“In the beginning God.” These have become some of my favorite words in scripture. They bring comfort, stability, and assurance—although that hasn’t always been the case. For too long, these four words have been nothing more than a throw-away introduction, a lead into more important biblical stories and principles.
The story that follows that ominous introduction is a beautiful depiction of the power of God in creation. It is filled with rhyme and repetition, with nuanced language and cultural imagery, but most importantly, it is filled with God. The first chapter of Genesis places God squarely in the midst of the story. It leaves no doubt that God is the author and finisher of creation and that he is intimately and inextricably intertwined with every facet of his creation. It is the account of love’s beginning. Unfortunately, those words have become some of the most divisive words both inside and outside the church. Rather than hearing the story, we’ve begun to focus on the “facts.” Rather than being awed by the God, we’ve become lost in the details. But does it have to be that way?
Can we accept others with different views on these facts? Can we view the Bible and Genesis as a book about who and why, rather than about how and when? Can we accept that “In the beginning God” is the abiding truth, and exactly how and when are secondary issues? Can we trust that God also speaks through nature (“look to the birds and they will tell you”) and that, for many, nature points to a very old and long creation process? Can we accept that someone who believes that God has been in this process for 14,000,000,000 years rather than 7,000 years can be a God follower? Can we accept that time and creation methodologies are not the issues and that God and redemption are?
This isn’t an argument for one scientific version of creation or another. The question is, does it matter? God followers should be the most flexible of all people, not the most rigid. If it turns out that God took 14 billion years to create the world, then let’s be awed by his incredibly long vision and planning, if it turns out that he spoke everything into existence yesterday complete with memories and history, then so be it. Let’s praise and thank the geologists, biologists, astronomers, and physicists that are studying God’s creation. It’s through their efforts that the majesty of God’s handiwork is revealed. If a new scientific discovery is made next year that indicates the previous dating methodologies were flawed and the world is actually 7,000 years old, well great!
The Gospel of Christ is extraordinarily resilient. The truth of Jesus and the good news of his love and salvation have and will continue to adapt to all cultures, realities, peoples, times and sciences. As long as we remain focused on the point—God—then we will remain malleable, and God will use us for his purpose. But if we insist on dogma, if we assert that we know it all and there is nothing more to learn, if we refuse to adapt our religion to the mission of Christ, and the realities of the world, then God will find someone else. God will be there. Whether or not we will is up to us.
I’m tired. I’m tired of a faith that is forever dying on meaningless hills. Tired of a faith that dies from religious dogma. I’m tired of having to apologize for Christians before being able to tell those seeking God about his love, his forgiveness, his grace, his story.
So help me out. Is this an acceptable outline of faith?:
- God created us.
- God loved us more than we can possibly imagine.
- We wanted to become our own authority, so we walked away from God.
- We screwed up.
- Jesus is God’s way back. Jesus came and earned what he did not need to attain (redemption and unity with God), and attained what he did not earn (death for our rebellion).
- Jesus demonstrated by his life of flawless obedience, his death for crimes he did not commit, and his resurrection from the dead, that he is indeed holy, God, and the world’s way to restoration.
- Jesus freely gives what only he has earned to all who will accept.
- God re-creates us in Christ.
Is this gospel okay?
If someone hears this and says, “yes, that’s what I’ve always wanted!” can we say welcome to the family of God? Or do they have to agree that the earth is 6938 years old before Jesus will accept them?
Maybe there are other specifics they have to agree to? Maybe they have to agree to never dance again. Maybe they have to be immersed in water, or tithe, or avoid alcohol, or accept a prophet, or go to church school, or sell their TV, or genuflect, or avoid eating certain foods, or eat certain foods, or throw away all their jewelry, or put on certain jewelry, or regard a certain day as holy, or regard all days as the same, or. . . .
Or maybe Jesus meant what he said: Believe in the Son, and have eternal life.
Can we really live lives of generosity, grace and acceptance? Can we really love without fear? Give without expectation? Help without strings? Can we just go into all the world, love them into a life-long friendship with God, and let Him worry about guarding the gate? Could it really be that simple?
—John Monday is the Chief Operating Officer of the Florida Hospital Seventh-day Adventist Church.