Time to think
Maybe young-earth creationists should sometimes just ‘shut up’? …
Published: 7 June 2012 (GMT+10)
Shortly after taking my assigned seat for a three-hour flight, I was surprised when the gentleman sitting next to me suddenly asked, “Why are you reading that?”
He was referring to a page of Hebrew print which I’d brought with me. I explained to him that I had hopes of catching up on my homework for an introductory course in Hebrew language that I was doing at the time.
“May I see it?” he asked, and, taking the page of Hebrew script from me, began reading it aloud. It was Genesis chapter 1, and he read it fluently, without any hesitation, just like my Hebrew language teacher. I was astonished.
“You know Hebrew!” I said, impressed.
“Oh yes,” he replied, “but tell me, why are you interested in learning Hebrew?”
Wondering if this might be a ministering opportunity, I said:
“I’m a Christian, and much of the Bible was originally written in Hebrew, hence my interest.”
“My brother in Christ!” beamed my travelling companion, “Oh how wonderful it is—the Lord has brought us together for this flight—what a wonderful time of fellowship we’ll have!” His joy was genuine, and as the conversation unfolded, Edwin1 explained how his love for the Lord had resulted in him enrolling at Bible College (which is where he had learnt Hebrew), going on to become a Lecturer in New Testament Studies at a mainstream theological seminary.
Knowing of the widespread antipathy towards a straightforward reading of Genesis in many theological seminaries,2 and its often-tragic consequences,3 I couldn’t resist asking certain questions to ascertain Edwin’s view of Genesis. [See: ‘Are you a biblical creationist?’—Nine questions to ascertain whether your future pastor, youth group leader or Bible College Principal takes a straightforward view of Genesis]
It didn’t take long to discover that, despite his evident love for the Lord Jesus Christ, Edwin was as ‘soft’ on Genesis as any other non-young-earth-creationist-Christian I’d ever met.
Now, painful experience had taught me that Christians with long-age or theistic evolutionary views do not like to be ‘bailed up’ [their term] by zealous young-earth creationists.
And I could see there was a definite risk of that happening here, for Edwin had the window seat, and I was next to him—he couldn’t ‘escape’ anywhere! So I resolved to be mindful to be as gentle as possible, i.e. to converse with Edwin such that he wanted to discuss Genesis with me. (And thus I might help him see that the Bible can be trusted re origins.) Our ‘time of fellowship’ together on this flight had started heartwarmingly amicably—I wanted to keep it that way.
So, seeing Edwin’s obvious passion for Christ, I asked him what sort of objections he encounters when proclaiming the Gospel. (Many evangelical Christians get very excited (and rightly so) when they see that the ‘objections’ to Genesis are easily demolished, and that the issue of origins is a powerful tool for reaching out to those who are perishing in today’s world. I had expected Edwin to say that it’s the creation/evolution issue that non-Christians use to fob off his evangelistic efforts.)
“Objections?” replied Edwin, looking puzzled.
I soon realized that Edwin’s love for the Lord hadn’t yet translated into an outreach-oriented love for the lost—he’d apparently had no experience at all of telling unbelievers about salvation through Jesus Christ. Hence he’d never heard their objections.
But there was something else at issue here, which did not become apparent to me until we’d conversed further.
I was very surprised to hear Edwin say that in his city, he didn’t know any atheists at all—pretty much everyone believed in God.
I said, “What about other religions? I don’t mean other denominations; I mean other religions, like Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam. Don’t you have any Buddhists, etc., in your city?”
“Oh, yes” replied Edwin.
“Well?” I said, “aren’t you trying to win them for the Lord?”
Edwin looked incredulous.
“No need,” he said, “They’ve already got their own religion.”
I was amazed. I’d heard of some certain leaders of ‘mainstream’ denominations espousing such views before, but this was the first time I’d ever encountered it in person.
“Tell me,” I said, “Did Jesus say that there are many paths to God or that He alone is THE Way—that no-one comes to the Father except through Him?”
After a few seconds silence, Edwin, looking very shocked, acknowledged what the Scriptures say on that point.
“So,” I said, “doesn’t that mean that Buddhists, Hindus, etc., are not currently on the narrow road that leads to life but are on a wide road leading to Hell? If you saw a blind man heading for a pit, wouldn’t the most loving thing you could do be to shout a warning?”
Edwin did not refute what I’d just said, but he seemed reluctant to accept it. Then he said, “But you can’t just go up to someone you don’t know and talk to them about Jesus! And how do you tell whether they already believe in Jesus or not?”
I pointed out that the Apostle Paul wrote that we are to be alert for opportunities and make the most of them when they arise (Colossians 4:5–6). I said, “I have a friend in Sydney who is very good at that. For example, he was sitting at a dining table in a restaurant, and his friends were slow in deciding what to order. So he took the opportunity to turn to the waitress and asked her directly, ‘Are you a Christian?’”
Edwin looked aghast, and his mouth dropped open, but no sound came out. I asked him, “Do you know what the waitress said?” I paused. “She said, ‘No!’ The waitress said ‘No!’ What would you have said then, Edwin, if you’d been in my friend’s shoes?”
Edwin still looked aghast, his mouth remained open, but still no sound came out. So I said, “Well, I’ll tell you what my friend said. Just two words: ‘Why not?’ Isn’t that brilliant!? With just two questions my friend can identify that someone is not a Christian and elicit the reason(s) why.4 And do you know what the waitress said? She said straight away, ‘Where did Cain get his wife?’ How would you have answered that, Edwin?”
“Actually,” said Edwin, “I’ve often wondered about that myself.”
“I’m sure you already know the answer,” I replied, “but maybe just don’t realize it yet. Let me help you. Tell me, why did Adam name his wife Eve?”
Edwin didn’t know. I was a little taken aback that a lecturer at a Bible College couldn’t answer that question (especially one who could read Genesis 1 aloud in Hebrew!), but I nevertheless gently pointed out that the Bible says that Adam named his wife ‘Eve’ because she would become the mother of all the living.5 So Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve, must have married another of Adam and Eve’s children.6
Edwin blurted out, “But that would mean he married his sister! That’s outrageous.”
I asked him why that would be a problem. Edwin said, “Because it’s against God’s commandments. And the children would be retarded.”
Gently, I said, “Certainly in the Bible, God is on record as saying that ‘Cursed is the man’ who marries his sister, or even his half-sister.7 But here’s a question: Abraham’s wife Sarah—was she related to Abraham in some way?”
A look of pained anxiety crossed Edwin’s face. So I continued, “Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister, as Abraham said, ‘the daughter of my father though not of my mother’.8 But tell me, does the Bible say that Abraham was cursed, or blessed?”
“Abraham was blessed, of course,” said Edwin. “So, there’s a contradiction.”
“No,” I replied, “there’s no contradiction at all. To whom was God speaking when He said, “Cursed is the man … ?”
Edwin hesitated to answer, so I filled in with, “To Moses, of course. It’s in Deuteronomy. So the question now is, who came first: Moses, or Abraham?”
At this point, I must say that what happened next was a huge surprise to me. I did not anticipate this at all.
Edwin began shifting uncomfortably in his seat, even undoing and redoing his seat belt, then saying in a louder voice, and in a tone of extreme annoyance, “I am getting sick and tired of you asking me these questions about CHILDREN’S STORIES.”
Well, I confess somewhat shamefacedly that this jibe about the Book of Moses, about God’s Word, coming as it did from a Bible College lecturer, was too much for my patience.
“Children’s stories?!!!” I responded crossly, “God’s Word is NOT a ‘children’s story’. It is an actual account of history, and when understood as such, it makes sense of who we are, why we’re here, and this world where we live. Abraham and Sarah came before Moses, and Cain and his sister before that, so there was no problem in God’s sight for them to marry—no moral commandment was broken. And biologically, there was no problem either. The Bible says that everything was originally created ‘very good’9 —it was only after the Fall that things started going downhill, right in line with what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:19-22, that the whole creation since the Fall has been in ‘bondage to decay’. So instead of the situation we have today, where the accumulated genetic mutations are such that we have to marry a distant relative (for those of us who marry indeed marry a relative), it was no problem pre-Moses to marry a close relative, even a sibling.10 Surely, Edwin, you would not say that the Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, are ‘retarded’? Proportionally, they’ve been awarded more Nobel prizes for scientific achievement than any other ‘race’!”11
Edwin latched onto the word ‘race’. “Actually,” he said, “what about all the races? What about all the skin colours?”
As Edwin himself had very dark skin (he said that he had some Papuan heritage), it was a great opportunity to explain that there’s only one skin pigment to speak of, melanin, and the variation in the amount of melanin between individuals and between people groups fits with the biblical account of history. I explained that Adam and Eve would have likely been medium-brown, and that the dispersal from Babel occurred in family groups, with the difficulty of language barriers separating the groups referred to colloquially today as ‘races’.
We covered many topics in our conversation, as Edwin had in mind many issues and raised, one after the other, ‘objections’ to taking the Bible as straightforward history. And so I endeavoured to answer him on each of his questions (all of which are answered multiple times on this website—so anybody who has familiarized themselves with this material could just as easily have answered him also). Questions such as dinosaurs and other fossils, what about ‘ape-men’, whether the Ark could have been real, and what about carnivores pre-Fall.
We were making, in my view, great progress—I was excited to see (it seemed to me) that Edwin was being won over on all of these key points. But perhaps my eagerness was such that I was impervious to signs that maybe Edwin was not travelling so well in our traversing of these issues. Because, after two hours of unbroken lively conversation, Edwin suddenly put his hand up like a traffic policeman, saying sternly, “Stop. Stop. That’s enough. I’ve had enough. I don’t want to hear any more. Don’t say any more. Please be quiet.”
I was mortified. In my eagerness to help him see that the Bible can be trusted, I’d instead pushed him too far, and so killed the conversation. I’d been over-zealous, and ruined our time of fellowship. Had I perhaps even turned a Christian friend into an enemy? I’d done the dreaded ‘bailing-up-in-a-corner’ so despised of passionate biblical creationists. I sat there morbidly for the remaining hour of the journey, wallowing in remorse, replaying endlessly in my head our conversation, wondering where I’d gone wrong, ruing the ‘opportunity lost’. Woe is me.
The plane touched down on the runway at our destination airport, and taxied to a halt on the tarmac. This airport had no ‘aerobridge’ facilities, hence passengers would be alighting down stairs to the tarmac.
Passengers began impatiently to crowd the aisles, gathering their bags from the overhead lockers. To my surprise, Edwin spoke up. “You know, brother,” he said, “I’ve been thinking. Everything you’ve been telling me is right. There really was an Adam and Eve, and a Garden, in a ‘very good’ world, and it all came undone because of Adam disobeying God. The fossils can’t be before that moment, because there was no death before then—the animals were all vegetarian. The fossils date from Noah’s Flood. The dinosaur fossils, too. But after the Flood as people spread out over the earth, they saw the offspring of the Ark dinosaurs, hence Chinese dragons and the like. Even in my own country, people remember stories of fierce creatures menacing people near the lakes and swamps—I can see now those creatures might have been dinosaurs, not yet extinct. The tower of Babel, and all that, I see it now, all our sickness and death, a world in ‘bondage to decay’—yes, it is as you say. Jesus is the answer that everybody needs.”
WOW!So it seems that Edwin had simply needed me to ‘shut up’ for a while, that he might have some time to think. Actually, Edwin’s example is something we’ve noticed many times over, i.e. that people need some time to mentally ‘process’ what biblical creationists have presented to them. In many cases it’s a ‘bombshell’ for them—the idea that the Bible can be trusted as straightforward history is a concept that they’ve never previously encountered, and can take some time to absorb. Having been exposed to thousands of hours of evolutionary storytelling in secular education, and the ‘fog’ that passes as scholarship in many theological institutions, it would indeed be remarkable if de-programming of all that indoctrination was instantaneous. The fact that Edwin was apparently able to quietly assess a new worldview in just an hour of silent reflection on his part, correctly, was actually quite commendable, indeed remarkable.
By now the plane’s engines had been completely turned off, but all passengers remained on board, most crowding the aisle holding their bags, as there was some delay/problem with the mobile stairs and so the plane’s doors remained closed. Despite the crowd of people on board, having now to wait until the doors could be opened, the cabin was eerily silent, except for just one person speaking: Edwin, to me. “You know, brother, you and I being together on this flight was no accident. The Lord is good. I needed to hear what you have now said to me. The Lord arranged for it to happen. It was the Lord who arranged for us to be seated together on this plane. It was the Lord who gave us the opportunity to have this conversation. Praise the Lord!”
Edwin said this as he took my hand, shaking it warmly. I was ecstatic. What a moment to savour! But then a lady, standing in the aisle about four seat rows to the front of us, spoke up loudly. “And the Lord gave THAT man,” she said for all to hear, pointing straight at me with her outstretched arm and index finger, “a VERY PENETRATING VOICE!”
I wanted to crawl under the seat with embarrassment. It seems my words had carried somewhat further than I’d intended …
- Not his real name. Return to text.
- For example, Australian correspondent Anil G. wrote to us on 6 April 2012 of his own experience: “I started a degree at Tabor College around 2001. I was so surprised when I read in a book recommended for study for one of their courses that ‘Jesus may have sent out the 60 because he was aware his own ministry may have failed’.” [Published comment at Catchpoole, D. and Wieland, C., Tabor’s choice, 29 March 2012.] Return to text.
- “I lost my faith at Bible College” is, sadly, an increasingly common refrain. Wieland, C., Crisis in the colleges, 23 November 2004. Return to text.
- See also Kong, Y.-P., Why not? And why?—the power of asking the right questions, 5 April 2011. Return to text.
- Genesis 3:20 Return to text.
- Only three of Adam and Eve’s children are mentioned by name—Cain, Abel and Seth—though they had “other sons and daughters” (Genesis 5:4). Return to text.
- Deuteronomy 27:22 Return to text.
- Genesis 20:12. Return to text.
- Genesis 1:31. Return to text.
- The children of a genetically perfect Adam and Eve could have married one another without any potential to produce deformed offspring. Biologically today, however, the accumulation of genetic mistakes is such that brothers and sisters are likely to carry the same mutations, i.e. mistakes in the same genes since they have the same parents. (We all have two sets of genes—we inherit one gene of each pair from each parent.) Thus the offspring of brother-sister intermarriage could today inherit the same mutated gene from both parents—tragically resulting in defects. In contrast, when two people who are not closely related marry one another, if their offspring inherit a mutated gene from one parent it is not a calamity, because a good copy of the gene from the other parent is there as a back-up. Return to text.
- E.g., according to an article in The New York Times, “Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates.” Brooks, D., The Tel Aviv cluster, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/opinion/12brooks.html, 11 January 2010. Return to text.