God is Near: Book Discussion #1

book discussionMaybe I’ll come up with a more clever series title but let’s try this out. If you haven’t read the book don’t worry, there should be enough discussion of scripture and of the Christian life in general to give these posts merit. If you don’t know what book I’m talking about it read this page. 

The process of writing God as Near as it exists in its final published form took place over a 2 year period of time, more or less. The first 4 or 5 chapters in particular have been around a while. Chapter 1 deals extensively with the creation story recorded in Genesis and Chapter 2 begins with a quick summary of the Noah story. As publication drew near I decided to leave those chapters alone and ignore certain recent events which are more suited for blogging anyway.

When the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate took place in February I made a prediction beforehand. I stated publicly that “no good can come of this.” We can discuss the events of Genesis 1 and 2, we can analyze data from the scientific community, we can talk about what we each believe until Jesus comes back – literally. Here’s my problem with having a debate: who decides the winner? A debate is a very specific sort of activity designed to sway the opinion of the audience and convince a judge that a particular speaker has proven his or her case more effectively. In a political debate the issues are discussed and the voters decide when they cast their ballots. In a court of law evidence is presented, debated and either a judge or a jury reaches a verdict. There was only one possible outcome in the Ham vs Nye creation debate – each side would walk away feeling their guy won.

I believe the Bible is the Word of God. I believe his words are true. But the Genesis account of creation does not stand up to scientific criticism because that was not the purpose when it was written. The scientific method, as we understand it today, is a product of the scientific revolution that was part of the Enlightenment following the Middle Ages. (It’s roots go back to the Greek philosophers and Aristotle, but his methods were not exactly scientific by modern standards.) The Genesis account pre-dates even the Greek philosophers by thousands of years and was not written for an audience that understood science. Just because the written account of creation does not answer all our questions, or describe the events in scientific terms that we accept, does not mean God did not create the heavens and the earth. Medieval accounts of solar eclipses may not be scientifically accurate by our standards, but we don’t conclude after reading them that there was not an eclipse. Genesis will not answer all of our questions and it unfair for us to demand the book speak to us in scientific terms that people living 6,000 years ago would not have understood. The books of the Bible work together to achieve a particular purpose and we should read them and attempt to understand what the author is trying to say.

How old is the earth? I meant what I said in chapter one of God is Near when I stated “it does not matter.” If scientists calculate the age of the earth to be 4.5 billion years old I don’t see a contradiction with scripture. In the first place, and you’re welcome to disagree, the Bible doesn’t teach the earth is only 6,000 years old. That figure is based on the work of a Medieval monk (Usher) who calculated the generations from Adam to the present day. I contend we do not know how much time passes, if any, between verses 1 and 2 in Genesis 1 and the seven-day creation story. But what if the earth is only 6,000 years old? I would be okay with that too. Consider that Adam and Eve were created in a mature state of adulthood. God did not create them as infants that required time to develop. By that same logic, if God can create a rock why could he not create an old rock? In order for the people and animals he created to survive and reproduce they needed an environment capable of sustaining them. There needed to be soil for plants to grow, there needed to be a nitrogen cycle, and a water cycle, and an atmosphere composed of 20% oxygen, 71% nitrogen and 8% carbon dioxide. If God is the creator it would make sense that he can create anything he wishes, included a man that appears to us to be 30 years old and a planet that appears to be billions of years in the making. The geologic time scale makes sense if we begin with the premise that God did not create the world. I do not care how old scientists calculate the earth to be and I’m really not paying much attention to the young earth creationists either. Debating either side of the issue distracts us from what is really important – God created us and loves us. The mission and focus of every Christian should be sharing the Gospel, and yelling from behind a podium how young the earth is doesn’t effectively do that. The pseudo science of the Creation Museum only serves to make all Christians look ridiculous to those in the scientific community and does not advance the cause of Christ or build the Kingdom. It might possibly make Christians feels better about themselves in light of criticism, but since when is the purpose of Christianity to make ourselves feel better? (It’s a rhetorical question.)

The other recent event is the Hollywood blockbuster movie Noah. That was a wild work of fiction loosely based on the biblical account and I don’t think very many Christians really took it seriously. There are elements of The Passion we can use to relate the Gospel story. Noah is a work of fiction based on actual events. We don’t study the Civil war by watching Gone with the Wind.

What I get out of reading the first 3 chapters of Genesis is that God was in the Garden. The story of Noah and the ark he built is not about an act of God’s judgement; it’s a story about his mercy. So this is a discussion; Discuss.


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