The eyes of all

The sun stretches over the mountains
ready to offer this day a heartfelt hug.

Songs bounce on the wind from bird to bird to bird
to land in the ear of the Holy One.
Buds peak out of branches,
blushing against their grayish limbs.

Flowers – still waiting for showers of wind and rain

to baptize their petals – shout “Alleluia” nonetheless.

 

It’s the season of Lent – the world around me rejoices.

 

It’s the season of Lent – I shall join their chorus directed by God.

 

 

Based on Isaiah 49:8-15

© 2014, Scott Sears

Ask Almost Anything…Question about the beginning

How was there nothing in the beginning?

earth_from_spaceWhen I set out to do the sermon series “Ask Almost Anything” on the suggestion of our awesome Technical Director at First UMC, Princeton, I assumed I would get questions dealing with the burning issues of the day…abortion, sexuality, and as shown from the last blog entry – divorce.  I assumed these questions would come up because, well, they are questions that are on the hearts and minds of people everyday.  And yes, the majority of our questions fell into a category I would call “social” questions.

Yet, every once in a while, someone would text in with what I would call a purely “theological” question like the one I am answering today – “How was there nothing in the beginning?”  [This question takes me back to Divinity School days when I studied such things as creatio ex nihilio (creation from nothing) and creatio ex materia (creation out of some external matter) and creatio ex deo  (creation out of the very being of God).  However interesting the arguments may be for each of these positions they end up being just that…positions in arguments that one person likes and another person doesn’t.  Talking about them doesn’t usually get us anywhere fruitful.]

One of the very many things that I have learned in 20+ years of serving as a pastor is: “there is no such thing as a ‘yawnpurely theological’ question.”  I keep this in mind whenever I am asked something like this.  It keeps me from slipping back into one of those “positions” and into language that most of the time is just, well, boring.  There is usually something more to the question than just wanting to know about the “beginning of things” and there is something more than just wanting to ask a question that might stump someone…or at least make them think really, really hard.

Since these questions were given to me anonymously, I really don’t have any way of knowing what the question behind the question might be but for the sake of this answer, I am guessing that this person, whoever they may be, was wondering about the truthfulness of Scripture.

Most translations of Genesis 1:1-2 have the two verses separated as two complete sentences.  The NRSV – which I happen to prefer most of the time – does not.  It reads:

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.

Translation differences such as this one leads to the arguments about creation out of nothing, or creation being an “ordering” of chaos, or finally creation being something that came forth from God.  The two sentence translations lean toward “out of nothing” and the single sentence translations lean toward the “ordering of creation out of chaos.”  Either translation could be used for the idea that God created out of God’s own being.

What all these have in common and what ALL the translations of the Bible hold is that God was there in the beginning.  So, there has never been a time when there was “nothing”.  God has always been.  God is.  God will always be.  (Perhaps that is why God gave Moses the name “I am” when asked!  God simply is.)  On a side note…it is hard for me to imagine the existence of “nothing.”  Like “darkness,” which is really just the absence of light, “nothing” is the absence of “anything.”  Therefore, if “nothing” can’t exist on it’s own.  It’s just not logically possible.

Logical

So, even though the question of where this universe came from in the “beginning” is one that will be debated for a long time, the answer we choose doesn’t effect the Truth that Scripture is attempting to allow us to grasp – God created…therefore God was there in the beginning.  Scripture can be trusted to impart to us Truth…even if it isn’t as clear as to how to understand the truth that comes from that Truth.  (Yes…the use of capital letters is important here.)  Our task is to concentrate on the Truth – for that is what points us to God.

(And yes…I intend to see Star Trek this weekend!)  🙂  “Live long and prosper!”

Nest question: “What is the best way, when reading the Bible, to grasp a better understanding if you are unable to go to a study group?”

 

Ask Almost Anything (Leftovers…)

Over the course of receiving questions in our three week series of “Ask Almost Anything’ – a series where this preacher took anonymous text messages and emails from people in the congregation and community and answered them during Sunday worship – many topics came up.  Some of them came up  more than once.

During the first week, I received a question concerning “dinosaurs and creation.”  I tried to answer it broad enough to cover most of the questions that arise when science and the creation stories or other Biblical pericopes (stories that stand on their own within the Biblical text) seem to come at odds with one another.  However the following question was sent in at the end of both that first week and during the third week.

  1. When God created Neanderthals did he create them as animals or humans?

So, I think I wiIMBR-00228365-001ll revisit the topic a little.

It is important to remember that when we read the book of Genesis it is difficult to tell exactly how creation took place.  In Genesis 1:1 through 2:4a, we have one story of Creation:

1 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.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.adam-eve

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.

(Keep in mind that any chapter and verse divisions that appear in our Bibles are actually a MUCH later addition to the original manuscripts.  Because of this it is very apparent that verse one of Chapter Two is the ending to the story found in Chapter One.)

This story – the story of the Creation of the world in “six days” with “rest” proclaimed for the seventh, holy, Sabbath day is probably be the best known of the two Creation stories in Genesis and is the one that follows a “day by day” account of Creation.  It is “ordered” in such a way that many people have memorized what was created on each day and the Creation was not complete until the first man and first woman were created.

We know without a doubt that a second story about Creation is coming in the second half of verse four of Chapter two where it says: “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground…”  The language is clear.  Creation had not yet begun in this story.  Some very well meaning folks will attempt to say that Chapter two is just an “explanation” of the Creation story found in Chapter One, but a clear easy reading of the chapters just will not allow that assumption.  Look at the rest of the second Creation story:

 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12 and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”

It cannot be an explanation of the first story for the “order” of Creation is totally and completely different.  In story One, humankind is created last.  In story Two, man is created, then animals and finally woman.  They just don’t fit together.

So?  What does it mean for us to have two basically contradictory stories about Creation in the opening chapters of our Bible.

It really is not all that complex…We just don’t know exactly how God went about creating the heavens and the earth.  What we do know is equally simple to point out – God created them.

The next question we have to ask is “where does the Neanderthal” fit in either one of these stories.  We cannot dismiss their existence – we have found proof that they not only were on earth but that they also formed communities, hunted and even had “religion” in their life – burial ceremonies and artifacts point to worship of some kind.  The Neanderthals were real.

However, the Bible’s Creation stories make absolutely no mention of them, so there is no real way for us to know if the Neanderthal was “human” or “animal.”  We simply know that for some reason that is not covered by the Bible, the Neanderthal was “created” by God.

At times, we want Scripture to either explain science or vice versa.  Neither of these is being true to what the other is supposed to do.  Scripture is revelation of God given to us through human beings who are sometimes centuries removed from the events that took place.  Science is the observation of the world around us.  There is a lot of mystery between the two.

It is important, I think, not to allow scientific explanation to “take away” from the mystery of God’s creative power.  I also think it is equally important not to allow religious belief to dismiss science as untrue.  We can no longer deny scientific observations any more than we can stop breathing.  Those observations are there and we must deal with them.

The fact is that our Creation accounts make no mention of “Neanderthals.”  (Sure…some could speculate that this group is another part of God’s creation that may have provided spouses for the children of the first man and the first woman – but the Bible doesn’t say that either…It would be pure speculation on our part.

What we can be sure of is this…God created the Neanderthal (and any other sub-specie we may find and identify).  The Bible does not tell us whether they are human or animal, so we are left to make up our own mind given the great intellect that God has given us.

So, don’t let those seeming contradictions between religion and science throw you!  God created.  We observe.  We attempt to understand.  In those attempts we must be careful to hold onto what Jesus told us to do with one another – love each other – even in the face of disagreement.

Did God make the Neanderthal?  Yep.  Did God make the Neanderthal as an animal?  We don’t know.  Did God make the Neanderthal as a human?  Once more we don’t know.  God creates…that is all we know from these stories.

(Oh…that and the fact that even God took time off from Creation AND that the creation of humankind was never complete until both male and female were created…but that is probably a different question!)