In the last discussion, when considering natural revelation, I pointed out that God reveals everything about himself to us, his creatures, based on the Romans 1:20 statement that both his divine nature and eternal power are revealed. I equated divine nature with God’s one essence of truth, goodness, and beauty, and I equated eternal power with God’s existence—the activity in outward expression. I’m going to have to slightly change that idea. (And I hate doing that because it begins to seem like we’re just plodding through non-essentials. But stay with me because in the long run, this point is important.)
Power is actually not the same as activity. Rather, it is the motivator, propeller, initiator, and sometimes the sustainer of the activity. But it is not necessarily the activity itself. An example is the activity of a ball traveling through the air. That ball was powered by the bat that hit it. But the activity of the ball traveling is something different from the power that set it in motion. So, understanding this difference may make us want to move God’s eternal power up with his divine nature as that which powers his existence (activity). Diagrams are helpful, so take a look at these diagrams explaining what we’re talking about. In our last discussion, I had assigned divine nature and eternal power to essence and existence as shown here:
However, by now recognizing that eternal power is not the same as activity, we may want to move it up to essence, so our chart would look like this:
But moving it so would be incorrect. Because God’s eternal power is simply not his essence (divine nature) of truth, goodness, and beauty. They are not just two expressions Paul used in Romans 1:20 to say the exact same thing. It is not actually that our first chart above is incorrect; it is rather my statement equating eternal power with God’s outward activity that was incorrect. But eternal power is still associated with his existence.
Let’s look first at how Paul uses power a few verses earlier in the chapter. In Romans 1:16, we read, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.” Gospel, of course, means good news. The good news Paul refers to is the redemption Jesus brought about. And the redemption was accomplished so that we could have salvation—saved from separation in death to be with God. It is the gospel, Paul says, that powers the salvation. Verse 17 goes on, “For in it (the gospel) God’s righteousness is revealed faith to faith.” God’s righteousness is his faithfulness to his own covenant for bringing about a people with whom to have everlasting love relationship. And the revelation thereof is possible through the gospel message. How is the gospel message delivered? It is delivered by people who hold it by faith (like Paul) to people who receive it by faith (like the Romans to whom he is writing). It is a lifestyle activity that has its basis in God’s essence—his truth, goodness, and beauty (TGB). This is what salvation is all about. It is not just to be delivered from a torturous hell. It is about a life covenant of living based on God’s essence. And the carrying of the gospel from one person of faith to another person of faith demonstrates that life covenant living. And so, Paul reaches to Habakkuk to explain what God explained there—the righteous will live by faith (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17b). In other words, the righteous will live in faith—belief, trust, and dependence on God’s essence in life covenant.
Now notice that this statement of Paul’s in verses 16 and 17 bump right up against the declaration about God revealing himself to all. Thus, his divine nature (TGB) is revealed, and also revealed is the fact that God holds to his nature in all his activity. In other words, his belief, trust, and dependence on his essence is what powers him always to act outwardly in love. That eternal power, then, is under the category of his existence, although not his outward expression as I had said previously. Rather his eternal power is his inward activity (notice the chart) that places his faith and hope on his essence.
This explanation was rather heavy. You may need to read back through it a couple of times to let it all sink in. But it is consistent with God’s emphasis throughout his Word. We are to live and act outwardly in love and we can do that only if our basis of living is our tight faith-and-hope hold on God’s essence of truth, goodness, and beauty. We are jumping ahead here just a bit. This discussion fits in much better as we hit Genesis 1:26. But this start may help us get along through that section.
Understanding the days of Genesis 1 has changed from a struggle between Christians and non-Christians to be a struggle among Christians. The science, it is said, has disproved any young-Earth contention drawn from Scripture. Christians, buying into that notion, have come up with ways to marry an old Earth with the biblical account so as to accommodate these scientific findings.
One such explanation is called the Gap Theory. The idea here is that after God created heavens and earth in Genesis 1:1, something cataclysmically bad occurred. Some think a race of people came on whom judgment was levied through destruction. Some others think Satan’s rebellion occurred. For whatever reason, God destroyed creation in reducing it to the formless and void condition of verse 2. That former age gave the earth the time required to come up with fossil record and all that science purports as support for the earth’s age. It seems odd to me that the verse designation as formless still left intact a fossil record, but that’s the theory.
Another old-Earth idea is that the days in Genesis 1 are not literal 24-hour days. Each may represent a time period of millions of years, and they may overlap. So then the years for the earth to form in each age was not necessarily devoid of some of the developing benefits of other ages.
A third view is close to the second with just a tad more distinction. It is called the Punctuated 24-Hour Theory. Each of the days of creation recorded was an actual day in which God set in motion activity that would continue over long periods of time.
One other idea that hasn’t really gained much support was put forward by John Sailhamer, Old Testament scholar who died only recently. His idea, Historical Creationism, saw the world’s and the universe’s creation having occurred all in the first verse. The rest of Genesis 1 did not refer to the world at large but to only Eden—the Promised Land—of which the Bible speaks of through the Garden, Abraham’s land, the land of Israel, and the future restored Promised Land of Revelation. Thus, without specific days for Earth’s creation mentioned, the millions of years that science demands could easily have occurred in verse 1.
I have a problem with all these ideas of an old Earth. Whether understanding Adam and Eve as literal first humans or as archetypal characters of the human race, these old-Earth theories all require death to exist prior to humankind. We will take a look at this idea, separating it into two categories: human death and animal death.
Regarding human death, the Bible has much to say connecting human death with sin. Let’s run through just a few verses:
Genesis 2:17 “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” Adam and Eve did not drop dead physically after eating of the tree. So, the point made here is that they would die spiritually. What is it to die spiritually? As we will see more clearly through Genesis 2 (and actually throughout the Bible), the major part of life’s definition is relationship with God. Death, life’s opposite, then is no relationship with God, or better, separation from God. Spiritual death will, of course, lead to physical death. In actuality, it would lead to it immediately if not for the interest of God in completing the purpose for his creation—everlasting love relationship. So physical death did not occur immediately for Adam and Eve because God, although changing relationship to reveal his turning away at the expression of sin, continued to sustain in order to initiate and continue his plan of redemption. However, we see death even in this first example verse that is connected with spiritual death that would by logical extension lead to physical death.
Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned.” The insistence here by Paul is that the entrance of sin into the world caused death. One could argue that the insistence seems to be on only human death. (And for now we will accept just that because human death is our focus right now.) Yet the connection is made clear: death came because of sin, not because God expected it to be a continuing part of his creation.
James 1:15 “Then after desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.” Death coming from sin is the focus of this verse.
Romans 7:13 “Therefore, did what is good cause my death? Absolutely not! On the contrary, sin, in order to be recognized as sin, was producing death in me through what is good.” This verse highlights the relationship of life and death to relationship with God. As sin is expressed, it moves a person away from God (“producing death”).
I Corinthians 15:21 “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man.” Important here is that the focus has switched to physical death. The resurrection spoken of here is that of Jesus. Jesus did not spiritually die (to create some sort of schism in the Trinity). Rather Jesus died physically, intimating his death is connected to the sin that came through Adam but overcome through resurrection (newness to life).
Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In this verse, we find Paul connecting both physical and spiritual life by focusing on its eternal aspect. And he sets that eternal life in opposition to death which results from sin.
All these verses (and the rest of the Bible’s insistence) consistently treat death as a result of the sin cause, not as a result of natural intention for human existence. And it is not argument to say that without God’s hand in keeping humans alive, the natural result would be death. Of course, that is true. But the point of creation was to create image bearers with whom to enjoy love relationship forever, not to have them moving in and out of physical creation as if reincarnation had some logical purpose in relationship design.
But was death the design of creation as a whole for all besides the human image bearers? I think even that condition must be argued against. Some people argue that humans were shown to be mortal in God’s description of them being created from dust. Normally, a simple molding metaphor would have them shaped from clay (as the metaphor is used many times in Scripture). However, the insistence here at the beginning on a fashioning from dust is intended to show mortality.
I disagree. The insistence of being formed from dust is a connection to physical creation, not to mortality. And on the whole, physical creation has continued (according to God’s plan) without a break even to today. Some old Earthers argue (continuing their understanding of death as a natural course) that these “first” humans were kept alive specifically by the special gift of the Tree of Life placed in the Garden. By eating of its fruit, death was prevented. But when Adam and Eve sinned, they were sent away from the Garden so that they could not eat the fruit and live (Gen 3:22–24). Without the fruit, they would then suffer the same fate as all the animals who died as a normal course of existence.
The theory here cannot hold because it would tear down much other foundational truth we have surrounding it. Life is sustained by God, not trees (Col 1:17). The Tree of Life, though an actual tree, was used metaphorically to explain relationship with God—that life existed with God and, because of sin, death would occur, separating one from God. The tree was not merely some magical growth to keep something from dying. I suppose the serpent would have eaten from the tree then.
Let’s step through this in an orderly fashion. First, in Genesis 1:29–30, we see God’s insistence that all creatures who have the breath of life in them will be fed by green plants. There is no need then in the intended, created order for animal death to feed other animals. And that is significantly different from the world we have today after the introduction of sin.
We also notice in Leviticus 17:11, in describing the dietary laws, God insists that blood is not to be eaten. Although at this point animals are used for food, God tells the Israelites that the idea of life, represented by the blood, is still to be held sacred. And the example he uses of this sacredness is the lifeblood of animals. That tends to counter the idea that the life represented in animals meant so little to God in their initial formation that he would allow them to suffer death without even a symbolic care.
Throughout Scripture we find nowhere that the occurrence of death is a celebrated condition of normal existence. We consistently see death as the fault of sin’s entrance to the world. We have already talked about the association of human death with sin. Let’s look now at the association of the rest of physical creation with humans.
In Genesis 3:17, God tells us the ground is cursed because of their sin. Notice the connection. Physical creation—of which Adam’s and Eve’s bodies were part and of which they were supposed to be in dominion over (Gen 1:28)—was cursed for their sin. The earth was as much under their domain as the animals (again, Gen 1:28). So the curse to the ground would also logically fall to the animal kingdom as well. And we really don’t have to guess at that. In the curse on the serpent (Satan) for his part in introducing sin, Genesis 3:14 tells us that that curse is more than on the rest of the animals. The animals, then, are given a curse. And the curse must be linked to the sin of the humans.
Genesis chapters 6 through 8 recounts the flood story. The people of the earth are wiped out for sin. But so also are the animals wiped out, receiving that particular curse based again on the sin of humans. And through the Law period of Israel, physical creation was blessed or cursed based on the people’s relationship with God.
Notice then Paul’s description in Romans 8:18–22 of all of creation groaning, looking for relief of the curse placed on it that would be relieved only with the relief promised in human redemption at Christ’s return. In fact, the atonement can’t be rightly understood without link of human physical bodies with the rest of creation, seeing Jesus die physically (not spiritually) to accomplish redemption through resurrection—of physical creation.
And finally we get to Revelation’s perfect existence in which death is no longer, and in which life—relationship with God—is emphasized. And if life is relationship with God then, so was it at the very beginning. Death is an intruder to life with God, not the intended order.
With death as the interruption to intended life, death could not have had a natural role in the creation process to bring the world into functional existence for humans before their sin.
How then do I explain the science? Actually, I don’t. And I don’t think anyone can consistently well—at least not yet. However, I do believe that God’s concern in creating the world was to create it in functional order for this relationship he wanted with his image bearers. Whatever else can’t be explained by functional order must have occurred by the violence done to the earth (which I think was both through heat eruptions and flood power) reordering the earth’s crust. But actually, I don’t have to come up with the science. I have to hold to the theology. I’m sure God can take care of the science. And that’s not a cop-out. Even scientists admit to things they do not yet know. Cataclysmic eruptions to the earth’s crust can account for relayering for the fossil record. And the functional intention of God for creation can explain things like light from stars millions of light years away to be seen in today’s night skies. And yet what occurred in both those events to which God applied his hand is still not all revealed in detail. But I can’t change the theology because I’m not sure exactly how God did the ordering and reordering of the earth’s physical nature.
The literal approach to creation presumes a young Earth because it insists the six days of creation are literal 24-hour periods. And although the Hebrew yom for day can be used as we use day sometimes for a longer period (e.g., this day and age), the use of evening and morning in conjunction to the days offers more support to the literal time frame.
However, there are still difficulties. Light moves, and it moves fast. If we count a day as 24 hours based on the earth’s rotation, all the light moved past the earth immediately. So where did the light come from to continue for that portion of the first day, and then the second day, and then the third day, before the sun was created on the fourth day? Did God just keep creating light from the one spot where the sun would eventually be placed? If so, why? Why not make the sun right then? So there are questions of consistency and purpose that the insistence on 24-hour days brings to mind. And we’ll talk more about those in our next discussion.