How do you interpret the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis?
Do you take the Creationism view that God actually
created the world in seven days, as described in the book of Genesis, making the creation story literally true? In
1650 James Ussher, Anglican archbishop of Armagh, calculated the date
that the world was created. Starting with known dates, and working
backwards through Old Testament events he calculated that it began at
6pm on Saturday October 22, 4004 BC. That’s just over 6000 years ago.
Actually, he put the date at October 23, and then
pedantically realised that time must have begun the night before,
because the Bible says that “the evening and the morning were the
Nowadays scientists calculate that age of the Earth
to be about 4.6 billion years. Does this mean that the Bible is wrong,
or that the scientists are wrong?
Do you take the Intelligent Design view of the creation story that certain
features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an
intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection?
In other words, God effectively controlled the evolution process and
Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection cannot work because of the
impossibly high odds against the complex organisms evolving by chance.
Proponents suggest that the first verse of John’s
Gospel is the true version of the creation story: “In the beginning was
the Word…..” that is, in the beginning was intelligence, purpose and
wisdom. So the Earth could well be 4.6 billion years old, but the hand
of God has always been in control of the evolutionary process.
But where does this leave the Genesis version of the creation story?
In his great exposition of the first two books of the
Bible, Arcana Caelestia (Heavenly
Secrets) Emanuel Swedenborg
writes: "As long as the mind confines itself to the sense of the
letter alone one cannot possibly see that its contents embody matters
that are spiritual and celestial. Take for instance the first section of
Genesis: From the sense of the letter the only subject matter people
recognize is the creation of the world, and the Garden of Eden which is
called Paradise, and Adam as the first man to be created. Who thinks
anything different? The fact that these things contain arcana however
which have never been revealed up to now will be sufficiently clear from
what follows - especially clear from the fact that the subject of
Genesis 1 is, in the internal sense, the NEW CREATION of man, that is
his REGENERATION. And the subject is presented in such a way that not
the smallest part of any expression fails to have a representation,
carry a spiritual meaning, or embody something within itself."
Swedenborg goes on to write that the six days of
the creation story represent consecutive states in our spiritual rebirth and
growth, the process that he calls regeneration. The first state,
corresponding to the first day, is one of spiritual darkness, before our
regeneration starts. The second state, corresponding to the second day,
is one of recognising that some things of faith and love come from the
Lord while others come from ourselves. This enables us to separate
worldly, external things from spiritual, internal things.
The third state is one of repentance, when we operate
from internal motivation, but speak and act believing that these
thoughts and actions come from ourselves. The fourth state moves us
forward to thinking and acting in faith and love because we feel we want
to, rather than because we feel we ought to.
The fifth state is one of coming alive spiritually,
when we recognise that the goodness and charity that flow from us are a
consequence of the truth and faith we receive internally from the Lord.
Following on from this, the sixth state occurs when we realise and
accept that the Lord Himself is the source of all love and wisdom that
motivate us and guide us on our path to heaven.
The seventh day, on which God rested, corresponds to
the seventh state of regeneration, in which we rest in the peace and joy
of allowing ourselves to be totally led by the Lord, knowing that He
will guide us through our present life on earth and our future life in
If we agree with this interpretation, we can accept
both the scientifically calculated age of the earth AND the creation
story in the book of Genesis as an allegory for the spiritual
development, the regeneration, that we must undergo in order to live in
heaven for eternity.
For a fuller description of the 7 stages of
regeneration described by the creation story in Genesis click here: Spiritual
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