So many Christians choose to die on the hill of defending a literal 7-day creation story in Genesis 1. And maybe that’s true, I don’t know, I wasn’t there. Maybe it was a literal 7 days or maybe the 7 symbolizes perfection and completion (as common in Jewish writing). But I don’t think that’s the point of the story.
I know that even talking about this is causing some of your blood pressure to rise. The Bible is true! And I agree the Bible is true, but that doesn’t mean every passage is literal. Before you close the tab, hear me out.
Check out: Everything in the Bible is True… BUT
I’m not trying to convince you that Genesis 1 isn’t to be read literally. Frankly, I don’t care if you believe in a literal 7-day creation story or not. That’s not the point. Rather I want to focus on the bigger picture of what is happening in this story. A picture we often miss in pursuit of literal or not.
We’ve Focused on the Wrong Thing
In the pursuit to defend a literal 7-day creation the church has lost sight of the depth of the story found in Genesis 1-2. We can argue all day on the details of how the world came to be. But the bottom line is we don’t know. God didn’t give us the nitty-gritty. To think that the Creation story is the end all be all of how the world and humankind came to be is foolish.
Thanks to huge advances in science we now know some of the complexity that exists in the world around us. Take the human cell for example. The amount of design and complexity that went into that single cell is astonishing. What’s even more wild is that the average human body has over 37 TRILLION cells. That’s crazy!
Yet despite the crucial role cells play in our bodies, Genesis leaves them out. Not only that but atoms, molecules, gravity, and how the stars and planets are held in place are left out of the creation story. We know they exist, but the details are left unknown. Left for us to discover. Why?
The beauty of the story is not found in the details, rather the overarching story.
We get so bogged down that God had to create the universe in 7 days that we miss the story and what it’s trying to communicate. The 7 days was never the central point of the story. God was not concerned with communicating the details of how the creation came to be. If he wanted us to know that the narration of this story would look very different. There’s something else going on here.
Let’s look at another possibility for the point of the creation story.
When Genesis Was Written and Who Was It Written To
While Genesis is the first book in the Bible it’s far from the first book written. It’s tough to nail down a date of a piece of literature written thousands of years ago. However traditionally, Christian and Jewish scholars attribute Moses as the author of Genesis and date the writing somewhere around 1440 B.C. This isn’t an exact science, some will disagree with the dating, and they might be right. However it is an acceptable option among many circles of people much smarter than me. Going forward we will continue with the assumption that Genesis was penned around 1440 B.C.
You might be thinking who cares about the date it was written… Well you should. Here’s why… If Genesis was written around 1400 B.C. that is the same time the nation of Israel was wandering around the desert waiting to enter into the Promise Land. Is it a coincidence that the creation story was penned during that time? Doubtful.
The Israelites were in a fragile spot. They had just spend 400+ years in slavery. Generation after generation grew up only knowing the life of being told what to do. Their identity was that of a captive people. That’s all they knew.
Once they were free we see this mindset played out over and over. For the first time in many generations they were free, but they continually complained and wanted to go back. They don’t understand freedom, and they don’t know their true identity. All they know was living in captivity. So they acted like captives.
This is why Moses receiving the 10 Commandments was such a big deal. When they left Egypt they lost their sense of purpose and direction. For years it had been, do what you’re told. With their new found freedom they had no guiding principles. Their whole life shifted, they had a completely new normal, and they had no idea how to live. The 10 Commandments gave them that framework.
This is important because this is the context in which Genesis is written. These are the people who it was first written to, a nation of former slaves now wandering through the desert. Not really sure of who they are and still learning to trust God.
The next question we should ask, is why this story told to these people?
The Significance of the Story of Israel
The Israelites needed a hard reset of their mentality. That’s what the wandering was doing. That time allowed them to reset their thinking, their actions, and their trust in God. They had to get used to a totally new normal, and they need time to do so.
Think of a person that was kidnapped and lived in captivity for many years. They aren’t going to be able to go back to their normal life in a few days. They need time for their mind to reset back to what is normal. The Israelites had NO concept of freedom. For generations all they had known was captivity. They couldn’t simply go back to life as they knew it… That had been long forgotten about. They needed time to reset their thinking and be taught who they were.
Throughout the story of creation God was reminding them of their identity. 400 years is a long time to be in captivity. Long enough for them to forget who they were and where they came from. So God starts at the beginning.
The beauty of the creation story for the Israelites wasn’t found in the details of how things came to be. They didn’t give a rip about that. What mattered deeply to them was their identity that stemmed from the story.
Where one comes from can give a deep sense of purpose and belonging. Your family line in ancient times was a deep source of identity. It could bring a great sense of pride or a great deal of shame. God was rewriting their family line. They thought their identity stemmed from being a slave. God said, no no no. Your identity stems from the beginning of time. Your identity is the centerpiece of my creation. You were created for a reason and with a purpose.
God rewrote their family line from the very beginning. He reminded them that they all came to be by his design. That they had significance and a purpose. It took them years of wandering and many painful reminders. But their hard reset eventually took place and they settled into their new identity. Only to lose it again in a few generations. But that’s human story, isn’t it? Creation, Fall, Redemption. We live it out over and over again.
The Implications of the Story for Us
In many ways we are no different than the Israelites. Sure there are differences in how our lives look. We aren’t in physical bondage, at least in most countries. But we are still slaves. Slaves to our desires and our sins. We’ve forgotten who were are and whose we are. We’ve forgotten where we came from and what purpose we have. In many ways we are in the same identity crisis that the nation of Israel faced in the desert 3400 years ago.
We love to sit around and debate whether Genesis 1 is literal or not. And I get that, it’s interesting to talk about. But we can totally miss the point when that’s all we focus on. We were created for a reason and with a purpose. Our identity is wrapped up in that story.
The Israelites needed a reminder of who they were. They had this warped view of their purpose. God told them this story to remind them. And I think that’s a reminder that we need to hear today. That’s the beauty in this story. It’s a reminder that God created humankind with a purpose in mind. We are the center of his creation, his prize possession. That’s our identity.
It doesn’t matter if the creation story is a literal 7 days or if the 7 symbolizes perfection and completion. The beauty is in the story either way. Stop trying to figure out how God created the world and reflect on the implications for your identity that stem from this story.
Some of what I said is up for debate, I can’t totally prove my point. The creation story in Genesis 1 might have been written several generations after the Israelites were in the Promise Land. Frankly, we just don’t know (although I’d bet Moses wrote it in the desert). But the creation story is still pointing us towards our identity. That’s the purpose of the story.
I’d love to hear from you! Drop a comment below and let me know what you think!
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