Background Scripture: Genesis 1-2, 5:1-2.
Devotional Reading: Psalms 8.
From time to time, I have poked a bit of fun at James Ussher, the bishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland, 1625-1656.
He was a fine scholar, having served as professor at Trinity College in Dublin before being made a bishop. His many writings brought him acclaim.
One of his passions was church history, and he dedicated himself to putting together a time line of Judeo-Christian history, using clues he found in the Bible. Eventually, he decided the Earth was created before nightfall preceding the dawn of Oct. 23, 4004 B.C.
I’m sure that Bishop Ussher was quite sincere. But he made a mistake that many Christians still make — using the Bible to provide scientific and historical verification, which it does not provide, nor is intended to do so.
I recently received an advertisement from someone who claims we can control the stock market using data provided by the Bible.
The creation stories in Genesis are a frequent target of misuse. The reason? People often approach the Bible as a resource they can use to verify their own ideas or prejudices.
Word of God
In my home congregation, when the scriptures are read during worship, the reading is closed with these words: “The word of God for the people of God.”
I wonder if most of the people understand that “the word of God” does not mean the words which God spoke to the writer. God does speak to us through the writers of the Bible, but their words are not the equivalent of “his word.”
Sometimes, the word of God is nonverbal. The book of Genesis provides for us the word of God, but the words by which that word is communicated are the words of human beings.
So the Bible is not intended to be a history book or a scientific explanation, but of faith. Our faith is not in the words, but in the word.
The Genesis account of the creation is often used, as Bishop Ussher tried, to construct a chronology that it was not intended to be. The important “word” of Genesis 1 and 2 is that God is the Creator of the world, including humanity and life itself.
This world is so filled with life — the stars dancing above us and unthinking life sustaining us from below. And there are but two choices. One, we can choose to believe that all of this creation is the result of chance, unplanned, accidental. Or two, we can choose to see purpose in this universe and behind the purpose a Purposer.
To me, the world bears the imprint of a Creator-Sustainer-Victor God, rather than a meaningless accident.
The crown of that creation, so far as we can see, is the gift of life to living beings and at the top of all that is humanity and the hint of life that is divine.
Sometimes Genesis 2 is used to “prove” that God created females to be subordinate, an afterthought — “Then the Lord God said, It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ ”
Genesis goes on to explain that woman was created from one of Adam’s ribs. But, we need to remember that Genesis 1:27 refutes that man-first, woman-second perception: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
And then “God blessed them” — both of them (1:28).
Affront to the Creator
In the Middle East, there has been an enduring secular doctrine of male superiority that we see evident even today. Jewish males prayed, thanking God that they had not been born as woman. It is also true that in the synagogue, they had to sit in a subordinate place.
Women were often segregated in American churches in the 17th and 18th centuries.
No less is it true that almost all the leadership in the Old Testament and most of the New Testament was in the hands of males. But that was an attitude derived, not from God, but from their culture.
It has taken us too long to realize that a prejudice against one gender is an affront to the Creator. This prejudice was often reinforced by the interpretation of the Genesis creation accounts. It has taken Christians far too long to accord to women a status of equality.
Though Jesus himself is never quoted in disdain of women, the father of western theology, Tertullian, was explicit: “The judgment of God upon your sex endures even today; and with it inevitably endures your position of criminal at the bar of justice. You are the gateway of the devil.”
Charles Wesley was closer to the mark, pegging woman as “an equal, taken from his side.”
“Mankind” has had its day. Thank God for “humankind.”