Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rethinking the Young Earth Debate: “Draw Nye to God” -

I do not like this Young Earth thinking,
I do not like this debate of Ham,

I think it’s time for an exam.

I do not find it at all compelling

In fact, I find it rather telling.

I do not want to hold to Ham

I’ve come to think it’s too much a sham.
Now it’s time to do some rethinking. 

Okay, a poor attempt at rhyme, sorry Dr. Seuss. But the more I think about it, the more I am rethinking this whole creation debate.  Last week I mentioned I didn’t watch the now famous, or infamous, Nye/Ham wrestling match. As I mentioned, I have given up wrestling with atheists over origins as it really accomplishes little to nothing - at least for atheists. (You can read Part I here.)

If any benefit comes from this much publicized debate it may be that many Christians begin to rethink their arguments for origins and really wrestle with the scriptures. Many Christians support the Young Earth position while many others do not. In fact, according to a recent CT article, many Christians don't even give this topic much thought. But that's not necessarily a good thing.

As I have thought about this debate and the Biblical support for it, I find the arguments turning green with the mold of out-dated thinking. As I’ve read both pro-Ham and the pro-Nye comments, it seems the former hinge upon a single verse of Scripture, whereas the later just looks to what science says about evolution. I wonder how many are actually rethinking this debate in Biblical terms? There are some who wrestle well, no doubt, but every Christian should do some of their own. Here's my attempt.

Let's start with two questions. First, can we find a Biblical basis for rethinking the young earth argument? Yes, I think we can and we must. Second, do we need to move beyond a literal interpretation of Scripture to accomplish that? Not at all. Paul’s admonitions us to: “test everything and hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). 

Let’s test the most prevalent argument, at least that I've seen,  in support of the young earth position which relies on Romans 5:12:

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” 

Using this verse, the argument is made: "how could death be in the world before Adam?"  If the earth is old then death would have needed to be in the world before Adam and that would be a contradiction of this verse. We don’t want to make the Bible contradict itself or it loses credibility, or at least our argument does. But this really isn’t much of a quandary when we rethink what the Bible does tell us about this “death.”

To our modern Western thinking death is the end of life in this realm.  All life is terminal, due to the Fall. Nothing lives beyond an appointed season (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). But is that really what is in view here with respect to "death" – simply termination of life? Or, is there something more to it? We need to revisit the Genesis account, and think deeper about what we read. 

The picture we see in the initial two chapters of Genesis is that God was actively engaged in his creative process.  More profound than the grandness of the created order, which declares a God who made everything, is to find a God who created us in his image - for relationship. The whole of the Bible describes a God who desires to communicate with us, connect personally to us, and commune together through us - for his glory.

This was God’s plan and purpose for his image bearers from the beginning but something went tragically wrong. God had commanded our first couple not to touch a certain tree. The penalty for doing so was that they would “die.”(Genesis 3:2). While I'm no Hebrew scholar, the primary use of the Hebrew word here for “die” - muwth - means to be killed, to be executed, as a purposeful act. The question we can ask next is – “what was killed”? Another way to ask the question is, "what was brought to it's untimely demise?"

The compelling question we encounter in this account is God asking: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). It wasn’t as if the Lord didn’t know the whereabouts of our first couple or what was on their minds. Adam and Eve had “killed,” brought to an untimely demise, their intimate relationship with the Lord by their rebellion against God’s single command.

We know that our first couple did not “die” in a physical sense right away, Adam, lived to be 930 years old (Genesis 5:5), but rather in their spiritual connection with the Life Giver. For their disobedience God did not “kill” or “execute” them but banished them from the garden and a “curse” befell all of future mankind.  Part of the curse, that speaks to this death, is recorded in Genesis 3:19: 

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground,  since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Ken Ham’s organization, Answers in Genesis offers this explanation of this verse:
“At that point, Adam and Eve began to die and would return to dust (Genesis 3:19). If they were meant to die right then, the text should have simply used muwth only once, which means “dead, died, or die” and not beginning to die or surely die (as muwth-muwth is used in Hebrew). Old Testament authors understood this and used it in such a fashion, but we must remember that English translations can miss some of the nuance…. If this is translated word for word, it would be “dying die” or “die die,"            
What is missing from this explanation is the reason why this “dying die” happened, but the explanation is not missing from the Scriptures. Genesis 3:22-23 tell us: 
“And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.” (emphasis mine) 
The reason this “dying die” occurred was that mankind was banished from the Garden and not permitted to eat of the “tree of life.” It is important to note that no other creature is said to have access to this “tree.” God was dealing solely with his image bearers. Only his image bearers were destined to live with God forever. 

What entered the world through Adam, was the “death” of a relationship, separation of the image bearers, the end of direct communion with the living God and access to the “tree of life” – the result of “sin.” This separation affects all mankind for we have all “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” It is the plight of mankind, due to this separation, this broken relationship, to die once and then face judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

If in fact what is in view is separation from God, which is so clearly evident in Genesis 3, then the terminal nature of life in this dominion does not present an obstacle for an old earth view. It is important to note that nowhere does God say mankind would live forever - only that we had opportunity to do so. The Good News is that we  still do - in Christ.

If the only member of the living creation that are separated from relationship with God are his image bearers, then Romans 5:12 has no bearing on other created life. Therefore, there is no reason to apply this verse to a pre-Adamic world.  We can allow science to speak to that world, to describe it for us, to theorize about it - as Christ followers we have more important things to do. 

Respected theologians agree with this view. For example, referring to Romans 5:12, James Montgomery Boice stated: “But this [death] does not really pertain to the animal realm, in that animals do not have God-consciousness... [It] is conceivable that animals could be created to enjoy a normal lifespan and then to die without having any of the judgmental qualities death has for man.”

[Other Christian leaders who hold to an Old Earth view include: John Ankerberg, Walter Kaiser, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler, J.P. Moreland, Chuck Colson, Paul Copan, Greg Koukl, C.S. Lewis, Hugh Ross, and Lee Strobel. (source)]

Romans 5:12 clearly states that "death," spiritual and physical, came to "all people" (NIV). The Bible shows us God at work to change this condition, redeeming us from the "curse," and restoring us to right relationship, by faith. This needs to be our focus - not arguing over how old the earth may be. 

Another meaning of the Hebrew word “die” is “to die prematurely.” It was never God’s intention to end his relationship with mankind (2 Peter 3:9), but mankind’s sinfulness brought about this premature end to our divine connection with God, leaving us separated (Isaiah 59:2). But God wasn’t caught off guard by this relationship split. In fact, The Lord had a plan, even before the creation (1 Peter 1:20), to restore right relationship with himself. Jesus told us simply, “You must be born-again” (John 3:7)

We will not draw the Bill Nye’s of the world to a relationship with the living God by building a theology around one verse like Romans 5:12 and using it to argue for a 6,000 year old earth when the science does not support it – neither does sound Biblical exegesis. We can only make a difference in the world by drawing “nye to God” so that he draws near to us (James 4:8) – for Living Sent Today.

I’ll blog more about this topic in future posts. Please feel free to share this post with others or share your thoughts and feel free to tell me where I am going wrong in my rethinking. All comments are moderated. 

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