May 11, 2011

Beyond the Creation Story

 During my public evangelistic meetings I routinely conduct question-and-answer sessions. The subject of Creation often surfaces. Audience members ask questions like these: “Did God really create the world in six literal, consecutive, 24-hour days?” “How do we know He didn’t take billions of years?” “Does it really make any difference if the days of Creation week were literal?” “After all, if we believe that God began the process of creation, isn’t that what is important?” “Why should we be concerned about how He did it?”
These questions are vital, and they demand rock-solid answers. The implications move far beyond the Creation story. How we personally relate to these critical issues will determine our confidence in the integrity of Scripture and dramatically affect our understanding of significant Bible truths. Our answers will also directly influence our personal relationship with God.
A Synopsis of the Creation Account
Seventh-day Adventists have been known for 150 years as the people of the Book. The Word of God is the foundation of all that we believe and teach. While we clearly recognize that all truth—including scientific truth— originates with God, we do not attempt to view the Bible through the eyes of science. Our understanding of biblical realities shapes our view of the world around us. While we may not always be able to fully explain every detail of the available scientific data, our interpretation of that data is informed by our understanding of Scripture. The Bible and science aren’t mutually exclusive. The same God who revealed Himself in the truths of Scripture has revealed Himself in the natural world. But as a consequence of sin, the natural world doesn’t clearly reveal God’s grace and character. The Bible is our surest and safest guide in understanding God’s creation and His plan for this planet.
The inspired scriptural account is abundantly clear on how God created our world. The psalmist declares, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, the starry host by the breath of his mouth. . . . For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:6-9). God’s Word was and is a creative word. What He declares is so even if it were never so before. He speaks, and worlds come into existence.
2011 1513 page16At Creation, God’s spoken word became tangible matter. The psalmist doesn’t say that God spoke and it was in the process of being done for billions of years. God spoke, and it was done. The Epistle to the Hebrews clarifies just how God created in these words: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:3). The plain teaching of the Bible doesn’t allow for the earth evolving over billions of years: in Scripture there’s no room for God starting the process and evolution finishing it. God finished what He started in Creation week.
Ellen White makes this perceptive comment: “It is the Word of God alone that gives to us an authentic account of the creation of our world. The theory that God did not create matter when He brought the world into existence is without foundation. In the formation of our world, God was not indebted to preexisting matter. On the contrary, all things, material or spiritual, stood up before the Lord Jehovah at His voice and were created for His own purpose. The heavens and all the host of them, the earth and all things therein, are not only the work of His hand; they came into existence by the breath of His mouth.”1
An All-powerful Creator
In the Genesis account of Creation, God is described as the Creator 31 times. Genesis 1:1 begins with these well-known words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Two of the most significant words for create or make in the Hebrew language are ‘asah and bara’. ‘Asah means to make from something already in existence. It is used for both God and human beings. For example, human beings can make or create houses, cars, and clothing from materials that already exist. Bara’ in its dominant forms is used exclusively for God. Only God can bara’.2 Bara’ is to create something unique and special that didn’t previously exist. It applies to God’s activity alone. The expression in Genesis 1:1, “God created,” uses bara’. Here God speaks a one-of-a-kind world into existence. In Genesis 1:26, 27 the word bara’ is employed three times—giving special emphasis—to describe His creation of human beings in His own image: marvelously, He gives them the power to procreate. Only God, however, can create something out of nothing.
One of the great theological problems with theistic evolution is that it limits God’s power. It exalts natural law above the Creator of natural law. Theistic evolution doesn’t allow for an all-powerful God to miraculously shape our world. It reduces God to the scale of human imagination, and exalts reason above revelation. This was precisely why humanity fell in the beginning. Eve listened to the voice of the serpent in the garden and trusted what her eyes could see rather than what God said. Her mind became the final arbiter of truth.
Reason is certainly a gift of God, but left alone and unaided, it is an insufficient guide. Our first parents turned from the authority of God’s word to the folly of their own wisdom. The danger of this habit is readily apparent: our first parents’ decisions were disastrous.
The Genesis account offers still more evidence for confidence in its historicity. Often in Hebrew parallelism, an initial phrase is explained and expanded upon by a second corresponding phrase. The Genesis account of Creation is an excellent example of this linguistic practice. The expressions “God said” and “God made” are linked together throughout Genesis 1 (Gen. 1: 6, 7, 14, 16, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26). When God speaks, He creates. He is all-powerful. His Word accomplishes what He declares, because His unlimited power is inherent in “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).
The assumption that the days of Creation aren’t literal 24-hour periods and that the Genesis week is not a literal week with seven consecutive days is extremely problematic from a biblical point of view. The Hebrew word for “day” is yom. In Hebrew, when a numeral precedes the word “day” (yom), (first day, second day, etc.), the time period indicated must be a 24-hour period.3 This is clarified by the repeated statement “And there was evening, and there was morning.” It is obvious to even the casual reader that when Moses wrote Genesis, he clearly understood that God created the world in seven literal days.
The Authority of God’s Word
There is much more at stake here than the exact length of the Creation week. One of the major issues revolves around the authority and inspiration of Scripture. Since “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,” to deny the Creation story is to deny the inspiration of the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16, KJV). Both the Old and New Testaments are replete with references to Creation. The Old Testament prophets, the Gospel writers, as well as Peter and Paul, repeatedly mention Creation. To the Bible authors, Creation is fact, not conjecture.
2011 1513 page16If the Creation story is simply a beautiful allegory, as many Christians now insist, can we really trust any other part of the Bible? Jesus definitely believed in the historicity of Creation. Speaking of the sacredness of marriage, He asked His inquisitors, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made [created] them male and female’. . . ?” (Matt. 19:4). Jesus, the Creator, knows more about Creation than any human being, for according to Paul, He was the agent of Creation (Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:16, 17). Isn’t it the height of arrogance to believe that we can know more than the Creator about His creation? Isn’t it folly to attempt to explain away the plain words of Jesus by human reasoning? Isn’t the very essence of the great controversy between good and evil about exalting human pride above divine revelation?
With divine insight Ellen White leaves no doubt about the literal Creation week. “God Himself measured off the first week as a sample for successive weeks to the close of time. Like every other, it consisted of seven literal days.”4
The Foundation of Biblical Truth
In the evolutionary model as proposed by Charles Darwin and successively refined during the past 150 years, death is a necessary component of evolutionary progress. Natural selection teaches that the fittest species survive and the weakest die. In this scenario death is crucial, because it allows the stronger species to thrive. Consequently, death would have occurred for billions of years before humans evolved.
There is absolutely no way to harmonize this concept with the biblical record. In Scripture death is an enemy brought about by sin, for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Death entered this world as the result of Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience: it was never part of God’s original plan. Speaking of the second coming of Christ, Paul affirms, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). The undergirding premise of the theory of evolution undermines the plan of salvation as revealed in God’s Word. Why would Jesus have to die if death was part of God’s original plan? If the human race is constantly evolving into some sort of higher order of beings through the evolutionary process, what possible purpose could there be for a plan of salvation?
The theory of evolution also assaults each major biblical truth, beginning with the Sabbath. If the days of Creation were long periods of indefinite time, what significance would the Sabbath have at all? How could the Sabbath be a memorial of something that never took place? God wrote the Sabbath commandment with His own finger on tables of stone. The fourth commandment concludes with these words: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:11). To deny a literal six-day creation is to undermine the Sabbath commandment and to challenge the authority of God’s own declaration about His creative activity. It raises questions about God’s knowledge, wisdom, power, and integrity.
It is not accidental that just at the time God raised up an end-time movement to proclaim the everlasting gospel in the context of the three angels’ messages to “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev. 7:9), Charles Darwin completed his first draft of On the Origin of Species. In His infinite wisdom, God foresaw that this deceptive theory of earth’s origins would undermine the faith of millions. He therefore sent an urgent last-day appeal in the light of the judgment hour to call men and women back to “worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Rev. 14:6). The Sabbath is not only a memorial of Creation; it is also a bulwark against atheistic evolution. It is a weekly reminder that we were created by a loving God.
Creation Answers the Great Questions of Life
The great questions of life that philosophers have wrestled with through the centuries are these:
Where did I come from?—The question of origin.
Why am I here?—The question of purpose.
Where am I going?—The question of destiny.
2011 1513 page16The Bible reveals that we were created by a loving God who has a divine purpose for our lives. He will one day come again to ultimately re-create the heavens and the earth in their Edenic splendor.
The truth of Creation also supplies human beings with a God-given sense of value and dignity. Our roots take us back, not to a primordial slime pit of randomly selected molecules, but to an all-wise, intelligent God who formed us in His image (Gen. 1:27). We are bound together in one common humanity (Acts 17:24-26). God is our loving heavenly Father, who cares for us deeply. Although we live in a fallen world, His presence is constantly with us to encourage and strengthen us to face life’s challenges and heartaches.
Atheistic evolution asserts that we exist by fortuitous chance. We are merely enlarged protein molecules with superior intelligence. It doesn’t provide any sense of purpose—or hope—for human life. In essence, we are alone in the universe to struggle through life with nothing but our evolving wits to guide us into the future. Theistic evolution declares that God created the first spark of life but then allowed natural processes to take place. Both theories have one fundamental thing in common: both reject the Genesis account of Creation. They leave us with some basic unanswered questions: If we are no more than advanced animals, what is the basis for morality? Where does love come from? How does one define right and wrong? What is the source of ultimate moral and spiritual authority?
Re-Creation and the Second Coming
Our biblical understanding of Creation lays the foundation for two more essential scriptural truths. If an all-powerful God created this world, He has the power to change our lives. We aren’t merely products of our heredity and environment. As we yield to the promptings of His Spirit, Christ will transform us. We aren’t locked in a fixed genetic pattern that is impossible to change. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17, NKJV).5 The God who created this world can re-create our lives. The Creator can produce a new creation in us. This is why David can plead: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10, NKJV). David knew that it was only God who could bara’ a new heart for him. His power is far stronger than either our fallen natures or our sinful surroundings. In Him our lives can be new. He hasn’t left us to struggle with sin unaided. The almighty Creator, who brought light out of darkness, can once again bring light out of the darkness of our lives. He created life at the beginning, and He has the power to give us a new beginning too.
Evolution Undermines Adventist Identity
The name “Seventh-day Adventist” communicates two vital last-day truths—?the Sabbath, and the second coming of Jesus. Evolution, in both its atheistic and theistic forms, undermines both. As we have already shown earlier in this article, there is really no basis for the Sabbath if God didn’t create the world in six days in the first place. Why establish a memorial for something that doesn’t exist? At best the theistic evolutionist might see the Sabbath as a time of rest and social fellowship, but certainly not a memorial of an all-powerful Creator who created our world in six consecutive 24-hour days.
Taken to its logical conclusion, the theory of evolution eliminates the need for the return of our Lord. If the human race is evolving toward some sort of super race, why would there be a need for the second coming of Christ? With the dramatically apparent moral decadence of our world, it’s difficult to discern how humanity is progressing toward any kind of enlightenment that will eventually lead to peace and harmony on earth. Even if that were the case—which it is not—it still doesn’t solve the problem of death. The return of our Lord is the most logical and relevant answer to the question of suffering and death on our planet.
There is hope: Jesus is coming again. One day disease, disaster, and death will be over. One day God will create a new heaven and earth where righteousness dwells forever (2 Peter 3:13). Just as God spoke and it was at the beginning, so God will change us “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52).
The legacy of Lucifer’s rebellion and our first parents’ fall speaks in thunderous tones. To exalt God’s gift of reason above God’s Word is catastrophic. To accept evolution is to abandon the authority of Scripture, salvation through Jesus Christ, the re-creating power of God, the Sabbath, and the second coming of Jesus.
And that is a price far too high to pay.
1 Ellen G. White, The Faith I Live By, p. 24.
2 This is true for qal and niphal forms of the verb. Lexicographers are uncertain if other forms of the word indicate human agency or are simply similar-sounding root words in the Hebrew.
3 In Genesis 1 most of the numbers are ordinals (except for day one). For a helpful discussion of the linguistic data, see Gerhard F. Hasel, “The ‘Days’ of Creation in Genesis 1: Literal ‘Days’ or Figurative ‘Periods/Epochs’ of Time?” Origins 21, no. 1 (1994): 5-38.
4 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 111.
5 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark A. Finley is a pastor, evangelist, and church administrator, having served as a general vice president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church until 2010.  He recently joined the Adventist Review and Adventist World editorial team as Editor-at-large, and also serves as an assistant to the church’s world president. This article was published May 12, 2011.