Last night, Dave and I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Hugh Ross, a noted astronomer and member of Reasons to Believe as he discussed the topic of “Why the Universe Is the Way It Is.” He laid out specific rationales for why the universe works as it does and why a loving Creator would bring human life to existence at exactly this moment in cosmic time. I found the talk compelling, very stretching, and absolutely fascinating. (Definitely check out Reasons to Believe if you’re at all interested in the discussion of the ideas in science and faith.)
Afterwards, I was most struck by the way Dr. Ross read Scripture. He was very careful and specific about his ideas, and I found myself able to agree with most of them. But where I differ with his reading is in the literalness of it. Of course, this is a huge topic – the inerrancy of the Bible vs the infallibilty of the Bible, the historical accuracy of the texts, etc – and I have thought a great deal about this over my not so long years on earth. I believe the Bible to be God’s inspired written word to humanity, a group of texts that give human beings the chance to know God in more profound ways than we would be able to otherwise understand without these texts. I believe that in its most basic sense Scripture helps us see God. I also believe that some of the texts are historical in nature, although their intention was not to write history (or science for that matter) but to show us God. But I also believe that some of the texts are metaphorical in nature; for example, I do not believe that Jonah was actually swallowed by a fish (although I do believe God could make that happen if God wanted it to) but that the story of Jonah tells us something fundamental about ourselves and about our relationship to God. The way some of the stories of the Bible are written reflect specific literary – not historical – devices that appear throughout the written texts of the world.
Therefore, when Dr. Ross was discussing Adam and Eve as literal human beings that walked the earth, I paused to reflect. I certainly believe it is possible that God did create a man from dust and that God took part of that man and made a woman from him, but I don’t know if I believe that is what happened. In fact, I don’t really know if it matters that I don’t know. What seems fundamental in these chapters is that God created human beings to live in a perfect place but also created us with the opportunity to make choices – for good and bad – and thus, to have to live with the consequences. The historical accuracy of the story – to me, it seems beside the point (although I grant that others think it is crucial and I need to be open to hearing their ideas to weigh with my own.)
All of this said, I am not a theologian. I have read the Bible many times, and I do think deeply about my faith. The truth is, though, that I’m a writer and scholar of the written word; thus, much of how I read anything – text, spoken word, behavior – is colored by this training, where I seek out other of levels meaning beyond the literal one on the surface. This way of viewing the world is not always helpful – sometimes when people say they are fine, that is what they mean – but it honestly is just the way I look at the world – there is – almost always – more to the story than meets the eye. And I like that I want to delve into the complexities of a text. I like that I want to tunnel beneath the surface and see what is there. I’m not perfect at it, but I try to get better, try to be more humble in my analysis, try to be more open to other interpretations. This is the work of an artist, I guess.
And there is the work of the scientist – to demand proof – and the work of the mathematician – to demand measure – and the work of the teacher – to inspire questions. And then there’s the work of the believer, to seek after truth and after God endlessly. These are all important work, and I am glad to be a part of a world where we can seek to do our work and hope that others will do theirs. Somewhere in the end, we will all have answers; until then, I trust that our ever-loving God will guide us as we seek them out in the stars, in the numbers, and in the letters of life.