Taking Genesis 1 Seriously

I used to teach evangelical undergrads who were not only well-versed in a scientific reading of Genesis 1 but were thoroughly saturated in the highly-charged rhetoric of the culture wars.

In one course I included a few sessions that focused on the text of Genesis 1-2.

I’d typically begin by noting that I was really tired of being at a school that didn’t take Genesis 1 seriously. That usually got their attention.

“Honestly,” I would say, “I look around at this campus, at many faculty, and most of you students, and it seems to me that no one has any regard for what God says here.”

They all eyed me with shock by the time I carried on like this for a few more minutes. This was a culture that, if anything, imagined that it stood alone for the integrity of Genesis 1.

I would then distribute copies of the text and give students 10 minutes or so to read through it quietly. I would tell them to make note of what they saw in the text, the details that the narrative seemed to highlight as important.

I would then ask them what they saw and what the text seemed to be emphasizing. Here’s some of what they’d usually catch:

God creates in six days. He takes his time. He has the capacity to create all at once, to simply command everything to exist. But he doesn’t. He takes his time. He’s deliberate. Everything has its time and its place. There’s a patience to the task. A steadiness. An intentional order.

I would usually ask students if they felt that their lives matched this pattern (I knew that the answer from this culture of questing high-achievers would be “no”).

Students were always struck by the rhythms in the text. The repeated “there was evening and there was morning.” There are days and seasons and years. There are six days of work and one day of ceasing from work.

Speaking of which, they would then notice the emphasis on the day of rest. Six days to work and one day to not work. Six days of work to produce and one day of activity not designed to produce – play, leisure, rest, exploration.

I would ask students at this point if they were intentional about carving out space in their week for play, for delight, for “wasting time,” for enjoyment of activity that doesn’t produce anything – activity that doesn’t pad the resume in anticipation of applying for grad school. I would usually get silence. Many of them had lives packed so full that they hardly slept, let alone took a day to participate in God-ordained creational rhythms.

Here I would note what I meant about taking Genesis 1 seriously. I would ask if we have any right to insist on others reading Genesis 1 literally when we have no intention of obeying it as God’s word.

Turning back to the text, we would note that God loves his world! He keeps saying it’s good! It’s a wonderful environment for all God’s creatures and it brings God delight.

I would ask students if they were deliberate about getting out of their not-terribly-natural environments (dorm rooms, libraries, classrooms) and exploring God’s world that brings so much pleasure to God. When was the last time they took a walk in the woods?

Further, we’d note that God’s world is a world of plenty. There’s more than enough! Everything keeps producing after its kind and there’s a sense in which God’s world is obnoxiously super-aboundingly full of life. The waters are “teeming” and “swarming” with creatures and the skies are filled with everything that flies and there’s just life everywhere.

It’s a world of plenty. It’s a world of more-than-enough.

So, I’d ask students if they were striving to live in that world. Do they live in a world where there’s more than enough? Or, do they live in a world of scarcity? Do they live with open hands? Do we share our stuff and our resources, or do we hoard and grasp and lock up our stuff because it’s ours?

We noted many more exciting features of the text (there’s loads there when you read it with your eyes open!), but my point in this exercise was two-fold:

First, Genesis 1-2 is there to teach God’s people about God, his world, the character of humanity, and how God wants us to inhabit the place in which he delights. We need to read it for the purposes of having our communities oriented toward more faithfully being God’s people.

Second, in doing this exercise, I tried to help students to see that if they fell captive to reading the text for political purposes or to score points in the culture wars, they’d be missing so much of what is actually there.

They wouldn’t be taking Genesis 1 seriously.

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13 responses to “Taking Genesis 1 Seriously

  • Rebecca Wimer

    Wow. Excellent insight. Thank you.

  • Gombis, Jon

    Good stuff, Tim!

  • joegrom5

    I remember sitting in one such class of yours. Those lessons stick out in my mind very well – thank you.

  • joegrom5

    Reblogged this on Critical Faith and commented:
    Blog post by a former professor of mine. A timely piece in light of the recent Nye / Ham debate.

  • Kris

    Reblogged this on Being In the World and commented:
    This post was written by one of my professors. In seminary, I’m constantly reminded of the culture wars at play and the politicalization of the Biblical text. This post was an extremely potent reminder to always let God’s word have effects on my life!

  • Adam Smith

    I found this convicting as I struggle to move out of state in less than a month. We are running ourselves ragged to get everything done. We need to trust God in this and not stress ourselves to death. That is hard when a deadline is coming and so much needs to be taken care of. It really takes its toll, though, when you just keep pushing.

  • Josh

    Reblogged this on pro Rege et Regno and commented:
    Helpful reminder from Tim Gombis on taking Genesis 1 seriously by NOT allowing ourselves to get swept up in culture-war-motivated readings.

  • Check this out! | tattooedmissionary

    […] Taking Genesis 1 Seriously at Faith Improvised – In semi-response to the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate (that I did not watch). […]

  • Jake M

    Takes me back to your Easter chapel message. Thanks for sharing!

  • Dan Magee

    I don’t remember this from my time with you in “CLT” so I’m glad I caught it today. Taking the sabbath seriously is a great challenge. I remember one of my fellow students who refused to do homework or money-earning jobs on Sunday (of course, he did his hw on other days).

  • Trevor Bryant

    Reblogged this on Longing For Redemption and commented:
    I’d been considering writing a blog specifically about Genesis 1 in light of the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate, but I think Tim Gombis has already articulated some of my thoughts very well and I can let his words suffice.

    When the Bible becomes a politically charged textbook, we miss so much of what God has intended us to see. We take to the Bible not to learn about Yahweh and His characters, but to attain new ammunition in the culture wars.

    And so dichotomies–false dichotomies–are created as a by-product of the culture wars and our reading of Scripture and our understand of Yahweh gets warped. The Ham and Nye debate thrived on such a dichotomy; they made it sounds as though you either take Genesis 1 literally as Ken Ham does and sit firmly on the pedestal of Young-Earth Creationism, or you are an evolutionist.

    It is ironic–Ken Ham made a point during his presentation that evolutionist and creationist look into the same barrel of evidence and come to different conclusions. But even Christians can look at the evidence differently! When I read Genesis 1, I don’t see a description of how and when the universe was created, but Who and why the universe was created. Likewise, Gombis (apart from whatever his specific views on Creation are) see the gift of the Sabbath bestowed, a heart for the earth and the environment endowed, and a freedom to live in the “more-than-enough” creation enabled.

    Ah Lord, help us to lay down the grenades of scripture we lob at each other and take up love as our weapon of choice.

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