At the beginning of this article, Stacy and I are vacationing in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. I find myself awed by the beauty and fascinated by the geology which is so present everywhere and at every moment in this place. And at the same time, as I find myself pondering the eons of history that shows through the rocks and terrain, I contemplate God’s creative sequence.
Its all about time, isn’t it. How do we square the millenia written into Earth’s physical records around us with God’s record of how it came to be in Genesis 1? Are the days described there literal or not? This is a point of controversy between not only believers and non-believers, but within the body of Christians.
At All Times
In my book, A Mere Christian, chapter 1, I wrote the following.
“Because God is not traveling with us along a time line, he does not attend to our prayers one after another. He exists in infinity where there is not even a sparrow that falls without his notice. All of a sudden, the question of whether the creative days in Genesis are literal or figurative really doesn’t seem to have much importance.”
But I did not address my opinion here about the literalness, or lack thereof, regarding the days of creation, since the point that I was trying to make is that the extant nature of God makes the created universe small, even tiny, in comparison. He is outside of creation, and more specifically outside of time, of which he alone is master.
Time for us does exist. It holds us prisoner because it is the framework upon which God has hung all of our being. It is not without small importance, or God would not have seen fit to record his creative act within a timeline.
So lets discuss God’s timeline in Genesis.
In order to properly understand anything about the account though, it is critical to understand some very important things about time. In A Mere Christian, I tried to present some basic understanding about the creative event itself. Science is helpful but cannot describe anything outside of the created universe. True scientific statements cannot actually have an opinion about creation one way or another. Those who try to shoehorn it to do so, masquerade their philosophy under geeky scientific guise.
What do we know about time and space that are important though? The most important thing to know about time is that it is not constant. This may come as a shock, but has certainly been shown to be true.
Faster Is Slower And Smaller
Science predicts that the faster an object moves, the slower time moves. Let’s do one of Einstein’s mind experiements here. A young astronaut goes on a mission to a far-flung distant heavenly body, leaving his wife and young children. His spacecraft has the ability to fly at or near the speed of light, which is about 186,240 miles per second. Bear in mind that it still takes light traveling at that speed about 8 minutes to traverse the 93 million miles from the Sun to the Earth.
Upon arrival at his destination, he then immediately returns to Earth at that same high rate of speed.
He arrives to find his once young wife now an old woman, and his children grown, and perhaps married, and even with children of their own. While he has not aged on the trip, all of his family has. It is as if the speed of the travel has suspended his aging. Time has been shrunk by the incredibly high rate of speed.
This sounds far-fetched you say? But it has been shown through proper scientific method to be just so. This relationship between speed and time has been verified by proper scientific method by the Hafele-Keating experiment in October, 1971. Subsequently it has been confirmed with repeated, and increasingly accurate instruments yielding increasingly smaller margins of error than the ~10% that Hafele and Keating saw.
A Tale of Clocks
Hafele and Keating started with two pairs of identical atomic clocks were set at exactly the same as other atomic clocks at the United States Naval Observatory. Now the frame of reference for all the clocks was the center of the earth. One pair were flown eastward around the world in a high speed jet aircraft non-stop. The other pair were flown similarly around the world westward.
Upon landing, the both pairs of atomic clocks differed by some significant millionths of a second depending on the speed in relation to the frame of reference which was the center of the earth. Since the clocks flown westward were moving away from the frame-of-reference clocks slower than the one flown eastward, it had gain time while the one flow eastward lost time.
Though that sounds like a tiny, insignificant amount, for these highly accurate atomic clocks, it was a profound difference. Time really does slow down the faster you move away from a point of reference. Gravitional differences due to planet mass and distance from the center of that planet also have time-dilation effects.
Something else though is significant as well here. Space itself has a relationship with speed. The astronaut has taken a ruler along with him during the trip. All seems well to him during the trip, but what we think is that the ruler actually shrinks as the speed it is traveling gets closer and closer to the speed of light. How can this be?
Black Holes. Trash Compactors Or The Creative Event In Reverse?
We know that we cannot directly see a black hole. This is because there is such a gravitational pull that even light cannot escape its grip. How do we know there are black holes if we can’t see them? It is because light rays can actually pass near enough to not be drawn into them, but still bend around them. This phenomenon is called ‘lensing.’ It allows us to see around the corner, as it were when observing far distant suns.
What if the astronaut’s spacecraft was drawn into a black hole in his travel, then it would move faster and faster, indeed at the speed of light. He and his spacecraft would begin to be crushed by the infinite gravitation, or so it seems. It rather is not crushed, but shrinks to the point of nothingness. Yes, everything gets smaller, and infinitely smaller, as it is swallowed up in a black hole. Black holes have an infinite ability to swallow up matter this way. We have no idea how much matter has gone into any one black hole.
But how can a black hole contain so much matter as to be nothing more than a singular point in space, not even visible to our eye?
We know that time slows down as objects move closer and closer to the speed of light. We think we know that matter is crushed to the point of non-existence in a black hole. Perhaps though the real relationship between the speed of light and time and matter is even more profound. As an object moves closer and close to the speed of light, time slows down and space shrinks. At the speed of light then time and space have shrunk to the point that there is no such thing as time or space.
To me this sounds remarkably like the reverse of the creative event sequence that I described in A Mere Christian. Our scientific laws actually cannot apply either in those first moments (and perhaps some 400,000 years even until the first hydrodgen atoms appeared as it is thought) of the creative event commonly known as the ‘Big Bang,’ nor do they apply after you reach the event horizon of a black hole at which you would be moving at the speed of light, where there is no possibility of escaping its inward pull.
The speed of the expansion of the universe at creation and the consumption of matter as it is drawn into a black hole slow time to infinity and reduce the mass of matter to zero. For me, it seems that this is the realm of our timeless and measureless God. This is why I say that he contains all of what we see as creation. And to him heaven is a throne, and the universe a mere speck!
Creation then is when at some point (if we can really even call it a point) God hit the brakes on infinity and slowed it so as to create time. Out of that slowing, gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces came into being and then matter itself was born. Black holes themselves seem to me to be this creative event in reverse.
Who Needs More Time Anyway?
Why was time necessary though? In God’s wisdom, he knew that for truly independent created beings with a choice to love or hate him, and who were not robots, experience was a requirement. For us to experience him and make the decision to accept or reject our creator, then time is essential. Time is God’s manifold tool and his exclusive domain.
How does this apply then to his recount of creation in Genesis? The very first verse in the Bible is declarative, but contains a profound mystery. I’m quoting from The Messianic Aleph Tav את Scriptures published by CCB Publishing whose source text is the Hebrew Tanakh. What is the Tanakh? Here is their description from the book.
The word Tanakh (Ta-Na-Kh) is a Hebrew acronym: Ta-Torah, Na-Nevi’im (Prophets) and Kh-Ketuvim (Writings). Today’s 39 books of the Hebrew Bible, Genesis through Malachi are generally called the First or Old Testament. Much of the contents of the Tanakh, according to the Talmud, was compiles by the Men of the Great assembly” by 450 B.C. and has since remained unchanged. Modern scholars believe that the process of canonization of the Tanakh became finalized between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.
- In the beginning created, Elohim אֵת the heavens ךאֵת and the earth.
- And the earth was (became) chaos and void; and darkness was over the surface of the abyss. The Spirit of Elohim vibrated (moved, hovered) over the surface of the waters.
- And Elohim said let there be (cause) light and there was light.
- And saw Elohim אֶת־ the light, that it was good: and Elohim separated the light from out of the darkness.
- And Elohim called the light Day and the darkness He called Night. And there was (existed) evening 6153 and morning 3915, day one 3915.
Now here is the same scripture in the Holy Bible King James Version.
- In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
- And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
- And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
- And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
- And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening 6153 and the morning 3915 were the first day 3117.
Note the following Strong’s descriptive definitions of the original Hebrew Chaldee of the words translated in the first quote to ‘evening’ and ‘morning’ and ‘day one’ and ‘first day.’
6153. ʿereb, eh´-reb [ צֶבֶר ]; from 6150; dusk:—+ day, even(-ing, tide), night.
3915. layil, lah´-yil [ לַיִל ]; or (Isa. 21:11) leyl, lale [ לֵיל ]; also laylah, lah´-yel-aw [ לַיְלָה ]; from the same as 3883; properly, a twist (away of the light), i.e. night; figuratively, adversity:—( (mid-) )night (season).
3117. yowm, yome [ יוֹם ]; from an unused root meaning to be hot; a day (as the warm hours), whether literal (from sunrise to sunset, or from one sunset to the next), or figurative (a space of time defined by an associated term), (צoften used adverb):—age, + always, + chronicals, continually(-ance), daily, ( (birth-), each, to) day, (now a, two) days (agone), + elder, x end, + evening, + (for) ever(-lasting, -more), x full, life, as (so) long as (… live), (even) now, + old, + outlived, + perpetually, presently, + remaineth, x required, season, x since, space, then, (process of) time, + as at other times, + in trouble, weather, (as) when, (a, the, within a) while (that), x whole (+ age), (full) year(-ly), + younger.
From the sense of the meanings of the words ‘evening,’ ‘morning,’ ‘day one,’ and ‘first day’ there is clearly something more here. On one hand the evening and the morning describe something more like what we understand as a day, while the word meaning for ‘day one’ and ‘first day’ connote something much, much longer. What is going on here?
There are two scriptures worthy of more than passing note, though I admit that I have in years past simply waxed poetical in their reading.
- Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
- Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
- Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.
- For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday 3117 when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
- Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning 1242 they are like grass which groweth up.
- In the morning 1242 it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening 6153 it is cut down, and withereth.
2 Peter 3:8
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day 2250 is with the Lord as a thousand years 2094, and a thousand years 2094 as one day 2250.
1242. boqer, bo´-ker [ בֹּקֶר ]; from 1239; properly, dawn (as the break of day); generally, morning:—(+) day, early, morning, morrow.
5769. ʿolam, o-lawm´[ עוֹלָם ] ʿowlam, o-lawm´; or [ עֹלָם ] ; from 5956; properly, concealed, i.e. the vanishing point; generally, time out of mind (past or future), i.e. (practically) eternity; frequentatively, adverbial (especially with prepositional prefix) always:—alway(-s), ancient (time), any more, continuance, eternal, (for, (n-) )ever(-lasting, -more, of old), lasting, long (time), (of) old (time), perpetual, at any time, (beginning of the) world (+ without end). Compare 5331, 5703.
2250. ἡμέρα hemera, hay-mer´-ah; feminine (with 5610 implied) of a derivative of ἧμαι hemai (to sit; akin to the base of 1476) meaning tame, i.e. gentle; day, i.e. (literally) the time space between dawn and dark, or the whole 24 hours (but several days were usually reckoned by the Jews as inclusive of the parts of both extremes); figuratively, a period (always defined more or less clearly by the context): — age, + alway, (mid-)day (by day, (-ly) ), + for ever, judgment, (day) time, while, years.
2094. ἔτος etos, et´-os; apparently a primary word; a year: — year.
Clearly these scriptures use terms that have meaning in our existence. A day to us is twenty four hours. A year is so many hundreds of days. A thousand years is to us an incomprehensible age. But the original words that are translated to the text we read reveal that there is a mix of timeless and timed terminology. Why is this so?
So How Long Is A Day Anyway?
Mathematically I think there is major significance. When God says that to him a day is a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day, he is saying that 1 divided by 0 is truly infinity for him, while 1 divided by 0 for us is simply not defined. Within our compartment of timed existence we have no way to describe it except by using the Greek symbol ∞.
Only the one true God could stand in both timelessness and in time. I’ve explained how I think he created time and space, and why it was necessary for man who has to have time and space in order to choose freely to love him. I explained in A Mere Christian how it is important to understand that we could not know right from wrong if God hadn’t put the Law of Human Nature in us. Similarly, we could also not simultaneously contemplate our existence in time, and the idea that God alone exists in the domain of timelessness, if we weren’t created to exist forever. We will always be creatures of time.
God is not traveling with us along a time line. Every time is now for him. He exists in infinity where not even a sparrow falls without his notice. My conclusion from studying the original words in the Bible is that the question of whether the creative days in Genesis are literal or figurative really doesn’t seem to have much importance. In point of fact, is a day described there the same as the twenty-four hour period that we think of?
What was going on with time in the days of creation is a mystery. The description in Genesis of days is not meant to insult our intellect. Rather God offers us the best description that we could grasp within our compartment of time.
What occurs to me is that standing for or against literal creative days doesn’t seem to be the right argument, since time itself only appears to us to be constant. It really isn’t. We have no idea the actual length of each creative day in terms of how much actually occurs.
The question is not did the creative events occur in the order that they are described in Genesis. Clearly the details are plausible even when only viewed from a non-religious eye. Evolution arguments, which are simply overshadowed here, don’t even have the support of fossil records to play any role in what I’m talking about.
The real crux of the argument is this. Did all that we see in the geologic record of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons occur in mere seconds of a creative day? Or is the creative day not the same as our twenty-four hour day? We actually have no way of really knowing because the thermodynamic laws of nature probably did not apply at the very point of the creative event, nor even till much, much later.
Regardless, the geologic events that leave us with such beautiful places like Grand Tetons and Yellow had to occur within time. Until we can see and understand like God does though, it is likely that we will continue to be puzzled by Genesis 1.
We need not be worried though. Remember, God is still God, and part of our experience is to ponder his fathomlessness. Any argument against him that tries to claim that the creative days of Genesis are nonsense which prove he is not real, are only so much hot air.
He is real. He is the Creator. Genesis 1 happened. The real discussion here is about time itself.
Another Creative Event?
Now I spoke about two mysteries. The first one about whether the creation chronology itself is literal or figurative, I’ve just addressed. The other mystery puzzles me still, especially when I read it in The Messianic Aleph Tav את Scriptures (thank you Andrea for such a wonderful birthday gift).
When you read Genesis 1:1, especially in The Messianic Aleph Tav את Scriptures, where there is the declarative statement that God created the heavens and the earth, what happened to Earth, if anything, to cause it to become chaos in Genesis 1:2? Why would God describe the things he created as good but not describe the creation as good in Genesis 1:1-2? Was there an initial creative event followed by a destruction. Is the week of creation really a week of recreation?