I would like to propose a different interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, which removes the problems linked to a "6,000-year-old earth" dating of the creation as outlined in the Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Many would argue, maybe rightly, that the position taken by the church raises a number of hard-to-solve problems, which are conveniently ignored by most for fear of being labelled heretics. However, there may exist another reading of the creation narrative that paints a positive picture of God and man and which, moreover, has the merit of removing the questions of “when” and “how” from the debate arena.
John 17:3 reads: “Now this is life eternal: that they might know you the only true God…” (NIV). Sin had severed the vital tie that linked man to God, the only source of life; fear and death were the unavoidable consequences. This is the profound symbolic meaning of the tree of life being no longer accessible to man. If mankind were to live forever it was vital that humanity should reconnect with God. By the time Moses came on the scene thousands of years of paganism had dimmed the knowledge of the true God to the point of almost total ignorance. Any awareness about God that might still linger in people’s mind was wrapped up in fear.
The American historian Will Durant wrote that fear was the source of all religions. Sociology and anthropology deal abundantly with the phenomenon. Indeed, the history of religion clearly shows that fear of the divine was the foundation of religion whose basic focus was and to a large extent still is about securing divine favors and forgiveness. Call it heathenism, legalism, superstition or magic, this attitude is an intrinsic part of the human psyche because man hides in the deepest recess of his soul the fear of external powers divine or occult, believing that they must placated in some way.
Salvation was God’s plan, designed to re-establish the life-giving connection between him and man. But fear of deity was a seemingly unsurmountable barrier. Indeed, why should man be willing to connect with an entity from outer space, therefore beyond normal experience, that he openly feared, secretly despised, and was often angry against? God faced the difficult undertaking of finding a way to remove man’s animosity — or worse, man’s indifference — hoping that freed from fear man might accept the hand that God extended.
This is the context that God had to deal with when he decided that the time had come to give the world a true revelation of himself. Scripture is primarily concerned with erasing from the collective consciousness of mankind the false images of God deeply etched by eons of ignorance and superstition. The creation narrative was the first step taken by God to change man’s enmity into friendship. Is it possible that trying to find in the text some kind of scientific information about the dating and the fiat of creation may well constitute a wrong reading of the story? The creation narrative is certainly not of the order of science, but of the order of theology. The dating of creation was assuredly not something that Moses and his contemporaries cared about. The concept probably never entered their minds.
The Religious Context of the Creation Narrative
Genesis 10 tells us that Moses knew of the existence of at least 30 different nations. He wrote primarily for his people, but God’s plan was that Israel would pass the revelation on to these nations. Over time the whole world would learn about the true God. Archaeology has revealed a lot of information about the cultures and the religious beliefs and practices of these nations. Fear of the supernatural and the unexplained was at the centre of their daily preoccupations.
We know today that the same attitudes prevailed all around the world. Indeed, ethnology and anthropology have shown that the religious rituals of peoples of Africa or the Americas also proceeded from the same fear of the supernatural. Enticing the gods to grant favors and forgiveness in return for offerings and ritualistic practices became the “raison d’être” of religion. Both structured religion with its priests, and unstructured superstition with its shamans, were motivated by the need to placate the gods and the spirits
Prejudice is the enemy of relationship. God faced the mammoth task of erasing thousands of years of firmly established negativism, hoping thus to draw man into a saving relationship with him. God began the dismantling of long-lived and deep-seated prejudice when he inspired Moses to put in writing the creation narrative. Contrary to the many cosmogonies, according to Scripture, God created in absolute freedom without any constraint or necessity. One can find no Biblical trace of any divine need that the creation of man was designed to meet.
Scripture introduces a God who used his unlimited wisdom and power to bring into existence a fully functional eco system adequate to meet all the needs of the man soon to be created. He did it all in seven days. He most certainly could have done it in one day or in one second. Over a period of seven days God created everything that mankind would need for its wellbeing and development, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The day and night sequence established the essential pattern of activity and rest that humanity was to follow. Altogether, God created a world where happiness would reign supreme.
The Creation Story and Maslow
After a lengthy process of observation, Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) summarized his findings about human development in the shape of a pyramid, today referred to as Maslow’s pyramid of human needs. According to Maslow, the normal development of a human being demands the gradual satisfaction of all his needs starting from the most basic to the most complex. Basic needs not met seriously affect the development process and in time cause deep trauma that produces mental perturbations, which translate into inappropriate social behaviors. Other researchers have confirmed Maslow’s research, albeit with some minor variations.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs (ascending order):
LOVE AND BELONGING
SAFETY AND SECURITY
Maslow postulates that the physiological needs (food water, warmth, rest, etc.) together with the needs for assurance and security are basic. They are felt from early childhood and remain constant throughout life because they are the necessary conditions for survival. Any lack at that level will have serious repercussions on the future development of an individual. Gradually a person becomes aware of the need for love and the sense of belonging, both important for maturation to take place. When these are fulfilled they provide a healthy sense of self-worth, which is the condition for genuine unselfish altruism. The harmonious development of the personae opens wide the door for self- actualization i.e. living at the optimum level, making use of the fullness of one’s potential to give meaningfulness to one’s life. The missing segment in Maslow’s construct is that it makes little or no mention of the spiritual dimension, which we believers understand as being of paramount importance to keep all the elements of the personality in a healthy balance.
May I suggest that it is not at all difficult to discover in (1) the creation sequence, (2) the divine soliloquy (Let us make man in our image and in our likeness…), (3) the responsibility that God gives to Adam (God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and care for it and for which purpose God most certainly endowed him with a complete understanding of ecology that boggles our puny minds), (4) the creation of the woman and (5) the creation of the Sabbath, all the elements designed to meet the needs from basic to complex that would ensure a life of unmeasurable happiness for the man and the woman and subsequently for mankind? As expectant parents prepare well in advance every item that the baby will need for its development, a good God who knew that happiness can only be experienced when all the needs are met put in place over seven days the necessary elements that would provide for the development and nurture of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.
Try this simple exercise. Make a copy of Maslow’s pyramid and then write next to each level the thing or things that God created corresponding to that need. You may need to use some imagination because the creation narrative does not spell it all out. Imagine the kind and amount of knowledge that God blessed Adam with that enabled him to give names to the flora and fauna, remembering that for the Hebrews, to give a name presupposes the absolute knowledge of the thing to be named.
Maybe man’s greatest need was that of humility. After all, man lacked nothing; this could easily translate into pride and arrogance. God made sure that man was equipped to withstand such a temptation. The pair did not have intrinsic life. Adam and Eve were clearly made aware that their lives depended on their choice to remain in a constant and intimate relationship with the Creator (the symbolism of the tree of life).
Many have written eruditely to show that the creation narrative was designed to counter the many creation myths in existence at the time. This is indeed true but is it ultimately possible that the true significance of the story was to open hearts to a new concept of God as a gentle, caring provider? The God that man should have no reason to be afraid of? The creation narrative was God’s first attempt at removing the fear that kept mankind from turning to him and accept the salvation so graciously offered. It is so natural for one to suspect the actions — even the kind actions — of somebody that inspires fear.
May I suggest that the above reading of Genesis 1 and 2 provides freedom from the obligation of making theological statements about dating and fiat — possibly true statements, but ones that ongoing scientific discoveries weaken and make difficult to defend? Ultimately, the creation narrative is maybe not so much about “how” and “when” but about “why.”
Pastor Eddy Johnson is the director of ADRA Blacktown and pastors two churches in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5845