Tuesday, August 09, 2011

I Don't Believe In Talking Snakes, Either

Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: "That would be against all the genomic evidence that we've assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all."
This is from a report on NPR this morning on the growing refusal among some conservative Christians to give a literal reading to the creation accounts in Genesis. Among the many interesting, funny, and quite stupid things in the report - both from the folks quoted and the reporter, who apparently has no idea that there are over two centuries of serious, critical scholarly work on the Bible, as well as thousands of years of doctrinal interpretation of the Genesis passages, in tandem with various "creation Psalms" - was some fun stuff from Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.
"When Adam sinned, he sinned for us," Mohler says. "And it's that very sinfulness that sets up our understanding of our need for a savior.

Mohler says the Adam and Eve story is not just about a fall from paradise: It goes to the heart of Christianity. He notes that the Apostle Paul (in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15) argued that the whole point of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection was to undo Adam's original sin.

"Without Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense whatsoever in Paul's description of the Gospel, which is the classic description of the Gospel we have in the New Testament," Mohler says.
A point of view which would, I think, have surprised the Apostle.

Let me state categorically that I do not believe for an instant that the stories in Genesis 1 and 2 - mutually exclusive accounts of creation from different sources, hundreds of years apart in origin, saying very different things about who God is, not least who this God is who is doing this creating thing - tell us anything factual. No Adam. No Eve. No Garden. No trees with fruit with magical powers.

No, no talking snakes, either (and just where, may I ask, is there any indication this snake is really Satan or the Devil or whoever? Not in the Bible!).

That doesn't mean these stories don't tell us stuff that is important for our faith as Christians. If that were the case, we could stop talking about them all together. We could lump them with all those texts which are, to be polite, equivocal in their intellectual, moral, or other content. I believe these stories, in tandem with the Psalms that praise God as Creator, the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel that states categorically that the Word was with God at Creation, and it was through this same Word that creation was accomplished, tell us all sorts of things that are necessary for understanding what it means to say, "I believe in God, maker of heaven and earth."

This statement is not a declaration of how or when. To claim that one believes God creates is to say something first about God, and only secondarily about creation. To state that God creates, but to limit that creative activity to some point six thousand years ago, is a kind of implicit Deism. God gets the whole ball of wax rolling downhill, then leans back and enjoys the show.

The profession of belief in God as Creator is a profession of God's freedom. It is a profession of wonder that there is anything at all. It is a profession of our own dependence, at all times, at each moment of existence, on something outside ourselves. It is confession of our awareness that this confounded world, with all its troubles and beauty, flesh-eating bacteria and orchids and quasars and Lindsay Lohan could, given a power of less patience, less humor, and certainly less love, not be. When we confess God as Creator we are stating that we understand existence as completely, utterly contingent. There is no necessity in anything. Not in gravity, not in power abhorring a vacuum, not in capitalism, not in spring following winter. It is all there for us to take in, neither as "stuff" for us to exploit nor as blind forces against which to struggle. It is, rather, here for us to live in, to use with care and love, and always - always! - something for which we should give thanks.

When we tie God's hands, creatively speaking, to some point in time, we are forgetting that the point of the stories isn't about creation. It isn't about Adam and Eve or naming animals or trees with magical fruit or conniving snakes who will get their heads ground in to the dust. It is about God being whimsical enough, free enough, loving enough, to refuse to be alone. When the Bible says we are created in God's image, it isn't because we are bipedal primates. We are God's icons because, like God, we are free, we have the capacity for joy and love in being with others, and because we recognize that all that is could not be, yet is not of or for itself.

A literal reading of the Genesis stories impoverishes so much. Our understanding of God. Our understanding of the odd idea that God, through no in-born necessity, decided that it would be fun to have all sorts of things around. And keep them around. Creation is an on-going project. God didn't wind the cosmic clock, and now sitting back in the Divine sitting room, fingers greasy from popcorn as the show flows across a mammoth LCD screen. Each second of our existence is a Divine Creative Act. Sitting around arguing about Adam and Eve makes no sense for many reasons, not least because it misses the point that God is making me, and you, and the rabbit sitting in my front yard, the cosmic ray that is breaking through the atmosphere right now striking the genetic material of some creature, slightly altering it.

The doctrine of creation is about wonder. The wonder that the God we profess continues this whole weird thing called the Universe, which may well just be one of potentially infinite multi-verses, stacked up against one another like old LP albums on a shelf. If we get bogged down in nonsense like whether or not Adam and Eve had belly-buttons or where Cain's wife came from, we lose that wonder.

We also, needless to say, miss the point.

Virtual Tin Cup

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