broken toys

My oldest son loves big cats. He knows everything there is to know about every breed of tiger, panther, or lion. When a school report is due, he will finagle his way into reporting on the sad destruction of the Siberian tigers, the fate of the endangered big cats, or the hunting patterns of African lions. He is obsessed with carnivorous beasts.

To his everlasting disappointment, we purchased a dog as our one and only pet. If he had had his druthers, we would have bought a baby tiger, raising it in our cul-de-sac to be a ferocious killing machine. “Tigers are awesome because they’re carnivores,” he reasons. “But Mocha just eats dog food.”

While his love affair with all things carnivorous can be a bit tiresome (“No, Cyrus, you are not a carnivore,” I have said on multiple occasions), I find his affection for the animal kingdom endearing. In fact, it reminds me of the first, and eventual, calling given to humanity: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Genesis 1:28) My son’s love for big cats is an echo of the task which God first gave humanity – the wise care of the earth and the tender governance of the animals.

The world was made for us, but we brought death into it.
The anonymous author of the ancient Letter to Diognetus put it like this: “For God loved men, and made the world for their sake, and put everything on earth under them. He gave them reason and intelligence, and to them alone he entrusted the capacity for looking upward to him, since he formed them after his own image.” There is a terrible beauty in the ponderance of our first, failed mission. The world was made for us, but we brought death into it. What deep sadness, simultaneously rich and empty, overcomes my soul as I reflect on this.

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My church used to go camping. When I was little, probably just 8 years old, our entire church would drive out to the country, to a beautiful stretch of land owned by a sister church, and we would camp out.

For a kid who grew up in the inner city, camping was quite the experience. There are several things that I can still remember vividly: the height of the trees, the morning fog, the smell of the ashes and embers left smoking from the previous night’s fire. And the stars. So many stars.

I knew that our solar system was in a galaxy called the Milky Way, but I didn’t know that you could actually see the Milky Way from our planet. My view was always obstructed by the city lights. The sky of my childhood was mostly red, except for when we went camping. There, away from the buzzing street lamps and urban light pollution, I could finally see the night sky that my ancestors saw. I was filled with wonder.

How far away were these stars? Did they have planets, too? Were they bigger and brighter than our sun? My imagination was kindled by the heavenly lights, which, even though they don’t appear to move, put on a far better show than anything I could watch on television.

C.S. Lewis had this same sort of experience with the countryside of his native Ireland. He referred to the feelings that nature stirred up within him as Joy. It was as though something was calling to him from beyond the created order; a voice, perhaps, or a distant memory of someplace that he had never been but for which his heart deeply longed.

I have come to believe that I am haunted by the memory of something that I have never experienced, but know beyond reason to be true. We are all haunted by the memory of a place where everything was good, true, and beautiful; a place untainted by the tragedy and suffering wrought everywhere by evil. There was a time before the world bent in on itself, unleashing this torrent of death. That place is Eden, and that time is the beginning. Like a specter haunting its earthly home, Eden wanders the hallways of our imaginations.

Our hearts know that things are not as they ought to be. Something has gone horribly wrong, and as a result Eden’s gates have been shut and locked from the inside. We have been expelled, and there can be no going back, at least not by the old way. We have lost Eden, and our hearts won’t let us forget it. This memory has been burned into the human imagination.


I sit on the beach, holding my son as he is slowly dying of a rare and fatal neurological disorder, and I’m longing for a place that we lost. I’m regretting the sin we committed that let things like Batten Disease enter the gene pool. When we lost Eden, we gained death—death in all its forms and by all its means. Even the slow, crippling death of a child.

I want to run, to run back to Eden and throw open its gates. I want to carry my son to the Tree of Life, to lay him down under its shade and cover him in its leaves. I want to run with him through fields of grass untainted by the foolishness of humanity and build him a home in a land without idols. I want to go back to the place where we talked with God face to face, so that the Great [Re]Creator might breathe on him and HE WOULD LIVE!

But I can’t. There is no going back. The gates of Eden are shuttered forever. The Tree is gone. Eden is lost.


Every wistful desire, every indescribable longing—what C.S. Lewis called “Joy”—is misdirection. Our hearts ache for what we have lost and cannot regain. This is why all natural beauty is tinged with sorrow. A sunrise over the ocean fills us with awe but leaves us strangely empty. So, too, with a storm over the mountains, or the mist upon the rolling green hills on an early Irish morning. The earth reminds us of Eden, so we retreat to cities, congregating amidst the unnaturally straight lines of the structures we build, structures designed not to protect our stuff or our lives, but to protect our hearts from the pain of the memory of Eden’s loss.

We have to go back and we cannot go back. We must press on. The only way to go is forward, to hope that somehow, we will stumble our way into Eden again, or perhaps into something fuller and better. Perhaps, even, someone will come to us to show the way. Would that God may light the way again, to throw open the gate, to sound the trumpet, proclaiming Eden open once more. Would that he might come to us, to speak to us, to invite us, to know us, to suffer with us, and perhaps, dare I say it, to die with us. To participate in this Unmaking which we have made. To capture it. To engulf it. To swallow it up forever.

Yes, this must be the way. Not that we might find Eden again by luck or adventure or triumph, but that the One who inhabits the Original Eden, the Greater Eden, might come to us and speak to us in our exile. That he might bear our diseases and take up our infirmities. That he might even carry the burden of our sins, and in doing so, woo us out of our idolatry.

Eden, after all, is only Eden because of the One who abides there, who met us there, who spoke with us face to face and walked with us in the cool of the day. The sting of losing Eden is not that we have lost the beauty of trees and mountains and rivers–those we still have aplenty–but that we have lost the beauty of knowing God. The power of the Tree of Life is not found in the fruit or the leaves, but in the arms of the One who prunes it.


Oh, my heart, be wooed! Be wooed from your idolatry and lusts and deception and turn your face toward the One who is worthy, who is good, who is power wrapped in humility.

Oh, my heart, be wooed! Be wooed by the One who can heal with a touch and raise the dead with a word. Oh, foolish heart, turn yourself to the One who turned to you, who looked for you in the darkness of this land of exile, who suffered for you and all your foolish and idolatrous brothers and sisters. Turn your face to the One who died, and in dying forgave all your sins; who rose again, and in rising swallowed up death forever.

Oh, my heart, be wooed! Be wooed by the Bridegroom who pursues you with the ferocity of the purest agape. Be wooed, oh my heart, be wooed, because what you have lost in Eden you have gained a hundredfold in Jesus.


It’s easy for me to lose sight of this, to think about what I’ve lost in Eden, what I could lose with Zeke, rather than focus on what I’ve gained in Jesus. Eden haunts me, but Jesus is with me. No, it doesn’t always feel that way, but there is a reality, a truth, that exists independently of what I feel or perceive, and at the center of that reality, defining it, incarnating it, animating it, is Jesus.

Jesus offers you and me and all the rest of us far more than Eden ever could. Eden was a place from which God came and went; Jesus is a person, a man, who is God. He was God, is God, and will always be God. We know God through him, in him, and because of him. We see what God looks like, acts like, talks like, and loves like in Jesus. Everything about Jesus is God. There is nothing about Jesus that is not God.

But sometimes my foolish and shallow heart is drawn to pretty things that shine and glow. My desires turn toward idols, toward that which promises what it cannot deliver. I try to find Joy in created things rather than in the Creator, the Sustainer, the Redeemer. The Joy is not in the mountains; the Joy is in the One who treads the mountains. The Joy is not in the ocean; the Joy is in the One who filled the Ocean and sees its depths.

All that we have lost in Eden, and more, is found in Jesus. But he isn’t flashy. He isn’t urgent. He doesn’t shine or glow. He is patient. He is strong. He is brave. He is power wrapped in humility. He is agape love clothed in tenderness and strength and empathy and holiness. He loves and he loves and he loves and he haunts your heart, wooing you, calling to you. “Return to me! I can give you Eden and so much more! I can give you myself, perfect goodness and purest light and strongest love.” In losing Eden, do not lose yourself. Find yourself in the One who passed through death to find you.

One of my seminary professors, a systematic theologian named Dr. Richard Lints, told me that all good theology begins in Genesis 1. If this is true, which I believe that it is, then we must think about Genesis 1 correctly if we are going to think appropriately about God. This first chapter of Scripture lays the foundation for the way in which we understand God. It’s no wonder, then, that this is one of the most contentious and hotly-debated texts in all of Scripture. Coupled with the trajectory of modern science since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, the interpretation of Genesis 1 has served for many as a litmus test for true belief. Yet even within evangelicalism, there is a vast spectrum of belief on this text, ranging from Biologos to Answers in Genesis, and many in between.

There are many different ways to interpret Genesis 1, just as there are many different ways to interpret, for example, the book of Revelation, or Daniel, or the Psalms. It is worth noting, though it should go without saying, that people who love Jesus very much can come into sharp disagreement over the interpretation of biblical passages–especially Genesis 1. The litmus test for true belief, however, is not what one believes about Genesis 1, but whether or not one believes the Gospel–that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. With that said, I’d like to lay out what I take to be the meaning of Genesis 1.

What God Wanted to Say

The first and most important question we must ask with any biblical text is this: What did God intend to communicate through the original author to the text’s intended audience? We ask this question because the meaning of a text cannot change. As Fee & Stuart have written in their excellent work, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, “The Bible cannot mean what it never meant.” While personal and communal applications of a text may change across time and culture, the meaning of a text does not change.

So when it comes to Genesis 1, we must ask the question: What did God intend to communicate through Moses (or Abraham, or Ezra, or whoever actually wrote the passage) to the Hebrew people in the hymn that is Genesis 1? Approaching the question this way, one thing should come immediately to mind: Moses did not write Genesis 1 as a polemic against Darwinian evolution. Darwin’s book was published roughly 3,000 years after Genesis 1, so to assume that this text is about evolution/creation is to commit an historical anachronism of the first order. It’s simply not possible. 

The litmus test for true belief is not what one believes about Genesis 1, but whether or not one believes the Gospel–that Jesus died for our sins and rose again.

When we step into the culture of the Ancient Near East (which you can’t physically do, but two books, The Lost World of Genesis One and The Bible Among the Myths, can help you understand a great deal more about it) we see that Genesis 1 is not a polemic against Darwinian Evolutionary Theory or naturalistic materialism; it is, however, a polemic against pagan pantheism. The real problem that Genesis 1 sets out to address is not the mechanism by which God created the universe, but rather which god is the true creator.

In fact, the unique genius of Genesis 1 is that it presents a monotheistic theology of creation that holds humanity in high esteem. Typically, the creation myths of Israel’s neighbors presented a pantheistic (many gods) view of creation with the heavens and the earth being the byproduct of some cosmic war. In this pagan scenario, humanity is an unwelcome addition to this world of chaos, thereby establishing their bottom-rung value in the universe, useful for little more than serving the needs of the gods.

But in Genesis 1 we get something radically different. We see a singular God speaking the heavens and the earth into being by himself and on purpose. What is more, in this story humanity is the pinnacle of creation, bearing the very image of this all-powerful, speaking Creator God, who called humans “very good.” Even more radical than this, the text declares that God created humanity male and female, meaning that women have as much inherent, created dignity, worth, and purpose as men. You might say that Genesis 1 erases and rewrites everything–EVERYTHING–that Hebrews, inundated by Ancient Near Eastern cultural values, knew about creation, divinity, and themselves. It may just be the most powerful, worldview-deconstructing and -reconstructing text ever written.

Imagine that you are a Hittite, or an Egyptian, or a Babylonian living around 1400 BC. You believe in many gods, and they are all powerful, vengeful, angry, and often possess little or no moral character. They are strong, but they are not good. You also believe that humanity exists to be, in essence, the slaves of the gods, and are completely subject to the whims of the members of the divine pantheon. Furthermore, whatever dignity exists within humanity is entirely invested in males, especially firstborn males. Women are good for child bearing and little else. This is your worldview. These beliefs, more than anything else, form the way you look at the world. And then you find the text of Genesis 1. What happens to you? No one has ever even conceived of these things before! You have no category for what you read here. Creation comes into being, not through divine warfare, but through divine proclamation. All creation is called “good.” Human beings, both men and women, are called “very good.” This changes everything.

The Pattern in the Days

I had been reading Genesis 1 for a long, long time before someone pointed out to me the pattern in the days. Have you ever noticed it before? The first three days line up with the second three days. In other words, day 1 is associated with day 4, day 2 with day 5, and day 3 with day 6. Check out the tabbed table below for more info on the days.

[tabs] [tab title=”Day 1″] On the first day of Creation God made light, separating it from the darkness. He called the light “day” and the darkness “night.” Notice that he hasn’t yet created any celestial bodies to shine or reflect any light, much less anything for the light to shine upon. No light-producers–no sun, moon, or stars. He has simply created light. It’s as though light exists as an empty field or canvas, unpopulated and unmarked. [/tab] [tab title=”Day 4″] Three days later, God created the celestial bodies–the sun, moon, and stars–to govern the passage of days. In other words, God filled or populated the empty field called “light” he made on the first day. Now, light does not simply exist, but serves the function of the passage of time. [/tab] [tab title=”Day 2″] The second day is really interesting because it is the separation of the waters. This concept comes from Ancient Near Eastern cosmology, in which it was understood that there was water behind an “expanse” or “vault” in the sky. This was how they understood the process of rainfall, which, given the scientific understanding of the time, is perfectly reasonable. What happened on this day, though, was that God separated two realms–the sea and the sky. Like on the first day, there are not yet any inhabitants of these realms. They are empty. [/tab] [tab title=”Day 5″] On the fifth day, God created the fish and the birds–the inhabitants of the sea and the sky! He painted an empty canvas on the second day, and then, just as with day four, he filled it up, though this time with beautiful, powerful, awe-inspiring creatures. [/tab] [tab title=”Day 3″] The third day was when God pulled back the waters of the sea and created dry ground. An interesting note about this day is that, unlike with days 1 and 2, the land produced something on day 3–vegetation! This points to the Hebrew understanding that vegetation and land are one and the same, and that the land exists to produce vegetation for… [/tab] [tab title=”Day 6″] Animals and humans! Day 6 is connected with day 3 just like the other two pairs in that God first created an empty field, and then filled that field with his creatures. God created spaces, and then he filled those spaces with creatures. [/tab] [/tabs]

There is an unmistakeable, and, I believe, a God-breathed pattern in the first six days of Creation. God creates a space, and then God fills that space with creatures who give it purpose and life. The order of the Creation text is no accident, and is, in fact, meant to lead us to an understanding of the order of Creation itself. But it leaves us with a question, doesn’t it? What about that seventh day? Why no pair for that day? What does it mean?

Divine Enthronement

The design of Genesis 1 is meant to point us to a profound cosmic reality, one that gets lost in the modern debate over the age of the earth and the origins of the universe. The three pairs of days are meant to point our attention toward the final, unpaired day, and make us ask the question, “What is so special about this day?”

Of course we all know that the seventh day is the Sabbath, the day that God rested. We imagine that this is the day God kicked up his feet, drank some lemonade, and maybe read a good book. Or took a nap. Whatever he did, we think of it as God taking a break from work. But there’s a crucial question that we haven’t been trained to ask, and that is this: “What did it mean, in the Ancient Near East (the culture in which Genesis 1 was written), for a god to take his rest?” In his excellent book The Lost World of Genesis One, John Walton writes that an ancient god always takes his rest in his temple.

So what happens on the seventh day is not so much a prolonged divine lunch break as it is a moving day. God takes his rest in his creation. Creation is God’s temple. God moves into creation. God is present within, while at the same time distinct from, the cosmos he has just created. All creation is God’s holy place. The creation myths of Israel’s neighbors begin, so to speak, with a world already thrust into chaos, sin, and death. But the Hebrew creation story begins with a good creation inhabited by a good and beautiful God–a holy world functioning in perfect harmony because of the presence of its Creator.

It is vital, I believe, for us to understand the world, and ourselves, primarily in the light of God’s original creation. Too many Christians functionally believe that Genesis and 1 and 2 are nothing more than happy myths, faerie tales, and that the Bible doesn’t really start telling the truth of creation until Genesis 3, the fall. Too many Christians think of themselves, the world, and even God, as though Genesis 3 were more true than Genesis 1. But Genesis 1 describes reality as it was and will be again, while Genesis 3 describes reality as it is now but will someday no longer be.

The Living God

Genesis 1 isn’t about geology or biology; it’s about a good Creator creating a good world, a home suitable for creatures that are more like he is than the angels are. On that sixth day, God made human beings, and he made them in his image. This is significant.

In the Ancient Near East, every god’s temple had to have an image–a statue, an inscription–to signify whose temple this was. For example, Dagon’s temple would have an image of Dagon in it. Baal’s would have an image of Baal, and so forth. So what did God choose to put as his image in his temple? Us. Humans. We are the inscriptions, the living statues on earth that testify to every living creature to whom this temple belongs, what sort of God he is, and how we might know him.

Genesis 1 tells us that God is alive because you are alive.

If you understand human beings from a Genesis 3 perspective, you would naturally conclude that the God in whose image they were created is a foul, nasty, cowardly, shallow deity bent on sex, food, and power. But if you understand human beings from a Genesis 1 perspective, you would see the Creator God as a good, wise, benevolent deity who sought the best for his creatures. (It’s important to note that Jesus was a Genesis 1 kind of human.) But here’s the most important part: all the images of all the other gods were made of wood, stone, or metal. In other words, they were dead. The breath of life was not in them. But the image of the Hebrew God is made of flesh and blood. It breathes. It moves. It is alive. And if God’s image is alive, how much more alive is that God? Genesis 1 tells us that God is alive because you are alive. You are a living apologetic to the existence of God.

God is not like the other gods. He does not need anyone to make him a house or a temple. He made his own temple and came to dwell within it, setting up his own living images to govern and care for it. His intention was and is for his living images to spread over the earth, subduing it, caring for it, ruling over it in the same way he rules over the cosmos–with wisdom, strength, and mercy. These living images, however, were not merely his minions, created solely to do his bidding. They were and are individual lives, minds, and personalities, meant to know and be known by one another and, most importantly, by God himself. God’s intention has been, from the very beginning, to dwell with humanity within his creation–within the beauty and holiness of his temple. This is the way it was, and to the praise of his glory and grace, the way it will be again.


The manner in which God created all that exists was a rather humble undertaking, especially when compared to the creation myths of ancient Israel’s cultural relatives. Many other ancient creation myths tell the story of cosmic war, of a battle being waged between the gods where the loser’s carcass becomes the earth and its drops of blood becomes humans. (Or other such things.) In this scenario, all humanity is meant to serve the victorious god as his slaves, providing for his various wants and needs. But in Genesis, we see creation accomplished by the mere act of God’s speech. There is no violence; there is no victory. There is only, “And God said…and it was so”.

Humanity, in Genesis, is not placed on earth to be God’s slaves, providing for his miscellaneous divine needs. Instead, they are placed on earth to rule and subdue it, to be fruitful and multiply. They are, most profoundly of all, created in God’s image. God is neither so immanent that he requires human slaves to meet his divine needs, nor is he so transcendent that he would not deign to have a creature represent himself on earth. God, in his deep humility, created human beings just a little less than himself, and set them apart from creation to bear his image and rule the world for its and their own good.

We bear God’s image in that we are free moral agents. God intentionally created us with the freedom to choose to obey him or disobey him. This is remarkable! God had every right to create intelligent beings without freedom; beings who would always choose to obey him no matter the circumstances. Instead, he created us: intelligent beings who could freely use their powers for evil—people who would set themselves up as rivals to God. God knew this would happen, and yet he showed such unconcern for his own unique majesty that he created free moral beings, a little lower than himself, and gave them the charge of ruling creation. In this he has revealed not simply his all-surpassing power, but the infinite well of humility out of which all else that is true of him flows.


When human beings used their God-given freedom to rebel against him, sin entered the world and poisoned everything good that God had made. At that time, when confronting Adam, Eve, and the serpent, God promised that, one day, one of Eve’s offspring would contend with the serpent and overcome him. This is the first promise of a Savior, or a Messiah. Thousands of years passed, however, before God began to set that plan into action. The man he chose was a pagan named Abram, whom God called to leave his homeland and go to Canaan.

When reading the account of God and Abram, the humility of God is not necessarily self-evident. It crops up here and there, but really the story is about God creating a nation through Abram’s offspring—of which he has none, though he is quite old. But there is one strange passage that holds the whole story together, and in it we see God’s humility on display unlike anywhere else in the Old Testament.

Genesis 15 | The Lord Makes a Covenant with Abram

1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites,20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites,21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

In the ancient near east, covenants like this were made (literally cut—because of the cutting of the animals) between two parties, one greater (the suzerain) and one lesser (the vassal). The suzerain determined the terms of the covenant, and the vassal was required to obey them. The vassal symbolized his agreement to the terms by passing between the pieces of the animals, saying, in essence, “If I break the terms of this covenant, may it be to me as it has been done to these animals”. But in this covenant, the vassal (Abram) does not pass through the pieces. Instead, the suzerain (YHWH) does. In this act, God is saying to Abram, “If you [or your descendants] break the terms of this covenant, may it be done to ME as it has been done to these animals”. God kept his promise, but Abram’s descendants failed to keep faith with this or any other covenant they made with God. He knew this would happen, and yet God made this covenant with Abram anyhow. Nothing shows his humility more than God’s willingness to die for the faithlessness of his creatures.

The first chapter of Genesis is the most hotly contested biblical text of our time. Theories and interpretations abound as scholars have turned the chapter upside down and inside out looking for biblical clues (and ammunition) to the origins of the universe. There are at least four major schools of interpretation on Genesis One: young-earth creationism; day-age theory; the gap theory; and the literary hypothesis. It’s time to add a fifth school to that list: John Walton’s cosmic temple inauguration.

Walton derives his thesis from his exploration of Ancient Near Eastern cultures and their creation myths. The problem with the current, Western interpretations of Genesis One is their failure to overcome the distance between our modern culture and the culture of ancient Israel (existing alongside and within larger cultures like Egypt and Babylon, which all have their own fascinating creation stories). “Despite all the distinctions that existed across the ancient world, any given culture was more similar to other ancient cultures than any of them are to Western American or European culture.” (12)

9780830837045Crossing this cultural gulf means making one significant, and seemingly obvious, proposition: Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology. (16) This means that “it does not attempt to describe cosmology in modern terms or address modern questions.” (16) What, then, are the terms in which it describes cosmology? This is the crucial question, and what sets Walton’s interpretation on a different course from the others.

Moderns tend to think of creation only terms of material origins. What is the sun made of and how did it come into being? How long did it take for the mountains to be formed and how did they get their current shape? What is the physical composition of humanity and how did we get to be the way we are now? These are the questions of a modern, Enlightenment-oriented culture. But these are not the questions of a polytheistic culture, or even a monotheistic culture within a wider polytheistic world? In order to understand Genesis One, we need to ask the questions the ancients asked.

Rather than questioning the material origins of the universe, the ancients told stories about the functional origins of creation. Existence, for them, was not tied to the material properties of an object, but rather to how that object functioned within a closed system. “In a functional ontology, to bring something into existence would require giving it a function or a role in an ordered system, rather than giving it material properties.” (26) Walton proves his point through numerous examples from ancient Near Eastern texts, and concludes with this contrast between modern and ancient thinking: “We tend to think of the cosmos as a machine and argue whether someone is running the machine or not. The ancient world viewed the cosmos more like…a kingdom.” (35)

Functional Ontology is the cornerstone of Walton’s interpretation of Genesis One. Using this as his lens, he sees in Days 1-3 the creation of the three fundamental functions of life: time, weather, and food. “So on day one God created the basis for time; day two the basis for weather; and day three the basis for food. …If we desire to see the greatest work of the Creator, it is not to be found in the materials that he brought together—it is that he brought them together in such a way that they work.” (59) Perhaps a better translation of “It was good”, then, would be “It worked.”

From here, Walton proposes that Genesis One “should be understood as an account of functional origins of the cosmos as a temple.” (84) Because “divine rest takes place in temples,” (87) the seven days of creation are best understood as a temple inauguration. “By naming the functions and installing the functionaries, and finally by deity entering his resting place, the temple comes into existence—it is created in the inauguration ceremony.” (89)

The implications of this interpretation are numerous., but I will only mention two. First, if Genesis One is an account of functional origins rather than material origins, there is no conflict between a “literal” reading of Genesis and the findings of evolutionary science. (Walton argues that the real fight between the creation (and ID) camp and the evolution camp is over teleology, and he makes some interesting prescriptions for public scientific education.) Second, if the cosmos is God’s temple (or divine resting place) then there are no such things as natural resources—there are only sacred resources, and we must adjust our ecology accordingly.

Walton’s book offers valuable insight into the Genesis One debate, and ought to be carefully examined by those on all sides. There is much more in the book that is worthy of discussion, and it is accessible enough to encourage conversation between all interested parties.

Questions: Does Walton present a reading of Genesis One that allows Christians to remain theologically and exegetically faithful while being scientifically relevant? Do you find the argument of functional ontology convincing? How does this interpretation change the game on cosmic origins?

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