Maybe you remember the much publicized debate back a few years ago between Bill Nye, the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the founder of the Creation Museum which is located in Petersburg, Kentucky. During the debate, Bill Nye held to the position that the earth is billions and billions of years old. Ken Ham claims that according to the Bible, the earth is only 6,000 years old. He also believes that humans and dinosaurs coexisted.
The debate didn’t really do a whole lot to change anybody’s mind, which wasn’t a surprise. It did remind me that there are a lot of people who have a misunderstanding of what the creation story is telling us and what it’s not telling us.
Dr. John B. Walton is a professor of Old Testament studies at Wheaton College. He is the author of the book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.
Dr. Walton offers a very helpful way of interpreting the creation story. He says that when God created the world, everything was given a purpose.
The Hebrew word for create is “bara” which means,“function giving.” Instead of the creation story being a story of a time when God first physically made the world, it’s really a story about God creating a function for everything that was already in existence.
Creating in this sense of the word, involves naming, separating, and assigning functions and roles in order to have an ordered system. This is what the creation story is telling us – that God provided order, function, and purpose for everything that exists including human beings.
The creation story isn’t interested in proving that God brought everything that we see into existence. It didn’t need to do this since the people who lived during that ancient Near East time period already believed this to be true.
If we interpret the creation story as a story of not how God brought the world into existence, but as a story of how God gave everything that had already existed a function, then there is room for people of faith to believe in the evolutionary process.
The bible doesn’t force us to choose between science or faith. We can have both. In telling the story of how God gave everything in creation a purpose, it used the available science of its day. It sought to communicate a Word from God to the people by speaking within their particular historical and scientific context.
Gordon Fee, another well respected Bible scholar reminds us that the bible was not written to us, but it was written for us. What he means is that the bible was not originally written directly to us, but it was written for us. He goes on to say that we need to be careful to not impose our 21st century questions on the stories that we find in the bible.
I think that the creation story is an example of one of those biblical stories that we often want it to say things that it never meant to say. We need to first figure out how the people who lived during biblical times first heard this story. From there, we can ask the question, “What does this mean for us today in the 21st century?”
Since the creation story isn’t primarily about how God brought everything into existence and is really a story about how God gave everything a purpose, it allows us to be more open to what modern day science teaches us about the world. In other words, I don’t think that Ken Ham of the Creation Museum needs to be threatened by what Bill Nye and the scientific world have to offer us.
The creation story wants us to know that God created a purpose for everything that is part of the created world.
So what purposes were given for each day of creation? Let’s first look at the first day of creation when God created light. And remember, we’re not talking about God creating the properties of light. We’re talking about God giving light a purpose. And the purpose God gives to light is time. Day and night provide a cycle of time.
So for those of you who have ever wondered how there can be light on the first day of creation and yet the sun isn’t created until the fourth day, this new understanding of the Hebrew word for “create” explains it. The creation story isn’t a story about God physically creating everything, although that’s assumed. It’s a story about God giving a purpose to everything that is already in existence.
What’s the purpose of day 2? Weather. We are told that God created a dome in the midst of the waters so that it would provide a space in which people would be able to live. The second purpose was to provide a way for precipitation to be controlled so that we would have the right amount of rain.
What about day 3? Food. We have the creation of dry land and the sea which leads to vegetation and fruit trees. The purpose behind vegetation and fruit trees is the production of food.
So in these first three days, the creation story is telling us that God gave our world three very important purposes – time, weather, and food. These three purposes are the foundation of life.
You see, the important point in the creation story isn’t that God created material things. The more important thing is that God created purposes for what was already in existence so that a quality of life would be possible for all living creatures.
What about day 4? What’s the purpose of day 4? Day 4 is about the celestial lights at day and at night. The purpose for these lights is for signs, seasons, days, and years.
This brings us to day 5. What is the purpose of the 5th day? Here we have swarms of living creatures in the sky and in the water. The purpose of day five is to provide order for all of these creatures.
And this leads us to day 6, the final day of creation. Here we have animals and human beings. Their purpose is to reproduce and to fill the earth so that there will be new generations of the same kinds of creatures.
The additional purpose of human beings is to rule over all creation and to live as God’s image bearers in the world. This is the purpose that God has given to you and me. We are to lovingly care for this world and to reflect God’s image to everyone around us.
The creation story reminds us of our purpose in this world and what a great purpose it is. We are to be good stewards of everything that has been created.
Three or four years ago, we had to put down two of our three West Highland Terrier dogs, leaving us with Lulu who we brought with us to Athens. The other two dogs who we had to put down had reached a point where our vet told us that even with their medications, they were in too much pain. It was a very difficult day for us because pets become part of our family in a special way especially in the McDowell household.
When we came home from the vet that day, I took our remaining dog, Lulu outside to our backyard. She was eight years old at that time and has always been our little baby until we got another westie this past September. Here’s a picture of Lulu who is now eleven years old.
On the day we put down two of our westies and after we got home from the vet, I took Lulu outside in our backyard, I looked down at her cute little face and she stared right back at me, sensing that the other two dogs weren’t with us anymore.
I had her attention and as I looked into her big brown eyes, I said, “Lulu, you are now in charge of backyard security. We’re counting on you.” And ever since that day, she has lived out her God given purpose of keeping bunnies and squirrels out of our yard.
Lulu knows her purpose. I never have to remind her to bark at a squirrel that is five hundred yards away high up in a tree. She just knows what to do. Her purpose is to do what West Highland Dogs were created to do. Be on alert at all times, bark, and be extremely cute. Lulu is living out her God given purpose.
So think about this. On the sixth day of creation, the Lord said to you and to me, “You are now in charge of backyard security. This is your function as human beings. I want you to take care of my creation. I’m counting on you.”
It’s a wonderful thing when we live out who we were created to be. Each one of us has been called to be God’s image bearers in the world.
What does it mean to live out our purpose of being God’s image bearers? It means that we care for this world that God has lovingly created. It means that just as God lovingly created this world and called it good, we too are called to be extensions of God’s healing love in everything that we do. We are to be kind as Nicole Phillips reminded us last Sunday.
How’s that for a life purpose? That’s true for every single human being in the world. This is why we were created. We were created to be God’s image bearers.
There are many different ways to live out this purpose depending on our personalities, our talents, our gifts, and our passions. We’re not all the same but we are all called to contribute to the same purpose in what it means to be truly human.
I think of Wanda. Wanda was a member of one of my churches and she reminded me so much of my mother. They kind of looked like each other, but more importantly, they also had the same kind of giving spirit.
Wanda was always giving gifts to people. I am convinced that Wanda’s purpose in life was to be a modern day Santa Claus. The only difference was that she didn’t just give gifts on December 25. She gave gifts to people every day of the year! She made Santa Claus look like cheapskate.
She loved the stained glass windows of the church where she was a member. In fact, she loved them so much that she had pictures of each of those beautiful windows framed and she would give these away as gifts.
I was on the receiving end of Wanda’s many gifts. For example, Wanda would stop by out of the blue with a freshly baked apple pie. And she really loved Christmas, so thanks to Wanda, I have Christmas angel figurines, Christmas socks, and she even gave me a choo-choo train.
Before Christmas one year, a mysterious Christmas present appeared on our front porch. Inside was the choo-choo train. The tag said that it was from Santa, but I knew better. I had made a joke one day that Santa never brought me a choo-choo train for Christmas, and she must have really taken that to heart.
You know, we pastors need to be careful with what we say. A pastor told me that he once made the comment during a sermon that he enjoyed the Spider Man movie. A church member who heard him say that, ended up giving him all of these Spider Man gifts like Spider Man socks, a Spider Man notebook, a Spider Man pillow, a Spider Man coffee mug, a Spider Man shirt.
He said, “All I said was that I liked the movie. I really don’t need all of these Spider Man souveniers.”
Wanda was kind of like that. For trick or treat night, Penny and I would give away candy to about 30 to 40 kids who would come to our door. Wanda, who lived just a block from us, would get over a hundred kids to her house.
I came to find out that she wasn’t giving out tootsie rolls and tiny Hershey bars like we were. She was handing out these large cool looking flavored popcorn balls every year. I mean, we couldn’t compete with that. The kids were bypassing our house to get to Wanda’s house before she ran out of those awesome popcorn balls! Everybody loved Wanda. In her early 80’s, she served as a mentor to one of our of our confirmation youth.
Wanda passed away unexpectedly while I was the pastor there. Soon after the news of her passing, someone showed me a gift that Wanda had given her just a few days before Wanda had died. Wanda lived out her God given gift-giving purpose even to her last breath.
When I met with Wanda’s family to prepare for her funeral service, they told me that she loved giving gifts to people because she saw every single person as important and as someone who God loved very much. They told me that she was always on the look out for nice gifts to give away to people and that her basement was like a store filled with gifts to give away.
To put it simply, Wanda just knew to do what she was created to do. Her purpose in life was gift-giving and blessing the people around her.
Several years ago, I gave a lot of thought to what my purpose in life is. Instead of a mid-life crisis, I guess you could say that I was having a young adult crisis. I really wanted to clearly identify my purpose in life. Often times, we associate our purpose with what we do for a living, or with a talent that we may have, but I wanted to know what my purpose was beyond those roles and expectations.
After a lot of thought and prayer, here is what I discovered my purpose to be in life and it hasn’t changed after all of these years. This is what I wrote:
My life mission is to joyfully live out the good news of Jesus Christ through word and deed so that my family, my church, and my community will know and embrace God’s hope and promises for their daily living.
Sometimes, I need to go back and read that purpose statement and remind myself of who God created me to be. God created me to joyfully live out the good news of Jesus Christ.
If you haven’t already written out your purpose in life, this might be something you’ll want to start thinking about this week. What is your unique purpose and are you living out that purpose? God has given each one of us a purpose. We are to be God’s image bearers in a broken and hurting world.
The creation story isn’t concerned with how old we think the earth is. Science can help us answer that question. The more important question that the creation story wants us to answer is this.
Are you living on purpose? Are you living out who you were created to be, an image bearer of God’s love, kindness, and justice for a broken and hurting world.
Created for Purpose
Small Group Questions
May 21, 2017
The science vs. faith debate as it relates to the creation story as told in the Book of Genesis is really unnecessary because we really do not need to decide between the two. In the sermon, Pastor Robert shared that the Hebrew word for “create” is “bara” which literally means “to give purpose” and NOT “to bring a material object into existence” as it is often interpreted. This interpretation of the creation story allows for people of faith to believe in God AND the evolutionary process in the forming of creation.
What is your understanding of science and the Bible? Do you think they can coexist as Pastor Robert suggests from his sermon?
Since the word, “create” means “to give purpose,” the creation story is meant to help us think about our purpose as human beings in the world. We were created for the purpose of being God’s “image bearers” which involves reflecting God’s love back onto God which is what we do when we worship and reflecting God’s love out into the world which is what we do when we serve and seek to be a blessing in our world.
How does this understanding of being created in the image of God (worship & service) give meaning and purpose in the way you live out your life?
Pastor Robert shared how his west highland terrier dogs don’t struggle with their purpose in the world. Their purpose is to chase squirrels and dig!
Why do you think we as humans seem to struggle with our purpose in life from time to time? What do dogs know that we don’t know?????
Close your time of sharing by reading out loud the purpose that God has given our church: “Our purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world.”
How can our church always remember this awesome purpose that God has given us? Share some ways.