“God, Creation and the Twenty-First Century”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
January 7, 2018
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…”
— Genesis 1:1i
The purpose of this sermon is to help people believe. But here’s my problem. Twenty-first century men and women, for the most part, cannot reconcile the truth known through science with a creation story that is painfully out of step with our time. That’s my problem, but I don’t think I am alone.
I know many Christians who do not believe the world was created in six days. The question for the church is whether belief in the creation narrative found in Genesis is a requirement for membership into Christ’s church? If the answer is “yes,” we will have to root out those for whom 6 days does not make sense – and that would include me! And if the church wants to speak to our contemporary world, the church should not project opposition to accepted truth.
So, how are we to understand the Bible in the Twenty-First century?
First, know what your reading. Is the Bible a book about science? No. The ancients believed that the world floated on water and that the firmament was the space between earth and the water above it. When it rained, water came down from above and up from beneath the earth. We know that the heavens are not filled with water. Remember this: science deals with the “how” questions of life. How was the earth created is a scientific question and if the Bible is not a book of science, then you are fated to be disappointed if you look for the answer in Genesis. The Bible answers the “why” questions of life. It searches for the underlying fabric of reality – a place science cannot go. Ask a scientist to give you a scientific answer to the meaning of life. Can’t do it. Know what you are reading and don’t ask the Bible to be something it is not.
Second, even if we agree the Bible is not about science, more needs to be considered. Remember, the Bible has different genres’ – prose, poetry, history, letters and a special category called wisdom literature. Again, you have to know what you are reading.
One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost’s Mending Wall.” I cannot even begin to get its intended meaning if I take Frost’s words laterally. One is to read it as a poem and understands it as such. So we must do with all forms of written language.
Here is one my favorite examples of being confused about what we are reading. Remember the story of Jonah? God has decided to destroy the great city of Nineveh because of its blatant and ongoing sin. God gives Jonah a job. He is to give the Ninevites one last chance at repentance. Jonah wants to see them burn in hell because of what the Babylonians had done to Israel. He decides to disobey God. He isn’t going to Nineveh. Instead, he boards a ship headed to Spain (I guess he thought he could outrun God!) He couldn’t. God causes a great storm. The crew of the ship were sure that the storm was the work of the gods. Each man prayed to his own god asking for mercy. That didn’t work so they cast lots. They wanted to know who was responsible for this calamity. The lot fell on Jonah. Jonah, to his great credit, told the crew to cast him into the sea and the storm would vanish. But the crew, risking their own lives, refused to toss Jonah overboard. In the end the choice came down to sacrificing one man for the sake of many. Over Jonah went. The storm ceased and Jonah was swallowed by a great fish.
Jonah lives in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Then God has the fish spit Jonah up onto dry land. I wonder what he smelled like? Was he covered in slime? He goes to Nineveh and delivers God’s message – “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” He is stinky and slimy but they believe him. Would you? Somebody who looks like they’ve been inside a fish for three days and nights goes around Bradford screaming, “Forty days more and Bradford shall be overthrown.” He’d be locked up. Ignored. But not, I guess, if he went to Nineveh. They believed Jonah and everyone, from the king on down, repented of their sins.
Not good news to Jonah. He knew God would back out, that God’s mercy would lead God to forgive rather than destroy. Jonah was angry, angry enough to die. He went and sat on a hillside to see what God would do. Jonah wanted to see the city destroyed. Fine with him if they all burned in hell. Finally God leaves Jonah with question:
“…should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
Jonah, my friends, is a book about God’s mercy. It is not history. We don’t need to argue about the whale. This is a book of wisdom and if we read it as history we run the risk of losing it’s meaning.
Where does all this leave us? With this possibility: Genesis is true but it is not science. It is true that God created the universe and said it was “good” even if I am compelled to see in the creation story more poetry than scientific fact. Belief, trust, faith, they should not come at the expense of one’s integrity. I hope I have helped build a bridge over which modern men and women can come to faith. Let us pray…
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.