God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The bible and Science: Genesis 1 sermon

On December 24, 1968, in what was the most watched television broadcast at the time, the crew of Apollo 8 read in turn from the Book of Genesis as they orbited the moon. Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman recited verses 1 through 10, as they watched the earth off in the distant a beautiful globe of blue, white, brown, and green.  They read:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
              And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
             And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.  And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.  And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.  And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.  And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

On June 22, 1633,  Galileo was found guilty of heresy, and the sentence of the Inquisition, was in three essential parts:
  • Galileo’ s heresy for holding the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the center of the universe, that the Earth is not at its center and moves.
  • He was commuted to house arrest, which he remained under for the rest of his life.
  • His offending Dialogue was banned.
Galileo viewed the stars through his telescope and believed in Copernican physics that the earth was not the center of the universe.  The tides taught him the truth about the movement of the earth.

 In 1925 in which high school science teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach evolution in any state-funded school. This trial which pitted Clarence Darrow for the defense against Williams Jennings Bryan for the prosecution.  Charles Darwin had discovered through watching his peas grow that he could change their biology by making different peas combine. This lead him to posit that all life on earth evolved over time. The trial was about evolution and creation.  While evolution lost the defendant won on appeal.  Today we still battle this question we ask science teachers who haven’t studied the bible and learned Hebrew to teach Creation.  Would we want a pastor to teach science to our high school kid? 

So how do we do we deal with the creation story of Genesis 1 and the idea of science?  When I was in seminary I was able to take a class called the Epic of Creation where Scientist from the University of Chicago, Theologians, and Biblical Studies Professors, talked about creation.  I learned a lot in this class, but one of the things that my Professor Ted Heibert taught me was to think about Genesis in terms of the science of its day.   I was also taught from my Father a UCC pastor that the bible is full of stories of faith.  Within these stories we can find a grain of truth that allows us to glimpse God.  This is different than believing that the Bible is the Truth, written by God.  So in the church of my growing years and I hope in the church I am still a part of we provide our children with the tools to ask question of scripture. We teach them to learn tools to help understand the bible in terms of archeology and critical criticism.  So if we turn to this story from Genesis what can we learn?  Sometimes we tend to think of this creation story in the word of Stephen Cobert at Truthiness (a false hood that is true if we say it loudly and long enough.)

So what if we look at the biblical story from its internal scientific perspective.  The ancient Hebrew believed that the earth was flat.  The sky contained gated that held the waters above the earth back.  Below these water were where the sun and moon and stars moved.   Below the earth were pillar holding it up and there was Sheol, the place of the dead.  Surrounding this underneath was waters.  So their understanding of the earth looked very different from our earth.  When you compare the account of creation with the accounts of the surrounding near eastern cultures, you find the same lists of creatures being created.  So there must be something that the writer of Genesis wanted us to learn that set this story apart from the  surrounding stories. 

Now this contrast with our understanding of science, an understanding that has changed a bit in 3000 years.  In the Epic of Creation, from the physicists I learned about the big bang.  I learn how at the beginning there was nothing, but this nothing was really something.  As into this nothing a spark caused the nothing to create protons, electrons, and neutrons, that collided and formed elements, that collided and eventually formed stars and the dust and elements that became planets.  The evolutionary Biologist taught me about these amazing and weird creatures that have popped into and out of existence.  And he wasn’t even showing us dinosaurs.  These were simple creatures.  But he taught us about the branches that died off and how we animal creatures grow from a certain branch.  I understood some of what was being said, but what stuck with me was the idea that at the beginning there was nothing that was really something.

What can we learn from the creation story of Genesis.  The writer of this story is known as P or the priestly writer.  This writer is concerned with order and showing God’s place.  So in this first chapter of Genesis the formless void takes on form as God speaks.  God creates light, created land, puts boundaries on the waters.  God creates life:  plant life, ocean life, animal life, and human life.  And God pronounces each of these Good.  At the beginning in the formless void was God.  God spoke and ordered the world. 

Think about this in a time of exile when the world seems to be chaos.  The temple is gone, we have been carried into a strange land.  Everything is not as It was.  The world looks dark.  Into this chaos, the priestly writer tells us that God brings light and goodness.  That even when chaos reign there is order to be found.  God looks into the darkness and shows what is good.  This is a word that speaks today.  When we look around and see an economy struggling, political parties at war with each other, we can here this word of hope.  Darkness and chaos are not the final word.  There is light and there is good.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

In the Beginning: 

Creation Out of Nothing or Something?

In the beginning, what was it like as the world began?  Was the origin out of nothing (creation ex nihlio) or was chaos ordered?  These questions grow out of the account of creation found in Genesis 1-2:4a.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth (‘eres), 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.  Then God said, “let there be light”; and there was light. 
I am interested in the question of chaos.  Does this text demonstrate that God sets about to order the chaotic world?  Is chaos completely ordered or is it able to break through those bonds at any time? 
This question of chaos is intriguing because modern science has introduced the idea that chaos is all around us with our actions being connected in ways we could not possibly imagine.  The idea is that when a butterfly flaps its wings in South American this can lead to a Tsunami in Indonesia.  Within scientific circles there is also the sense that life, as we know it began out of nothing, but this nothing was actually something. 
In these first few verses of Genesis we begin to form a picture of who God is and how God acts.  God is the creator of Heaven and Earth.  God was there before the beginning.  God speaks and creation begins.  That before the first act we know that God was and chaos was. 
God’s act of creation is described using three different words. 
God made (asa) the firmament, heavenly bodies, sea animals and birds, land animals, and humanity;
God distinguished (hibdil) light and darkness, the waters above and the firmament below, the water and dry land;
God created (bara) sea creatures, birds, humanity.[1]

All that God made in this creative act was called good.  God is the one who created the heavens and earth and speaks to start the process of creation.  The word spoken is a command brought to the “unformed and void, with the darkness over the surface of the deep” (1:3).
The writer of this creation story, commonly called P or the Priestly writer, shows how at the heart of God's acts is order.  Everything is to have a place and function.  The structure of this first creation story follows the same pattern:  God said, God saw, and God pronounces creation good.  The disorder prior to creation is summoned and commanded into a new state.  The first act is a command, “let there be light” (Gen 1:3).  In the priestly history found in the Pentateuch, God gives commands and people are to obey.[2]  Unruly creation is brought to order by the deity. 
This unruly chaos can be undone by the word of God. 
In the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened ( Gen 7:11).
The heavens open and the waters erupt.  The firmament that God made to hold back the waters of chaos collapses.  The chaos that God ordered in creation can also be released and allowed to flood the earth once again. 
One of the textual questions found in Gen 1:1-3 is over “while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (1:2).  Is this a wind from God, the breath of God, or God?    This can be translated as “a mighty wind swept over the surface of the waters (Von Rad, Speiser, Schmidt, and Westemann) or “the breath of God” or “the Spirit of God” sweeping, hovering over the waters (Cassuto, Kidner, Gipsen, Skinner, Proscksch, Wenhem).  The image of the wind of God sweeping over chaos until that moment when it is time to begin ordering and creating the heavens and earths, provides an image of God as present before creation begins.  God is not created; God does the creating. 
This text is attributed to a time of exile in which the Babylonians have defeated and captured Israel.  A creation story created out of this time, asserts that God is still there hovering over creation and will bring about creation’s well being.  To say to those in exile that the God of Israel is the Creator of all of life is a comforting powerful word.[3]
When people are living a life that seems formless and void, when darkness appears to be all around, to say to the exiled that God can take that chaos, can take the formless and void and give it new meaning, make the light reappear.  Creation is not from nothing, but God can order the already existing chaos.  There is a sense of comfort in knowing that when you are in exile, when it appears that God is gone; God is the one who can break in and reorder the world, making it good.  God is before creation bringing order in what looks like a chaotic world.

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, “The creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3, Part III:  The Initial Chaos Theory and the Precreation Chaos Theory,” Bibliotheca Sacra 133 (July 1975, 337.
[2] Robert B. Coote and David Robert Ord, In the Beginning:  Creation and the Priestly History, (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1991), 51, 56.
[3] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation:  A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 1, (Atlanta:  John Knox Press, 1982), 25.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Creation and truth

Beginning of a series on God, Science, and Creation.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 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. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude .And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
Genesis 1:1-4,31, 2:1-4a
When I sit outside, how can I not know that God exists, that the creator of the universe thought of everything.

Yet, what does this sense of knowing God exists and had made this amazing earth say about the meaning of the origins and evolution of the universe.  How do we attach meaning to these stories of creation?  Does the existence of multiple creation stories in the bible that contradict each other tell us about creation?

In my faith tradition (the United Church of Christ), we believe that scripture is important and contains the faith stories of the people of God and truth, but it is not inerrantly the word of God, The Truth.  When I look at a text, a story within the scripture, I listen for the truth, the word of God speaking to me through the text.  What this means in practice is that when I read about creation, I don’t think God literally made the world as described in the particular way described by the text.  The message I hear is that God breathed and the heavens and earth come into existence.  This creation was of God and all of creation needs to take time to rest in the presence of the creator of all.

So what does this mean when I then hear about the origins of the world based upon scientific explanations of what happened?  I apply a similar practice.  I believe within the story being told there is an element of truth, but not a complete truth.  So if I hear the universe started with a big bang, or a rush of colliding particles creating form and substance, matter and weight, what it does not tell me is what was the impetus for this change from nothing to something.  The answer I supply is the Creator of the universe, who provided the spark, who looked and said, let it be and saw that it was good.  Science can’t prove or disprove whether God supplied the spark that whooshed in creation.

From each of the stories, I hear meaning and truth.  This truth and meaning is changing and constant.  I believe that truth from God can be found in the stories of creation.  The question becomes: how complete a word?  God saw that it was very good.