These days I’m preaching about what we believe and why that matters. I guess that should probably always be true, but right now I’m specifically preaching through the Apostles Creed. And week one was about knowing God as our Creator: “I believe in God the father almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth.”
Honestly, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. I remember late nights as a teenager, wide awake in my bed wondering how it all worked – speaking light into existence, the extinction of dinosaurs, Adam and Eve, carbon dating, 6000 years of biblical dates, and the fossil remains of a fish with feet. (seriously) And I was wrestling with all this while the world around me repeatedly told me they could never go together. Science and religion were opposed to each other and you had to pick sides.
But we don’t have to pick sides. That’s not how Christianity works because that’s not how God talks to us. The description of creation in Genesis 1 has at least half a dozen scientific problems in it, but we have options beyond either throwing out the scripture, or doubling down and insisting all scientists everywhere have gotten everything wrong. We can choose instead to see God talking to us, not at us.
Genesis 1 was written to explain God’s role in creation to people who understood their world very differently from you and I. For instance, they believed the sky to be a large dome (raqia in Hebrew can be translated dome, firmament, vault, shield…just not “expanse” as the NIV used to do). In their minds, this dome held out the waters that caused storms and floods. Genesis doesn’t question this understanding because it’s not interested in teaching meteorology. It’s interested in teaching us who put it together (whatever it is). It’s as if God said, “OK, if that’s how you understand it, fine. Just know that I made it.”
And we can be most faithful to the truth of this passage not by insisting that the dome really exists, but by remembering that God made whatever we come across.
I was living in Texas in 2006 when the state department of education voted to teach “Intelligent Design” as science and add stickers to high school biology books saying something like “evolution is only a theory.” Christian talking heads called this a victory, but I saw it as a step backward. If we really believe in God-the-Creator, we should be pushing science forward not holding it back. Scientists are the ones exploring God’s work closely and carefully and whatever they discover might just help us know God better.
Think about the process of evolution. We tend to get uncomfortable with the idea that we evolved from lower primates, but be honest with yourself – that’s because we want to feel special. It’s actually entirely compatible with the God we meet in scripture and the history of the church. God creates, and then stays active in that creation. God made you and me, and has never left us alone. We are given the freedom to obey and walk the path of life, or disobey and walk off into the darkness. But God always goes with us giving us grace and guidance, hope and faith, community and mercy so that we have everything we need to choose the right way. Then God leaves the decision up to us.
What if God built some of this same freedom into the very nature of the universe? Every cell, every strand of DNA has their own version of free will – they are free to mutate, adapt and change. Some of these changes lead in the wrong direction, but we don’t believe in a God who creates and then walks away. God guides, encourages and loves creation through a process of evolution toward a beautiful balance. “And God saw that it was good” Genesis 1:10.
Then when things get off track, God guides and directs people like you and I (designed to think, love and take care of eachother) to pull it all back together. Of course, how will we know what to do next if we’re not using our whole brains to understand what God built in the first place?
Are there problems with this? Probably. I’m not a scientist and I only kind of know what I’m talking about. But I’m convinced that God is okay with that. I’m convinced God will say, “OK, if that’s how you understand it, fine. Just know that I made it.”