Is Our View of Genesis Really All That Important?
My quick answer: Yes. Foundations are very important.
I have received some important questions lately about why I am so passionate about understanding Genesis. One good question was, "Why do you put so much focus on this issue when our real goal should be to point people to the cross of Christ?" I thought it might be helpful to give you some background on where I am coming from and in the process I hope to show how essential, in my view, Genesis 1-11 is to the very good news that all Christians want to proclaim.
Eight years ago God called me as a long-term missionary to Japan through these verses in Isaiah 58:
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
As I look back now I can see more clearly what God was calling me to way back then. Eight years ago this calling was vague - all I knew was, "Go to Japan and spiritually and emotionally feed and satisfy the afflicted and Jesus will take care of every need of mine." Now I can see a little more clearly that when God called me to "satisfy the desire of the afflicted" and to "rebuild the ruins and raise up the foundation for many generations" what He meant. God was really calling me to teach science, mostly in English (to fulfill the desire/need of many Japanese) to mainly Japanese 2nd-5th graders. Through this key ministry I have already been able to "raise up a foundation" for the gospel of God "for many" in a place where less than 1% of the population even acknowledges a creator God, as Christians would know Him.
As I have studied how to present (in a scientific and in a Scripturally understandable way) a Creator, to the masses who don't yet believe in one, I have been led to see the utter crucial nature of clearly getting Genesis 1-11. If the Japanese cannot understand the foundational issues and doctrines of Genesis clearly, how could we expect them to accept the rest of the Bible, including the gospel? There is no need for Jesus if they do not understand these foundational issues. Furthermore, if the gospel is to be clear and understandable, surely its forerunner and schoolmaster and shadow, the O.T., must be clear and understandable as well. If not, we are in big trouble as missionaries.
Now what does this have to do with you? Maybe you or the culture around you already embraces a Creator God. If that is you, please stay with me - I really think that we are all going to need to be more aware of just WHY we believe in this Creator God as this modern age continues to develop.
Now how are we to scientifically interpret such a silly looking text as Genesis 1-11? We've got talking snakes, big boats that carry two of every living kind of animal, worldwide floods and, oh yeah, God finishing his creation in six short days... (days and nights written in just for added clarity!) This looks hard... Before we rush in to let "science" reinterpret what seems to be the plain reading of the text let's consider:
What are the foundational doctrines that have begun to be developed in those first 11 chapters? I have chosen just 5, since they are simply the first to come to my mind. Following them are honest and humble questions I have for you or anyone who is willing to think about this with me:
The Foundations of 5 Key Doctrines in Genesis 1-11:
1. Sin and the Curse - How could there be millions of years of death before Adam's sin? How could the world and everything in it be called, "good" and "very good" by God if it was (from the beginning) laced with disease, suffering and death - for millions of years before Adam even came into the situation? Why is the creation groaning to be set free (Romans 8:19-25) if it was created suffering before sin even entered the picture?
2. Complimentary Manhood and Womanhood: If this is a figurative/poetic text, what do we do with the very precise and key doctrines that are shaped for us here about men and women and personhood in general? Are they figurative as well? Why or why not?
3. Universal Judgment: How can the coming judgment of the entire world have any significance if Noah's flood did not cover and judge the whole world? (2 Peter 2:5) How could the flood have so much significance to Jesus and Peter (in particular) if it was merely a local flood? Why would they continue to stress, "the whole world"? (Luke 17:27, Mt. 24:38)
4. Redemption: How could the first pillar of redemptive history be laid without a literal Adam and Eve? (Gen. 3:21) How could Romans 5:12-18 make any sense without a real Adam, in a real garden, with a real tree in the middle of it?
5. The Trinity: The first clear statement regarding the Trinity is in Gen. 1:26 as God shows that he is a plurality and yet a singular God. If we take the word, "our" figuratively or poetically, why should we believe in a Trinitarian God? Isn't this just being too literal?
The Integrity, Believability of the Bible: This is really what the issue comes down to for me. Why should we believe that the N.T. material be taken objectively or at face value if that is not what we are expected to do for the first and foundational book of the Bible - where we see the introduction of the Creator, the Creation, Sin and the Curse, the Trinity, the coming Judgment, and the Redemption through Christ? A recent study shows that this is where many kids from Christian homes start to fall away from the gospel. The foundations are so shaky. The Sunday school stories (O.T. and N.T.) are some real whoppers and churches are not giving good answers as to why I should trust the stories or take them at face value.
So, you see, for me it all comes down to Christ and preserving the pure gospel of God from Genesis to Revelation. I am open to your rebuke and help. Please help me to see my errors if you see any glaring at me. I am wanting to approach this whole issue with a humble heart. I admit that may indeed be wrong. But I have studied the Bible and the scientific data enough to think that I am not overlooking the importance of this issue. In my mind it is foundational.
Thank you for your refining questions and thoughts (and prayers).