Monday, May 20, 2019

How you start is how you go.

Recently I attended a previous church with a friend who remains part of that generally excellent congregation.

The sermon took a look at Genesis 1.

Here's my take on it, shared with the minister:

After sermons the service reader often feels the urge to summarise, adding their usually unnecessary two bits worth to the preacher’s work of hours. But I was impressed on Sunday the fifth of May when she added the memorable words: “God created with order and rhythm, you are not random.”

Most sermons I’ve heard on Genesis 1 have concentrated on the exegetical details: we’ve heard about ‘days’ and how long they are (or not), about light being created before the sun, about man looking after the fish (well, no, no one talks about that); but little about the grand theology of this most significant passage.

I was pleased that you looked into this, talking about the God who speaks and by this relates to his creation (reminiscent of the title of Schaeffer’s famous book) with rational effect; whose will causes creation, and I agree, immediately at the motion of his will: at the utterance of his word.

He is God who is love and whose love produces a creation that is consistent with his nature and reflective of his being, ‘ruled’ by creatures to seek his loving objective.

But one could go much further. He is God who creates the place for fellowship: the creation is the first tabernacle in a way, where God and man-in-his-image are in fellowship in a commutative reality made for that purpose: where the substance of fellowship has bidirectional potency with mutuality of personhood and significance.

To effect this the creation account is and has to be embedded in the same reality to which it gives ostensible effect, with its meaningful results cut from the same cloth as the account. And I must disagree; there are not 12, or even 2 creation accounts in the Bible, but one. The other mentions depend upon and illuminate this only recounting of events.

If this were not so, then there would be a profound disjunct between the world we have and the world depicted in the creation account. This would destroy any real link between the account and the world in which it would have congruent meaning (allowing no continuous ontology, if you want a technical phrase) and leave us agnostic as to origin and relations. Its recitation of events would be relegated to impassive myth with no real connection to event or content that the world imposes on us, circumscribing our life-experience and making the context for relationship with God.

The key message of the account, to my mind, builds on the fundamental reality, the ‘first philosophy:’ that God is, and is persons in relationship. Reality is not first material with ‘god’ defined within it, but its the other way; reality is first personal and God defines what is and how it works by the first demonstration of this recounted in Genesis 1 as a constant real-world event sequence. This sequence conducts meaning as it is in the terms of our life in that world.

Thus the message of the timing and sequence of the creation: the days, clearly defined as ‘evening and morning’ type days (so described as the separation of darkness followed the creation of light) and enumerated to drive that point. The further point this makes is important. God is in and makes the reality that we experience. His fellowship is ‘in time’ as well as reaching to us ‘in space’. There is no idealist or Zen occulting veil that obscures relationship.

Our encounters with God are real and engage us in real space-time experiences. We have a certainty of fellowship and a fellowship that is again bi-directionally connected: we in space-time, God the creator of and also actor in that space-time; yet at the same time being beyond, above and before it. The details and their realist import drive the theology.

It is impossible to understate the importance of time in Genesis 1. It is not a decoration, an ordering device or a literary manoeuvre. It is the conduit of the eternal God in fellowship by showing that he acts in the time that constrains us and uses it in exactly the way we use it: to separate events, sequence action and structure order. It is essential in overturning the pagan default that the universe ‘just is’ and the ‘gods’ remote, unloving and impersonal, demonstrating the intimacy of God’s creative action.

For a religion, the Bible uniquely connects the action of God with our action of and experience in that real world; there is no world-denial, no ‘dream-time’ timelessness, no Zen vacuity, and no idealist obfuscation.

It would be a great pity if fantasies such as the much hailed, but completely wrong-headed ‘framework hypothesis’ were allowed to unseat this great and astonishing fact (which properly presented is riveting to non-believers: the world we walk on is the world created in a six-step sequence marked by the time that we mark our days).

Retreat into a paganised liberal-idealism puts ‘god-talk’ in some other undefined reality to which we have no access. It denies the concrete-realism of the Bible as it tells us that God acts in this world that he created in a manner that aligns with our experience of it.

Abandon this and we have no message of hope, because we stand in the same ‘cloud of unknowing’ as the pagan, the gospel severed from what is really real, grasping after what a text that is disconnected from the world is supposed to tell us about the world that it doesn’t describe.

The upshot is, if Genesis 1 is not true to events, then something else happened, and it is that (unknown and unknowable) ‘something else’ which is really real, orients our lives, defines who we are and what the universe is. But we can’t know what this is and can have no confidence that God really did create with order and rhythm if the account is not accurate to events.

Without this confidence we do end up as ‘random’. Materialists have stepped right up to tell us that we are random chemical accidents in a loveless and impersonal universe where the only reality is pathetic pride in its emptiness. Their mission is advanced when we say that the Bible cannot structure the real and is unreliable as to the basis of our fellowship with our creator.

I also referred him to a critique of the Framework Hypothesis by Pipa.

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