Permission to believe the Bible
Tas Walker talks to Rev. Esa Hukkinen about Genesis, science and salvation
In the last few years, Rev. Esa Hukkinen’s worldview has been turned on its head, profoundly affecting his family, his life and his ministry. He pastors a large Presbyterian church in Toowoomba, Australia. The catalyst for this dramatic change was a careful and serious study of the early chapters of Genesis and their relationship with the New Testament.
Esa, of Finnish ancestry, did not grow up in a Christian family. In his first year at school, he encountered a faithful Scripture teacher who came week after week to his class and taught the children about Christ. From the outset, Esa knew deep-down that his teacher was speaking the truth.
However, it was not until he was 18 that he found peace with God. Esa said, “I crept into a church one evening, hoping to leave before anyone spotted me.” But the minister was ‘on the ball’. He visited Esa in his home that week and began a three-year discipleship program. “From the first day,” Esa said, “I was fed solid biblical teaching with no extraneous self opinion. He always taught what God said and proved it from the Bible.”
After leaving school, Esa eventually completed a Bachelor of Economics from Macquarie University and landed a job with the Wesley Mission training ex-offenders and helping them find employment.
“The job was rewarding on so many levels,” Esa said. “Helping people recently out of jail to sort out their lives was fulfilling in an amazing way. Often a young man would come back years later with his wife and new-born child to thank us. That was an unspeakable blessing.”
Through this experience Esa decided to become a minister with the Presbyterian Church—to teach things that have eternal value, not just temporal value. His wife, Kerryn, has supported his change of career, and they work together as a team. Their four children have adjusted to the demands of ministry incredibly well and are always gracious and loving to the people they invite into their home.
It was after he had become a minister that circumstances arose that upended areas of his worldview he had not considered before. “It all began when I lent a book written by a prominent Christian author to a young man in our congregation,” Esa said. “He was struggling with some issues. To my surprise he gave it back somewhat indignantly, telling me that author was ‘compromised’.”
Esa was astonished. What could he mean? “I thought it was impossible that the author was compromised because he was one of the finest theologians of the day.”
But the young lad also gave him some books and DVDs. “These opened my eyes to the scientific evidence for the historical accuracy of Genesis,” Esa said. “I felt stunned at how I had believed the lies I had been fed all my life about so-called ‘science’.”
“What began quietly in my heart was a scriptural revival. Over the years, questions flooded in and deep issues were raised, even in the wee hours of the morning. Battles raged in my mind. I began reading and seeking answers regarding Genesis 1–11.”
Like many Christians, Esa used to think he could hold the creation account of Genesis in harmony with evolution over billions of years. He said, “I never questioned the Word of God but neither did I think it could be true scientifically. I simply believed what ‘science’ told us about evolution and the age of the earth. I had never tried to draw science and Genesis together.”
In his quest Esa checked what some of the major Bible colleges taught. “It became clear that most of these colleges, with the most renowned scholars, possibly in the world, didn’t teach Genesis 1–11 as literal history, or they bypassed the issue.”
That probably explains why Esa believed these matters were largely irrelevant for biblical understanding and Christian living. “Boy, was I wrong!” he said.
Accepting the first 11 chapters of Genesis as literal history—as a historical document—has given Esa a fuller appreciation of God and His entire plan of salvation. It has also given him confidence because he now shares the Gospel with people without worrying whether he can answer challenges from evolution or ‘science’. In fact, it has impacted the way he talks to non-believers on all sorts of issues, such as marriage, relationships, family and society. Esa has found it makes more sense to them for him to begin with Genesis.
He has also discovered a down side—emotion-filled discussions with Christians who see Genesis as poetry or a reworked Babylonian myth. It seems that these discussions always end with a statement from them like, “It’s not a salvation issue, so it doesn’t matter what you think about these early chapters.”
It puzzled Esa that Christians seemed happy to leave the Bible open to any interpretation, any belief system, as long as “it’s not a salvation issue”. But he could not get his friends to explain what constitutes a salvation issue and what does not!
Esa said, “I think it’s just a way of avoiding the matter, which is what I did. I was afraid to search through Genesis in case ‘science’ was right and the Bible really was a collection of old wives’ tales and pagan myths.”
Once he began to consider the question, Esa was disturbed to realise that the claim “It’s not a salvation issue” undermines the credibility of the rest of the Bible.
“The Bible often refers to Genesis 1–11, accepting it totally as truth and building other truths on the events recorded,” Esa said. “If Genesis 1–11 is not true then the rest of Bible is built on shaky ground.”
Romans 5:12–21 was one example that came to his mind. It contrasts the actions of Adam and Christ. One man, Adam, brought death into the world while the other, Christ, brought life. This only makes sense if there really was a man called Adam at the beginning, as Genesis says.
Esa saw the same comparison in 1 Corinthians 15:22, which says “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” It was clear that the Apostle Paul considered Adam a real man in history, but if evolution was true then who was Adam? Verse 45 made the problem even worse, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” Esa could see that the claim that people evolved from apes directly challenges the redemptive work of the “last Adam”—Christ.
Once he started seriously following the Genesis connections, Esa saw that accepting evolution created problems everywhere. For example, in Mark 10:6–8, Jesus presents God’s plan for marriage: “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’” Evolution destroys this foundation, opening the door for adultery, homosexuality, and polygamy.
Another problem he found was from John 1:3 which says all things were made by Jesus. “This is the beginning of the Gospel,” Esa said. “But evolution has no need or room for the supernatural. Not only does it make Jesus irrelevant but the claim that He created becomes fraudulent.”
And then there is the wonderful Christian hope in Revelation 22:3. Of the future earth it says, “There shall be no more curse.” This harks back to the curse God placed on the earth as a judgment on Adam’s sin, described in Genesis 3. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus took the curse upon himself, and that this curse will one day be removed forever. But evolution has death, suffering and disease present in the world for millions of years, long before Adam, contradicting the Bible and destroying the Christian’s hope.
Understanding about assumptions
Although he could see the clear connection between Genesis and the Gospel in Scripture, Esa still felt uneasy about the ‘science’. “I couldn’t see how Scripture and ‘science’ sat together. I held them in tension with an uneasy feeling that they didn’t correlate too well.”
One insight that clarified the issue was to understand the difference between observable, measurable and repeatable phenomena (which is what science is about) and events that took place in history.
Examples of the first are the force of gravity, the freezing point of water and the speed of sound. Examples of the second are the beginning of the universe, the origin of life and the first humans. Esa realized that when we go back into history, into events that cannot be observed or repeated, scientists cannot speak with authority.
Esa said, “The start of the universe was a one-off, non-measurable event. There are various ideas and theories but no humans were present to see it. But the God of creation was present and hence an eyewitness. When He tells us what happened, His word is completely credible unlike any man-made theory.”
“I found it refreshing to discover solid scientific evidence supporting biblical history. I had not realized before that scientists, when speaking about what happened in the past, are really guessing,” Esa said, adding, “Or should I say hypothesizing.” Once Esa understood the assumptions sustaining modern geology and radioactive dating, he felt liberated.
“The geological issue was perhaps the biggest issue for my accepting Genesis as literal history,” Esa said. “Many Christians and pastors take it for granted that the world is billions of years old because they’ve been told the rocks don’t lie. Seeing behind the geological assumptions allowed me to accept Genesis as written. It was as if I now had permission to believe what the Bible actually said.”
In Esa’s experience, Christians can be the hardest to talk with on this issue. “Many are set in their ways of accepting the earth as billions of years old, and use mental gymnastics to sidestep biblical truth. They have swallowed the lie that on some issues you can interpret the Bible any way you like, and that it doesn’t matter what you believe.”
On the other hand, non-believers are mostly keen to hear him out. “It’s great to be able to share scientific evidence of creation and point out the problems with evolution over millions of years. Non-believers, in my experience, are mostly willing to listen to alternate theories, especially if they are presented clearly, logically, and in a way that explains the science.”