by Emily Cockran
Ever since the rise of the “evolution vs. creation” debate surrounding Genesis 1, our culture has convinced us we must choose between the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson and our pastor to glean true wisdom. The “enlightened” community of both the academic and religious elites often force this dichotomy on communities of faith. The likes of Bill Nye would have us take up our test tubes and follow him rather than waste our genetically given reason on a text like Genesis.
On the other hand, some Christian leaders might encourage us to shield our minds from the evils of laboratories altogether. Postmodern presentations of history and literature often portray an inherent struggle between religion and science (Scopes Monkey Trial, anyone?). Too often cultural elites, religious leaders and academic giants judge our reasoning skills by what we believe about the origin of the universe. Essentially, whether by secular or religious influences, our capacity to think critically is judged according to how well we can swallow – or spit upon- the first verses of Genesis.
What if I told you that this dichotomy robs Christians of most of the theological riches of Genesis 1?
Don’t panic! I’m not saying you have to return your Creation Museum tickets. Rather, what I’m addressing has less to do with the so-called “religion vs. reason” dichotomy and more to do with what we can learn about God, the Trinity and our life in the Church by studying Genesis 1. Genesis 1 served as a catechetical resource and theological treasure trove before its crude dissection and dismemberment following the rise of Darwinian influence. We can say a great deal about Christ in the Old Testament and the presence of the Trinity from eternity, but I encourage you to read Luther and others more learned (and less limited by word count) than I for that sort of thing.
Genesis 1 was so well known as a catechetical resource that it historically has been called “The Hexaemeron” (‘hex’ meaning ‘six,’ reflecting the six days of creation). St. Augustine, for example, spent a good deal of his career writing to a world that had been steeped in Greco-Roman philosophy for the better part of a thousand years. One of his main texts for proposing the Scriptures belonged among great philosophical texts was none other than the Hexaemeron. Some of Augustine’s most prominent works investigate Genesis 1 in light of its place as chief chapter of the first book of the Christian corpus. Now, this doesn’t mean that we must endorse all of Augustine’s sayings, but rather that we ought to make ourselves more aware of the treasure trove of theological truths in this one chapter of Scripture. So let’s take a look at Genesis 1 as a type of catechism.
A type of catechism
We Lutherans love our catechisms. Our Small Catechism is often nestled next to our Bible on our bookshelves. Consider, though, what made Luther’s Small Catechism so easy to memorize in confirmation: There’s a rhythm to Luther’s writing. The constant repetition of “We should fear and love God so that…” in the Ten Commandments and the constant question of “What does this mean?” elsewhere better equips us to understand and commit the content to memory. So, let’s look to Genesis. There’s a sort of rhythm to the six-fold creation narrative: “God said,” “God made” and “God saw that it was good.”
What do we know about God from these verses? Let’s start with the very first: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The fact that there is a ‘beginning’ before which God existed indicates that God exists outside of time. Immanuel Kant famously noted that human beings process events in terms of space and time; therefore, we can conclude that God existing outside of time proves Him unique among other gods. Furthermore, the fact that God created indicates His omnipotence (especially in Augustine’s time, when people were accustomed to a god only fashioning out of preexisting matter, such as in Plato’s Timaeus).
Additionally, the fact that there exists a definite beginning implies a definite end; so just as God saw the world into existence, He will surely see the world until the end. In looking at Gen. 1:1, we have: (1) a God, (2) a God who creates rather than fashions, (3) the institution of time, and (4) assurance that God will see His creation through to the end. Such assertions may seem basic, but they are just the first of many assertions in Genesis, such as the teleology of creation (from telos, i.e. end or purpose), the mathematical significance of a six-fold creation process and even relationship of the Holy Spirit to Christ’s church. Cool, right?
To sum up, the riches of Genesis 1 don’t have to fall to the wayside as we discuss our beliefs with those who have signed over their souls to a television “science guy” whose degree is actually in engineering.
Emily Cockran lives in Fort Wayne, Ind., and teaches philosophy and history for Wittenberg Academy.