I signed up to teach the Sabbath school lesson study this coming week at Advent Hope. I'm starting my study of it now, and I haven't even read through the whole week's lessons, but as I was thinking about Genesis 1 I came up with some thoughts I'm looking forward to sharing with my class. In fact, I couldn't wait, so I'm writing about it now. (For those of you who may be reading this and are planning on coming to my class next Sabbath, please don't give it away. Just kidding.)
The topic this week is Creation. A literal, 7-day creation. I was pretty excited to teach this lesson. First of all I'll probably qualify that I am a violinist, not a scientist, so I don't want to get deeply into the scientific evidence or lack thereof. That's really not what I'm interested in anyway in this particular lesson. What I'm more interested in is: how our knowledge about the character of God leads us to faith in real, literal creation.
There are a couple of great questions that arise with the study of the first chapter of Genesis. First of all, why do so many people, Christians as well as atheists, disbelieve the literal 7-day creation story? The answer, I guess (but what do I know what they're thinking) is that when you read it, it looks like a myth. It's written too simply. It looks too easy. It looks too good to be true. Compared to what scientists, as well as 6th grade Life Science students, know, God's account is no more believable looking than the story of the god who laid and egg which hatched and became the earth and sky.
We've been continually cautioned since childhood that "if something looks too good to be true, it probably is." The idea of a god or even God looking at some formless void and simply saying "Let there be..." and there is--in one day--is silliness. This is as far as it gets to the atheist. But to the Christian, it could be a struggle, because they believe other things in the Bible, but they can't believe in the Creation Story because it's simple and silly. So, how much of the Bible should they believe? Which parts? How do you know? Come to think of it, read Revelation 22, regarding the end, and if anything else seems too good to be true, that's certainly it!
To answer this, let's look at the answer to a seemingly unrelated question. As a musician, when I tackle a new piece of music to learn or teach my students, do I start with the hard parts in the middle, or do I start at the beginning, or what? What's difficult about this piece, what makes it hang together? If I start at the beginning I often get hung up on the first page, and it takes me a long time to get to the middle or the end of the piece. Sometimes I start at the end and work my way backwards, but it's often hard to get a real picture of the whole piece unless I find the central form.
Students of the Bible should look at this question, too. Here's my suggestion: Start in the middle. Let's say, the Gospels, also the prophets. Work your way out to the beginning and the end, Genesis 1 and Revelation 22. Why? Because it's the middle of the Bible where you really get to know God's character. The character of a God who would be willing to take on human, really human, characteristics and go through really human situations. There are no mythological fantasy ideas about a normal-looking man (we have no particular physical description of him) from a small town who worked in his father's carpenter shop and whose brothers made fun of him. No fantastic descriptions dazzle us when we read about how Mary rode on a donkey and went into labor so quickly that she had to make a makeshift delivery room out of an average barn. Nothing spectacular about a man who had enemies powerful enough to get him executed.
But there is something supernatural about a man who never made mistakes. Who loved the brothers who mocked him. Who was not afraid of what people think if he touched a leper. Who let his enemies kill him, even though he did nothing to deserve it. And who proved that death has no power over God's power.
There's also a lot to learn about a God who could influence a person to leave everything he had and move to a new land (Abraham), follow her mother-in-law out of respect for her family (Ruth), risk her life to beg the king for the deliverance of her people (Esther), preach for years warning the people about something called "rain" that would destroy the entire earth, then get into the boat (Noah), or cut the corner of his enemy's coat off with his sword when he was vulnerable, but not kill him (David).
When you start by studying God's character through the lives of His beloved people and through His own life on earth, then you can work your way out, and suddenly the stories become more believable, because you realize that "with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26). And nothing is too good to be true.