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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 first day.”

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.

hand of GodProponents 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 heaven.

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 Journey

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