N.T. Wright on Genesis

As I mentioned last week, I have really been engaging with a lot of the resources available at the BioLogos website. This is an extremely helpful resource for Christians wanting to engage with understanding our faith, the Scripture and science.

As I said, I am ok with science informing our faith. All truth is God’s truth and, so, good science is God’s good truth. And science informing our faith, or beliefs about Scripture, has happened through the centuries. The greatest example is that of the 16th century when people like Copernicus and Galileo began to teach that we live in a heliocentric universe where the sun sits stationary in the middle and the planets revolve around it. This was contrary to the current geocentric opinion of the day that the earth was in the centre of the universe.

None of this was done to destroy the faith or what the Bible taught. Simply stated, the authors of Scripture were not able to engage with science like they were in the 16th century or even today. Thus, they described things as they saw them and understood them. It didn’t make them ‘wrong’ in the sense of making false statements in Scripture. Rather they were communicating truth within the context of their historical and cultural understanding of the world.

With regards to some of the issues of our understanding of Scripture, much discussion has centred around the early chapters of Genesis. Questions arise such as: Are the early chapters literal? Were Adam and Eve literal, historical figures? What is Genesis 1 teaching us about the ‘creation days’? And so on and so forth.

Below are two videos at the BioLogos website containing interviews with N.T. Wright on the the historicity of Adam & Eve as well as how the early chapters of Genesis related into the world of the New Testament times. Though the interviews are brief, I think some helpful light is shed on these issues.

Perelandra and Genesis

I’ve recently been reading the second book in the Space Triology of C.S. Lewis, Perelandra. The primary gist of the book is that Ransom, the main character, has travelled to the planet Venus (or Perelandra). And his old ‘nemesis’, Weston, has also found his way to the planet.

Perelandra is in a ‘pre-Fall’ state, meaning that sin, and all its consequences, have not yet hit this planet. Weston’s role is that of the tempter, specifically trying to allure the only lady of Perelandra into disobeying Maledil (God). Whereas the first temptation of Adam and Eve was centred around not eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the first couple of Perelandra have been commanded not to live on the Fixed Island, but rather stay on the islands that float along on the sea.

As, with the temptation of Adam and Eve, there is no ‘reason’ given for why the Perelandrians cannot live on the Fixed Island. Rather, this is simply an unexplained command of Maledil.

Now, for the Christian who reads the first few chapters of Genesis, we can wonder about such a command given by God to not eat of that specific tree. Why was it given? We are never really told why. Some conjecture might be formed around the words of God found in Genesis 3:22, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.’ God did not desire for humans to be like Him, trying to attain to divine status that alone belonged to Him. William Dumbrell puts it this way:

‘By eating of the fruit man was intruding into an area reserved for God alone, and the violation of the command is tantamount to an assertion of equality with God, a snatching at deity.’ (Covenant and Creation, p38)

But, still, the question can arise: Why did God command such in the beginning and never explain the reasoning for such a command? And this is where I find Ransom’s words to the lady of Perelandra very helpful:

‘I think He made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not only because they are His will. Where can you taste joy of obeying unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?’

Where can we taste the joy in obedience to our Father if we do not obey simply because He asked us? I know our inquisitive minds always want to know. It reminds me of the parent-child scenario where the parent says something cannot be done and the child asks, ‘But why?’ And the parent lovingly responds with the statement, ‘Because I said so.’

No specific explanation is given, but the loving parent is there to protect, guard and raise the child in things that are right. The desire of the child might not be specifically evil in and of itself, but the parent senses that the object of desire for the child should be withheld for the moment (or forever). Of course, we can think of abuses from parents in this situation. But I’m not taking time to address that here because I know our Father is loving and has our best in mind. I can’t explain it all, but I rest securely in that fact.

One theologian described the command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in this way:

‘Now the point of testing reduces itself to man’s willingness to choose obedience for the sake of obedience alone.  The raw word of God in itself must become the basis of man’s action.’ (The Christ of the Covenants, p84)

I like this as well. But I’m more drawn into the words of C.S. Lewis about tasting the joy of obeying our Father simply because our Father asked us, since He does know what is best for us. I thought that, whereas that early command to not eat of the fruit of that one specific tree (as they could eat from any other tree) can baffle us at times, Lewis’ words captured the heart of the early command of Genesis.

Beautiful words.

Even if I don’t always understand what God is asking of me, I want to get on and obey as a loving son. I see a smiling Father in the midst of such a response.