We have a story, the story of mankind. It’s certain though that people often do not agree on that story and there are it seems many different views on just what constitutes our story. We are all part of this story, and whatever view you may take on it, it’s certain that somewhere in the past we all have a common ancestor, or two; Adam and Eve? Well, would you believe it?! To me, I have to say I believe in the story of Genesis, not because I feel I must but because I want to and because perhaps surprisingly it makes the most sense to me. I understand that what we see in Genesis, a rather sketchy and straightforward account, is from someone or a number of people who did not have the education or the knowledge or the wherewithal to check what they were told, they just listened and passed the tale on to the next generation, and then at some point someone wrote it down. It is then a highly simplified account of what actually happened; so what did actually happen?
The biblical account is that, when it all boils down to it, we were created by a loving God who specifically created us to be the crowning glory of creation, and in many respects to be the centre of all Creation. At the same time, we were meant always to be mindful of the fact God gave us life and to keep his laws and to be in awe of His majesty and power and infinite wisdom, mercy and guidance. It’s easy of course just to say you believe in this or that you believe in that, but most people whatever they believe are always looking for more substantial answers, rather than just accepting what someone has told them. To me, this always constitutes a problem, because rather than just accepting what someone has to say, certainly about the origins of mankind, I want to find out for myself by going back to the sources, of which of course for me the Bible is the most important. I must add that whatever you believe, whether life was a purposeful creation or just a glorious accident it is all lost in the mists of time; no one can say for certain what happened simply because they weren’t there! In the light of this then, what can we glean straightaway from the biblical account of the creation of human beings?
The biblical account of man’s creation is quite simplistic and pretty straightforward; it explains things in an almost childlike manner, even though I believe this is how man was created, pure and simple. But of course in what it does say, there’s a lot in that account that seems missing. When were the first man, and woman, created; how many years ago? Is the Bible story of the beginning of mankind a real literal reality or is it more allegorical, or what? Obviously something happened, or we just wouldn’t be here. But what exactly happened, and when? Will we ever get to the truth of this matter?
‘God said, 'Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild animals and all the creatures that creep along the ground.' God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying to them, 'Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth.' (Genesis 1:26-28 NJB) It is clear then that we were created for a purpose, even if that purpose at the start was just to have dominion over the rest of creation. We are not given any other deep meanings about why God did or should create mankind, only the obvious fact that He did. I think that many of us want to understand what was the purpose of creation and want to know the deeper meaning of creation, and just why God did create a whole universe and then put humanity at the centre of everything. In my own simple explanation, perhaps like a gardener tending a beautiful garden, God merely created something wonderful and beautiful and put man at the centre of it as the crowning glory of creation. It’s certain that God created something wonderful even if humanity in general can often take this for granted, or miss the wonder of creation and the wonder of who and what we are.
Where was the Garden of Eden? Is there an actual place that once was this magnificent and legendary garden? Is the Garden of Eden more about man’s original state of grace with God than an actual place? In the Bible it says: ‘Yahweh God planted a garden in Eden, which is in the east, and there he put the man he had fashioned. From the soil, Yahweh God caused to grow every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed from Eden to water the garden, and from there it divided to make four streams. The first is named the Pishon, and this winds all through the land of Havilah where there is gold. The gold of this country is pure; bdellium and cornelian stone are found there. The second river is named the Gihon, and this winds all through the land of Cush. The third river is named the Tigris, and this flows to the east of Ashur. The fourth river is the Euphrates. Yahweh God took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and take care of it.’ (Genesis 2:8-15 NJB) This was then paradise for the first man; a garden of his own to look after. What are we reading and understanding here; an actual garden that existed in a particular geographic location, or is the garden a metaphor for the perfect relationship the first man initially had with God? Both the River Tigris and Euphrates are rivers that run through modern day Iraq, which in the past was called Mesopotamia and which to ancient historians is now part of the Fertile Crescent. It is now seen that this part of the world was the original Cradle of Civilisation. Of course for Bible scholars, this is all very intriguing as this place is also where the first man and the Garden of Eden were supposed to be. Is there a correlation between very ancient biblical folktales and the reality of mankind’s first flowering of civilisation? In short, is there some truth to the Genesis account? It seems that there is.
Then we come to the views of one Charles Darwin, that English gentleman and scientist and explorer. In the mid-19th century, many people of all walks of life accepted mostly without question that the world, the universe, mankind and everything else was created by an all-powerful Creator. When Darwin published his famous book ‘On the Origin of Species’, it caused a storm, because it suggested that all life was connected, all species were related to each other and that man himself was simply descended from lesser beings like apes, and that apes had come from mammals, and so on. There was no middle ground for Darwin, and so the stage was set for people either believing in a world where life just happened and then evolved through a process of natural selection and the survival of the fittest, or you believed in divine intervention and that creation was specifically from the Hand of a benevolent God. In the modern age, it seems that these two views are the only ones that people, on either side of the argument, really believe in. And the argument rages on, with both creationists like myself and evolutionists trying to disprove each other’s theory and getting angry and embittered in the process! Wouldn’t it be good if we could genuinely debate these issues, with people from all sides of the argument, in a cool, level-headed and even friendly manner? Anyway, Darwin certainly shook things up and his views are popular all over the world. So, the question is this: are we merely accidents, evolved beings coming from nowhere and ultimately going nowhere, or are we specially created beings with a higher purpose and a reason for being created? For me, these are the only two views we can consider. If we are just evolved apes, and there is no God at all, then life becomes bleak and empty. There are no laws from a loving God and if we are going to disappear into the ether when we die, there is no point to anything after all. However, if there is a loving Creator behind everything and humans were specifically and uniquely created, then life takes on new meaning. There is a purpose to life then, and we can have laws from a loving Creator, and God is the ultimate arbiter of justice, mercy, peace, love, compassion and many other things. I stand with my belief in God, because quite frankly it really does take more faith to believe that everything we see around us is just a glorious accident than being specifically created by God!
Of course, there are things in life that puzzle us and things that even the best scientists and the best theologians don’t seem to really understand. For instance, why are there so many sub-species within a species? In other words, why can one dog look completely different from another dog, yet still be a dog? Likewise why are there so many different looking people, yet they are all human? Why so many different tomatoes, yet they’re all tomatoes? My simple view is that all this variation, rather than evolving differently, were already there by God’s specific design. Yes, I understand that is a simplistic view and may be completely wrong, but it’s the one I hold to at this time. The human angle is the one that interests me most here; if we are all descended from one common ancestor, an ape or proto-ape, then why do human beings look so different from each other? We all have different looks within each branch of humanity, and of course we all look very different when one ethnic group is compared to another. Australian aborigines look very different from Japanese people; Japanese people look very different from Northern Europeans; Northern Europeans look different from Arabs, and so on. And if we are descended from apes that came out of Africa, then the first humans after apes would be Black Africans. But there are problems with this. Firstly, chimpanzees, our supposed closest relatives are actually under their black fur white. Secondly, if Black people are the first people after apes, how could other people with completely different coloured skins, different facial features and different hair types, to name but a few things, come from Black people? Surely Black people would simply pro-create other Black people? We now live in an age where it is seen as the clever and intelligent thing to believe in evolution and that humans are merely advanced apes, and yet I see that even many of those clever scientists and evolutionists won’t or can’t answer glaring anomalies and questions; it is as if they studiously avoid them in fact. There are Christians too who avoid certain questions. Perhaps we need to get all these questions out in the open and try with a genuine will and desire to tackle them and even answer them.
If we accept that God did in fact create life, the universe and everything and of course us as human beings, then where does that leave us; what does God’s creation mean? It means that we are all special as human beings, we have a purpose that goes beyond human struggling and frustrations and of course it gives our lives true meaning. I can only say that without God I was rudderless, a drifter with no purpose or reason for being. Now, as a Christian and as a believer in creation, I have a purpose and reason for being; God has imbued me with knowledge and the many gifts He has given me means that I want to serve Him with a whole heart. No, we can’t see God or hear His voice booming out of a cloud, we can’t literally walk with Him or talk with Him and if we are honest we can’t even really understand who He is and what He is all about; but, when we look at the beauty of nature, or the wings of a beautiful butterfly or the miracle that is childbirth, we are seeing what He has created. How can anyone really think that the incredibly complex organism that is a human being just happened by accident? The wonder that is our brain, or the heart pumping blood around our body, or the marvel that is the eye, or the magnificent system of antibodies that protect us from all kinds of viruses and diseases, and so many other things that make the human being such a marvel to behold. Yes, God puts us at the centre of our own story, we are ultimately the reason for all creation, not ever in a selfish way but simply that we are the crown of creation, the very reason for it.
What is the significance of Cain and Abel? The first recorded spat between brothers, or something much deeper and that has resonance for all humankind? The first two offspring of Adam and Eve become the first murderer and the first murder victim, setting the stage for humanity ever after to do what they liked when they liked; they were the children of Adam and Eve who were the first human beings and the first disobedient people on earth; not a good start! And of course, it seems to go downhill from there! God could have abandoned us all to our own devices after that, sickened with rebellious humanity; but He doesn’t. The significance of Cain and Abel is that while one served God with decent worship, the other couldn’t be bothered, got mad and killed his own brother. Instead of seeking God’s will and mercy, he did his own thing and became the first nomad on earth to escape what he did; but no one can really run from themselves. Ever since, humanity has largely done what it has wanted to, with the result we live often in a dangerous, chaotic, selfish, unjust and hard world, not based on any real kind of love but based on the most devious and aggressive and who can fight their way to the top; such is life.
What is Sodom and Gomorrah all about? According to my information, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were around the Dead Sea which borders both Jordan and Israel. It seems that as human beings congregated in large urban centres, they began to develop tastes for things that were never in God’s plan for us. Lot, that famous character in Genesis invites two men, who were in fact angels, to stay the night at his house in Sodom. ‘They had not gone to bed when the house was surrounded by the townspeople, the men of Sodom both young and old, all the people without exception. Calling out to Lot they said, 'Where are the men who came to you tonight? Send them out to us so that we can have intercourse with them.' Lot came out to them at the door and, having shut the door behind him, said, 'Please, brothers, do not be wicked. Look, I have two daughters who are virgins. I am ready to send them out to you, for you to treat as you please, but do nothing to these men since they are now under the protection of my roof.' But they retorted, 'Stand back! This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge. Now we shall treat you worse than them.' Then they forced Lot back and moved forward to break down the door. But the men reached out, pulled Lot back into the house with them, and shut the door. And they dazzled those who were at the door of the house, one and all, with a blinding light, so that they could not find the doorway. The men said to Lot, 'Have you anyone else here? Your sons, your daughters and all your people in the city, take them away, for we are about to destroy this place, since the outcry to Yahweh against those in it has grown so loud that Yahweh has sent us to destroy it.' (Genesis 19:4-13 NJB) It seems that vice in the cities had grown unbearable, and people were out of control. Perhaps once people’s needs were met, they had to find other diversions for themselves and these ‘diversions’ were extremely sinful to God. It isn’t just that one or other particular sin is wrong, it is also that when humans sin willingly or wilfully, they are also being disobedient to God’s laws, whether you believe in God or not or whether you are a Christian or not. Disobedience to God’s laws right from the start caused a rift between mankind and God; even today, when people choose to do what they want without recourse to God, they are being disobedient and so bring sin into the world. All sin is really just the disobedience of human beings choosing to do it ‘their way’ rather than God’s way in the end.
What does Noah’s story signify? Many cultures have a flood myth, not just the Israelites from the Bible, so there is perhaps credence to a flood many thousands of years ago. It does seem however that people just cannot agree on when the flood occurred, whether the flood was a local or worldwide flood and how Noah managed to get two of every species on board the ark, probably to name but a few things that people are unsure of. Is the story of Noah a folktale with grains of truth therein or is it just a fabrication? I believe that God allowed a few people to escape a flood but can’t prove it. Noah’s story signifies God’s anger and disappointment at the human race, how they have turned out, with few if any other than Noah and his family being God-fearing and learning to be godly people. Whatever the true facts of this folktale, the message is loud and clear: God wants to start again with eight human beings and a load of animals, so that He can populate the earth with righteous people; that’s the plan anyway.
The story of Noah then is a story of a second chance for mankind, a new start, a new beginning, a chance to get right with God again after years of mischief, sinfulness and disobedience. It is a message that is as old as the hills and as contemporary as mobile phones and the Internet. It is amazing that old, very old stories can resonate with us today. Noah refuses to take part in sinfulness, and he is really the only human who walks with God, most of the rest of humanity yet again doing its own thing. All the while, we are given a choice; do our own thing or serve God with a whole heart. The same choice Noah faces is the same choice we all face. We can choose to do God’s will, which will turn out very good for us eventually, or we can choose to do what we want to do, which might seem right at first but which somewhere down the line always leads to confusion, bitterness and further unhappiness, if not downright ruin.
The story of mankind then, whichever way you look at it, is an exciting one and a long story that as yet has no end; we are all part of that story and we all can play a part, our part, in that story. Some choose to believe in life being an accident, a glorious accident no less, but in the end just an accident and that humans are just the modern process of a long line of evolved apes, mammals, fish that crawled out of the sea and whatever else. I choose to believe that we were specifically created by a loving God, a God that is often unknowable and unfathomable, and yet who wants us to know Him intimately and to hold Him in awe and reverence and to stay true to His laws and ways. I conclude that there is a greater purpose for human beings than we can at first see and comprehend; it’s just that we need to see the world with the eyes of faith and the eyes of a child. ‘Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he had reached a certain place, he stopped there for the night, since the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he made it his pillow and lay down where he was. He had a dream: there was a ladder, planted on the ground with its top reaching to heaven; and God's angels were going up and down on it.’ (Genesis 28:10-12 NJB) There is certainly far more to this life than generally meets the eye!