So How Exactly Does Transgenderism Fit in With the Bible?

With the recent events surrounding Bruce Jenner’s transition into Caitlyn Jenner, the Christian blogsphere has gone into over drive responding to these events. Not that Caitlyn asked anyone in the Church, or even made any remarks about the Church. Jenner has been referred to as a hero, and she is not a shining example of evangelicalism, so that is obviously another attack in the culture war.

Do I really need to point out the sarcasm in that last statement?

Much of the response to Jenner is along the line of “God doesn’t create mistakes” and “God created people male and female and not its not your choice to change that.” All of this, of course is a absolutist take on issue, creating false either/or standards that are not there in the original scriptures.

Take this scripture for instance:

For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.

Now a eunuch, of course, is not a person that is trans-gendered, but eunuchs were not seen as male or female in Biblical times, often being made that way by choice or by others. The important thing to notice is that there is no commentary from Jesus here on them being mistakes or being ungodly for making these changes.

Additionally, when you look at the creation scriptures, you find another interesting bit:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God created us as male and female, but he did not command us to be male and female, or to stay that way through our lives. Interesting.

(Now coming along later to say that a man dressing as a woman is wrong is not the same as transgenderism. But if you do want to lean on that scripture, we can also talk about how men and women both wear jeans and t-shirts and all kinds of clothes and how those scriptures would also apply there. Whoops.)

The question to ask is, how does a Being that is both male and female look at a gender transformation? If you know anything about the Science of gender identities, you know that the terms “male” and “female” are not black and white constructs. People exist all across that spectrum. Are they all mistakes? Many people are considered to be 60% female and 40% male – and they have the genetics to prove it. Is that a 40% mistake by God? Where is the line drawn at between “mistake” and “perfect”?

Oh wait – did you know there are no 100% males or 100% females? So if a transgendered individual is a “mistake”, then you have to give a number where the mistake ends and the acceptable range begins. And sorry if you fall under that number but didn’t know it.

Is the problem with what God created, or with what society did to that creation?

One of the issues that I want to explore in this blog is the effect that decades of modernist construction followed by decades of postmodern deconstruction have had on our understanding of ideas. We had the ideas of black and white right and wrongs entrenched in society for decades under modernism, and then all possible sides of those ideas were deconstructed into all kinds of classifications for decades under postmodernism. Neither idea really left society, so we have residuals of both. The residue of modernist thought that most of Western society has had for decades now is forcing all of these deconstructed ideas into right and wrong boxes.

The result is we are losing the ability to embrace paradox. We try to figure out maps and scientific explanations on how Jesus was fully God and man – where one begins and the other ends.

But sometimes there isn’t a map. Its both at the same time with no way to really logically explain how.

So when God created humans as male and female, there is nothing to say that it has to stay that way. We are male and female, but also not exactly 100% of either one at the same time.

Throw into this mix the whole “hard to figure out” realm of human feelings and emotions. You might say “well, Jenner was obviously mostly male, so how can you say trangenderism is normal?” Maybe physically he was mostly male, but what about his emotions, feelings, personality? You know those Facebook tests that tell you what percentage of male and female you are? That’s just based on the fact that none of us are 100% male or female on the inside either. If someone is 80% male physically but only 10% male emotionally (as many actually are) – what does that make them? A mistake? Or just a human being trying to figure out their place in the world?

metamodern-faith-avatarWhat if people like Jenner are not telling us that God made a mistake, but that we made a mistake as society in how we view gender, sexuality, power, etc? What if they are right? What if God didn’t create absolutist either/ors, but fluid concepts that require us to get out of our comfort zones to interact with? What if life wasn’t so simple, but designed to make us look past absolutism to embrace paradox and things that are different than us? What if a God that is male and female has no problem with his creation changing between the two any more than when we change hair color, waist size, eye color, skin decoration, breast size, muscular strength, or any of a dozen or so other physical characteristics we were born with that we use Science to change, fix, heal, change, etc.?

God Will Not Be Mocked

You have probably heard this statement (or one like it) end many a religious debate on social media, usually spoken by a conservative evangelical fundamentalist to a liberal or progressive Christian they have been disagreeing with: “God will not be mocked, and those who substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God.”

Other versions of this statement also include people being accused of being everything from a heretic to a false convert.

The biggest problem with this statement is that is true for both conservatives and liberals. Both sides do not want to mock God by misrepresenting His Words with their felt desires. The difference is not is dedication to Truth or honesty, but in what counts as “felt desires” and what counts as “unchangeable Truth.”

Whether the topic is marriage or Science or modesty or guns or abortion or you name it, both sides are intensely concerned with accurately representing Truth on the matter in a way that does not make a mockery of God. However, both sides have reached different conclusions as to what that accurate representation is.

metamodern-faith-avatarAnd that is the crux of the problem. We are not Truth. God is Truth. Our words are not Truth. His words are Truth. And even when we are quoting the red letters of the Bible, we are often still quoting words that are translated imperfectly from older languages that are sometimes difficult to translate into modern languages. So the next time you pick up the stones of “false convert” or “heretic” or “mocking God” or “giving in to felt desires”…. try to remember God’s position on those that pick up stones to use against others that they don’t agree with. And then take a good dose of humbling reality when realizing that Jesus defended the theologically incorrect person in that story.

Literal History Versus Objective History

I did not watch the debate between Ken Hamm and Bill Nye. At this point, I have witnessed or listened to a dozen debates between these two sides and they all come out the same. Both sides claim victory, everyone that paid attention only sees what they want to see, and those of us that don’t fit neatly into one of two extremes get left out of the conversation.

At some point, I need to write my blog post about why the Bible does not confirm nor deny the possibility of evolution if you read what it says literally and don’t add anything to it. But that will have to wait for another day.

The debate has made me very uncomfortable identifying as one that reads the Bible literally, because as I have examined before, you have to add a lot to the Bible to come to a young earth creationist (YEC) belief. To me, there has always been something… off… about those that describe themselves as Biblical literalists yet come to a YEC belief. They never seemed quite truly… literal… to me.

Reading an interview with William Dever, Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona finally shed light on where my discomfort lies:

We want to make the Bible history. Many people think it has to be history or nothing. But there is no word for history in the Hebrew Bible. In other words, what did the biblical writers think they were doing? Writing objective history? No. That’s a modern discipline. They were telling stories. They wanted you to know what these purported events mean.

There you have it – people that call themselves Biblical literalists are actually not that at all. When defining the word literal, the second most common definition is usually attributed to translations: “representing the exact words of the original text.”

The exact words of the original text of Genesis or any other section of the Hebrew parts of the Bible were never meant to be objective history, since that concept did not exist in the minds of the people writing them. “Biblical literalists” are actually “objective historians,” seeking to pull a concept out of a text that was not written that way in a culture that didn’t understand that idea. Denver continues by saying:

The Bible is didactic literature; it wants to teach, not just to describe. We try to make the Bible something it is not, and that’s doing an injustice to the biblical writers. They were good historians, and they could tell it the way it was when they wanted to, but their objective was always something far beyond that.

Reading the Bible literally would mean representing the words in the Bible exactly as they were written, and they were written to tell a story. So it really doesn’t matter if Genesis is proto-poetry or historical narrative. Either style would have been used to tell a story, not record exact historically objective events. Modern minds are interested in objective histories; ancient minds were not.

The great Achilles Heel of old earth creationists is that even when reading Genesis as proto-poetry, that still doesn’t nullify the term “yom” used for day. Proto-poetry could have still been used to describe a real 7-day creation week. The Achilles Heel of young earth creationism is that the creation order is full of logical holes and contradictions from an objective history standpoint. Some YE Creationists attempt to fill those holes with concepts about Gap theories and two floods and two separate creation of man – all of which require one to add a massive amount of thought to the Bible that is not there to make it all work. Didactic literature means that neither side really matters in the “Big Picture.” Genesis is true and literal and poetic and it did happen but the details were left out because they didn’t matter to the story.

While we are at it, can we just acknowledge that there is no way ancient man would have understood a 14 billion year old universe… or even what a universe was for that matter. So at best you can prove that God simplified the creation story so that ancient man would understand it. Kind of in the same way we simplify and cut down all kinds of facts to help our children understand them as they grow and mature. This idea would have been fine in Hebrew thought.

metamodern-faith-avatarBut to say that the Earth has to be 6000 or 10,000 years old because Genesis says so, when there was no option at all for God to even explain the concept of a big bang 14 billion years ago? Come one – its not even fair to make such absolute claims like that. That’s kind of like saying no one in the world was having sex the first years of your life, based solely on the “proof” that you had no idea what it was, and therefore it must not have happened anywhere at all.

My Random New Year Reflections

I always want to wait until January 1st to write any kind of “best of the year list” because I am convinced that the last week of the year just might hold something awesome to make my list. Once again, I am proven wrong. Come on 2014 don’t fail me!

– If you want site traffic, forget Facebook or Twitter or commenting on other blogs or any of the advice the experts give you. Just get someone on Reddit to use your post as a rebuttal in heated debate and watch your stats go from a handful of hits per day to hundreds per hour. Of course, half of those hits will be people looking to burn down your blog for daring to say something intelligible against their point, but all stats are good stats, right?

Related to that, it is amazing how many people will prove they are not a hateful person by posting a long, ranting hateful blog comment. You should see the comments I didn’t approve for this post because I really just don’t want to paint the evangelical church as that maniacal.

Oh, and final thought on that post. Make sure to be careful taking on people’s sacred cows before those sacred cows become national news. I don’t know if many people have gotten the point of that blog post yet. But if Reddit is to be believed, I have had at least one visit from Sarah Palin. I still would never vote for her, but at least I can say my post was used as a counter argument for her weird logic. That’s a win in my book.

– Some people mistake “love” for “lack of conflict.” Its not very loving to make someone bite their tongue about something that offends them. Love is genuine and real, and if you have to put on a mask and pretend everything is okay between you and someone else, that is not real or genuine and therefore is not love. True love means sometimes bumping heads and arguing for a while to make sure everything is out on the table so that you can work through the issues. Telling someone to not say anything and just love each other is a contradiction.

– Intolerance seems to be a vicious cycle that those who bring attention to it never want to step off of. Every time one person screams intolerance at one group, that group screams intolerance back and a huge back and forth battle ensues. At some point, it would be nice if people would just stop and say “even if this person is being just as intolerant back at me, it’s not very mature for me to scream ‘well, you did it too!'”. You know, step off of the intolerance merry-go-round and be the bigger person even if you are sure they are more intolerant than you.

– Or maybe even take it one step further and care about their issue even if you think you have a bigger issue that they should care about more. I made a Facebook post about how the conservative side seems to want to care about rich businessmen losing a side job as a reality star than the hundreds of gay suicides occurring every week due to people making fun of them. A conservative blogger decided to come in and diminish teen suicide to a minor problem of mere teen angst when compared to a suicide bombing in the Middle East. I guess dead from a car bomb is worse than dead from suicide? I would love to see this person go tell the parents of the 30,000 yearly suicide victims that their kid’s death was just mere teen angst when compared to a politically motivated tragedy in the Middle East. Of course, this person doesn’t realize that I have been to Middle East and worked with Christians and Non-Christians. And I still have friends there. Never mind that they all hate Americans using their news events to further political positions here. Never mind that they will tell you how every single story in the Western media about the Middle East is ignoring half the facts and nothing is ever as cut and dried as our news makes it seem. What really got me is what a pastor in Middle East told me a decade ago: “Why would we look up to the Church in America? You can’t even love gay people when they fight for laws you don’t like or even make fun of you a bit. We have to learn how to love people that imprison, torture, and kill us. We have to learn to love people that kill family members just for looking at a Bible, even if they don’t believe it.” He didn’t have to continue. The ,message was clear. The American church thinks it can teach the whole world how to be a mature church, when the reality is we haven’t even learned the basic commands of Jesus.

But, related to that, I have found that there is always someone worse off. Don’t come into an argument expecting a cookie because you found someone worse off that gays, or women, or non-white ethnicities, or transgendered people here in America. I can do some digging and find people worse off than anyone you can find. And then you can dig more and find people worse off than I found. And then tomorrow comes around and the news will be filled with people even worse than any of that. There is always someone that has it worse somewhere. Tragedy is tragedy. Getting in a pissing contest over who cares about the worse tragedy is not only stupid, it makes you look uncaring and egotistical. Especially when are a privileged white guy.

Any time you have to start off with “I don’t mean to ____, but…” Just stop. ‘Buts’ like that are for buttheads.

– Being a guest blogger is pretty cool. I need to take more time to submit more ideas when people open up their blogs like that. It really makes you stretch your writing focus to other things when your own blog gets a little too myopic 🙂 Plus, after dealing with bloggers like the one I mentioned in the rant above, it’s a good reminder that there are some bloggers that are just as nice of people behind the scenes as they are on their blog.

– 2013 was a great year for music, with The Ocean Blue, Dime Store Zombies, Daniel Amos, Lifesavers, Stryper (yes, Stryper), Megadeth, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Pacifico, Aradhna, Soul-Junk, Bill Mallonee, Elephant Stone and the various Down The Line Collective artists all returning with great music. Radio and popular music still continues its downward slide as far my interests go.

– There are probably some good movies this year, but moving twice to different cities in one year and having to completely start over with babysitters each time makes date nights pretty scare. Of course, I did get to enjoy some kids classics like Cars 2, Ice Age 4, and Madagascar 3. We did manage to catch Iron Man 3, The Heat, Man of Steel, Star Trek Wrath of…. opppss… Into Darkness, and Thor 2. All of which were very good and I don’t get where people are griping about them.

– Television shows? Well, I am a bit of a geek. Um, yeah more than just a bit. So I was checking out shows like Defiance, H+, Arrow, Falling Skies, Sleepy Hollow, Glee, Revolution, Agents of SHIELD, The Big Bang Theory, Continuum, and Almost Human. Defiance, Arrow, Falling Skies, Big Bang, Glee, and Continuum will be definite keepers for me. H+ seems to have vanished, and I’m not sure if I really ever followed it that well. Too confusing. Sleepy Hollow is just a weirdly cool mix of horror, police drama, fantasy, and historical fiction that I usually don’t like but somehow have gotten hooked. Revolution went from “why am I still watching this junk” to “when did this get so good?” at some point. Almost Human and SHIELD both need to get better soon or I might drop out. I am also trying to see what people are liking about The Tomorrow People… but… despite a few good ideas, the really, really bad ideas just bug me. The next evolution of humans can’t kill because they get a buzzing headache. Really? That not only flies in the face of Science and Reality… its just stupid. And inconsistent. Apparently they can’t hit someone with a stick if it might cause death, but kick an unconscious person in the water while acknowledging they will drown? No problem!

– Parenting continues to be a blast, but I’m starting to wonder how older parents face all the judgement and know-it-allness of some segments of society with out punching someone in the face. Every kid is different. What you do with your kids (or would do if you had them – since so many people without kids kike to criticize) would not always work with mine, and what I do with mine won’t always work with yours. I think several people are just upset with my egalitarian views and get uncomfortable with me taking such an active role in my child’s life. That’s woman’s work after all.

– Living with someone that has had unexplained medical problems for most of the year has given me greater appreciation for those that live with chronic illness every day. Of course, with my back spasms, I already had a little knowledge of that (PS – if you can still stand up after hurting your back, you did not throw your back OUT – the key word there is OUT, as in no longer working at all – please stop cheapening the word for the rest of us that have a real medical condition). But when my wife went through some crazy unexplained stuff that forced us to move twice in the span of a few months, our understanding went to a whole new level. Especially seeing how many people just either don’t want to understand or care about what you are going through. But of course, extremely thankful for those that did care and even pitched in and helped. My wife is starting a blog to chronicle those days and what she has learned, so I will let her tell her own story there.

– Spiritually its been odd to dig into the Bible more than ever before, learn more about the intricacies of certain scriptures, realize more and more how unclear certain issues are in the scriptures, express those discoveries, and then be accused of everything from not taking the Bible seriously to losing my faith. Kind of odd how I feel closer to God than ever, yet father apart from those that I have attended Church with at some point in life. Its not that I don’t think they are close to God – it just seems that they are unwilling to accept that I am also still on the same path seeking God just because I don’t tow an extreme right wing political agenda.

The funny thing is, I never really did lean that far right (or left for that matter). I have always been a moderate/progressive in political terms as well as spiritual. I don’t hide it as much as I used to for fear of judgement, but anyone that really knew me they would have noticed. So its kind of odd to get defriended by people on Facebook just because I have no problem with gay marriage or women as pastors or the Earth being billions of years old, when I technically felt the same way about those issues since I first joined Facebook. It just goes to show how certain mindsets have a very narrow view of what a “real” Christian looks like, and if you don’t match it they want nothing to do with you.

– Of course, I don’t want to paint my faith as perfect. There are still nights where I lie awake knowing for certain that God is not real. Eventually the same logic that led me to follow God in college comes back to me, but I still feel that Steve Taylor’s song “Harder to Believe Than Not To” is so true on so many levels.

metamodern-faith-avatarI saw a New Year’s resolution that simply said “Read the Bible. Do What It Says.” I’ve been trying that every year since college. Every year it seems to get harder. Read and Do: if only it was that easy. That’s the most overwhelming resolution I could ever think of. But one to still strive for nonetheless.

The Pipe Dream of Universal Health Care

Look, I am just like anyone else: I would love free healthcare so that I rid myself of greedy, corrupt health insurance companies. I would love to just be able to walk into a hospital or doctor’s office, get taken care of, and walk out with having to worry if that day’s healing process was covered or if I have met my deductible yet or if I have met any of the other dozen concerns that I have to worry about with health insurance.

The problem is, that is not going to be the way universal healthcare, Obamacare, or any other mandated health plan will work for the people that really need it. Universal Healthcare is a pipe dream that will only make things easier for middle to upper class families that already have it relatively easy. A few lower middle class families facing catastrophic medical debt will also benefit, but we already know most of those cases since Obama’s defenders are trotting all of them out in the media like they are the norm (even though they are really extreme outliers).

The truth is, even if we could find a way to pay for and hand out free healthcare for all U.S. residents tomorrow, most of the poor that need this help will not benefit from it. Why?

One reason is access. Many people that need health care simply don’t live close enough to a hospital or clinic to even get the care they need. They don’t have a vehicle and they don’t have enough money for bus fare. On top of that, they may not even be mobile enough to get themselves to a vehicle. So what good is free health care if they can’t even get to it?

The second reason is the issue of what is causing their health problems in the first place: diet and exercise. So even if you get these masses of people to a hospital for treatment, a large chunk of them are going to find out the best thing they can do to improve their health is for them to eat better and exercise. But most of them are probably living in a food desert and eating whatever they can find. And exercise? How? They don’t have room or money for a home gym, and probably live in an area that is not safe for exercise outside. So they are going to get health care and then find out that they still can’t get better.

Our country really doesn’t need universal healthcare as much as it needs universal health education, food chain reform, urban renewal, and host of other factors that will actually improve quality of life more than free access to doctors.

What all this fighting over universal health care is really about is finding a way to assuage the nagging guilt that the well-off have about those less fortunate. It is a simple, easy solution that we just want to throw at people and say “see! I did something!” Kind of like food stamps made us all feel like we didn’t have to go out and feed the hungry any more. We think we “did something” – but do we care if it really works?

Thankfully I married someone with a Ph.D. in Health Studies. She really opened my eyes in a lot of ways to how politicians are not doing a very good job actually helping people in ways that truly work. Its also sad how many people will throw around opinions and not even stop to ask someone like her who might know a thing or two about these issues. People really are just justifying their vote and not stopping to look at the wider issues. Or for that matter, even examine the problems with their current side.

metamodern-faith-avatarWe need to realize that in between the two sides are real people with real health issues that have been really researched by real health educators who really know the real way to help them. These hurting people don’t care what side you are on. All they know is that the two sides in the Obamacare fight are both dead wrong. When are we actually going to start looking to the people, like my wife, who know how to do something meaningful?

Representative Metaliteralism

One of the more well-known debates in the Church is the infamous “creationism vs. evolution” debate. I know that many people see this as a debate between Science and Religion, but the Truth is many Christians believe in Science and many Scientists have some kind of religious belief in a higher power. So the debate usually falls between those that feel that all words in the Bible should be translated literally and those that feel that certain passages were written metaphorically and not historically.

There are two issues here that cause problems for both sides. The first is that not all parts of the Bible are meant to be read literally as there are parts that are poetry and metaphor. Most people agree with that, but you still have to bring it up when people swing too much onto the literal side. The other is that even if a something is a metaphor, that doesn’t mean it can’t also be historical or real. As the scholar Jerry L. Walls once wrote: “a metaphor communicates because the reality it depicts is similar to the image that is used.” So the conundrum is that Genesis 1-3 are not historical chapters just because they are presenting events in a historical fashion (metaphor can also do that), but if they are metaphorical poetry that doesn’t mean that the Earth wasn’t created in seven days (since metaphors can still rely on historical facts).

But beyond this we are still faced with one larger issue in how to look at the Old Testament – the presentational style of the story (whether fiction or non-fiction) does not change radically from Genesis up through Acts (which skips for wisdom literature like proverbs and some of the writings of the Prophets that detailed Gods prophecies of the future and not chronicles of the past). In other words, if Genesis was not historical then where does the history start? Some also write off Moses, Judges, David, and a few of the Israelite kings as metaphorical, also. Some don’t even stop there and write off the whole Bible as complete morality tales based on fictional characters. We run into a problem that there is not a clear line where metaphor ends and history begins if we start grouping such large parts of the Bible in the metaphor category.

So am I trying to make a case for a literal interpretation of every line of the Bible? Not really. I believe there are many metaphors in the Bible. I also believe that most of them have fairly clear beginning and ending points. Some don’t, of course. But as I have stated, using a metaphor or poem does not necessarily mean that the events described did not occur. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.

So I started searching for some kind of position that matches what I believe – that takes into account the possibility of metaphor and historical accounts both being in the Bible, and both often in the same passage. I came across the term “metaliteral” at Urban Dictionary: “when a statement is both metaphorical and literal at the same time.” I know that urban dictionary is not exactly the pinnacle of scholarship, but that just shows the concept of mixing metaphor and reality is out there.

But to be honest, my problem in the whole debate is with the literalist side taking a weird angle on the idea of literalism. I came across these two parts of the overall definition of “literal”:

  • (of a translation) representing the exact words of the original text.
  • free from exaggeration or distortion.

And right there is probably my problem with the literal creationist side of the debate: they have to add many things to the Bible to support their literal 7 day creation narrative. I have previously looked at how reading the Bible literally does not lead to a 7 day creation week unless you add ideas into the text that are not there. Other famous examples of this issue are things like Gap Creationism or the problem of dealing with Adam & Eve’s children marrying other people that were already there (I’ll look at these in the future). Ideas like this involve adding exaggeration or distortion to the story. It also doesn’t always represent the exact words of the original text. One could also argue that saying something is literal when it was written as metaphor does not “represent” the exact words, it “modifies” them into a different genre.

So all of this leaves me in a bind when it comes to how I view the scriptures, caught somewhere between literal and metaphorical. I couldn’t find a view that matched mine, so I just came up with my own term. Since my desire was to faithfully represent what the scriptures are meant to be, even if they could be both literal or metaphorical or either one, I just went for “representative metaliteralism.”

I know – I use a lot of “meta” around here. I need to stop that – its pretty cheesy. But at least the “meta” in metamodernism and metaliteralism mean different things 🙂

metamodern-faith-avatarI will keep going through various parts of the Bible to explain how I look at things from this “representative metaliteralist” position. I already started with “When Literal is Not Literal Enough: The Genesis of a Creation Myth.” I will continue on looking at other issues through out the Bible where I don’t feel like either the literal or metaphorical interpretation really fits fully.

Click here to see a list of posts in the category “Representative Metaliteralism

When Literal is Not Literal Enough: The Genesis of a Creation Myth

Genesis: literal history or creation myth? To be honest, the more I dig into this question, the weirder it gets, and the more confusing my own answers become. Do I believe that Genesis is to be read literally? Yes. So does that mean I believe that the Earth is only 5,700-10,000 years old? No.

I know, I know… Most people usually answer either yes or no to both of those questions. But they never mix their responses. Confused yet? It will probably only get worse from here on out. You have been warned.

I think I should throw in here that this is no mere hobby for me, either. I am certified to teach both Geology and Art in Texas public schools. I took every Geology course that a Geology major would take in college, went on all the field trips, read all the Darwin books, you name it. So I don’t come at this issue as a Science skeptic. Or a Bible skeptic for that matter (that was an earlier stage of my life). I come at this issue as one that has embraced both, putting me in a rather small minority of a rather small minority.

Never Be Afraid To Be In The Minority

First of all, I have to say that one of my pet peeves in this whole debate are people that have to exaggerate the opinions of critics, scientists, and experts to seemingly lend more weight to their beliefs. This is usually evident when the word “overwhelmingly” is added to any statement. When this word is actually true – like the research that has found that 99.6% of all relevant scientists believe that the Earth is older than 6000 years – then I am fine with people using it. But when people also say that an “overwhelming majority” of Biblical scholars believe that the first few chapters of Genesis are poetic myth… that is not the case. The scholarly field is still very split on this issue.

If you go against the majority belief on something… there is nothing wrong with that. There are still some scientists that believe the universe has no age (it has always existed and was never “created”). You are entitled to choose what you believe – don’t make up statistics to manipulate others into believing that you actually have this huge team of experts on your side. Just graciously explain why you differ and move on.

Young Earth Creationists typically have this gracious explanation thing down, because they are used to being in the minority (yes, I know – some don’t always do it graciously, but most do). Its the evolutionary creationists that I find who need to understand this one more. Any scientist that uses the word “clear” or “overwhelming majority” too much in anything they write is probably not a good resource to listen to.

Dealing With Problems

Let’s face it – there are problems with Genesis no matter how you slice it. Many people are familiar with the Hebrew word yom, which is translated in English as ‘day.’ I read once that the debate over whether yom is supposed to be a literal day or a long span of time has been raging since before the time of Jesus. So we have to recognize that even those who knew the language of the Bible weren’t sure exactly what God was talking about. Or maybe not… we’ll look at that in a little bit.

What I have found, though, is that the idea of Genesis being poetic in nature is a fairly new idea. As far as I can tell, it can be traced back to 1924 and a man named Arie Noordtzij. Many proponents of the “Genesis as poetic myth” idea have admitted that they believe the idea just because they are tired of everyone taking Genesis literally. Some scholars have found some interesting evidence on this front – but a new idea is a new idea.

Recently Rob Bell and others claim that a “majority of theologians” think that Genesis is poetry. Is this really true? Not really. According to James Barr, a well known Hebrew scholar, almost every expert at every “world-class” university believes that Genesis is historical narrative. Barr is unique in that he doesn’t believe the Bible to be true – so he would benefit most from Genesis being poetry. But he apparently still sticks with what he thinks to be true on this statistic. I am inclined to believe him.

To me, the points made by the Genesis as poetry experts are good, but usually speculative and brief. The Genesis as historical narrative side makes a much better, detailed, and exact case. I can’t find a reason to disagree with them, so I go with the “Genesis being historical narrative” camp. But in my reading of Genesis, most of the “literal” interpretations of Genesis are not literal enough. They still have to add some things into the scriptures that just aren’t there. Because, let’s be honest here: there is not a lot “there” period. Whether you believe the Earth is 5000 or 4.6 billion years old, it is all crammed into one book or so of the Bible. That is a lot of summarizing… even at 5000 years you still have to speculate a lot to come up with a comprehensive history of the Earth from so brief an account.

All of this is to say, I believe that Genesis should be read literally, but that reading it literally should not lead one to a Young Earth Creationist view. What do most Young Earth Creationists miss? Well, it all comes back to that pesky word yom.

Pull Out Your VHS Recorders

In all instances of usage, day is a relative term. It tells about the passage of time that we notice relative to where we are. A day on Earth is 24 of our hours. But a day on Jupiter is 9.8 Earth hours. A day on Venus is 243 Earth days. When you are talking about the universe, “day” is technically a literal term… but it still means different lengths of time depending on where you are in the universe and who is the central character from your point of view.

The ancient Hebrews might not have been scientific, but they weren’t stupid. They knew that humans measure days based on the rising and setting of the sun – two objects not created until the fourth “day” of creation. So anyone listening to the Genesis story (since it was probably passed down orally before it was written down) would have known that the “days” mentioned in Genesis were not human days. But they would probably think of them as literal, so what else could they be? Well, there is only one other character in the Genesis account, and He just also happens to be the central character. So these “days” that are referred to are days in relation to God and his time frame, not ours.

Why didn’t they use different word for day there? Well, the whole point of Genesis is to relate to human kind how they are connected to God. So they probably just used words they already had as much connection as possible. You see this in many other places in the Bible, where God or a prophet or someone else uses words that already existed and “re-purposes” them for the sake of the message. Besides, why make up a word when people needed to know that God created everything, not the exact amount of time that it took?

I know many scholars have made detailed cases for why the word yom is supposed to mean 24 hours. Many of those are very intelligent, but also very speculative. This is where I disagree with the literal young Earth viewpoint. Nothing in the original language suggests what kind of day was referred to by yom. It is just rather generic… and hence all of the debate through the centuries.

So the questions remains… how old is the earth? Did it take 6 days to create or 4.6 billion. The answer is… yes. To both. What? Think of it this way.

Do you remember recording TV shows on VHS tapes? Taping a show was pretty easy, but sometimes there would be an all day or night event on New Years or Labor Day that you wanted to see just one part of – maybe, say, your favorite band was performing a song or something like that. You couldn’t stay there waiting to see when they would play, so you would pop in the VHS tape, hit record, and head out the door. When you came back, there would be 6 hours of video for you to dig through. And your favorite band usually played somewhere near the end. So, you would hit play and then fast forward, watching 10 minutes of people skipping around on hyper-speed until your favorite band appeared. The same six hours of time passed by to the people on the tape, but you sped through most of it in 10 minutes to get to the end.

When some people read “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years” in 2 Peter 3:8, they usually do some kind of substitutionary formula. One day = 1000 years, so creation could be 7000 years or so, making the earth close to 12,000-15,000 years old.

But what if this is not a literal exchange formula, but a way of saying that one day and a thousands years are the same thing to God? While the Earth is experiencing a huge amount of time, God is only going through one of His days. The earth is on fast forward in front of him, going through thousands and millions of years while He experiences one day – kind of like the way we experience fast-warding a VHS tape (or DV-R if you want to modernize this idea).

Why would I say millions of years when the scripture clearly says 1000? Well, we all know that numbers are symbolic in the Bible. Peter is probably not trying to give out a specific number, just a figurative statement that says that God lives on a different time scale than us, where a huge amount of time passes to us while one day passes by to God. To Peter, a thousand years was a huge chunk of the known history of the universe, but to modern man that would be closer to hundreds of millions of years.

The important point to note here is that I don’t believe that God is literally “fast-forwarding” the universe. That is just a metaphor to help visualize how He is experiencing the universe on a different time scale. We all know that He created time and is therefore outside of time (as far as we know). But He also choose to have “days” of some kind from the very beginning.. so I think a combination of what we know of God from Scripture and what we know of the Universe from Science would come together to tell us that God experiences days on a different time scale than us.

Creation was six days to God, and 4 billion years to us. Both at the same time. I told you it gets weird.

We can’t deny the fact that so many things on this earth are very, very old. Millions of years old. Some people would say that God created them to have the appearance of age. I just don’t buy that God would deceive us like that. He is not the Deceiver, Satan is.

The next issue for concern is the fact that God would miss so much if He has the Universe on “fast forward” (so to say) to get to the good part (the creation of humans). If He was human, that would be true. But He is not, and His mind is so much more infinite than ours. I think this might be the meaning of the second part of 2 Peter 3:8: “a thousand years are like a day.” God’s mind is so much more infinite than ours, even if the Universe is on “fast forward” to Him, he can still examine the details of each human day as if He had a thousand human years. Ever wonder how He can number the hairs on everyone’s head? Maybe this scripture is telling us how God experiences time different than we do, but can also still have enough mental capacity to dig through every detail He wants.

Kind of gives you a new perspective on anything that mentions “the day of the Lord”, huh? Also makes me wonder – what “day” of the Lord are we on right now? 9? 10?

The other issue we have to be concerned with is how the Biblical order of what was created on which day does not match with the Scientific view of the order of how things came to be on the Earth. How can plants exist before the sun since they need the sun to live? Stars were created after plants, but Science says that many stars are older than the Earth? And fish and birds are created on the same day – before the day that reptiles were created on land – but Science says that fish evolved into reptiles that evolved into birds? Does this disprove the whole notion I have been discussing?

Well, if you make God out to be a man, enslaved to our linear concept of time, yes. But if you think a bit about how God created time and exists outside time, other possibilities open up.

I think of this in terms of comic book creation. When a team comes together to create a comic book, it is often created in many different orders. Basic images are sketched first, ink next, color next, words next, computer effects maybe added on top, etc. Specific scenes are focused on early to make sure they “look right”, even though they may come near the end of the story. To the characters in the story, everything happens in chronological order. To the creators of the story, different parts happen on different days. Now say it takes six days to create a comic book. If you tell the story of that comic from the view of the characters in the story, you have to go chronologically based on the story being told. If you tell the story of the creation of that comic from the creators perspective, you are going to tell it chronologically in the order that they created it. Both are true and accurate. But the order still comes out differently. We have to remember that the creation account in Genesis tells the story of creation, not of the created. To some degree, once we get to the part of getting kicked out of the garden, the story switches from a story of creation to a story about the created. But until the creation is finished, the account is of the creation and not of what was created.

Once we get out of the garden, things start to get hairy with this “fundamentalists / hyperliteralists are not literal enough” idea of mine. Did people really live for hundreds of years? Where did all of these other people mentioned in Genesis 4 come from? Did any of the people in the Bible really exist, or were some of them symbolic? I have answers for all of that, but my head is full just typing all of this…. so that will all have to wait until I get inspired on this topic again.

metamodern-faith-avatarBut the main point is that the hyperliteralists are not really that literal at all, and actually take a very liberal view of the scriptures by adding in ideas and concepts that are not contained in the pages of the Bible. But to be fair, what I have really unfurled here is a way to look at the creation account as figurative metaphor that is also historical narrative. Looking at God as a comic book creator who can simultaneously watch things in fast forward and slow motion on the worlds largest VHS machine is, of course, a figurative and metaphorical view at its core. But the idea is that metaphor and history don’t have to be at war with each other.