By Lee Karl Palo
© 2014 Lee Karl Palo
Is it six 24 hour days that God created the Heavens and the Earth?
One of the problems I see, looking at debates about how to understand Genesis, is that the creation texts are constantly held up against science. Conservative and fundamentalist interpreters often defend the Genesis 1 creation account as an accurate scientific description of how God created the universe, while liberal, progressive, and moderate interpreters tend to use science to demonstrate how Genesis 1 is not scientific. Given that I am writing a book about Genesis 1-11, this just doesn’t make sense to me.
Until the Cokesbury Christian Bookstores were closed in 2013, I was the manager of the Seattle store, and every now and then someone would engage me in a discussion of some religious topic. One day there was a fundamentalist who came in to the store and talked with me, insisting that Genesis 1 must be seen as scientifically true. I am neither a fundamentalist, nor would many people consider me conservative. Now being a bookstore manager means it is not my place to engage in debate with customers.
In this case I drew a quick diagram on a piece of scratch paper (similar to the one below). The first column had days 1, 2, and 3. The second column had days 4, 5, and 6. I drew arrows going from the first three days to the second three days.
I mentioned to the customer that the spaces created in the first three days are filled in the second three days. Day 1 is light/dark and day/night, while Day 4 is the sun, moon, and stars to fill the day/night. Day 2 has the sea and sky, while Day 5 has fish and birds to fill the sea and sky. …and the same is true for Day 3’s relationship to Day 6. The sixth day has animals and human beings filling the space created on the third day (the land and the plants).
I didn’t say anything else, but the customer asked if he could keep the diagram (which I let him do). What I wanted to ask him was, “how does that pattern look anything like a scientific account?” Does it not look much more like poetry, albeit one with theological content?
Fundamentalists expect to have science used against them (see Ken Ham). Rather, use the literary quality of the text itself to show how the text is meant to be understood. Thus my method (in contrast to the typical “liberal” method of using science against “fundamentalist” interpretation) is to reveal the literary conventions of the text, and in so doing, undermine fundamentalist interpretation.
You may ask, “What does Lee think about whether Genesis 1 intends six 24 hour days?” The short answer is “Yes, the text really does intend people to understand creation in terms of six days.”
Framing creation in terms of a week drives home the centrality of Sabbath observance (read Exodus 20:11). The week of creation is to be understood as an allegory for how the Sabbath is integral to the rhythms of time at creation and in the present. Listening to people talk about how a thousand years is as a day to God is just nonsense in this context. It is a clever way of taking the story of Genesis 1 literally, while not taking the days literally. …and it completely misses the theological point of the importance of the Sabbath, which is the purpose for using days in the first place.
© 2014 Lee Karl Palo