The Mystery of Creation
This past week we began our study through the Old Testament, reading the creation account in the opening verses of Scripture. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” (Genesis 1:1). The passage speaks to some of the deepest questions of our heart. Where do we come from? Why are we here? What is our purpose in the universe? Who set the stars ablaze and prepared the earth as a suitable habitat for life? Throughout the ages human beings have gazed into the heavens wondering how it all began. Scripture identifies God as the Creator of all things.
We made several observations, as we explored the text.
(1) Creation has a beginning. This earth, we call home, was not always spinning in orbit around the sun. The stars were not always twinkling in the evening sky. If it were possible to travel back through time, we would eventually reach a point when there was nothing but a dark and empty void. Then, in one spectacular moment the voice of the Lord thundered, “Let there be light,” and the cosmos was born. God alone is everlasting.
(2) Creation has design. An honest observer will find it everywhere he looks, whether you’re exploring the far reaches of the galaxy, or examining molecules of DNA within the human body. There is no doubt the universe has been finely tuned to support life. Complex systems do not randomly assemble themselves, thus it is reasonable to conclude that a being of infinite wisdom and intelligence is responsible.
(3) Creation has a purpose. If we arrived on this earth as the result of some cosmic accident, how could we find meaning to our existence? Humanity would be nothing more than a momentary blip in history, destined to fade away just as quickly as we appeared. How depressing! Scripture gives us a different picture. Our lives really do have significance because we were made by a good and compassionate God. Everything that exists was made to display His glory. Yet, out of all the amazing things God made, humanity has been given a very special role, bearing his image in this world.
There are so many questions that remain unanswered as we read the opening chapters of the Bible. While these verses focus on the “who” and “why” of creation, we can’t help but ask “how,” longing for a more detailed explanation. In this age of scientific discovery, we are learning more about ourselves and our world than ever before. This is a wonderful thing! God created us with the capacity for analytical thinking. Our findings should inspire a sense of awe for our creator. Unfortunately, mankind has become arrogant, dismissing the notion of a creator and embracing a purely naturalistic worldview.
Our generation is certainly not the first to reject the testimony of creation. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul described the skepticism of mankind when he wrote, “For since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened,” (Romans 1:20–21). If we’re looking for evidence of God’s existence, all we have to do is look around; it is everywhere. But if we insist on closing our eyes to the truth we will never find it. Many today insist that the Bible and science contradict, that a person cannot embrace one while holding on to the other. This is simply not the case. Some of the greatest scientists through history have been people of faith.
So how can we balance the discoveries of modern science with the biblical text? Is the earth really billions of years old? If so, how does that align with the days of creation? Theologians have approached the creation account in a variety of ways. A brief sketch of the different views will be provided below. It is not my intention to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each perspective. For a more detailed explanation, I recommend the chapters on creation in “A Dispensational Theology” by Charles F. Baker (p.171-183), or in Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology” (p.262-311).
a.) Day-Age Theory
This perspective interprets the days of the creation account not as literal, twenty-four hour units, but as larger periods of history spanning millions of years. The Hebrew word “yom” is occasionally used to describe a longer measurement of time (Leviticus 25:29; Judges 17:10; 1 Samuel 27:7) and elsewhere Scripture notes, “…with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day…” (2 Peter 3:8). However, the reader must ask whether this is the intended meaning in Genesis 1 where the text repeatedly affirms, “…and there was evening and there was morning…” (verses 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31).
b.) Gap Theory
According to this view, there was an original creation described in Genesis 1:1 taking place at some unspecified point in the distant past, but something catastrophic happened leaving the earth formless and void (compare Genesis 1:2 with Isaiah 45:18). The rebellion of Satan is usually identified as the event that caused the earth to plunge into ruin (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28). Once a beautiful angel, Satan was overcome with pride and rebelled against the Almighty. As a result, he was thrust down to earth. His downfall may have affected creation. It is possible this proposed gap between verses 1 and 2, in the first chapter of Genesis, extended for millions of years accounting for the geological ages. Afterwards, God brought order to the earth once again, making the world suitable for life through the six days of creation.
c.) Literary Framework View
Some suggest the days of creation are a literary device, used by the author to provide a summary of God’s creative work. According to this view, the events are not arranged chronologically, according to the order in which they occurred, but thematically. A carefully structured outline is presented through the chapter, using the concept of a week to organize the work of the Lord. The first three days correspond with the following three days. First, the Lord forms the earth, and then he fills the earth. He separates light from darkness placing in the heavens the sun, moon and stars. He separates the oceans from the sky, filling them with fish and birds. He separates water from dry land, making a habitat for the animals and mankind. Finally, the Lord rests from his labor as an example. The main point of the passage is not to inform the reader of how long it took to accomplish these steps, or when each activity occurred, but to describe God as the creator of all things.
d.) Creation with the Appearance of Age
This view reminds us that the Lord fashioned the first humans, Adam and Eve, as mature adults. They never experienced infancy, or the “terrible twos.” They didn’t go through puberty, or the teenage years. Though they were only a few days old, they must have appeared as if they were in their twenties or thirties. If this was the case, it is also possible the Lord created a fully mature universe, with the appearance of age. It takes more than four years for light to travel to earth from the nearest star, much longer for those further away, and yet the evening sky sparkled with starlight when creation was only a few days old. In the same way, the ground was full of mineral deposits, and trees were already fully formed. Long periods of time would have been required for these phenomena to occur naturally. Of course, the God who forms man from the dust of the earth can accomplish all of this instantly with the command of his voice.
e.) Flood Geology
Many believe the days of creation are to be taken at face value: God created the universe in the span of a week, thousands (not billions) of years ago. While the earth is relatively young, the flood greatly altered its appearance (Genesis 6-9). Fossil records can be explained by rising tides wiping out every living thing on the planet, and then depositing remains in layers of sediment. The intense pressure of the water accounts for the formation of coal and diamonds. A global disaster, on this scale, would have unleashed incredible forces, impacting the world in significant ways.
Which approach is to be preferred? Evangelical Christians may subscribe to different views concerning the “how” of creation, but they are in firm agreement on the “who” and “why,” which is of far greater importance. God is the author of the universe, creating all things out of nothing. Humanity has a special role, as image bearers of the Lord. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed, bringing corruption to the good world made by God.
Author Wayne Grudem writes, “When all the facts are rightly understood, there will be no final conflict between Scripture and natural science… We should not fear to investigate scientifically the facts of the created world but should do so eagerly and with complete honesty, confident that when the facts are rightly understood, they will always turn out to be consistent with God’s inerrant words in Scripture. Similarly, we should always approach the study of Scripture eagerly and with confidence that, when rightly understood, Scripture will never contradict facts in the natural world.” (Systematic Theology, Intervarsity Press and Zondervan Publishing House: 1994, p.274-275)
There are some questions that will always remain a mystery to mortal man. That’s okay. Rather than dwelling on the unknown, may we respond to the one who has made himself known through creation and in the pages of his word. Let us humble our hearts before our Creator and offer our lives in praise.