Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Andy Griffith and the creation of the universe

A couple years ago, we had a new pastor who started a Sunday night Bible study of the Old Testament, an overview from Genesis 1:1 to Malachi 4:6.

He made a Sunday morning announcement that the overview would include looking at what was going on throughout the world at the same time. The overview would be like taking a plane ride all over the world, and we could "land and take a look" for as long as we wanted.

This sounded interesting to me. I like ancient world history, so I attended that night. It was the second session, so I'd missed a little, but the pastor did a review at the beginning of the class. He handed out a course outline, and right near the top of the outline it said "Creation, about 4004 BC."

I knew immediately that I was not going to fit in with this discussion.

The pastor began the class and quickly got to the date-setting of creation. He said that figure was arrived at by Bishop Ussher and no reputable scholars have disputed or refuted it. It is generally accepted, he said.
I raised my hand.

"Well, you don't mind if I don't accept it, do you?" I said. "Because I don't."

The congregation laughed, and one lady said, "We've missed you, R.D." (I have not attended on Sunday nights for several weeks.) I'm not sure what she meant by that.

I should have just shut my mouth, but I'm a sinner, so I kept talking.

"The earth is millions of years old and the universe is billions of years old," I said. "By 4004 BC, there were Stone Age people living here in Missouri. They walked across the land bridge between Asia and Alaska around 10,000 BC."

I could have shut up then, too, but not me. Oh, no. I plowed ahead.

"Agriculture is dated back to around 10,000 BC. Archaeologists have found ruins of a granary in Turkey dating back to about that time. And I think I read that they found the remains of a dairy in Iraq dating to somewhere around the same time."

"Where did you come up with that?" the pastor said.

"Well, where did you and Ussher come up with this?" I said, pointing to the outline.

"God's word," he said. "God's word says it, so it's true."

"I believe the Bible is God's word, too, and I believe it is truth, but sometimes it is not factual," I said.

He did not seem to understand what I was trying to say. I don't think anybody else in the church did, either.
It was pretty clear to me that I was only going to be a distraction and a controversy-builder if I particiapted in the overview, so I stood up, picked up my Bible and said, "I think I'd better go. I don't want to cause problems, and if I stay I'm going to feel compelled to challenge every point."

"Thank you," said the pastor as I left the Bible study of my church.

I went back to Bible study once, and the lady who said "We've missed you, R.D." told me in all earnestness and seriousness that I might be called to stay behind after the Rapture to teach the Word. I don't know how that works, because it's my impression that people "left behind" are not Christians. If she figures I'm not saved, I'm not sure how I'm going to lead anyone to Christ after the Rapture.

I think  I'd better stay way from Bible study. It is not the place for me, even though I love to study the Bible, read the Bible, read about the Bible, talk about the Bible. It is the written revelation of God. Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God.

I'll worship on Sunday morning with the folks I love and admire, even though they think I'm way out there and not going up with them in the Rapture. They can believe what they want.
Our church has had too much division in the past, and I don't want to contribute to a new round of that. As I said, I don't want to be adversarial, and I don't want to be argumentative. On the other hand, I can't sit by without questioning the pastor's assumptions, just as he could not sit by and not question mine.

I think we'll just have to "agree to disagree" as they say. I've got more questions about creation and history than I do ideas about it, but I can in no way accept Bishop Ussher's timeline. I studied that and rejected it long ago. I've spent a lot of time off and on since high school trying to mesh Bible history and world history.
Since the beginning of civilization, the two do mesh pretty well, though not completely, and archaeology from time to time finds more evidence that Old Testament stories are true for ancient civilizations.

It's the pre-history that bothers me.

The book of Genesis up until the calling of Abraham seems to me to be literary rather than factual. I accept it as as the word of God, but I think the purpose is to lay the groundwork quickly for the history of Israel. It compresses everything from creation (and I do believe God created the universe through the Second Person of the Trinity, just like John 1:1-2 says) through the beginning of civilization into just a few chapters to get quickly to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the nation of Israel.

Consequently, it ignores the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages. There was a long time from creation to civilization. I think there was a long time from creation of the universe and the earth until the appearance of man on the earth. Archaeology bears this out.

God chose to tell that story quickly in the early chapters of Genesis, so those chapters are more mythos than reportage. I'm not saying they ARE myths; they are literary constructs to tell truth quickly. I can't believe that archaeologists are completely wrong when they date their artifacts. It's clear that agriculture began about 10,000-12,000 years ago in Turkey. That's where Mount Ararat is, so there's a tie-in with Noah. I've read sources that put the time of the flood about 10,000-12,000 BC. That intrigues me.

Archaeologists also agree that North America had humans wandering around it in the hunter-gatherer stage starting about that same time after they walked across the land mass that is now the Bering Strait. Something happened to raise the water levels so the strait is now impassable. The glaciers receded and meltied, raising the ocean levels, flooding land masses. This occurred about the same time as agriculture began in Mount Ararat, which is where Noah supposedly docked and started growing grapes. I find that intriguing.

The day after that Bible study that I left, I had a vacation day from work. At noon, I watched an old Andy Griffith episode, which I believe the Lord sat before me, for it illustrates what I believe about the opening chapters of Genesis.

It's the episode where Opie and his buddies don't want to study history. Andy tells them they don't need to study history, but then he goes on to tell a story. Here it is:

Now none of us would say Andy is not telling Opie the truth. He's the boy's Daddy; he isn't going to tell him a lie. But the American history that Sheriff Taylor relates is not factual. Certainly there was not a literal gun that fired a literal shot literally heard round the world.

Andy's story is not factual, but it is true. It is a story a Daddy tells a child that the youngster can understand and it encourages him to learn more. As the boy grows studies and grows, he'll understand more of the intricacies and facts.

I think that's what God did in the opening chapters of Genesis. He used figurative language and compressed the time so people could understand that he made it. Now, we have scientists who understand more of the workings of creation. For some of them, that knowledge makes them atheists. For others, it fills them with awe at the greatness of God.

I'm not a scientist. I work in a lumberyard/hardware store/home center. I'm not real intelligent, but I can accept that God literally created the world but he told us the creation story in the way Andy told the story of the American Revolution to Opie.

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