Who was Adam?

It would be easy to take the entire book of Genesis literally.  Assume six literal days.  Assume Adam was a single person.  Assume it all happened in a straight foreward manner.

It would be equally easy to dismiss it all as nonsense.  We know that man evolved.  We know that some elements of the chronology are out of order.  We know that the age that literalists have given us for the Earth doesn’t match up with what we know from other disciplines.

Of course, there is a third option.  Though the first two options are easy, they don’t satisfy.   I believe firmly and completely that the biblical account is divienly inspired.  I believe that God works through the evolutionary process. 

I wanted to explore this, this morning.  I wanted to offer some things that maybe God is trying to share with us through the book of Genesis. 

There are some interesting paralells in the chronology between the scientific and biblical accounts.  Both have the Earth start off a lifeless husk.   First come the waters and oceans.  Animal life begins in the oceans.  Land pops up.  Animals make it to the land.   The first human arrives pretty late on the scene.

(I want to be open about the fact that I have omitted some discrepancies.  I believe that the scientific and biblical accounts are remarkably consistent.  God didn’t want to write a science book when he wrote the bible, though.  They aren’t perfect.)

With the coming of Adam, things get particularly interesting,  Those who don’t see God as having a hand in the writing of the bible have to explain away a remarkable number of coincidences.  One of these is this: Clearly, the ancient Hebrews couldn’t have known much about our evolutionary ancestors.  And yet virtually every major differentiation between us and the ealier hominids is covered in Genesis: the development of language, nudity taboos, the development of monogamy, the use of tools for tilling the land, different social gender expectations.

On the other hand, people like myself who are skeptical about the literal-ness of all this owe an explanation: What does original sin mean?  What do the trees stand for?  What does the serpent represent?

These are huge questions.  I don’t know that I have them fully answered.  But we can’t just sweep them aside.  If we think that Jesus redeemed us from the Fall at the Garden of Eden, we can’t really understand His redemption if we don’t understand what that fall really was.

The best I can do with answering these questions is more vague than I’d like.  But for whatever it’s worth, here it is:

God used the evolutionary process with the inent of creating humankind.  He had incredibly special plans for us that included a much closer communion to Him than we currently enjoy.

This communion, like any communion, was a relationship.  The garden might have been a place.  But it was more importantly a way of existing in harmony with God. 

I’ll side with the traditionalists on the idea that the serpent represents Satan.  The understanding that Satan wanted to strike out at God by hurting him, that humanity itself was the closest thing to a weakness of God’s makes sense to me.  Satan couldn’t get at God directly.   So he went after God’s kids.

A relationship isn’t a relationship if both people can’t opt out.  A paradise is a prison if there’s not a door.  By definition, God could not have forced us into the sort of existence he wanted for us.  He had to give us a back door, a way out, or he would have had a prison, not perfection for us.

Satan and human weakness conspired.  We walked out the door that God had to leave open. 

And so God begins a string of statements about how the world is going to be.  He prophecies the coming of Jesus; Satan will try to strike at Jesus heel and Jesus will succesfully stomp on the serpent’s head.  

The other thing I think about, as I think about Genesis, is that in at least one way, Adam is one person.  Adam is me.

I have been offered amazing riches.  I have turned these down for foolish reasons.  I have disobeyed God and followed the serpent.

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topic #2 I’m wrestling with God over: literal vs symbolic interpretation

There are some things that I’m crystal clear on.

This is not one of them.

I’ve been reviewing the issues I don’t quite have worked out.  I’ve been doing this because I’m interested in seeking out others’ counsel, and also because I want to lower the tenor of debate in some miniscule little way.  It seems like we tend to get dug in to our perpsectives, and we pretend that our way of viewing things is perfect, and it doesn’t really accomplish much productive.  I think Jesus calls us to be open in our weakness and with our weakness… But I digress.

An area I don’t have worked out: when is the bible meant to be interpreted literally and when is it meant to be taken figuratively or symbolically.

This doesn’t bother me as much as it might because I’m confident I’m not alone.  I haven’t yet found a very thorough account of criteria for consistently determining how to apply scriptural truth.

There are people who have begun this.  They can point out guidelines which sometimes help.  But there’s nobody that I’ve found with anything close to an exhaustive account.

And most of us have fairly large lists of things we think are literal and things we think are symbolic.  But it seems to me that we can’t generally explain how we came to this list. 

It appears that we do a lot of question-begging.  It seems like maybe we start with a set of beliefs and pick and choose which ones to interpret symbolically and which ones to interpret literally.   The progressives generally take more flack for this, but it seems to me that this is undeserved.  I think the progressives and conservatives tend to have different verses that they focus on taking literally.  But I’m unconvinced that one camp is more conistent than the other.

Are there gray areas between literal and symbolic interpretation?  Madeline L’Engle wrote about icons.  Icons, for her, are symbols which participate in the thing they are symbolizing.  I can almost (but not quite) get my brain around her meaning.  It seems like it might be fruitful to pursue this line of reasoning.

Might God have intended different interpretations for different eras?  I most definitely think so.  Micah Tillman’s blog (see blogroll at right) had some interesting thoughts and links on this topic that helped me clarify this issue. 

When I first ran through the topics that I’m wrestling with God over (about 3 blogs back) I had focused more on the topic of divine inspiration.  As I explore where my beliefs are, it seems like I’m not to concerned with this issue.  I’m clear that the bible is God-breathed.  There’s a few abstractly interesting questions about it, but the real direct focus of my concern is interpretation.

Looking foreward to responses,

Jeff