Monday, August 06, 2007

Genesis 1:27-3:1: non-literal, beauty separate from functionality, man's purpose is to work, evil is a mystery

Creation account is non-literal

The Creation account indicates that its style is non-literal because in chapter 1, it is said that plant-life is created on the third day (1:11), but man is created on the sixth day (1:26, 31). But in chapter two, it says man was created before there was any plant-life (2:6-7).
The book of Genesis shows profound wisdom, and if such a story were written by a contemporary author we would call it ‘brilliant’ or ‘genius,’ so it is unlikely the writer was so inept and careless as to not notice this contradiction at the literal level. Instead, it is more likely that descriptions were not meant to be contrasted and interpreted in a literal manner.

Beauty, morality, and utility are separate, but go together.

Beauty and utility are separate, but go together. The trees of the LORD are both “pleasing to the eye” and “good for food.” Evolutionary biology currently teaches that humans find things “beautiful” because they are promote survival, they are ‘good for food,’ so to speak. The same argument is used regarding morality – that morality is only short-hand for what promotes survival for the species. (This view is the impetus for the continual stream of articles explaining why everything from gossip to men's taste for blondes to sexual activity to eating ice cream has an evolutionary survival value).

Moral and aesthetic judgments are similar because they are intuitive and unprovable. They relate to Natural Law, which points to God. The moral and ethical result of the evolutionary-biology view that beauty and morality are only misnomers or short-hand for utility is to make utility the chief good; beauty and morality are not independent values. Then a leap is made, which is that if something can be shown to be functional, it is morally acceptable. Similarly, moral and aesthetic judgments can be put aside as long as their survival-value can be extracted. The result of putting aside the moral and aesthetic judgment leads to sin and the casting aside of the compass, our intuitive recognition of Natural Law, that points to God.

The evolutionary-biology view, however, is not a good enough theory (in what way is a beautiful sunset good for survival?) The Genesis view, instead, offers a fuller and richer view: God makes things that are both beautiful and functional. He is not a narrow, one-dimensional God creating a craven, desperate universe where every living thing simply strives to survive and where there is no such thing as beauty but only utility. Instead, He is like any good craftsman who makes his goods both pleasing to the eye and useful for their user.

Man’s purpose is to work. (Gen. 2:5, 15).

Man is meant to live and work in community. (Gen. 2:18). Woman is portrayed as a distinctly suitable helper for man. After the other beasts and birds are considered as companions and helpers for man, they are found unsuitable, so with that in mind, God creates woman. This must be why it is so common for males and females to become partners.

Evil is both a mystery and a fact of life.

It is difficult not to ask, 'if in Genesis 1 God views all of creation as “very good” (1:31), how in Genesis 3 is there a crafty serpent who tempts Eve?' This is the well-known 'problem of pain.'

On one hand, it seems reasonable and common for humans to ask these questions. On the other, it is better to relegate the answers to these questions to the mysterious ways of God rather than to the lucidity of finite human reasoning. While Genesis purports to tell us what happened in the beginning, it does not purport to tell us everything that ever happened.

Further, human beings are probably incapable of understanding everything that ever happened – in fact, we don’t really even understand the things we claim to know: Who knows every fact of recorded history? Who fully understands quantum physics? Who fully understands himself or his best friend? No one, and yet these are fields of which we claim to have actual knowledge. What then of the deepest questions?

It is often smugly argued that ‘if God is all good, all knowing, and all powerful – then He would not have allowed for evil.’ But what do we humans know about omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, or the orgin or nature of evil? All we know is the speculation of our finite minds. There is nothing wrong with the speculation of our finite minds, but it’s best to acknowledge that it does not constitute actual knowledge, and probably constitutes incomplete knowledge. To the extent we fail to understand the deepest questions regarding the ways of God, it is better to call the answer a mystery than to presume to know more than we do.

Evil is a fact of life in this world. Evil's mysterious arrival at our door-step is a common experience. Who has not started a day at peace and with the best of intentions and yet ended the day having committed sin and wondering how and why?

Genesis may not give every answer, but it gives a startlingly accurate description of life.

1 comment:

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

In the catechesis of the ancient Church, the catechumens, those being prepared for illumination (baptism and chrismation) were taught the mysteries of the Word of God as well as the doctrine and the moral code of the Church. One of the last mysteries they were taught was the mystery of the Creation of Adam and Eve. I'm sorry but I can't remember where I read this, because it was very many years ago, and I haven't seen it since (at least I haven't looked for it).

What this meant to me at the beginning of my conversion to faith in Jesus Christ, was that I was no longer bound to a purely and mechanically literal interpretation of the Bible. There are mysteries there, veiled in human language, and they are accessible to those who accept the literal meaning in simplicity, without challenging it, merely taking it as it is. Once this has been decided, then the Lord reveals in gradual stages the mysteries behind these things, especially (for example) the harmony between the two Creation accounts and natural science.

In the Orthodox Church, what I find is that usually these Bible stories and personages are taught and discussed without the mention of the possibility that they may or may not be literal. We enter into the scriptural universe by faith and receive all the essential truth therein as a free gift that natural intellect cannot procure for us.

My son Jacob has written a statement that epitomises the Orthodox attitude toward the holy scriptures. I like it very much. It's posted on his blog at:

Thanks for your very insightful blog posts. I have to keep rereading them, though, as I don't always get everything in the first pass. Go with God, my brother!