Recently, once again, I’ve had occasion to consider the wonder and significance of creation — especially as it’s described for us in Genesis 1 and 2 of the biblical account. On one hand I encounter Christian believers who take a very strong position concerning a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. They are quite adamant about the fact that the world as we know it today was created in six days just as we know the days of today. Generally speaking, those who hold to this view also believe that the earth is relatively young — about 6 to 10 thousand years old. They also feel that there is a lot of scientific evidence for this position as represented by the Institute for Creation Research.
But there are other believers who aren’t so sure the explanation on the surface of things is as simple as the biblical account implies. There appears to be a great deal of evidence for the conclusion that the world has been in existence for many, many more years than the Genesis literalists propose. This view is represented by the Christian apologist and astrophysicist, Hugh Ross. He has established an organization called, Reasons to Believe. He believes that a very old earth view is not incompatible with the biblical account and he takes pains to demonstrate that the Hebrew/Christian Scriptures are scientifically accurate.
Ross’s explanation of the days of creation in Genesis 1 is that the Hebrew word for “day” (yom) can actually mean a long period or era of time. Others, like Don Carson of Trinity Evangelical Seminary in Chicago, or Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, are inclined to look at the Genesis account in terms of its unique literary genre. They would say the expressions used in Genesis 1 are more in the order of poetry rich in the use of symbolism. Accordingly, they would say that the sequence in the description is more important than the the details. Keller thinks that greater literal detail is given to us in Genesis chapter 2. He cites other Scriptures that seem to demonstrate this kind of couplet difference — i.e. Judges 4 and 5. In one you have the actual account of what happened, in the other a song or poetic description of the event.
For me, this is an important discussion because it speaks to the credibility of the Christian faith. We rely upon scientific research and discovery for many things that touch upon the real world in which we live. It doesn’t seem right that the biblical revelation of God’s Word should be incompatible with good science. On the other hand, scientific research has significant limitation in seeking to understand theological matters such as the actual process of God’s creation.
For one thing, it’s important that we approach the discussion of these things from a position of faith — “because without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). In other words, if we can’t quite figure it all out through the use of science, it’s still very important for us to believe. In the end, we need to commit ourselves to believe the testimony of Scripture and look for other ways to resolve apparent contradictions with science. We may not know exactly how creation came about but we need to affirm that it happened by God’s creative act — in fact by his very word. I was impressed by this fact today in my devotional reading of Psalm 33. “The Lord merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born” (verse 9 — NLT). This is consistent with what we read in Hebrews 11:3 where it says, “…the entire universe was formed at God’s command.” Other Scriptures like Exodus 20:11 affirm the idea of a six-day creation.
My own conclusion is that it’s not necessary to be dogmatic about the process of creation in order to be a Bible-believing Christian. While holding to the authority of Scripture we need to make way for a possible scientific explanation that might be beyond our ability to reconcile with a rigidly-held interpretation. After all, this kind of mistake is not uncommon. One of the classic examples of this error is the one held by believers concerning the rotation of the earth until the time of Copernicus in 1530. Contrary to popular theistic belief of the time (based on a misguided interpretation of Scripture — i.e. Psalm 104:5) it became evident that the earth was not the centre of the universe after all. We need to be careful lest we make the same kind of mistake regarding the process of creation.
It’s possible for Christians to lose the battle regarding a credible communication of their faith because of nothing less than a hard-headed kind of arrogant dogmatism. In the absence of hard evidence or clear biblical revelation some things probably need to be left in the realm of mystery.