A Synthesis for Theistic Evolution (Pt. 4)

Both the Old & New Testament talk about the chaos & disorder of this world with the same language that is used at the start of Genesis 1.

From all the passages in the bible and their meanings in the previous three posts on this topic, two truths present themselves. One is that there were agents of evil on earth before humans ever existed. The second is that whatever order God created on earth did not develop without God having to overcome opposition. These two points are enough to synthesize a thoroughly biblical worldview with biological evolution.

Now we can see that “the bondage of decay [or corruption]” in Romans 8:20-21 as God allowing the earth to suffer under the “subjection” of his enemies; the same enemies who had wreaked havoc in the world before God began to restore order. Why was this the inevitable result? Thinking of “civil war” may be helpful here: To rebel with one side in a war, is to lose our rights with the other, and come under the authority of whoever we’ve joined forces with. Things which we are responsible for, whether it be land, houses, family, will also now be at the disposal of this authority; so it is in the world at large (the bible often uses the word “kingdom” to express this same idea, see for example Colossians 1:13-14).

One final piece of this puzzle is to know the meaning of a specific phrase in Genesis 1:2 and how it confirms this outlook. The phrase traditionally translated “without form and void” (tohu wabohu) in Genesis 1:2 is used only two other times in the whole Bible.[1]

…God will stretch out over Edom the measuring line of chaos [tohu]
and the plumb line of desolation [bohu] Isaiah 34:11b (113)

I looked at the earth, and it was formless [tohu] and empty [bohu],
and I looked at the heavens, and their light was gone –Jeremiah 4:23
(121)

These two verses are both in the middle of sections that are talking about God judging a place or people because of their evil. What’s so interesting about the phrase is that the word “bohu” is not even a real word in Hebrew, it was entirely made up in Genesis 1:2 (104). So, these writers are directly borrowing it from there, and implying that “tohu wabohu” is a condition directly connected to the results of God dealing with rebellion.

The word tohu is used in scripture many other times, and means things like: wasteland, worthless, ruined or desolate, vanity or lies, empty (122, 123). With the exception of “empty”, every other possible meaning has a morally negative connotation. The fact that “empty” or “void” has been the most well-known translation has made it more difficult to see the otherwise obvious evil sound of the phrase tohu wabohu in Genesis 1:2. The implication is that there was rebellion in the cosmos prior to the account of Genesis, and the state of the world as “tohu wabohu” was the result of this rebellion (for Christians, this rebellion would be the origin of god’s enemies, specifically satan as chief of this “rebel army”).

So, why does this even matter!?!

I mentioned in the first post about this topic that in conversation with some friends it became obvious that our conception of creation does not just concern how it happened, but the significance of the events. A meticulously literal understanding of Genesis 1 will affect how you interpret the significance of the events. The same goes for a belief that biological evolution was the mechanism God used to create. These things affect how we see the entire Bible, the character of God, the meaning of salvation, human and animal suffering, the list goes on.

The understanding I sketched out is not original, but it is uncommon. That being said, it is incredibly cohesive with the entire storyline of the Old and New Testament.

There is a sense in which the creation of humanity was an act of subversion against God’s enemies. Despite all the opposition which is apparent in biological history, and testified to in the creation accounts of the Bible, God created a being in his image to “fill the earth and subdue it”; to join God in defeating the agents of chaos. Yet, we aligned ourselves with the very enemy of our existence, and find ourselves in spiritual and social chains.

Our decisions to love and follow our creator carry a significance that extends beyond our “private religion”; it impacts the entire created order. God loves this creation to the point of entering its’ suffering alongside it, to again show us the way to join Him. There has been evidence that death will not carry the day; that we can be forgiven for the ways in which we have inflicted pain against our creator, against his creation, against ourselves, or against others. God will one day resurrect the bodies of those who love him to literal, physical, perfect biological life, every relationship healed, and perfection achieved: the evidence was the resurrection of Jesus.

That’s a biblical way of understanding all the death, decay, and suffering that was a reality in the world before humanity, as well as what followers of Jesus hold to as the hope of this past holiday weekend.

[1] I will cite page numbers in parentheses for thoughts and scriptures from the forthcoming book “Chaos is not God’s Will” by Beth Snodderly, which goes into intricate detail on the meaning of “tohu wabohu”

A Problem for Theistic Evolution, Pt. 3

Destruction of Leviathan - Gustave Doré
Destruction of Leviathan – Gustave Doré

This is the 3rd post on this topic, and there at least 2 things we’ll be assuming here from those last two posts, both are observations from Genesis 1:

(1) Everything that God created and called good, was good; but God did not call everything good. The things which God does not explicitly call “good” were: the state of the world as “without shape and empty”, “the darkness”, “the deep”, and “the serpent”.

(2) The impression that the paradise Adam & Eve enjoyed was unique on earth. Combined with (1) above, this opens up the possibility that the “curse” does not imply that the entire world was an Edenic paradise up to then.

There’s one more objection to (1) above I want to clear up. In Genesis 1:31 we read,  “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Doesn’t this imply that up to this point, everything was perfect? Well, not necessarily. Verse 31 is at the end of the seven days, and it would be sticking more closely to the actual order of things to say : “God declared ‘everything that he had made’ as ‘good’ when the finished product had appeared”. This is the same pattern throughout all Genesis 1, and, by the end of this post, we’ll hopefully have some other scriptures to balance out this reaction to the isolated creation account in Genesis.

The question now is: “How do we interpret ‘the bondage of decay’ spoken of in Rom. 8:20-21?”

From the perspective we’re working towards, “the bondage of decay” is represented in Genesis by “the darkness”, “the deep”, and “the serpent”. There are two aspects to understanding how this fits with the rest of the Bible.

One aspect is looking at more scriptures which give us the reason to believe that God’s commands were met with hostility during creation. There are several places in the Bible, outside of Genesis, that talk about the creation of the world. We’re trying to avoid ignoring all these other passages. The second aspect is how God “subjects the world to futility”, as it says in Romans 8:20. We’ll explore this by looking at how God does similar things in other instances of the Old & New Testament. This will be left for the next post.

So, are there actually other scriptures which connect “the bondage of decay” to “the deep”, “the darkness”, or “the serpent”, and, are there other passages about creation which give us reason to think that God was overcoming these powers as he spoke the created order into existence?

Well, we know that “the serpent” is interpreted as Satan in the New Testament (Rev. 12:9, 20:2). The Canaanite culture around the time Genesis was written also used the imagery of a “dragon” and “sea monster” to “symbolize the destructive water of the sea and in turn the forces of chaos that threaten the established order” (netbible.org/note 4). Remember this for the rest of the way.

“Darkness” is constantly representative of evil itself, the very opposite of God (1 Jn 1:5, 2Cor. 6:14, Eph 5:8, Jn. 3:19).

“The deep” is only slightly more complicated.

The Hebrew word for “the deep”,  “tehom”, resembles another word used in another ancient creation account: “tiamat”. Many scholars believe that the author of Genesis was deliberately mimicking the word to make a point in reference to that other creation account: Enuma Elish. Here’s a link if you’re interested in all the parallels, and differences, between Enuma Elish and the Genesis account: Enuma Elish

There are a few things to note for our purposes. One is that the goddess Tiamat was representative of chaos. In Enuma Elish the god Marduk, after defeating Tiamat and cutting her up into pieces, uses her body to form the physical world. The following passage is telling (emphasis added):

137   He split her into two like a dried fish:
138   One half of her he set up and stretched out as the heavens.
139   He stretched the skin and appointed a watch
140   With the instruction not to let her waters escape.

I highlighted that last line of Enuma Elish because it re-emphasizes how water was representative of chaos for the canaanite culture around the Israelites. So, “the deep” was a sort of negative way of talking about the oceans and seas as they represented the forces that threatened the order of the world.  This will all help bring out the ways in which scripture turns these metaphors around to imply that it was “Yahweh” not “Marduk” or any other combination of Canaanite gods that was responsible for the order of creation.

Collectively, I think the scriptures below make it pretty clear that , if we’re looking at all of the Bible, God did have to overcome opposition to create the order of the world in Genesis 1. If this is true, then the “bondage of decay” is not something God imposed on creation, but, a corruption of reality that was present already; not eternal, but definitely pre-human.

This then opens up the possibility that the suffering which seems to be present in the world before humans entered the picture, was the working-out of this conflict between God and the forces that oppose him, the chaotic “waters”, the “darkness”, the “deep”, and “the serpent”; and this, at least in a general way to start, is a way to understand the problem I posed in the first post with regards to evolution. There’s much to be added, but that’s a glimpse of the general picture.

I’ll end with some of those passages I’ve referred to, and allow them to speak for themselves:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was without shape and empty,
and darkness was over the surface of the deep,
but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.
And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light!
God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”
There was evening, and there was morning, marking the first day.- Genesis 1:1-6

Who shut up the sea with doors when it burst forth, coming out of the womb,
when I made the storm clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band,
when I prescribed its limits, and set in place its bolts and doors,
when I said, ‘To here you may come and no farther,
here your proud waves will be confined?” – Job 38:8-11 

When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he marked out the horizon over the face of the deep,
when he established the clouds above,
when the fountains of the deep grew strong,
when he gave the sea his decree
that the waters should not pass over his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth – Proverbs 8:27-29

You rule over the proud sea.
When its waves surge, you calm them.

You crushed Rahab [symbolic of the mythological sea serpent]  and killed it;
with your strong arm you scattered your enemies.
The heavens belong to you, as does the earth.
You made the world and all it contains. – Psalm 89:9-11

He established the earth on its foundations;
it will never be upended.
The watery deep covered it like a garment;
the waters reached above the mountains.
Your shout made the waters retreat;
at the sound of your thunderous voice they hurried off—
as the mountains rose up,
and the valleys went down—
to the place you appointed for them.
You set up a boundary for them that they could not cross,
so that they would not cover the earth again. – Psalm 104:5-9

You destroyed the sea by your strength;
you shattered the heads of the sea monster in the water.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you fed him to the people who live along the coast.
You broke open the spring and the stream;
you dried up perpetually flowing rivers.
You established the cycle of day and night;
you put the moon and sun in place.
You set up all the boundaries of the earth;
you created the cycle of summer and winter. – Psalm 74:13-17

He marks out the horizon on the surface of the waters
as a boundary between light and darkness.
The pillars of the heavens tremble
and are amazed at his rebuke.
By his power he stills the sea;
by his wisdom he cut Rahab the great sea monster to pieces.
By his breath the skies became fair;
his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
Indeed, these are but the outer fringes of his ways!
How faint is the whisper we hear of him!
But who can understand the thunder of his power?” -Job 26:10-14

Am I the sea, or the creature of the deep [or “dragon”]
that you must put me under guard? – Job 7:12

**All passages from new english translation of the bible
** Several of these passages, along with the relevance of Enuma Elish for this question, were brought to my attention in God at War by Gregory Boyd, Chapter 3: “Slaying Leviathan”

A Problem for Theistic Evolution Pt. 2

Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity…The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either” -C.S. Lewis

Adam-And-Eve-In-Paradise
Adam and Eve in Paradise
By Johann Wenzel Peter

As I go on with this theme of Genesis, the Christian perspective of origins, and the light it can shed on evolution, along with the reality of suffering, I thought that C.S. Lewis’ words were especially relevant. Especially because the perspective I’m working towards is not the dominant one, and it takes time to think through it, to see a possibility if we have never before considered it.

In the last post I said that there were a few places in the Christian Scriptures which seem to imply that:

somehow mankind bears responsibility for the reality of death, all death; humans, amphibians, insects… Many Christians believe that, because of passages like Genesis 3:17-19, not just death, but all suffering in the world is the direct result of humanity’s rebellion against God.”

But, the passages I mentioned only directly state that mankind is responsible for human death (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:56-57, Romans 6:23, 1 Corinthians 15:21. On the other hand, there are other passages which seems to indicate that the “curse” in Genesis 3:17 applies to all of the world, and therefore that the rebellion of humanity is the primary cause of the decay of the entire world. One text is Romans 8:20-21

For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of the one who subjected it – in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.”

What I want to explore in this post then is what the curse of Genesis 3:17 meant, since how we interpret the passage above is largely determined by that background. The next post will deal more with Rom. 8:20-21 and others like it, and that should lead to the opening of a perspective that I think makes the entire narrative of scripture incredibly beautiful.

To start, we can note that if we don’t have reasons beforehand for thinking that the entire world was a paradise like Eden, God’s words in Gen 3:17 can be taken as a statement to Adam; he and his descendents would never again enjoy the kind of provision which came so easily in Eden. Although it is true that God’s pronouncement of a “curse” applied to the entire earth, the passage does not imply that everything outside of “Eden” was fine and dandy until God said that. Instead, the curse can be seen as a judgement that derailed God’s intentions for creating humanity, the focus of the judgement being on us. We’ll unpack this in the next two posts, but first, a few more misconceptions to work through here.

Many do think they have reasons for thinking that the whole world was an Edenic paradise before this. Despite the label “Garden of Eden, the dominant understanding is that the paradise of Eden reflected the state of the whole world, and not just a specific piece of land, the way we’d normally understand a “garden”.

A primary reason for this is the belief that “In Genesis, God created everything ‘good'” . This is true, but it omits a few important facts. The reason we believe God created everything good is because in Genesis we’re told God calls things good. But, there are several things which appear in the story that God does not explicitly call good.

For one thing, there’s a serpent that appears in the garden to tempt Adam & Eve. God certainly never called the serpent good.

Also, we read in Genesis 1:2:

Now  the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the face of the deep, but the Spirit of God  was moving over the surface of the water” (new english translation, emphasis added)

None of the things I highlighted there are called good by God. 

The same Hebrew phrase “without shape and empty” is used in Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23 “to describe a situation resulting from judgment” (netbible.org). 

The same Hebrew word for “darkness” is later used  to “symbolize what opposes God, such as judgment (Exod 10:21), death (Ps 88:13), oppression (Isa 9:1), the wicked (1 Sam 2:9) and in general, sin. In Isa 45:7 it parallels ‘evil.’ ” (netbible.org).

The Hebrew word for “deep” is “tÿhom” and it is distinct from the word for “water”. The word “tÿhom” represented “chaos” for several other Middle-Eastern creation accounts. The ocean was the literal manifestation of that chaos, and it was a basic assumption of many ancient cultures, including that of the Hebrews, that the entire earth rested on water which God had to tame and push back in order to create the world (Prov. 8:27-29, Job 38:4-11) (netbible.org).

As we read on in Genesis 1:4, God “saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness.” God never calls the darkness “good” either. I don’t mean to belittle the beauty of a moonlit landscape of course, but simply to point out that the more literal you attempt to interpret Genesis, the less it warrants the belief that everything on earth was perfect, even with the start we’re given in Genesis 1.

Another point is that in Genesis 2:8-2:17 it’s fairly clear that we are supposed to understand the provision given to Adam & Eve as being connected to the location where God “places” them. Several geographical markers are given to denote a region of land, and it is in this region that God tells the man and woman, “You may freely eat  fruit from every tree of the orchard”. This counts  for the belief that the abundance of Eden was unique, and not the same throughout the world.

Lastly, when God removes the man and woman from the garden, Genesis says “So the Lord God expelled him from the orchard in Eden to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken.” (Gen 3:23). This gives the “curse” of 3:17-3:18 a direct application, to the ground from which he had been taken. While this does imply that all the ground outside of Eden (and possibly including it) was going to suffer in some way because of humanity’s fall, it also implies that Adam had been, up to that point, enjoying a privileged location/state from which he was “expelled”.

All of this leaves most of the traditional interpretation of “the curse” the same, except for an important assumption that is not at all clear in the story: that the entire world was like Eden prior to humanity’s fall.

While the curse of Gen. 3:17 affected the entire world, especially humanity’s state of being provided for without worry, it was not necessarily the starting point for the decay of the creation. If this is true, the next question is what is “the bondage of decay” in Romans 8:20-21? I think this leads perfectly into consideration of the entire Genesis narrative  in a different light.