A discussion I had last evening with a group of friends that has prompted me to tackle this very slippery topic. While eating a light supper with a group of individuals that I frequent with regularity, I was asked to restate my view on death as it pertains to God and creation and Christ’s defeat of it with his work on the cross. The previous night, the church we all attend discussed the fact that Christ defeated death finally which brings about the Christian hope of ressurection. I was asked to restate my previous stated belief in order to reconcile it to the teaching that was given at church. My first thought was that this was a big topic and a very slippery slope and to be careful and gracious in my response.
The individual that asked this of me inquired in a curious way. She stated that previously, she had thought that a “Bible believing Christian” could not believe in evolution (pertinent to the topic because death is somewhat of an assumed part of evolutionary theory) but added that “we have Doug,” at leat implying that she was willing to consider it differently. Two things came to mind. One, what does she mean by “Bible believing Christian,” and second, I actually felt complimented that I had somehow spurred someone to consider a topic that can be so volatile to consider it differently, and I know that she did not mean her statement in any negative way anyway. Likewise, she should be complimented for her willingness to re-examine and refine her belief. Plus, I somewhat relish the role of the slight rebel so to take it as a compliment comes naturally.
What I had previously discussed with her was that I believed death to have been a part of creation when God said it was good even before the events that describe mankind’s falling away from proper relationship with God. If it didn’t exist before this schism, then one has to believe that the separation changed not only the relationship but also the entire way the world operates including an entirely different set of physical laws that govern what goes on here. I find that a bit of a stretch. So I think that death has been a part of this creation all along and that the narrative in the first portion of Genesis instructs that it now had a different impact on mankind, a different significance. The work of Christ then restored it to its original place. To summarize, the way we view death and interact with death and what it does to us is the thing that has changed, not death itself.
But let’s back up a bit because this topic is much bigger than just my view of death. In order to look at death that way a few other things have to be in place first. One of those things would be how the Bible is to be understood. We recently took our boys out of a fundamentalist Christian school and put them in the outstanding quality public school system in our community (As an aside, their education has taken off in many ways since the change. They were falling through the cracks at the school that of course was supposed to be the best for them and everyone else.). One of the statements in the handbook for that school to which we were supposed to agree to was that “the Bible is the source of all truth.” Well, that is a nice, safe, comfy statement that is just not true. It doesn’t take much to look around you and see that the Bible says nothing about math or gravity or weather patterns or climate changes or any number of other things that are obviously truths in this world. So how do I think the Bible is to be viewed?
Well, I don’t think the Bible should be made something it is not. It is not a book of facts. It is not a science text. It is not an almanac or encyclopedia. Rather, it is a book that is mostly a narrative that reveals some things to us about how God interacts with his creation. It does contain truth, but it is not the ultimate source of truth. It is not the answer book to every problem and should not be read in that manner. It is one of the ways that God speaks to us. It is full of the biases of the people that wrote it. It is full of the understanding people had of their world at the time it was written. It is a narrative of how a few groups of people through a specific historical time have interacted with God. I believe the message of the Bible in the end is that God loves us, something that is much more easy to believe from a narrative reading than from a literal reading.
With that in mind, what I think the first part of Genesis is saying most importantly is that God is responsible for this place. He made it. How? That is partly for us to discover the best we can. A tremendous amount of really good science and really bright minds have discovered in the last 200 years that there is this process at work in the world that we have come to understand as evolution. And more and more work, including the extensive work done on the human genome project, points to this. I believe that this is the process that God has used and continues to use to create. Evolution is as much a force in the world as gravity. Now there is still a whole lot of work that still needs to be done to understand this better. And whether or not humans came from apes or monkeys is not really the issue. That is not what evolution is about. What it is mainly about is a rational explanation for the diversity of life. And if I someday find out from our Creator that I came from an ape, I will not be offended.
So I do believe in the Big Bang and a 6 billion year old earth and the evolutionary process. And it all fits very nicely with Genesis actually. If you need a very rational explanation to get past the “6 literal days” I would recommend that you read Genesis and The Big Bang by Gerald Schroeder. As a Jewish PhD, he does a really fantastic job with a line by line reading of Genesis and showing how it can very clearly be interpreted as epochs of time and how the laws of physics and the theory of relativity fit very nicely with this interpretation. But in a nutshell and in minimally scientific terms, the following is how I see it all working out.
God said it and the Big Bang happened. The earth formed, cooled, and became hospitable for life. God created by the process of evolution over billions of years. Whether life all started with an amoeba (another somewhat offensive idea to many Christians) is really not relavant to me (just as the humans coming from monkeys issue is really not relevant to me). The fact is, we don’t know that level of detail about it, and probably won’t for a long time. But it doens’t matter at all. The important thing is that God was behind it, and that is the main point that I think Genesis is trying to get across. But I digress. Continuing on…
As evolution hums along we eventually get all sorts of plants and animals and then humans. Death has to be a normal part of the process or this blue ball would have been overpopulated in no time. God takes a couple of people and adds something, and this is where the second of the two creation stories in Genesis comes in play. He “breathes life” into them to use the traditional Christian language. In essence, he plants his soul within them and all that this entails. To me this explains how we are made “in His image.” It also explains why those two may have needed a garden, may have needed separated out for a bit. They were now different. They realized different things than the other human types they resembled physically but were far different than spiritually and mentally and consciously. Again, the rib thing and the dust thing are not the important parts. The fact that God did something different with a couple of his created beings to bring his creation to the state in which he wanted it to exist is the key to the story.
So that kind of brings us up to the event commonly referred to as “The Fall.” It really isn’t part of evolution, but it is part of death so I will include it in this brief synopsis. As I get older and think about all this more and more and refine my beliefs and question and search and discuss, I find it harder and harder to believe that God actually set up a scenario with a talking walking snake, an apple, a tree, and his two now fully human humans. But again, the actual events are not all that important. It is the message behind it that is critical. The apple narrative is certainly something the people to whom the story was given 3,000 + years ago could understand. The story explains somehow that the relationship which God had with his creation was fractured. It broke. Why and how is really not all that important. But God then goes to work, as we discover in the remainder of the Bible narrative, to set it right.
So I think it may be time to wrap it up as this is getting a bit long as many of my posts tend to do. I hope that you take the time to put down a thoughtful response. Punch holes in it. Praise it. Question me. Tell me I am wrong. I am not claiming that I have the market cornered on the truth here. I am just disclosing a work in progress. A way that I am coming to understand the Bible and God and my place in this creation.