “deep” beneath it and streams flowing out of it. It is spoken as in the garden of God such that the cedars of the garden are envious. Assyrian mythology, like many other mythologies, believed in the tree of life as a “world tree,” a tree whose canopy supported the heavens and roots formed the pillars of the underworld. This mythology is mixed with the Hebrew understanding of the garden to talk about the splendor of Assyria. Notice then that this is not a mere metaphor. This passage and Assyrian mythology talk about the garden of God and the world-tree as a present reality. Eden as a spiritual reality means the past is alive in the present and the present participates in the past. Eden is again a spiritual reality here, forsaking the restrictions of time and space.
b. New Testament
Now, the passages in Ezekiel are a bit difficult, but this only primes us for the move obvious examples that bring the point home in the New Testament. Jesus promised to the Good Thief on the cross that he will be with Jesus in “paradise” after his death (Luke 23:43). Similarly, Paul said that in a vision he was called up into “paradise,” which was the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). Far from being lost in the flood, a distant memory of the past, Eden is heaven. Paradise, the Greek way of referring to the garden of Eden, is heaven. Revelation 2:7 says to the believers in Ephesus, “To everyone who perseveres, I will give permission to eat from the trees of life that is in the paradise of God.” This paradise, as well as the tree, is not a place of distant memory, it is a future spiritual reality connected to heaven and salvation. This corroborates everything said so far. Eden is a spiritual reality.
c. Eden as Destination
In this way, going back to the Old Testament, the prophets are adamant in using Eden imagery to talk about future salvation. For example, consider Isaiah,
For the Lord will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song. (Isa. 51:3)
Eden, Zion, and the whole world ends up being connected in the promise for future restoration. In prophetic longing, Eden is referred to as something coming, not something lost. Isaiah 11:6-9 longs for the day when the “wolf shall dwell with the lamb.” This becomes important as while we know that humans have actually be on the earth for some time as well as physical death in the animal and plant world millions of years before that, this should not bother us. The spiritual figures of Eden is not about getting back to an event or place that may or may not have historically existed, but God using these poetic images to talk about the future he is bringing humans into.
Thus, Eden is a spiritual and symbolic reality, symbolizing our innocence, our original goodness, but also heaven, Zion, as well as our future salvation, and thus, it goes from a past image to a present and future reality.
2. Eden in Genesis Two
Does Genesis talk the same way about Eden as does Ezekiel and the writers of the New Testament? The rivers suggest the answer is yes. The rivers and trees are deliberately portrayed in symbolic and spiritual ways.
Genesis two opens up quite differently from Genesis one with no vegetation growing yet. One central stream rises from the ground to water the whole earth. This is the river of life (Rev. 22:1). God forms the man as if by molding him out of clay from the stream and breathing life into him. From there God plants a garden in Eden. Eden is already existing and now there is a garden in it. As we said, rabbinical commentators have noted that Eden is semi-celestial with the earthly garden participating in it.
The text mentions that this garden is “in the east,” which is an interesting detail. It may merely be the direction, but it may also be a literary devise. If the historical garden was at the top of where the Tigris and the Euphrates begin as some literalists suggest (which is modern day southeastern turkey), this is hardly in the east from the standpoint of where the Israelites lived. It is actually directly north. We will get to the identity of the rivers, but we must note the repetition of the use of “east.”
The east, however, was a spiritual way of saying a few things. It was similar to how the direction north connotes strength and leadership due to its function on a compass. In Genesis, Lot went east to Sodom (Gen. 13:11-12). Ishmael went east (Gen. 25:5-6). Jacob was tested by going out east (Gen. 29:1). Unsurprisingly it is repeated several times to describe the garden of Eden (2:8), one of its rivers (2:14). It is also the direction of Adam and Cain’s exile (3:23; 4:16). East connotes a place of mystery, testing, and exile. This is a minor point, but when we enter into the patterns of ancient story telling, even things like direction can be used to communicate deeper meaning. It was similar to how a person today might say, “I feel a million miles away from you.” Spatial distance has emotional connotation.
b. The Rivers
Search the internet and you will find gobs of suggestions and goofy maps of where Eden was by trying to identify its four rivers. As the above graphic attests, many have attempted to find the four rivers in Mesopotamia (note that in the above graphic Havilah is in the wrong place, which we will discuss shortly). However, there is only geological evidence of the Tigris and the Euphrates (the Hiddekel and the Pherat are their names in the Hebrew) existing there. Ignoring this fact, some have said that Eden must have been where the Tigris and Euphrates meet at the Persian Gulf. However, they also ignore that the Tigris and the Euphrates flow into one delta, not from the delta into two rivers as Genesis describes. The Tigris and the Euphrates flow the opposite way this interpretation suggests.
The more likely place is in the north (not east) where the two rivers begin (modern day eastern Turkey). This still leaves, however, the problem of the location of the other two rivers, both of which have explicit lands mentioned in their location. The Pishon is described as being near Havilah, where there is gold, bdellium and onyx (also translated as other precious stones). Genesis 25:18 mentioned Havilah as “east of Egypt on its way to Assyria.” Havilah could be two possibilities, Genesis 10 mentions two men named Havilah, one a descendant of Ham, whose lands are southeasterly of Canaan, the other, a descendant of Shem, settled in Mesha (modern day Mecca) all the way to Sephar (modern day Yemen). First Samuel 15:7 helps clarify the location, “Then Saul slaughtered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt.” All these descriptions place Havilah southeasterly of Israel all the way to modern day Yemen, which is the land east of Eden on the other side of the Red Sea. Geological work done in the area shows no sign of an ancient river and if there was one, it is in no way connected to the Tigris and the Euphrates. Some have suggested that the Red Sea is this river, which is not particularly helpful for a physical description of Eden.
The second river, the Gihon, again is quite troublesome to physically identify. Cush is consistently understood in the Bible to be modern day Ethiopia. This would make the Nile the most obvious choice. However, there are two problems with this. First is the Nile does not “flow around” Cush; it flows through it. Second, if it is the Nile, this again is nowhere near the Tigris and the Euphrates.
While the text mentions all four rivers being connected by a common source river from the garden, ancient commentators thought that the four rivers were the Tigris, Euphrates, and possibly the Ganges, Nile, Red Sea or Jordan – two of those four, the most likely possibilities we have already discussed. The problem with any discussion after this of possible rivers is that any river in the entire ancient near east becomes a possible river of Eden, ipso facto.
If the four rivers are, for instance, the Tigris, Euphrates, Ganges and the Nile, there is an obvious implication. These four rivers are not in anyway connected and every reader would have known that. The river feeding them would be spiritual (as we already discussed), being a symbolic way of say the innocence of the garden permeated all life like blood flowing from a heart through all the major arteries. Moreover, the four rivers suggest an obvious poetic device, the four rivers indicating something like when one said “from sea to sea” or “from North, East, South, and West.” The four rivers are a symbolic way of saying the whole world was in a state of innocence.
Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden is interesting to think about because if the author is talking about four rivers as enveloping the whole known world, then exile would be physically impossible. The exile then would be spiritual. Similarly, Cain, when he sins, he settles in the land of Nod. Nod literally means “wandering,” so Cain’s exile of “settling in the land wandering” is again more of a spiritual state that he is left in than a actually physical place he goes to. Plus, we already covered how “east” is less a direction and more a connotation of mystery and exile.
If you interpret the rivers as merely physical rivers, like interpreting Genesis one as purely historical, you end up with an unsustainable interpretation. The burden of proof is on the Young Earth Creationist to explain these details of the rivers, and of course, they cook up a lot of fancy reasons to get around the obvious: these are unconnected rivers that suggest something more than mere geographical detail.
c. The Trees
Finally, we come to the trees, which really get at the substance of the passage. God makes two of them: the tree of life and the other the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eating of one means death (the nature of this death we will look at later as it does not straight forwardly mean physical death). As the trees are talked about through the Bible, the trees represent spiritual realities and present choices.
What is odd about this is that God’s ultimate test for humanity to be obedient or not is whether the man and the woman will or will not eat a fruit. This alone does not suggest that the trees are symbolic, but trees do seem to present two choices. The idea that it is just fruit might suggest that even seemingly banal disobedience has cosmic consequences.
However, knowing that in the surrounding cultures there were myths about the food of the gods bestowing divinity, the forbidden fruit makes cultural sense. Interestingly, the story of Eden shows the opposite. While demi-gods sought a way to cheat death and become gods by finding and eating the food of the gods, here the quest for self-divinity ends in death and exile. God even closes the tree of life off from Adam and Eve out of compassion in order to prevent people from being eternally trapped in sin. There is a stark polemical contrast. True life is obedience to God, not rebellion against the gods. The rest of the world sought self-divinity to beat death; Genesis two teaches that to seek divinity is death. By blocking the passage to the tree, God makes mortality in part a remedy to the presence of sin. It ensures that sin is as finite as the sinner.
We have already seen from Revelation that the tree of life is thought of as a ongoing spiritual reality that exists at the end of time, a symbol for the end gift of eternal life for perseverant saints. However, Proverbs also constantly alludes to the tree being a symbol for walking wisely with God. Proverbs 3:16-18: “Length of days is in her [lady Wisdom’s] right hand…She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her.” Again, Prov. 11:30 reads, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life” and Prov. 13:12 reads, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” In Prov. 14: 4 it is said, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life.” So, the tree of life becomes an ongoing spiritual reality symbolizing our walk with God and our final destination, eternal life.
If you interpret the trees as merely existing 6000 years ago, you actually shortchange the Bible’s richness in understanding them ongoing typological realities in our walk with Christ.
Again, the ancient form of communicating at story meant that this story does assume Eden as a physical place, the world as 6000 years, Adam and Eve as the first original human pair, etc. but the message of this text, a suggested by its poetic crafting is much more: that the world has an underlying innocence to it, that we all face the decision to obey or disobey, to choose exile form harmony and death or obedience, life with God, and that means heaven and eternal life.
“One does not read in the Gospel that the Lord said: I will send you the Holy Spirit who will teach you about the course of the sun and moon. For He willed to make them Christians, not astronomers.”
– Saint Augustine, regarding Genesis chapter one
Many of my fellow believers are creationists, who hold that Genesis chapter one should be read as teaching a doctrine of how the world was scientifically made. While I respect the sincere faith of these believers, some are even in my church, I also see many Christians, myself included, encountering significant faith crises, because of the assumptions of that perspective. Many creationists see it as the opposite: that evolution will erode and destroy one’s faith. For me and many other Christ-followers, it simply hasn’t. For me, it is mostly because I found that Genesis one should not be made to comment on the scientific composition of the universe. Here is a reflection on why I think Genesis one is best understood as offering a theological narrative: timeless truths about God and creation delivered in a culturally bound way.
There are some very good reasons not to take Genesis one as offering a scientific description of the creation of the world. Not doing so, I think, is the most consistent way to interpret it. This is because there are pre-modern notions about the cosmos that these text assumes. In fact, I will go so far as to say that if we do take it as a historical description of the material origins of us and the cosmos, if we make that the truth of this text, we force the text to contradict itself, reducing a literalistic strategy to absurdity.
So, the following eight exegetical points attempt to point out the problems of a creationist approach. Because the text assumes a geo-centric cosmology, it cannot be used to support creationism which does not hold to these details. I am doing this without offering a full positive doctrine of creation (which is another argument that I will give later). However, trust me, I do think Genesis one is God’s Word and that the universe is God’s creation. But it is God’s Word in proper literary context, understanding the cultural climate it was written in. I believe in creation. I believe that Genesis one teaches us about creation. I just don’t believe in “creationism” as an idea that tries to extract science into this narrative or things all of the aspects of these narrative are applicable today.
As I said, my argument is an reducio ad absurdum. Creationism, by its own uneven exegesis (or more accurately is consistent neglect of what the text literally says), is an interpretation that collapses into self-contradiction necessitating a different interpretation, a reconsideration of interpretive principles. So here are the eight interconnected arguments or features:
Creation from Water?
The opening verses describe the heavens and earth as “formless and void” yet the spirit of God hovers over the waters of the deep. Before everything else is created, there is water. Before there is time, planets, stars, there is water. That seems odd. Why is that? Is water the eternal, primal sub-atomic substance in which all things were constructed? Does this passage, as some suggest, contradict creation ex nihilo, the notion that God created the world out of nothing? No.
Water was a symbol of nothingness. The Mediterranean Sea was thought to be an “abyss.” Why? If a sailor sank into the depths of the sea, they would disappear into what would seem like bottomless black nothingness, a void. Beginning with water is a metaphorical way of saying the world was “formless” and “void,” and so, God created the world out of nothing.
Notice right off the bat then that choosing to see metaphor rather than concrete descriptions makes the images in the text make way more sense. It makes them much more meaningful. It has a better interpretive fit.
Earth then Universe?
Next we see that the creation of the earth precedes the creation of the very universe it is supposed to be situated in. This should tip us off that this is not a scientific description. In fact, we commit violence to the text by reading out modern assumptions into it. By all accounts the Sun is older than the earth, and the earth (as well as the moon) all formed because they were in orbit around the Sun.
A creationist might retort and say that God held these things in place until the solar system was created, but then natural history is being portrayed as intentionally deceptive. However, the text does not say anything about such a process nor would it even be suggesting it as it is speaking to a non-scientific world. Often I find creationists doing these kinds of ad hoc interpretations in order to save their theology. What ends up happening is that creationist invent miracles that the text does not describe to make the simple narrative make sense by their interpretive assumptions. A good rule of thumb is that if you have to invent miracles in order for interpretations to make sense, you are probably reading into the text with the wrong approach.
Light/Day before Sun?
Light and darkness as well as night and day are placed before the sun and moon, by which light, time and day are generated and measured. Even the ancient people understood that light only comes from the sun and moon (remember, they did not have electricity). Yet the sun was often worshiped, so we see the sun’s importance relegated to a later day in creation. It is no longer the primary act of creation or its pinnacle. Light, the source of all the earth’s nourishment, the symbol of moral goodness, comes directly from God. Time and day, the forces that structure reality, again, are not controlled by a solar deity, but proceed directly from God. The sun, not even named, is demoted to merely being a sign for the seasons. The “seasons” are the times of the worship festivals. So, instead of being a god, it is merely a sign for the people of God to know when to worship the true God! Thus, we see that the creation days are most meaningful when we see them as a rhetorical strategy for countering pagan mythology.
Blue Sky Made of Water?
God divides the waters above to form the sky and the waters below to form the seas. The sky is described as being made out of water in the text. Again, I am amazed that creationists skip right over this. We know that the sky is not made out of water, but rather it is blue due to the fact that light rays going through the atmosphere show up blue, and the sea is blue because it reflects the blue of the sky. The sky is not blue because it is made of water. Again, this is a pre-modern description of the universe, not a scientific one.
I have heard some creations say that before the flood there was an expanse of water above the clouds that came down for the flood, since the text says it had not rained until then. There are problems with this. The biggest problem is that the “expanse” of water is not described as coming down at this time. In fact, the author that wrote at the time of Psalm 148:4 implores the “waters above the skies” to worship God. So, it is still there. Also, the expanse is not merely water held in the sky. It is literally thought to be a hard dome, which we will see in the next point…
Sky is a Hard Dome?
The sky is thought to be a hard “dome” (also translated “vault” or “expanse” or “firmament”). In the ancient cosmology the sky was made of water, separated by a dome-like wall. Creations oddly dismiss this detail, saying that it is no longer there because the waters came down in the flood. However, this neglects firstly that the dome is still around in Psalm 150:1 when the people of God are invited to praise him in this dome. The dome is a permanent fixture of the cosmos in the ancient mindset. Second, what is being described here is literally a hard dome, not a miraculously held up expanse of water. This dome has “flood gates” by which waters flood down (cf. Gen. 7:11). This dome is hard enough for God to “stretch out the heavens like a tent” over top and lay “the beams of his upper chambers on their waters” (Ps. 104:2-3). Isaiah 40:22 describes the heavens not like a spherical atmosphere, but as a “canopy” or “tent” on the flat earth. The flat earth rests on pillars. “When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants, it is I who keep its pillars steady” says God in Ps. 75:3. One cannot escape that the ancient people thought of the world like a building, with a dome over top and pillars below (cf. Ps. 104:5). For all their talk about reading the Bible plainly, creationist ironically read these passages as figurative.
Creation is a Building?
Expanding the last point, the sun and moon are described as embedded in this dome like lamps in a ceiling, “lights in the dome…God set them in the dome of the sky” (Gen. 1:1, 17). Experientially, we can look up and see that the sun and moon appear to be in front of the blue of the sky and it is no surprise that the ancient people literally thought this. They thought that the sun and moon were embedded in the dome of the sky, like lamps in a ceiling.
Instead of the earth moving around the sun, the ancient people saw the earth as a flat immovable building. Earth is described like a flat “circle,” not a sphere (Isaiah 40:22). God in Psalm 104:5 “set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” Job 9:6 says God “shakes the earth…its pillars tremble.”
The sun and moon are described as revolving around earth’s building, not the earth around the sun. Ecclesiastes poetically describes this: “The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises” (Ecc. 1:8).
A creationist might respond by saying these are merely a metaphor. To which, I would say that is an ironic strategy for defending an otherwise literalistic interpretation! In other words, that’s my point! Bracketing parts of the text as metaphor to preserve reading the rest of the passage as a scientific description is a sad, self-defeating strategy. Why not be consistent and read the whole description as pre-modern poetic description? That makes more sense.
The fifth day mentions the creation of the great “sea monsters” (v. 21). This is often glossed as something less offensive to our modern ears, reading something like “sea creatures.” However the word in Hebrew is tannim, which literally means “dragons” or “monsters.” The Bible was written in a time when people assumed these things existed. For instance the Book of Job reports the Leviathan and Behemoth as massive mythological forces of evil and chaos, but assumes they are real: “as I made you [Job] I made it [Behemoth]” (Job 40: 15). Isaiah 27:1 refers to Leviathan as the “dragon of the Sea.” Psalm 74:14 mentions that Leviathan has many heads like a hydra. Creationists have tried to say that these refer to the dinosaurs before the flood. Dinosaurs certainly do resemble dragons, but these passages refer to these beasts as presently existing at the time of writing, well after the time that the flood supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs.
The Bible also mentions creatures like Rahab (Job 9:13; also called Lilith, cf. Isa. 34:13), not to be confused by the prostitute that helped the spies in Canaan. Rahab is described as a dragon-like enemy of God that God defeats: “Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?” (Isa. 51:9). Rabbinic commentators describe her as a vampire-like woman. Job 26:12 describes God striker her down like he rebukes the Sea, the Sea (capital “S”) being a symbol for cosmic forces of chaos and nothingness in Job. Similarly, Psalm 89:9-10 refers to God conquering the chaos of the Sea, slaying Rahab and the enemies of God, Rahab being a kind of symbol for chaos and evil.
Why does the Bible include this stuff? It is because the ancient people thought they were real and the Bible is trying to comfort them by entering their cultural standpoint, assuring that God is more powerful than any evil they can imagine. What is more comforting? If the Bible said, “Those things don’t exist, silly” or “Whatever evil you can imagine, God is greater than that.” The Bible tends to choose the later strategy.
Different Creation Order from Genesis Two?
Notice in comparison to Genesis two that Genesis one reports the order and events of creation differently. Thus, if they are read as strictly historical accounts rather than literary-theological accounts, they are contradictory. It seems like Israel has two creation accounts that were quite different that the writer of Genesis knowingly put next to each other because both story’s teachings are true. They are both inspired stories. First, while in chapter one creation occurred in a week-long process, in chapter two it is in a day: “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” (2:4). Now, “in the day” can mean a period of time, but in this context it does not seem to. This refers to Genesis two, where, as we will see, a new creation story is being presented, which does not use a creation week. Its events are presented undifferentiated by days. Thus, it seems that “day” could mean a week-long period, there are no creation days in Genesis two for it to correspond to.
Second, there is a different creation mode. Genesis one creates by divine word alone. Genesis two uses the imagery of a fountain (perhaps the river of life alluded to Rev. 22:1-2) springing forth and covering the earth (decidedly different from water being the beginning substance that is pushed back in chapter one). From there, God “formed out the ground” man, plants, animals, and birds. Chapter two describes creation not by word instantaneously but like a potter forming clay, then breathing life into it. In Genesis one God is a poet; in Genesis two, God is an artisan.
Third, there is a different order to the two creation stories. In chapter one, the order of creation goes birds and fish on day five, then on day six animals first and then male and female created simultaneously that same day. Day five: birds fish; day six: animals then humans, male and female. In chapter two the order goes as follows: the man, then vegetation comes up (v. 9 – where it is already made in the first account), then animals and birds are formed (v. 19), then the woman from Adam’s rib. It is an often neglected detail that in the second creation account God creates the man first, and it is only after he states that it is not good for the man to be alone that he then creates animals and birds, who are not suited for him, and only after that realization, the woman is formed.
Verse 19 sees the creation of every animal as a consequent act to realize Adam is alone: “So then out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air…” Creationists inject alternative meanings to say that God had already made the animals and birds, but the passage describes a subsequent and consecutive event. In fact, it is similar to most verses in this chapter that begins with what is called a waw consecutive (the Hebrew word for “and then”), which is the engine of Hebrew narrative (literally every sentence in a narrative will begin with a waw, “and then,” but most translations edit them out).
Again, if you read them as historical accounts, you force the passages to contradict themselves. If you try to use the passage to support creationism, you are glossing over a lot of details to make it work. If you read them like they intend to be read, as theological narratives, something closer to a parable, then you will have no problem seeing these different orders as incidental to the enduring theological truth of the passage.
What should we do with this? Is Genesis a Myth?
Is Genesis a myth or is it history? The Bible never uses the term myth to describes its contents. In fact 2 Peter 1:16 is quite condemning of the category. So, many are troubled to hear that the creation myths around and before Israel had similarities to Genesis one. In Genesis chapter one, we see what can best be described as an “inspired story” or a “counter-myth.” This is a story that resembles myths that proceeded it, told using the form of story that ancient people used to explain their world, but uses that medium to present truth that counters pagan ways of thinking about God.
Is it purely fictional then? Didn’t ancient Israelites think it was factually true? Creationists are right to think that the writer of Genesis one probably did think the universe was created in six 24 hour periods 6000 years ago. However, it assumes the geo-centric cosmology of culture as well. The text does assume a cultural history that the ancient people assumed, but is crafted through the covenant relationship with God to present us with redemptive truths that speak beyond the ancient assumptions.
The idea that Genesis one has pre-modern qualities or assumes a history that we do not hold to today, does not disprove its enduring theological worth. Far from, it shows its incarnational beauty. God worked from within the ancient culture. We as responsible interpreters need to be discerning about what is cultural and what is timeless. We do this by discerning the context of the text in its historical context and as it has been reflected upon by Christians for 2000 years.
Are we condemned to disbelief about God as a creator, creating the world out of nothing because of these prescientific descriptions? No. It should be no scandal that God used people where they were at to communicate his Word. The notion that God was trying to teach physics and astronomy to a pre-scientific people implies that that Bible is true because it is a science text book and not a book about a God that comes into our world. In fact, people who want to read the Bible as offering a culture-less statement of timeless principles often have a very docetic view: a Word from God without human flesh. It makes way more sense that, just as Jesus stepped into human (Jewish!) flesh, God stepped into a world that thought in terms of story to offer redemptive truth using the media of the culture. Just as Jesus assumes that the mustard seed is the smallest seed (which was the ancient assumption) to teach as about the power of faith, so also Genesis assumes a geocentric universe to communicate God. The meaning of faith is not damaged by the mustard seed not actually being the smallest seed nor is creation disproved by astronomy. So, the fact that God used ancient means of communicating theology should not bother us. In fact, it is a comfort: God uses imperfect authors to write his perfect Word just as he uses us imperfect people to be his Body. He uses our cultural thoughts to communicate his perfect thoughts.
This passage is offered in the form or medium of a nonscientific counter-myth or origin story (which is how the ancient people thought), yet its enduring message or substance is that God is creator and nothing else is, the creation is good, life-giving ordered, and beautiful, and humans are made in God’s image, designed to inherent dignity and to find themselves in his love, etc.
What we have to keep in mind is that God has communicated something enduring in something culturally-bound. This is called the form/substance distinction that Baptist interpreters (such as E. Y. Mullins and Walter Connor) have suggested for over a century. Does the Bible assume a hard domed universe? Yes. Does it assume a 6000 year old cosmos? Yes. Does it assume a geo-centric universe? Yes. Does it assume the existence of dragons? Yes. Does the Bible implore us to believe these things now in order to believe God is a creator? No. Those things are incidental.
We might also call this the medium/message distinction. The form or medium of this passage is prescientific counter-myth, an event of creation that is dated somewhere around 4004 B.C. involving a domed universe and all that, which are details that the ancient people assumed to be true. However, the substance or enduring message of the text is more than that. It is teaching the following:
- God is creator of all that exists, creates out of nothing, and therefore, is greater than all the forces of chaos in our world.
- God is beyond creation, and so, nothing in creation is to be treated as god, and therefore, humans ought not to be enslaved to the worship of finite things.
- Creation is made by divine decree, and therefore is ordered, good and life-giving.
- Creation is designed for peace, worship and Sabbath.
- All humans, not just kings, high priests, or warlords but all people, male and female, rich and poor, are made in God’s image, deserving the dignity and rights God’s children deserve.
- All humans are designed to act like God, emulating his “likeness” of goodness and love.
- People have a responsibility to be stewards of the environment, not to destroy it or waste the precious gift we have been given, but to care for it.
- Reading Scripture through the entire canon, we know that Genesis one is true because it points to Christ. Christ is the logos of God, bringing creation into being (John 1). Christ is the truth of creation, and the truth of creation points forward not backward: Christ is the light shining in the darkness and is ushering a new creation in our midst. The power of Genesis one has not merely happened but is happening as we look to the transformation that Gospel is enacting.
All of that is still true and simply does not depend on whether a creation event happened six thousand years ago.
There are, of course, more truths in the text, and these can be discerned with wisdom, in the community of the faithful, gathered to listen to how the Spirit will use the Scriptures to speak to us.
You can hold to evolution and that universe is billions of years old and that Genesis is God’s Word. Why? For the same reason we trust the Gospel today: God has meet us where we are at.