This Sunday continues our series on how we might faithful read our Bibles. This note follows the initial sermon in the series that forms the framework through which we will address the remainder. If you were not in worship on Sunday, January 6th, I encourage worshipers to watch or listen to that sermon to help understand this framework.
With a focus this week on the creation stories and humanity’s beginnings, we must ask ourselves important questions about what we read in the opening chapters of Genesis. Before scientific advancement, these stories were taken factually. But today, science can seem as though it stands in contrast to the ancient narratives that describe a 6-day creation of the world, the first two humans and their temptation by a talking serpent, the advanced ages of early humans, and more. Must we pick one to be correct and one to be false? This seems required if we read the Genesis stories literally. Then again, perhaps we can read it a different way…
Genesis 1:1-2:2 (CEB)
1 When God began to create the heavens and the earth— 2the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— 3God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. 4God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. 5God named the light Day and the darkness Night.
There was evening and there was morning: the first day.
6God said, “Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters to separate the waters from each other.” 7God made the dome and separated the waters under the dome from the waters above the dome. And it happened in that way. 8God named the dome Sky.
There was evening and there was morning: the second day.
9God said, “Let the waters under the sky come together into one place so that the dry land can appear.” And that’s what happened. 10God named the dry land Earth, and he named the gathered waters Seas. God saw how good it was. 11God said, “Let the earth grow plant life: plants yielding seeds and fruit trees bearing fruit with seeds inside it, each according to its kind throughout the earth.” And that’s what happened. 12The earth produced plant life: plants yielding seeds, each according to its kind, and trees bearing fruit with seeds inside it, each according to its kind. God saw how good it was.
13There was evening and there was morning: the third day.
14God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years. 15They will be lights in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth.” And that’s what happened. 16God made the stars and two great lights: the larger light to rule over the day and the smaller light to rule over the night. 17God put them in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was.
19There was evening and there was morning: the fourth day.
20God said, “Let the waters swarm with living things, and let birds fly above the earth up in the dome of the sky.” 21God created the great sea animals and all the tiny living things that swarm in the waters, each according to its kind, and all the winged birds, each according to its kind. God saw how good it was. 22Then God blessed them: “Be fertile and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.”
23There was evening and there was morning: the fifth day.
24God said, “Let the earth produce every kind of living thing: livestock, crawling things, and wildlife.” And that’s what happened. 25God made every kind of wildlife, every kind of livestock, and every kind of creature that crawls on the ground. God saw how good it was. 26Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.”
27God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.
28God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” 29Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. 30To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. 31God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.
There was evening and there was morning: the sixth day.
2 The heavens and the earth and all who live in them were completed. 2On the sixth day God completed all the work that he had done, and on the seventh day God rested from all the work that he had done.
Consider these questions:
- Think of your earliest memories of your faith life and/or reading the Bible. How were you taught to understand the creation stories? If you did not grow up learning these stories as in Genesis, what were you taught about the beginning of the world/universe?
- What does it mean to you to read the creation stories literally? If you find meaning and faith and a movement of your spirit reading in this way, where/how do you experience this?
- What does it mean to you to read the creation stories metaphorically? If you find meaning and faith and a movement of your spirit reading in this way, where/how do you experience this?
Post-Sermon Update on 1/15
Audio from the sermon can be heard below, and video can be found at this link (will open in a new tab).
Sunday’s message on the creation stories may have seemed challenging. Indeed, this series challenges us to look beyond recent traditions of literalism and to go deeper into our faith. I believe our sacred texts point us toward profound experiences of God that are the core of spirituality.
Looking beyond recent – and for some, current – traditions is challenging. But perhaps early Christians might aid our intellectual and spiritual journey. Sunday’s message quoted this passage from Origen of Alexandria’s De principiis (more detail on this early Christian work here).
What intelligent person can imagine that there was a first day, then a second and third day, evening and morning, without the sun, the moon, and the stars? And that the first day – if it makes sense to call it such – existed even without a sky? Who is foolish enough to believe that, like a human gardener, God planted a garden in Eden in the East and placed in it a tree of life, visible and physical, so that by biting into its fruit one would obtain life? And that by eating from another tree, one would come to know good and evil? And when it is said that God walked in the garden in the evening and that Adam hid himself behind a tree, I cannot imagine that anyone will doubt that these details point symbolically to spiritual meanings by using a historical narrative which did not literally happen. (translation by Marcus Borg)
So, how then do we read these ancient stories? We read them with the understanding that God is bigger than literalism. We read them them with a profound curiosity that feeds our ongoing thirst for God’s continuing creativity and voice. We read them with the pure and passionate hope that – if we listen – perhaps we too will hear God’s voice calling to the universe and calling to us. For it is an experience of God to which our sacred stories lead us.
Consider these questions:
- When is a time that you felt an experience of spirituality and/or God (or however you name the Divine)?
- How have you felt inspired by the Scriptures? What happened? What were the circumstances?
- How have you understood the Creation stories? Has this changed over time? How do you understand them now? How does science inform this perspective?
- Does Borg’s historical-metaphorical approach to the creation stories help you to grow in your faith? Or do you feel as though it hinders your faith?