Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review of meeting about Genesis 2, part 1 (of 3)

On Monday, July 13, we met and discussed common objections to Genesis 2. I had basically prepared to answer the common charge that Genesis 1 and 2 are conflicting, contradictory creation accounts. In particular, the seeming order of events in verses 5-9 conflict, as it appears from Genesis 2 that God creates man before the plants. Additionally, some translations seem to say that God creates Adam before He creates animals. Today, I'll talk about the first conflict.

But before I discuss this conflict directly, it is important to note the focus of the chapter. While Genesis 1 seems to be primarily an account of the physical creation, and how God is mighty in His creative acts, Genesis 2 focuses primarily on the creation of humans and our relationship with God and with the rest of creation. In other words, attempting to glean details about the physical creation from Genesis 2 is almost silly when there is an entire chapter devoted to it in Genesis 1. Furthermore, as the focus is on Adam's relationship with God and the rest of creation, any details about the physical creation should be seen as the necessary background for understanding this context.

Even so, Genesis 2:5-9 does seem to be confusing. The passage seems to say, "When no plant had yet come up on the earth, ...God created Adam." Is it really claiming that God created Adam before He created plants? One of the misunderstandings comes from the fact that the word often translated as "earth" in this passage can also be translated as "land". Furthermore, it could be talking about a specific piece of land, or geographical area. So it need not mean that no plant had ever come up on the whole face of the earth. It is more likely saying that in a certain geographical area, no plant had sprung up (perhaps even that year) because the rainy season had not come yet, and this was before man was around to do artificial irrigation. So there were no crops yet come up in the land.

I don't think this is over-interpreting. Remember, this story was told from the standpoint of a highly agricultural people. Further support of this idea comes from Genesis 2:8-9, which then tells us what specific piece of land we may be talking about: Eden.

So, Genesis 2:5-9 could be read as following. At some point in time, there was no vegetation to speak of in the area which was to become Eden. That was because the rains had not yet come that year, and man wasn't around yet to do irrigation of the fields. At this point, the rains (or mist) began to come, and God created the first man: Adam. God also planted a garden in this piece of land, which was to be called Eden. The garden began to grow because the rains had just started coming. And God put Adam into the garden in order to tend it (otherwise, it would grow out of control).

Even if this is reading too much into the account, the point is that we must take the whole passage into context. The sentences in verses 5-7 are only meant to be understood in the context of the passage as a whole. The entire description of the lack of "shrubs of the field", etc, is meant to give us a background as to what the land looked like outside of the context of Eden. Then, the setting shifts to Eden and we are told Adam is to work the garden, such that the garden continues to grow and look beautiful, in contrast to what the land could look like without the garden and without man to tend it.

This perspective also harmonizes with Genesis 3, in which Adam and Eve sin against God. In that chapter, we are told that the ground is "cursed, because of you [Adam]." In our sinful state, our attempts to tend the land, such as Eden, will be less fruitful. So we have the contrast of what the land looked like before Eden, and what we can expect it to become like as a result of our misuse of the land after man became sinful.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Was Eden perfect?

I was listening to a sermon the other day, an the pastor said that Eden was where we were meant to live. I am not going to expressly disagree with him, because in some sense, I agree, but it was food for thought. In particular, such a statement raises questions about whether God had to scrap plan A (Eden) in favor of plan B (redemption through Christ) because of Adam's sin, and whether or not God foresaw/foreknew/predestined this outcome.

Without fully exploring the implications of this statement, I'll just go ahead and say that God at least knew, and at the strongest planned, for things to turn out this way. I'll give you three reasons why.

First, we know from our study of the universe that it is only temporary. We live in a continuously expanding universe, and it's accelerating. Pretty soon, the sun will burn up. Before that happens, some natural disaster will surely befall us. (I am not being doomsday-ish here; the more we study this world, the more we realize that we live at a very special time in earth's and the universe's history which allows for advanced life and a civilized human society. This is not true of the earth and the universe at any other era of time.) The second law of thermodynamics says that entropy (disorder) is a constantly increasing quantity in the universe, which will one day make it impossible to do work (i.e., have useful energy). In other words, from our studies of the world around us, it is clear that this earth, and Eden in particular, was never meant to be our permanent home.

Second, the book of revelation speaks of a new creation, one in which the laws of physics will be completely different. There will be no more darkness or shadows, as God's glory will illuminate everything. (It's debatable how metaphorical this could argue this simply means there will be nothing more to hide.) There will be no more suffering or pain, and God will wipe every tear away. One reason why the laws of physics must be totally different is because of the decay we see around us. I find it unlikely that the second law of thermodynamics will hold true, or even have any meaning, in the new creation. But the second law, in terms of statistical mechanics, is just an outflow of the fact that we live in a universe in which matter is made of small particles (atoms/molecules, etc.). If there is no law of decay in the new creation (as Paul implies in Romans 8), then the entire makeup of the new creation must be different!

Third, the laws of physics in this current universe are explicitly set up to provide a "battleground", if you will, against evil. Without our spatial and temporal limitations we experience here, evil cannot spread too rapidly. The second law of thermodynamics (yes, that one again) discourages and punishes evil. For example, I'm a very lazy person, but if I don't clean my house regularly, it becomes a mess. Big deal, right? Well, this sort of thing was a big deal for cities in medieval Europe. A simpler example is abuse of tools. If you're too lazy to take care of your tools, for example if you leave a hammer or screwdriver (or a bicycle...I'm guilty of that one) outside without putting it away, it becomes rusty and less useful. This is a general principle. Paul put it very succinctly when he said, "A man reaps what he sows." One could argue that God's wrath is waiting for the unjust, but it is also true that your own punishment befalls you naturally according to the way this world works. To sum up this paragraph, I'm saying that, from the way this universe works, it appears that it was meant to be a place where evil would be confronted and vanquished, for the benefit of all humanity.

OK, I'm pretty sure I stepped on a few people's toes with that one. If you're angry or excited, or just have something to add, please post your comment below.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Fully gifted creation

One of the hot button topics these days, at least in terms of Christianity and science, is evolution. Most of the time, the debate/discussion is artificially polarized/caricatured into two camps: creationism and evolution. If you're a Christian, you believe in creation, and if you're smart, you believe in evolution. (Whatever "believe in evolution" means.)

Some refuse to be part of that partisianship. Prominent scientists like Ken Miller and Francis Collins (both authors as well) ascribe to a view commonly called "theistic evolution", which loosely means they affirm both God's existence (both would accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior), yet also naturalistic evolution. That is, both would deny that God had a hand in creating any of the life by fiat miracle, as many creationists would state.

Howard van Till calls this point of view "fully gifted creation", in that God, when He created the universe, did it in such a perfect way, with the just-right initial conditions, such that everything would unfold according to His plan.

What is interesting about this point of view is that it isn't just a concession to mainstream science, as some creationists claim, but indeed it demonstrates the existence of an Intelligent Designer. If the universe unfolding this way is according to God's plan, then life's history on earth does have a purpose, even if it can be fully explained by "mere" naturalistic forces. In other words, even in a theistic evoltionary worldview, we would expect to see design and fine-tuning in life's history. It is an inevitable consequence of believing in a God "who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (Eph 1:11)."

I'd really like to hear someone's (anyone's?) thoughts on this topic.