These are the chronicles of the esoteric . . .
in the beginning: a response
Recently, in their monthly publication, The Messenger, the Evangelical Mennonite Conference (EMC) ran a two-part article series by Rick Bettig exploring ideas of science and Scripture, particularly in the area of a literal creation story versus a figurative one. Initially, I was surprised to find such blatant advocacy of one side of the debate, but the subject is increasingly pervasive in scientific and theological circles. In our day and age, with science rising as a god of its own making thanks to the Enlightenment, the question of creation is becoming more and more pertinent. Is the universe divinely designed and created? Or is the reality we know a product of random chance? Have humans evolved or are they never-changing?
Within Christian circles, the debate has no fewer teeth. Christian scientists and philosophers argue over whether Adonai governed the process of evolution or whether He created the universe 'as-is.' There are plenty of resources to adequately defend either side, but there are also plenty of haphazard and desperate attempts at holding traditional perspectives with an icy, frightened death-grip.
Pastor Bettig, in his first article, attempts to establish an introduction of his encounter with science, and how, as he puts it, 'God ultimately used science to draw [him] toward a firm belief in a literal six-day creation.' Throughout this process, Bettig subtley pits science against Christianity in a battle for who holds the most truth; his quest to understand the method by which Adonai created the universe jumps from evolutionary theories to 'biblical' creationism, seemingly placing the two in direct opposition despite his initial conceiving of their compatibility.
But it needn't be that way. In fact, it shouldn't be that way.
The church has an unfortunate history of readily condemning scientific advances in place of holding on to tradition. The Christian physicist, astronomer, mathematician and philosopher Galileo Galilei of the 16th century, for example, was sentenced to indefinite house arrest and was banned of publishing any works simply for defending before the Catholic authorities Nicolaus Copernicus' work on heliocentrism. The reason for the condemnation was 'heresy,' as the notion of the sun moving around the earth seemingly contradicted Scripture passages such as Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, and 1 Chronicles 16:30, which state in various ways that the earth is established upon a firm foundation and will not be moved - or Ecclesiastes 1:5 which notes the sun's movement of rising and setting.
In Pastor Bettig's second article, he blatantly and unabashedly lines evolution and creation up as two conflicting belief systems. While I don't wholeheartedly believe in evolution, to boil the Genesis creation story and a scientific theory down to two contradictory and opposing worldviews does significant harm to both theology and science. Such literal readings of Scripture are actually misreadings, neglecting not only the original context of the passages but also their intended effects, leaving me to conclude that biblical criticism was entirely ignored as a valid scholarly pursuit during the discussion. In particular, form criticism, which attempts to identify a passage's genre and thereby determine its inceptive meaning, seems to have been completely disregarded.
The Hebrew Scriptures consist of a handful of different literary genres, such as poetry, prose, hymns, and genealogy. Many scholars label the first eleven books of Genesis as myth - which is not to be infused with the modern sense we get from it. Myth in this context simply denotes a narrative that is expressed using particular traditional themes and motifs that are different from everyday language and experience - a myth allows a significant event to be told in such a way that the inner meaning and the purpose of the event is conveyed despite not having all the 'scientific facts.'1 They are neither historical, nor anti-historical. Neither scientific, nor anti-scientific.
In this way, to read Genesis 1-3 as a scientific textbook does the brilliance of the Genesis myth an injustice - and creates problems for people trying to faithfully read Scriptures and keep theology relevant amidst modernism's scientific disposition. A myth contains elements of truth, but they are not to be taken as completely factual. Thus, the purpose of the Genesis creation story is not to inform us of the exact method and time-frame with which Adonai created the universe, as Pastor Bettig would have us believe. Nay, the narratives of Genesis 1-3 were initially told as a contrast to circulating creation beliefs that declared multiple dieties and the subordination of humankind under them. Additionally, the stories were told to show that objects such as the sun, the moon and the stars were not dieties in themselves, but were also merely created things of the universe.
The stories depict a world created perfect by a single loving and personal Creator that is then marred by humanity as a result of the freedom given us by said Creator. There is nothing in the Scriptures to suggest a denial of science. In fact, the story of the Bible shows us that Adonai uses people (and animals) from within the world to exact His will - what's to say He can't use systems to bring about His purposes? He did set them in place after all. To say that Adonai used methods such as evolution in no way diminishes the revelatory (and divine) nature of Scripture - the Bible is infallible in the sense that it succesfully portrays Adonai's personality and His concern with not only the human creature but also the entire cosmos.
And so there is plenty of room for science in Christian theology, as we explore the depths of the universe our God has created and placed us in. We forget that early scientists sought to reveal the workings of a created world for its Creator's glory.
Adonai's fingerprint is in the world as much as it is in Scripture - and both must be read carefully and in context. For there is a time and a place for literal readings of Scripture. But the Genesis creation stories are neither.
1. Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1984), 130.
My friends and I hiking the path
up Mount Temple.
I live my life in the mountains.
This past Friday, my friends and I packed into two vehicles and drove 16 hours to the Albertan mountain ranges with the intent of summiting Mount Temple. We arrived with time enough to set up camp, prepare our bags, and attempt to sleep despite our excited minds and nervous bodies.
Saturday morning came, early for all. We moved in the 4AM dark, grabbing our stuff and heading to the trail - we started the hike well before the sun had even given thought to rise. With only our headlamps and the dim light of the moon, we pressed on in the dusk, keeping our eyes on our steps, treading the stones and roots as we rose higher and higher.
Marching in the dark, I closely watched the feet in front of me. Looking right or left only showed me shadows, but I knew if I strayed too far from the trail I'd find a drop. I had an understanding of where we were headed, and I knew the path would be a challenging one, but with every turn and zig-zag in the dark - with every push to put the right foot in front of the left and the left in front of the right - it became apparent to me that this foreign terrain was in fact familiar.
In my life I tread a narrow path, unsure of what lays before me beyond the zig-zags of switch-backs. I know where I want to go, but the path is a dark one - a path whose footing is not revealed until I take my step upon it. And the path can be a dangerous one. With a wrong step, a misplacing of the foot, and I would go tumbling. Surefootedness is key; knowing where to place each step is crucial. But sometimes the footing looks sure, yet gives way once weight is pressed onto it. And sometimes the trail turns to scramblingskram-buh-ling (aka alpine scrambling).
A method of ascending rock faces and ridges, especially with the use of hands (usually for balance). - or screeskree (aka talus).
An accumulation of broken rock fragments, typically shaped in a concave upwards form. The word scree comes from the Old Norse word for 'landslide' and commonly refers to a mixture of gravel and loose dirt. - and each step is a struggle to keep me going forward. I start to doubt every turn I make, every step I take - I start to second-guess every move. But if I give up or grow careless, it means injury or death. If I hesitate at too many places and waver with uncertainty, I fall behind and don't accomplish anything save exhaustion. So with laboured breath, I must maintain focus and press onward.
With determination and trust in those around me, I can keep moving upwards. Yet sometimes, when I think I'm making good progress, I look up in the dim light and find I'm barely half-way, I find there's miles to go. And the way ahead looks worse than the way behind - steeper, clumsier, more unstable. Higher, further, almost impossible. And I begin to wonder if there's any point.
What's the use in such effort to get to a summit I may not even be able to climb? Why should I bother keeping on the path? Why not turn back to where I feel safe on the flat of ground, far below amongst the rest of the world?
Why not given up going up mountains and do something easy, something safe, something unchallenging?
Why? Because when I get to a point where I can survey how far I've come, the view is beautiful. Because when I get a chance to rest and catch my breath, I can feel how much I've grown and been strengthened. Because even though for weeks the summit is covered in clouds, those few hours where you can see right to the top you know it'll be worth it once you're there.
Because even though the way is difficult, narrow, challenging, and seemingly never ends (or ends at nowhere), the journey is important, pushing boundaries is important, being tested is important. Because even though I get tired or don't feel like it's worth the effort or have doubts about the summit - or dream of flatter land - I know my place is on the path, marching upwards.
Even when the way is dark and I can't breathe, I know I won't be left lost and wandering on the mountains. I may live my life up here, but one day I'll reach the summit.