A fellow Rotarian has an intelligent 10-year-old daughter. Already at such an early age, faith and science are colliding in her world, creating tensions she’s trying to reconcile. She asked her father not long ago, “Who came first: Adam and Eve or the caveman?”
It seems like a simple question for a Christian father to answer, but not so fast.
If he says, “Well, darling, you know the Bible says Adam and Eve were the first people God made, so that means they came first,” then the child is conflicted with the science she’s studying, which tells her the caveman evolved from lower forms of life.
If he says, “Well, darling, scientists tell us human beings evolved, so the caveman came first,” then the child is conflicted with the Bible, according to most preachers I know, for that would deny the historical accuracy of the Scriptures.
Wouldn’t that destroy the trust and faith this child places in the Bible?
I know committed Christians who believe God used evolution as his mode of creation. That, of course, means they must read the Genesis account as something other than a literal account of creation.
I don’t see where this interpretation affects their ethics at all, that is, how they treat their fellow humans or even their love for God.
Remember, many parts of the Bible are not taken literally. No one takes these words of Jesus literally: “So if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet” (Matthew 18:8).
At what point in the evolutionary process would God have created male and female in his own image? That’s a question I’ve never resolved.
I have kept a simple faith and have always treated Adam and Eve as literal people, but I admit, I don’t understand their timelines in relation to the aging of the world and the study of paleontology.
So how’s a father to answer his 10-year-old child? The pieces of the puzzle don’t fit so easily together to explain to a 10-year-old – or even to me – just exactly how the world and human beings came to be or when.
There’s mystery in our creation. I suppose this is the reason all the timeline questions are not answered in seminary, unless you attend one of those schools that has all the answers. Most allow for some mystery in God’s world and in the Scriptures.
Maybe that’s the answer. You see, the child has asked a question that’s a trap. Her father seemed to realize it was a trap, and that’s why he was so cautious in answering his daughter. He wants his daughter to affirm her faith while having a healthy appreciation for science.
He doesn’t want her to reject either one, but to continue to subject both to tough questions, which demand the best answers, for this is one of the best ways for her to discover truth and knowledge.
People with a healthy faith learn that mystery is a component of God, which should be embraced and incorporated in their faith.
When Jesus was asked questions he felt were designed to trap him, he always answered the question with a question. Maybe that’s how this father could answer his daughter.
Instead of answering her questions with a statement, perhaps he should respond with a question: “Well, darling, who made them Adam, Eve and the caveman?”
Genesis is written to tell us who made the earth and all that dwells within it. It is not written to tell us exactly how God made the earth or even the timelines, only that God spoke and that it came into being, “ex nihilo,” that is, “out of nothing,” and that we were made from the dust of the ground.
Scientists will continue to grapple with the hows of creation, but there will always be mystery around creation because when you begin with nothing and end up with a universe, that demands the presence of the supernatural, which is surrounded with mystery. You cannot explain how you get from nothing to something. It will be plenty to keep scientists busy for a long time.
If a 10-year-old can grapple with the question, “Who came first: Adam and Eve or the caveman?” I think she can be comfortable living with a bit of mystery.
The words Paul wrote the church at Corinth are appropriate for us here: “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Michael Helms is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Ga. This column also appeared in “The Paper” in Hoschton, Ga.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.