How there’s a better way to read Genesis 1

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This post was inspired by a conversation with some friends about a book called The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton.

What if you could read Genesis 1 and utterly miss the point?

What if someone told you Genesis 1 has a lot in common with other (older) creation tales from the ancient world?

What if Genesis 1 reflected ancient cosmology rather than modern science — hence light which appears before stars do and a heavenly vault that separates waters above from waters below?

What if ancient cosmology was more about the purpose of things and less about how they came into being? What if Genesis 1 was more about God bringing order and function to the cosmos than how it came into being?

To put it another way, what if Genesis 1 is about the why of creation rather than the how?

What if Genesis 1 is a really story about things which had no function, purpose, or meaning until God gave them one?

And what if the pinnacle of creation wasn’t reached on day six, when God made people?

What if Rick Warren is right? What if it’s not about us?

What if the people who added chapter breaks to the Bible got the very first chapter division wrong? What if the first few verses of Genesis 2 are actually part of the first creation story?

(Did you know there were two creation stories in Genesis?)

What if day seven, which comes at the start of chapter 2 but is actually part of the first creation story, wasn’t just an afterthought? What if it’s more than a footnote to the other six days? What if day seven is the whole point of the story?

What if God resting is what it’s all about?

And what if “resting” was ancient-world-speak for when a deity took up residence in his temple?

What if God “doesn’t live in temples built by human hands” because he already has a temple — one built with his own hands? What if the reason the scriptures say that God “is not far from any one of us” is because the earth is his temple?

What if Isaiah was right? What if the earth is God’s footstool, his resting place, his dwelling?

What if that’s the point of Genesis 1, that God made a home and invited us to share it with him? What if that’s the real point of the story, not how old the earth is or how it came into being?

What if getting sidetracked by debates over the age of the earth or evolution is more than just a way of embarrassing ourselves in front of scientists? What if we’re missing the whole point of our own story?

What if the whole rest of the Bible is about God reclaiming his cosmic temple so he can take up residence — so he can dwell with us — once again?

What if that’s what he was doing when he carved out a patch of earth to share with the Israelites? What if that’s what the apostle John meant when he said Jesus “became flesh and made his dwelling among us”?

What if that’s what God started doing on a global scale when he sent his Spirit to fill his church?

What if that’s what he’s going to do at the end of the story? What if that’s why the last book of the Bible depicts a holy city — God’s city — coming down to earth?

Do you get the feeling that if we miss the real point of Genesis 1, we could miss so much else?

If we get the beginning of our story wrong, could we get the ending wrong too?

What if this is really what’s at stake in the endless debate over creation and Genesis 1 — not just our scientific credibility (though that’s on the line too) but our ability to embrace the story the Bible actually wants to tell us?

All of which, by the way, is why we need books like this . . .

Lost World of Genesis One

How I need to learn to mourn with those who mourn

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When news broke that Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, had taken his own life, it wasn’t long before the outpouring of support gave way to a more repugnant sentiment.

People taking to social media to mock Warren’s faith . . .

To declare his family’s heartbreaking loss to be some sort of payback for his theology or his politics . . .

To speculate on his son’s eternal destiny.

Paraphrasing John Armstong’s timely response to these attacks, the words pathetic and cruel come to mind.

I don’t claim to be a huge Rick Warren fan. I don’t go in for his style of church. Theologically and politically, he and I are probably worlds apart. And I could never quite get into the whole “purpose-driven” thing — even though I was employed by his publisher during the heyday of his mega-bestselling book (and therefore indirectly benefited from it). And yes, I did read it.

So it would be pretty easy for me to congratulate myself for not jumping on the bandwagon of judgment being directed at Warren by a few trolls on the internet.

Except . . .

Despite our differences, I like Rick Warren. He comes across as a nice enough guy. I kinda sorta met him once, and he seemed every bit as warm and approachable in person as he does on TV.

And you have to admit: even if you don’t share all of his politics or theology, Rick Warren is a way better ambassador for evangelicalism than some of the other current and former contenders. His PEACE Plan is something to be admired — even if you disagree with some of the particulars (or just don’t share Warren’s penchant for acronyms).

In other words, it’s easy for me to sympathize with someone like Rick Warren.

So what if it was someone I didn’t just disagree with — what if it was someone I actively disliked?

What if it was John Piper, who doesn’t merely express what I think is some rather sadistic theology, but seems to delight in doing so?

What if it was Mark Driscoll, whose misogynistic rants have wounded more than a few of my friends?

What if it was James Dobson, whose unholy mix of Christianity and right-wing politics has arguably done more than anything else to drive people away from faith?

If any of these three suffered a comparable loss, would I grieve for them? Would I feel sorry? Or would I feel smug?

I have to be honest. The answer scares me a little.

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul encouraged believers to “mourn with those who mourn.”

I’d like to tell myself that Paul is asking Christians to mourn with other Christians, and that Piper/Driscoll/Dobson [add your nemesis of choice here] hardly qualify as good models of what a Christian ought to be . . . therefore we are exempt from mourning when they stumble or suffer loss.

It’s OK to be smug when people like THAT suffer.

Except that it’s not.

You see, Paul wasn’t just talking about how we treat other Christians, those who think exactly like we do, or those we find it easy to like. Just one sentence earlier, Paul also said, “Bless those who persecute you,” which would seem to rule out a narrow interpretation of who he means by “those.”

Bless those…

Rejoice with those…

Mourn with those…

“Those.” As in everyone.

We bless, we rejoice, and we mourn with any and all, because we believe that no one is beyond redemption. We believe that no one is beyond God’s love. A relatively new friend of mine, Trystan Owain Hughes, has a timely (and challenging) piece about this very thing.

It’s not easy to mourn with those we dislike. But perhaps the true test of our willingness to follow Jesus is not our ability to grieve at the suffering of our friends, but at that of our enemies.

So today, I will grieve with Rick Warren. But I’ll be honest and admit that it’s easy for me to do so. It’s easy to grieve with those whom I like. So I will also pray for the strength to grieve with my enemies when they stumble or suffer loss.