Shaped by the Thing to Come

When I was in seminary (10 years ago), I took an ethics seminar where we read a number of articles each week from Bible scholars and theologians on various issues. We read a good cross-section of confessional and critical scholars, both theological conservatives and liberals. One of my classmates standing critique of our readings was the use various theologians made of the beginning and the end of the biblical story.

He’d say something like, “At creation, no one was there to see it, so we don’t know what it is really like. The end of the story hasn’t happened yet, so we can’t speak of what it is like. So we can’t base our ethical claims in either Creation, or the consummation of things.”

Spoiler alert: he was wrong.

His idea, capitulates to a metaphysical realism, where all we can do is make do with the way things are. We may have some resources from tradition to draw on and we may cling to some commands or ethical principles, but essentially all we can do is limp along the best we can. We just have to make the best of it.

The beginning and the end of our story is integral to our spiritual formation. The Hebrew Bible opens with a description of God’s creation of heaven and earth (Gen 1:1):

בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ

Our Christian Bible closes with a vision of a new heaven, a new earth, a heavenly Jerusalem descending and Christ’s promise, “Surely, I am coming soon” (Rev 21-22).

The beginning of the story is significant because it tells us what kind of story we are in. The end of the story is essential because it tells us our telos—the future God in Christ has envisioned for his Creation. Without the beginning and the end of the story, we are muddled in a middle, from nowhere and going nowhere. We can say with the culture around us, it is what it is. If we allow the bookends of history, the biblical narrative widens our vision: The good that was, may be again; what is wrong will be made right; the dying and decay of our enthropic environs will be restored; God’s peace will reign.

We may be fond of the idiom, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” There is some truth in that, and we can’t be so future oriented that we aren’t aware of what’s right here, right now. But even the metaphor of journey, implies we want to go somewhere. There is somewhere we want to end up. We don’t want to wander aimlessly forever in the dark.

The Advent story (both the first Advent and the final Advent) tell of God breaking into our wanderings and bringing about a whole new reality. Jesus came, Jesus comes, Jesus returns and everything old is new again. Injustice the degradation of nature, wars, and sickness, and the heavy feeling of grief which haunts and stalks us, even in our seasons of joy, will meet their end. Creation will be renewed and all that is broken will be mended. Everything will be as it should be. In words Dame Julian, ““All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

This is the end we are moving toward, or better, this is the end that God and Christ is moving toward us. May we all be prepared to see the reign of God break into our lives a little more. Come Lord Jesus, Come.

See the source image
14th Century Tapestry of John of Patmos watching the descent of the New Jerusalem (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Jerusalem#/media/File:La_nouvelle_Jérusalem.jpg)

Back to Genesis (with Science): a book review

Seven Glorious Days: A Scientist Retells the Genesis Creation Story by Karl W. Giberson

The ecclesial tribe which has most contributed to my spiritual formation (American evangelicalism) has been suspicious and dismissive of Evolution and fearful of  the way science  has banished the Creator. We’ve worried that if  we accepted the scientific explanation of our origin, we would be turning our back on God and the Biblical worldview (i.e. ” if Genesis 1-2 is not literally true, how can you trust the rest of the Bible?”).

The interpretation of the Creation story is complicated. While I affirm the truth that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, I find some of the scientific explanations compelling. This doesn’t mean I rend Genesis 1-2 from my Bible, but I do read them differently. Genesis 1 doesn’t seem to be a literal account of Creation as it happened but a poem. There is evidence of Hebrew parallelism in the first three days describing the creation of realms while the next three days seem to be the filling of those realms:

Creation of Realms Filling of Realms
 Day 1: Creation of light and darkness Day 4: Creation of the sun, moon & stars
Day 2: Creation of sea and sky (separation of

the waters above from the waters below)

Day 5: Creation of birds and fish
Day 3: Creation of dry land (and vegetation Day 6: Creation of land animals and humanity

 

Beyond the obvious literary crafting in the Creation accounts, they also appear to include elements of other ancient creation myths and telling the tale in this way subvert the gods of the nations (every created thing mentioned in Genesis 1 was an object of worship in the Ancient Near East).

And so I absolutely love the opening chapters of Genesis, not because I read there a scientific account of creation, but because the pages drip with the Glory of God who creates, sustains and speaks worlds into being.  It testifies to the creativity of God and the sacredness of the created order. It vividly portrays the goodness of all that is.

In Seven Glorious Days: A Scientist Retells the Genesis Creation Story, author Karl W. Giberson re-presents the Genesis 1 narrative in light of the best scientific explanations of our origins. Thus the seven days are re-written to explore elements of creation through the lens of contemporary cosmogony, astronomy, quantum physics and biology.  Giberson  teaches Science and Religion at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts,  a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), a regular contributor to various journals and periodicals and has written extensively on the relationship between science and faith. He is also popular lecturer and author, he has been a presenter (and vice president) of the BioLogos Foundation and the editor of Science and Spirit for the Templeton Foundation.  In this book, Giberson brings together his skill as a scientist and his literary skill as a lay Christian theologian.

The result is a popular level book which culls together the best of human inquiry into Creation and presents it in a warm engaging way. The chief value of this book is not apologetic–I doubt that the young earth creationists or ardent atheists would be convinced by Giberson’s prose; however for those with eyes to see and ears to hear (and other powers of observation) this book is a hymn of praise and wonder to God for our fine tuned universe.   The topics which Giberson covers range from the Big Bang (neither big nor a bang),  the formation of matter at an atomic level, the existence of supernovas and their contribution to the development of the elements in the periodic table, the precise conditions and various factors which conspired to make life possible, and the mysteries of human development. So while his ‘rewriting  of Genesis 1’ is a radical departure from the biblical narrative, he covers significant ground and I found it fascinating. This is not a book which explores in depth the biblical account for its theological import. It’s aim is much more modest: to show how our scientific knowledge bears witness to our Creator.

I liked this book a lot. One of the joys of reading this book is that Giberson does more than present a God friendly cosmogony; he also tells a little of the history of science and the way in which our current scientific knowledge testifies of the remarkable world we live in.  This is a beautiful, worshipful book and well worth reading.

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.