Beginning with the Basics
Scripture: Genesis 1-2:4
“Don’t leave your brain at the door.”
I saw this on a poster once at a church, and knew… that was my kind of church. It’s not, of course, that I am suggesting that all churches or all Christians leave their brains at the door, but some do. And when they do, as we see in this time of poor theology around vaccines, people suffer. Our witness suffers.
Deep behind that is an idea that Christianity and science cannot co-exist.
Over the past few weeks, our VBS series has explored the conflicts and possibilities between science and faith. Can they co-exist? Do they clash? Can one be a scientist and a person of faith?
This is a fault line, that echoes conversations and arguments about modernity and post-modernity. It’s one that is happening in every religion and every society to some degree, and it’s one that has caused such controversy in the history of the US - arguments over evolution, over DNA, over human care, over change, over what we can trust in a fast changing world.
- How many people have turned away from church because well-meaning pastors and people of faith rejected science for bad takes from the Bible?
- How many people have rejected and turned away intelligent, scientific-minded folks because they believe scripture tells them something else?
So, that is why it is important perhaps us to begin this story of faith - which we call the Bible - by starting at the beginning - in a way, beginning with the basics.
- What does God say about the earth, about the cosmos, about life? How does that help us and invite us to use our brains to enrich and deepen and challenge our understanding of God and how to be people of faith?
To begin, Genesis 1 is not a science textbook. It was not written or recorded as a scientific treatise. The point of this text is not to describe on a scientific level how the earth came to be. The point of this passage is vastly more poetic and devotional than it is molecular. It is core to the message of the Bible as a whole - that a force, a being, a presence we call God fashioned life itself on purpose and called it good.
In a way, Genesis 1 is not as much about the how as it is about the why. God creates, because that is the nature of our God.
It is also about the who - who we are. We are products of Creation. We are products of God’s goodness. We are products of the creative, chaotic forces at work in our lives and the ordered, loving forces at work in our lives.
In re-reading Genesis 1, then, we are invited to know who we are by these three words - good, diverse, and order.
Genesis 1 makes clear - Creation is good. This is a controversial statement. It will always be. Some scientists would agree - that life and the universe is simply a remarkable, wondrous thing. It is good. Some scientists would not. It may be beautiful, but from their perspective, life is a series of accidents and coincidences. These scientists may not say life is bad - it just is. Creation is a complex coincidence, nothing more and nothing less.
But in the Bible, Genesis 1 asserts that it is good.
The word good is defined in many ways - one way is that it is high quality or excellent.
On our walking tour of our little intersection, Hank Mityga, a retired horticultural professor, shared that there is no known reason why leaves change such dazzling colors in the fall. There may be scientific reasons why the leaves change - but how the leaves turn mesmerizing and beautiful colors is a mystery. We are left with questions but marvel at the gifts of beauty all around.
But if creation is good, don’t we have a responsibility to keep it good. What happens when humans bomb it, destroy it, seize it, and mine it without regard for its goodness. What happens when we uproot trees that turn such beautiful colors? What do we lose?
For some human beings, Creation is good. But for others, especially those in the midst of suffering, life can seem cruel and unjust.
Sarah Augustine, an indigenous leader and author of the Land Is Not Empty, writes - “God cannot be understood without the land - God comes out of the soil - nurturing and sustaining us.”
Sarah goes on to suggest that all things - living things, inanimate things - are our relations. Our kinfolk. Our family.
We are connected to the earth and each other, and we have a responsibility to keep what is given to us as good healthy and whole. Creation is good is a charge for followers of God.
Second, Creation is diverse. Genesis 1 gives us an image of the diversity of human life and of Creation - living things of all manners, plants and trees. But even the words used reflect this multitude.
The first name for God is a masculine name. The second name for God - the Spirit - is a feminine name. Later, when humanity is fashioned, we are fashioned in they’s image - there is plurality and multiply even in God’s identity that is then reflected in Creation.
Dr. Will Gafney, womanist theologian and scholar, translates the first two verses in this way:
“When beginning, he, God, created the heavens and the earth, the earth was shapeless and formless and bleakness covered the face of the deep, while the Spirit of God, she, flutters over the face of the waters.”
We are diverse because God too is diverse. The fact that we are different, the fact that we are not the same as each other, the face that we come in many genders and many personalities and many stories is core of the vision God had for our world. How do we continue to embrace that? How do we honor each other as made in the image of God’s incredible gift of diversity?
The final word is order - God brings order out of the chaos and churning waters of Creation. In verse 28, God charges humanity to be fruitful and multiply. Two words follow that have been used to justify a lot of terrible behavior by Christians - subdue and dominate. Some have read these passages and believed that gives Christians permission to bring war against people in the name of bringing order to Creation.
But a better translation is to reflect God’s desire to bring a solid foundation out of the chaotic realities of our lives.
We are less to shape people - to harm and uproot those who are different - and more to use the incredible resources we find in this life to make a difference for others.
To bring about the fruit of our God - good and beautiful things.
In other words, when doctors create vaccines that save lives, we are participating in the fruit of God’s ongoing Creation.
When nurses go in and hold the hands of patients struggling to breathe on ventilators, we are participating in the fruit of God’s ongoing Creation.
When scientists create ways to utilize resources more efficiently and preserve the sacred landscapes we have inherited, we are participating in the fruit of God’s ongoing Creation.
When people of faith stand up for refugees and push back against racism, we are participating in the fruit of God’s ongoing Creation.
To subdue and dominate is not about power and violence - it is about bringing goodness out of the complexity and mess of this life.
May we repent of all the ways we have participated in such systems in the past - may learn to embrace ways to truly be neighbor to those in need.
Friends, Genesis 1 begins the story of the Bible, and it infuses all the rest of the chapters we read. We know more about God when we know Genesis 1. And it gives us permission to use all of the gifts of life to bring about the goodness of God in our lives and in the lives of our neighbors.
We cannot leave our brains at the door in church and in the world.
We have permission to be critical of what we read and hear - and we need to be a church that challenges what we believe and what we understand.
The Bible and scripture are gifts that move us closer to God and God’s heart.
In Genesis 1, that journey begins - does our response to scripture and the movement of God move us further into goodness, diversity, and order for the sake of making God’s love known?
We will continue this conversation after worship today, and I hope you linger with us. What scientific questions challenge your faith and move to be a better follower of God and a better person? What questions of faith challenge your understandings of science and move you to be a better scientific minded person?
Life is a gift. Our brains are a gift. May we use them to reveal and make God’s goodness for all who live and breathe. Thanks be to God.