Thursday, January 05, 2023

God in the Gaps- Genesis 1 (2022)


[1] In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. [2] The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1–2 ESV)

Education is wasted on the youth. I now confess that when I was a young seminary student, I quickly moved past the volumes of debate regarding Genesis 1 and 2. It seemed foolish and speculative to identify any ‘gap’ of time between the two verses. I was too eager to just finish, I had things to do!

I was equally foolish to mention it in a sermon I got to preach at Harold Hills Evangelical Free Church in Romford, England in 1990 on Genesis 1. I don’t know if was my southern accent, youthful appearance, or casual, fly by comment - but I soon found that more than one elderly congregant wanted explanation, and I was ill equipped to defend it in exposition.

Once I started teaching apologetics in 2004, I was now into the material with new vigor and I poured over manuscripts that spoke of Masoretic texts, verb tenses, and Hebrew names for God.

It was also in Nashville, where I began to experience the ire of the ‘Answers in Genesis’ people if I even breathed a belief in a GAP of time between Genesis 1:1 and 2 or 2 and 3 and I was taken to task as dishonoring the text. (More on that in a minute).

I never seek to place things in the GAP even if I believe it is there…. That would be to me  the ‘foolish speculation” of I Timothy. I don’t want to add information that the Lord has chosen to keep secret (Deut. 29:29).

But there is plenty of literary evidence to support Genesis 1: 1 and 2 as a ‘stand alone’ apart from the narrative that follows.

Skeptics get angry when Christians add God to the GAPS- the mysteries that science can’t answer…. But Christians get angry when a Genesis commentary mentions the GAP theory with anything but skepticism.

I have landed on the narrative telling us that God began creation on a ‘formless, dark,  and void’ mass of material that He created out of nothing (Ex nihilo).

Ex Nihilo is easier to prove- almost all ancient Jewish texts support that this was the common belief understood throughout Old Testament scholarship. It flies into the face of materialists, who hold the stuff has just always been here… but Scripture begins with a bold assertion, God has no beginning, but He did create the beginning. He is the great Uncaused Cause.

God didn’t find the stuff formless and void…. He created the formless and void like a lump of clay.

If someone disagrees with me, I won’t question their salvation.

Now, it is important that I don’t use this as a cop out over the age of the universe. I guess we can explore a little of that here….. Here is a little of my journey.

I vividly remember my first encounter with evolution in the classroom. I was in 6th grade at Robinson Elementary (1974ish) and the mere mention of an unguided process that over eons of time turned a germ into a monkey and then into a man was laughable to me.

I don't know if the two visceral reactions were connected- but my 'red flag' aversion to evolution was equally comparable to my anger toward racism. At the core of my being, these views collapsed right in front of my deep grained instinct that the Creator was there and He was just and good. And I was not a ‘believer’ at the time, but my predispositions were already God directed- He was already working on me.

This class was prone to tough debates and I remember the interesting realization that I was in the minority. It's funny, but my weakest argument to these elementary debaters was my firm stance on the six day creation account. But God was big enough for the miracle... He could have done it in six seconds!

"Everyone knows that the universe is millions of years old"
"Oh Yeah?" I said.

Do you believe me? I so remember it and I specifically remember being a science skeptic from my early years. I trusted God and I did not trust men. If God's story and man's story were in conflict...I'm taking God. I still get concerned over bias and truth in science, but I also realize that honest science is self correcting as well as honest theology.

"Science gives us the full accord of facts- It costs the church a severe struggle to give up one interpretation and adopt another- but no evil need to be apprehended- The Bible still stands in the presence of the whole scientific community, unshaken”
Charles Hodge- Princeton 1829

As I got older, and actually became a Christ follower, my argument grew more 'sophisticated'-

'A very smart man still has little perspective on time. He may know 75 years....possibly a select few know 100....but no one truly can perceive 1,000- let alone 1 million"

I will tell you that a ‘young earth believer’  in Genesis has a pretty simple apologetic. God said it and that settles it. He was there and you weren't. I believe in one miracle, GOD. You have to believe in millions of miracles without Him.

My next interesting skirmish was in Birmingham in the mid 1990’s.. I was teaching at a Christian school and we hosted Hugh Ross for a weekend. It seemed to be fine until Hugh got an audience with our Bible department. I remember sitting in the school library. My recollection was the audience was very small, three or four Bible teachers, our pastor, and a history teacher.

Hugh Ross had barely started before the theologians attacked with their guns blazing.
"How dare you teach this day age stuff?" "You are out of your field and have no right to make theological applications." "You have undone Romans, you have destroyed the gospel, in your view there is death before sin and death cannot happen before sin."

I was shocked and I was embarrassed. Though I still believed in my literal, young earth view,  I saw Hugh Ross as a man who proclaimed Jesus and taught a high view of Scripture.

I also need to say that I have deep respect for the Bible teachers. They loved Jesus and the gospel and knew the Bible so deeply. But this was a hot button topic. I loved them, but I did not agree with the nature of the ‘debate’.

It even got to the point that some in our Bible department would not label a college 'Christian' unless it taught a young earth and a literal six day creation.

My questioning would get me small splashes of indignation. It is the mischievous side of me that kind of sadistically enjoys the turmoil.
 "Who says there can't be death before sin?"
"What if it meant spiritual death... or human death?"
"Did Adam not step on an ant?"
"Did the serpent eat bananas?" I know...stupid!

But they were settled. In their mind, the slippery slope to liberalism begins when a person compromises Genesis 1. Once you begin... where does it stop? If the day is not literal, how can we say Adam and the garden are not figurative?

For a long time after that, I was the 'good-natured young earth guy'. I held firm to my position, but did not question the faith of any 'old-earther' I ran into. There were times where I didn't know what was more shocking to them. The fact that I was young earth or the fact that I was accepting of others who weren't.

I mentioned earlier that I moved to Nashville and began teaching apologetics in 2003. My department leader was ‘old-earth’ and he seemed ok with my young earth view. The only time I got him riled up at all was my 'young earth that appears old' argument. He said it makes God deceitful. I never really agreed with that rebuttal because general revelation only declares that God is there; it takes special revelation to give out the details that He wants us to have.

 It would not bother me at all if I found an antique storage chest in my father's workshop.
"Wow, dad, this is amazing."
"How did you make this? It looks 200 years old!"
"I finished it this morning, son."
So a five minute tree in Eden had 35 rings... and it keeps a Biblical theme.. things are not always what they seem.

My apologetics studies led me at first into the writings of evidentialists and the weapons against macro-evolution. You have to understand that hearing arguments against Darwin were thrilling to me. I hated what Darwin had done to the church. I remember that sheer anger I felt when I watched 'Inherit the Wind' and saw the biased attack on my faith. So how could I not cheer when I read about irreducible complexity, and the Cambrian explosion, and the faulty Miller Urey experiment.. and on and on.

But a funny thing happened. As I read the evidence I had to admit that there was no doubt that evolution was true. The slight, successful changes in species had ample evidence, even I could see that. But the extrapolation of that theory into a naturalistic world-view which helped kick God out of classrooms and relegated faith to a 'stay at home' private thing was offensive. It didn't help that all of the neo-darwinists would take all kinds of explanations for life.... including aliens.. as long as God wasn't mentioned. I have to be honest here as well, the dominance of macro-evolutionary dogma is also a mistake by the church. The retreat of evangelicals away from the debate after ‘Origin of the Species’ was published did not help. Thankfully, some have stayed and worked and stayed steady in the discourse.

And you can’t win the argument versus the ones who double down on their refusal to believe in God. Macro-evolution criticism is not relevant as neo-darwinists evolve themselves into arguments of closed and open systems and the only limits on their theories  is their creativity.

My young earth views were greatly helped by Douglas Kelly's excellent book "Creation and Change". But I also was helped by reading Einstein's biography and going back into Hugh Ross from time to time. I saw the two camps (young and old) BOTH as being tools to spread the gospel. Young earthers reach traditionalists and old earthers reach post-moderns. God has people in every sphere with a high view of Scripture and a love for gospel proclamation.

I even developed a 'power point' where I helped to clarify a lot of mistakes we make in the church. It demonstrated how the Big Bang theory actually helps a theistic worldview and how I.D. could be a rival to macro-evolution in the science classroom.

My next funny moment was when I was asked to speak at a Creation Conference at a Christian school across town that was also a big sports rival to our school. I knew that my power-point was going to be picked to death by the 'Answers in Genesis' people. My mentioning of Intelligent Design was anathema to them and they took me to task in the gymnasium that day. The students loved it! The rival football coach was getting grilled! After I answered their main criticism a few other panel speakers came up to me. 'I thought you made a great point". I thought 'thanks for speaking up for me'. But in a weird way, I enjoyed it.

 I did spend some time going back to Genesis and considering again: Day Age concepts, Analogical Days,Fiat Days, and Framework Views. I prayed and read and wrestled. If I haven’t said this before now, I better do it now. I admit that I am not a scientist or a theologian... so I doubt I will ever be the last word on anything. 

A final note regarding time (and once again, I lean young earth that looks old because it was created already working). And this is why I stopped writing on this many. Many times.

This is a long chapter and will be a long journey. It is truthful for me to say, I wrote this post in 21 days (actual hours writing it), in 15 years (actual time I have started, stopped, and edited it), in TWO YEARS! (time it took to start and finish)..... So there is enough relativity and perspective in time to allow room to be truthful in communication.

Six days and rest has often impressed me as a pattern for man rather than a treatise on time.

At the same time, the text does day ‘morning and evening’, so we will have to see if time can be relative as we read that section.

Let me close with this- I don't take Genesis as a science text but I also do not believe it is antithetical to scientific discovery. Gos is the God of all truth.

It angers people to just throw God in the gaps where we are limited and justifiably, we can be accused of intellectual laziness to not probe into the abyss with honest questions and healthy skepticism.

But to throw out this account wearing scientific glasses is dangerous- there is something deep and beautiful here if you take time to think in terms of context and reality.

Honestly, I find Genesis 1-3 the high point of the Old Testament. God pulls no punches as He re-introduces Himself to the people who so quickly leave Him behind. Come and walk with me through this grand story!

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