Have you ever been asked a hard question about the faith? This happens all the time, both privately and publicly. These times are opportunities for us to check our beliefs, to seek to strengthen our foundation. However, it’s vital to understand the importance of how we seek answers, because while there are many ways to do that, they do not all lead to the truth. One of the biggest questions being asked today has to do with the nature of origins — whether evolution and an old universe conflict with a Christian world view. People have attempted to answer this question in different ways, so rather than look at the different answers that have resulted, I’ve been pondering some of the approaches that can be used. Some examples from Scripture paint an interesting picture of the importance of keeping our focus in the right place when seeking answers. Considering them in the context of the origins question may shed light on how and why people approach it the way they do.
In the Garden of Eden, Satan challenged Eve with a question, misstating God’s command in the process. Eve answered Satan, but included her own variation. Some commentators have noted that her error may have made it easier for Satan to fool her, for she was overstating God’s commandment, making it easier to doubt. It seems that Eve answered based on some imperfect understanding, on what she thought she knew, and because of her imperfect understanding, got it wrong.
What’s really interesting is to reflect on what Eve didn’t do: She did not ask God for the answer to Satan’s question. Instead, she relied on purely human resources, whether her own understanding or Adam’s recollection. Imagine how differently things would have gone if Eve had sought out the Lord for His perspective, asking in effect, for God Himself to answer Satan’s question!
Turning to the New Testament, there is another useful example. During Jesus’ ministry, there were several occasions when people desired to make Him a physical ruler. Even in Acts 1, the disciples wondered if He was finally going to get around to establishing a physical kingdom (Acts 1:6). This common misconception might well have applied when Paul presented Jesus as messiah to the Bereans. But in that case, rather than rely on their previous understanding, they opened their hearts and dove into the Word. In effect, when faced with the question of whether Jesus could have been the messiah, they took the question to God. In the process, they discovered that Paul was right, that if they were waiting for a physical kingdom to come first, that that was a mistake, and that Jesus really was the long-sought Messiah.
I find the contrast between these examples to be interesting. In the first, Eve relied on her own understanding, while in the second, the Bereans relied on the Word of God. Eve’s error was echoed with the Pharisees, who insisted on tradition over God’s true laws. Tradition isn’t bad, but is not a replacement for the Word. The Berean’s wisdom is illustrated by the fact that they did not rely on the previous, popular understanding, but opened their hearts to test what they heard.
The Berean’s approach is further illustrated by the Jerusalem Council, where traditions were lined up against a new understanding of God. Christian leaders were being asked a question about the inclusion of Gentiles, so they sought an answer by noting how He was acting spiritually and in the world, and then lined that up with the Word. In essence, they took the question to God. Not everyone accepted their conclusion, of course, and the dissenters continued to insist that the tradition of circumcision was central to the faith.
It seems like young earth creationism (YEC) is based on the same errors that Eve made, repeated today just as they were by the Pharisees. Insisting that one’s interpretation is so correct that it’s not necessary to humbly seek the Lord. Valuing tradition so highly that hearts become hardened.
Centuries ago, a long history of tradition that included support by church fathers led many to believe that the sun circled the earth. Often, hearts were hardened even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. Eventually, the church came to recognize how God was speaking differently through figurative passages, but the error of depending on previous human understanding was difficult to correct.
To me, the error of YEC is similar, in that it attempts to answer the origins question from a flawed, human understanding. This is why claiming the authority of tradition (ie, such as highlighting the church fathers) is so important and common in YEC arguments. But this is Eve’s and the Pharisee’s error, all over again. By focusing on the natural perspective, it ignores the spiritual.
I believe this will change in time, and we will see the error of a natural perspective. We will see that Genesis 1 is not mere historical narrative, but something much more profound: a figurative picture of spiritual truth. Just like the passing of geocentrism helped us better recognize and apply figurative language in Scripture, I pray that the passing of YEC will help us better recognize and focus on the voice of God.