Ordered for Fruitfulness

These texts were written to guide the common worshiper in weekly life, not to plant “bread crumbs” for scientific researchers. (p. 149)

The overarching argument of Michael LeFebvre’s recent book The Liturgy of Creation is summarized by the above quote. Having set up the argument in the Pentateuch in general and explored briefly the focus of Genesis 1:1-2:3 it is time to dig into the text. Today the focus is on days 1-3, Gen. 1:1-13.

Prologue:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (vv. 1-2)

Although some Christians see creation from nothing affirmed and described in the opening verse of Genesis, many others have argued that this is not the intent of the verse. Other passages of Scripture affirm that God created everything and it all exists only through his sustaining providence. However, this is not the purpose of Genesis 1. LeFebvre agrees and notes that 1:1 and 2:1 (Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.) serve as bookends for the creation narrative of 1:3-31.Verse 2 describes the state of the earth as God prepares it for fruitfulness and habitation – it was formless, empty, and dark. Nothing but water.

Day one commences the creative work in Genesis 1.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (vv. 3-5)

The light is good. Without light plant and animal life cannot thrive. Thermophilic bacteria are about it – drawing energy from deep sea heat vents. LeFebvre suggests, however, that this focus of day one is not on light, but on the institution of the day as a cycle of light and dark. A day is the fundamental unit of the calendar narrative. He also notes that the translation above calling it “the first day” misses the point. It isn’t just the first day – here the unit of one day is defined.

Day two separates the waters above from the waters below, making space for fruitfulness. Continue reading

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Follow the Plot

The creation week of Genesis 1-2:3 is a culturally situated historical calendar narrative designed to lead God’s people in God’s ways. So argues Michael LeFevre in his recent book, The Liturgy of Creation. Many people, both Christians and Jews, have noticed and commented on the structure of Genesis 1 (including 2:1-3). The six days of creation have a parallel structure 3+3 followed by a day of rest. LeFebvre writes this form as an equation (3+3)+1=7.

The six days of creation followed by the sabbath day of rest shape Genesis 1. Exodus 20:8-11 makes this explicit.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. … For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

While it is common to view the reference in Exodus 20 as a recounting of Genesis 1, LeFebvre suggests that it isn’t this simple. Genesis 1 is a calendar narrative setting a rhythm for human for human stewardship of God’s creation as his image bearers. “Everything revealed about the wisdom and beauty of God in his labors during those six workdays is a model for human stewardship of the created order.” (p. 137)  The seventh day is “a holy day for the image bearers to commune with the creator.” (p. 137)

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Thinking About God When the World Goes Crazy

Tremper Longman III and John Walton teamed up to write short book How to Read Job. This book is a useful guide to reading Job – raising as many questions as it answers – and a lot shorter and more readable than their rather formidable commentaries on the book. The book of Job is theological wisdom literature that addresses the question “How should we think about God when the world goes crazy?”

How should we think about God when plagues, pandemics, pestilence, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, typhoons, and floods hit; when evil appears to conquer good and God-fearing people suffer at the hands of unscrupulous thieves and murders?How should we think about God when cancer strikes a five year old … or a forty-five year old – or an eighty-five year old loved one?

These questions are not new. They plagued the ancient Israelites as they plague us a Christians (or non-Christians) today. The book of Job, if we dig in and think it through, can help us wrestle with these questions. It isn’t a theodicy – “a vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil.”  It isn’t history, providing us with an example of a righteous man (or with an image of a God who makes wagers with Satan). It is wisdom literature in the form of story (with some rather long and sometimes boring dialog) designed to help us think about God.

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Days of Creation: Occurrence or Observance?

Now we get to the central hypothesis of Michael LeFebvre in his book, The Liturgy of Creation. The creation week of Genesis 1-2:3 is a culturally situated historical calendar narrative designed to lead God’s people in God’s ways. LeFebvre writes:

Genesis 1:1-2:3 provides a narration of creation events, but the timing and details of its telling are transparently “re-mapped” to the cadence and themes of Israel’s weekly sabbath festival. The purpose of the narrative is not simply to teach the people what happened but to teach them how to remember God’s work and God’s rest through their own weekly labors and worship. (pp. 113-114)

LeFebvre aims to call us to “engagement with the creation narrative as a metronome for faithful stewardship in God’s image (the first six days) and communion in his presence (the seventh day).” (p. 114)

The creation week of Genesis 1 is portrayed as a week of 6 24 hour days followed by a seventh 24 hour day. In this the literalist is correct. However, the purpose of the text is not to relate details of the occurrence of creation. This follows from the general case that LeFebvre has been building concerning the purpose of dated narratives in the Pentateuch. Genesis 1, like the specific dates in the exodus account are intended to guide the people in life and worship through observance rather than recount details of occurrence.

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Pentateuch or Torah

The first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy, are often referred to as the Pentateuch, literally five books or five scrolls. More importantly, however, they are referred to as the Torah or the law. Michael LeFebvre outlines the importance of this designation in chapter six of his book, The Liturgy of Creation. It is not that the books contain the law, as though the designation torah was restricted to the specific regulations laid down (you shall not murder, you shall not steal etc.). Rather the five books in all their complexity as a whole comprise the law.

This is important. Although the books of the Pentateuch relate a history, the purpose is legal rather than historical. LeFebvre explains:

Normally, a historical narrative is written to tell us what happened in the past. But as part of Israel’s Torah, the narratives of the Pentateuch have an anticipatory purpose. They are histories bout the past told in a manner to instruct audiences in the present and the future. Every historical narrative in the Bible has instructional value (1 Cor 10:11), but the narratives in the Pentateuch – as Torah narratives – provide a more precise, technical kind of instruction. They participate in the legal guidance of ancient Israel, by which we mean instruction in the rituals, institutions, and regulations that defined Israel as an ordered kingdom. The historical narratives of the Torah are more than models of faith (though they certainly are that; see Heb 11:1-31). They are legal definitions of the various institutions and regulations of ancient Israel in story form. (p. 96)

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Reading Job

The book of Job is a truly amazing part of Scripture. The book strikes me as one of the most significant, misunderstood, and under appreciated, books in the entire Bible. I’ve turned to it many times over the last 8 or 9  years, since I first read the book through in its entirety – both the boring speeches and the more exciting parts. Quite frankly, it overturned many of my preconceptions about God and about the nature of Scripture as the word of God. Although it has been offered as a guide to those in the midst of suffering, it doesn’t really work well for one who is actually suffering. It is a bit too cerebral and detached. It works better as a preparation for the times of suffering that come inevitably to all of us sooner or later.

Lately I’ve been drawn to the book once again, thinking about everything that is going on in our world. Uncertainty rules as we don’t really know what tomorrow will bring. For a guide to Job, I generally turn to two commentaries, one by Tremper Longman III (Job (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms)) and one by John Walton (Job (The NIV Application Commentary)) as well as a much shorter popular book they teamed up to write How to Read Job. This time through I have yet a third commentary, The entry on Job by August H. Konkel in Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Cornerstone Biblical Commentary).

Today we will turn to the introduction to the book provided by Walton and Longman in Part One of How to Read Job. I’ve posted on this before and what follows is an edited version of that post. The book of Job is not history and it is not, actually, about Job. Both Walton and Longman agree that the book of Job is about God and the way God runs the world. They argue that two major questions drive the book. First: Is it good policy for God to bless the righteous? Blessing the righteous just buys pseudo-loyalty doesn’t it? And second, Is it it just when God allows righteous people to suffer?

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Science and Faith in Pandemic Times

Francis Collins had a conversation Monday night with Jim Stump and Deb Haarsma of BioLogos. For those who don’t know, Francis Collins is the Director of the National Institutes of Health, following on a successful career as head of the human genome project at NIH, and before that as a professor at the University of Michigan where he and his team identified the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis as well as a number of other genes responsible for a range of diseases. He was appointed director of NIH by Barack Obama in 2009 and selected to continue in this role by Donald Trump in 2017. His experience and leadership is a true blessing in this current crisis.

Francis Collins is also a Christian, convinced that science and Christian faith are fully compatible. His 2006 book The Language of God outlining his story of coming to faith and his approach to science and faith (especially evolution) helped many Christians and encouraged others  others to take a more outspoken stand in the discussion of science and faith.  I read his book straight through within a day of purchase and very shortly after the initial release. Of course, one book was not sufficient to answer all the questions people had, and Collins started to receive regular requests for more. With Karl Giberson, Collins published a followup The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions to address some of the most commonly asked questions. BioLogos was founded in 2009, shortly before Collins was selected to head the NIH, to explore the answers to questions of science and Christian faith and to invite “the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith.” It is an ongoing task.

For those who missed the live stream interview, the whole was recorded and is available at YouTube (https://youtu.be/EZ3JzHCsPp8). I encourage you to watch, it is well worth the time.

In the interview Francis refers to the NIH Director’s Blog he writes on a regular basis. This is also a great source of information on COVID-19 and the ongoing scientific efforts to tackle the problem, identifying treatments and preventative measures as well as developing safe and effective vaccines. This is a wartime effort. Among other things, Collins has addressed conspiracy theories and the suggestion that the virus was designed through human intervention. Study of the RNA code demonstrates a natural origin (Genomic Study Points to Natural Origin of COVID-19). But he also gets down to a personal level at times – both in the interview above and in the blog. His post on April 7 addresses the stress, anxiety and grief that many of us experience in this time of rapid change and isolation.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Josh. 1:9

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

This post is also visible at Jesus Creed now at Christianity Today.

I welcome comments that enlighten us on the topic or ask questions. Expressions of disagreement, agreement, and elaboration are also welcome. Comments are moderated and comments that are excessively long, are abusive or aggressive, or are off-topic will not appear. Imagine that you are holding a conversation over coffee with a friend and you want to remain friends. Your first comment will be held for moderation – subsequent comments will usually appear automatically.

Posted in Christian Life | Tagged

Dates and Numbers

We expect dates and numbers to fit – to work – with mathematical precision. We know our ages and dates of birth. The age of our country, dated to the Declaration of Independence, officially July 4 1776  (for those of us in the US of course, other countries have other significant dates). I remember the bicentennial celebrations back when I was in high school. In 6 years we will celebrate 250 year. We expect to be able to date things precisely. We expect accurate dates and numbers in our literature and our histories. When the numbers don’t work we notice.

It was an expectation of mathematical precision that led Bishop Ussher in the 1600’s to date creation to the entrance of the night preceding the 23rd day of October 4004 BC. This expectation of precision has become ingrained in our culture over the last 400+ years. But the closer we look at the oldest parts of the Old Testament, the clearer it becomes that the dates and numbers don’t work this way. They don’t, as Michael LeFebvre (The Liturgy of Creation) puts it, “rhyme”. As a scientist, an experimentalist who works with data and numbers every day, looking for the patterns and themes, I find this realization inescapable. In science, when the data don’t fit (after extensive examination) we attribute it to error – or worse, to fabrication. Experiments need to be redone. Occasionally (but rarely) it is our understanding of the underlying physical phenomena that needs to be revised. More often the error or duplicity is uncovered. In our modern era, we expect coherence, we expect the numbers to “rhyme.”

Many in our modern world have looked at these consistency issues in the Old Testament and concluded that the Bible is simply full of errors and thus untrustworthy. Christianity, then, is just an ancient myth among many others. Some Christians have proposed rather farfetched scenarios to make the numbers work. Others simply turn a blind eye and choose not to think about it.

But is this the right way to think about these chapters in the Bible?

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An Instrument of God

We continue our walk through Isaiah with Ben Witherington III (Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics) as our guide. Today we focus on Isaiah 44:24-45:13, an oracle that names an historical figure, Cyrus, and calls him God’s anointed. The image to the right is of a monument to Cyrus. An abbreviated version of Isaiah 44-45 emphasizing Cyrus as an instrument of God is below:

“This is what the Lord says—
your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:

who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd
and will accomplish all that I please;
he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,”
and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’
“This is what the Lord says to his anointed,
to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of
to subdue nations before him
and to strip kings of their armor,
to open doors before him
so that gates will not be shut:

For the sake of Jacob my servant,
of Israel my chosen,
I summon you by name
and bestow on you a title of honor,
though you do not acknowledge me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not acknowledged me,

“This is what the Lord says—
the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:

I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness:
I will make all his ways straight.
He will rebuild my city
and set my exiles free,
but not for a price or reward,
says the Lord Almighty.”

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With Science and With Prayer

Francis Collins was interviewed on the Focus on the Family Broadcast last Thursday.  The whole is worth listening to, and the prayer near the end especially (25:20 in the video).


If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

This post is also visible at Jesus Creed now at Christianity Today.

I welcome comments that enlighten us on the topic or ask questions. Expressions of disagreement, agreement, and elaboration are also welcome. Comments are moderated and comments that are excessively long, are abusive or aggressive, or are off-topic will not appear. Imagine that you are holding a conversation over coffee with a friend and you want to remain friends. Your first comment will be held for moderation – subsequent comments will usually appear automatically.

Posted in Science and Faith