Over the weekend, I posted an article about a feature-length documentary entitled, From the Dust. The film is a project of Highway Media and The BioLogos Foundation, and it’s purpose is to tackle some of the most important questions in the science-faith dialogue. The film interviews a wide variety of theologians, educators, and scientists, which allows it to be very informative, as well as carrying a kind of ‘pastoral’ flavour to it (since some of the theologians consulted are also pastors). The trailer for From the Dust can also be found in my previous post. And, as I shared, the video can now be rented/purchased from iTunes.
Yesterday, I watched the 1-hour and 7-minute documentary. I very much appreciated what the film had to offer, especially knowing that it consulted a god group of theologians that I respect. I would concur with this statement of the filmmaker, Ryan Petty: As a result of this project, the book of Genesis has become more alive and more dynamic than I had ever allowed it to be.
That’s my testimony as well as I’ve come to engage some of the theological and scientific dialogue around issues concerning the early chapters of Genesis – mainly noting that there is something bigger and more creative going on than a simple laying out a detailed journalistic account. The idea of God using [what we call] evolutionary processes to bring about his good creation used to be the most awkward and difficult thing to consider. Quite offensive! But here is the thing, or at least one thing that helped me as I began to consider in the early days of engaging with such an idea: When I ponder the nature of God, I don’t find evolution (that is purpose-directed evolution) as incompatible with what we know about his character.
Here’s what I mean by that.
As the title of this article says, God is a God of process. He accomplishes many of his plans through processes. Certainly, things happen instantaneously, and when I say instantaneously I mean, for example, something taking place over a couple of minutes or at the snap of a finger, as opposed to say months or years or centuries or millennia or billions of years. Remember, I come from a charismatic background that believes and has known the miraculous works of God. Still, God is also very process-orientated.
Think about it.
Think of the transformation of the character of his people, what we normally call sanctification. Why not an instant BOOM and we are just like Christ?
Think of the extended period of time for the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham of a land for his descendants. Why not receive the land, say, a week later?
Think of the long period until the coming of Jesus Christ. Why the waiting of centuries upon centuries for the exact representation of God-in-the-flesh to come? Much pain could have been avoided, right?
Think of the two millennia wait thus far for the return of Christ to fulfil all things. Again, God knows how much agony and suffering could have been avoided if this had happened even just a few centuries after Christ’s resurrection!
Think of how Scripture did not drop out of heaven but came to us over an elongated period of centuries upon centuries, as God’s people crafted together the storied account of Israel coming to know their God, who is made clearest in the person of Jesus. We don’t believe Scripture simply appeared, although we might ponder that being a nice prospect.
Think of the kingdom of heaven being likened to leaven being slowly worked through dough. Why not an instantaneous zap?
And to speak of natural things.
Why the 9-month process for the formation of a baby in its mother’s womb?
Why does the harvesting of varying crops take seasons, if not a few years, before any fruit is bore?
Why do animals and trees and plants and so much more take time to grow to maturity? A bit faster might have its benefits.
And, to speak of creation, even if one wants to argue for six, literal, 24-hour periods, why not an instantaneous creation, all at once? He is God. He can do as he wants. Speak and BOOM, there it is. That’s real, miraculous creation, right? [Note: This is actually something like what Augustine argued – everything being simultaneously created and that the 6 days represent only a logical framework in which to communicate about creation.]
From what I can tell, God marvels in process. It doesn’t mean everything has to be done through long processes. But neither are we left with everything having to be done instantaneously. We are left with both. Therefore, we can easily conclude that God marvels in both the spontaneous and in the process.
As I watched From the Dust, I really appreciated how some of the theologians and scientists (Christians as well) interviewed had noted that science does not directly speak to the questions of philosophy and purpose. Or, to say it another way: science does not proclaim theism or atheism. We believe creation proclaims the glory of God (Ps 19; etc). But scientific study of the vast creation does not speak to whether there is or is not purpose in creation. Rather science studies the processes seen in nature and looks to diagnose that which can be determined from the scientific method. It’s a more theo-philosophical perspective that speaks to purpose, God-driven purpose in creation, regardless of the period of time it took.
Of course, I think there are many theological aspects of Scripture that could be considered – which I hinted at in some of the comments on my previous article. But what I am becoming more and more aware of in my study is that Scripture is not mainly given as a kind of straightforward, journalistic historical document. On that, I’m quite clear. Meaning, God and the community of God’s people never sat down and said: We are going to shape the holy Scriptures in such a way that it must be 100% direct historical reporting.
We can see the wide breadth of Scriptural genres right through Genesis to Revelation. Of course, I would definitely agree that Scripture is based within history. But there is a difference between being a) an exact, straightforward, historical document and b) something formed within actual history. Thus, as any theologian will note, Scripture must also be engaged on a literary level. It’s easy to see this within the poetry of the Psalms and the parables of the prophets and Jesus. They are easily identifiable as non-literal literature. However, the same must be considered across all of Scripture: even within various portions of Genesis or Judges or the Gospels.
This is why, when we look closely at the early chapters of Genesis, we see aspects of poetic literature. It’s not a fully comprehensive poem. But it holds such characteristics of Hebrew poetry like parallelism, 3 days of forming, 3 days of filling, use of Hebrew words to play-off words from other ancient near eastern origin’s accounts, etc. Something beautiful is being created here – something more akin to a Shakespearean flavour than the Wall Street Journal.
And there is much more we could consider from a theological framework. Of course, that’s the perspective from which I usually approach things, since I am no scientist.
But noting some of these theological aspects, the major one I’ve presented here being that God is a God of processes, we find that we don’t have to be offended at billions of years for an unfolding and glorious creation. We don’t have the pressure of trying our best to explain how dinosaurs and humans co-existed (as some would argue since they were both created on day 6). We don’t have to explain away fossils that date millions upon millions, or even billions, of years old. Nor do we have to formulate a perspective that says there is a massive time gap between Gen 1:1 and 1:2.
We simply recognise that the Scripture does not come to us as a science textbook. Nor is it a journalistic, straightforward account of history. I don’t open Scripture to teach me science. I open it to understand Israel’s storied account as the people of Yahweh, moving into the account of Jesus, as God’s Messiah, who fulfilled what Israel could not and did not, all through his life, death, resurrection and enthroning as Lord over all.
And that, my friends, that brief summary of Scripture’s narrative, unfolded over a very long time. Which brings us back to the truth that God is a God of processes. He marvels at such. He’s not sitting around tapping his foot, waiting for each thing to happen as quick as possible. Somehow, the perfect One revels in an unfolding creation, an unfolding redemption, an unfolding story that will one day be summed up in Jesus Christ.
Let’s celebrate our God, the God of patient processes.