It ain’t what you know…
For the last 100 years there’s been a divisive debate over whether God created the world in six 24-hour days, six long ages, simply supervised evolution, or had nothing to do with it. This contest would benefit from Mark Twain’s caution: it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. One person with a seat at creation was even tougher: we deserve a kick in the seat of the pants.
Grab a Bible and open it to the Book of Genesis. The first time “day” appears it’s 12 hours (the light is called “day”) in Genesis 1:5. Three verses later the same word describes a 24-hour period, when evening and morning is called a “day” (1:8). But there’s more. On Day Seven, “the day” is a period that hasn’t yet ended. “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (2:2). He’s still resting today.1 If this doesn’t pop your categories, look at a “day” in Genesis 2:4—it’s a past age, or a period of time. If this sounds like God’s being ambiguous, that’s exactly right. Loving parents do it all the time.
When a child cries in the stormy night, a mother’s first impulse is to reassure the child that “everything is all right” (dad sleeps straight through). In one respect that’s an audacious statement. Everything? C’mon. Yet from another angle it’s lovingly ambiguous… or vague. Do you really believe giving a baby a crash course on the complexities of meteorology will stop the tears of terror?
Now pull the lens back and consider how in heavens name the heavens came into existence. Can humans—who only know life inside a temporal frame—really understand the timeless eternity that brackets both ends of the Bible’s story? The Apostle Paul was privileged to preview eternity future (see II Cor. 12). He found it indescribable: “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered into the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him” (I Cor. 2:9). Someone else was privileged to preview the first state of eternity before creation. How did she describe it? Yes, she. A woman named Wisdom had a seat at creation yet never bothered to clear up questions about creation. She instead offered a kick in the seat of the pants (Prov. 8:4-6).
“You—I’m talking to all of you, everyone out here on the streets! Listen, you idiots—learn good sense! You blockheads—shape up! Don’t miss a word of this—I’m telling you how to live well. I am Lady Wisdom, and I live next to Sanity; Knowledge and Discretion live just down the street. God sovereignly made me—the first, the basic—before he did anything else. I was brought into being a long time ago, well before Earth got its start. I arrived on the scene before Ocean… I was right there with him, making sure everything fit.”2 Here’s the only person with great sightlines at creation and she starts with a slap down. The point of creation is not how God did it but that he did it. Since God made everything, Wisdom says it’s stupid and insane to ignore the only creator of the universe.
The Proverbs highlight wisdom 50 times while truth is only mentioned 12 times. Truth matters but Hitler and Mao thought they knew for sure what just ain’t so. Wisdom tethers us to our finitude and frailties. It should also foster a sense of fun. One take-away from Wisdom’s involvement in creation is that everyone had a blast. “Day after day I was there, with my joyful applause, always enjoying his company, delighted with the world of things and creatures, happily celebrating the human family” (Prov. 8:31-32). We soak the fun out of life trying to nail down the details of creation. From Wisdom’s perspective, it is like explaining meteorology to a crying baby. That’s nutty.
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant –
Success in circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise.
As lightning to the child eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.3
The poet Emily Dickinson knew that often the kindest explanation is the ambiguous or vague one. Wisdom concurs that, for the time being, “everything is all right” is all we need to know to go forward in trusting God. One day God will clear up the complexities of creation and some of us will graciously learn that it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you knew for sure that just wasn’t so.
1 Hebrews 4:9 reads: “For the one who has entered his rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from his.”
2 Taken from The Message by Eugene Peterson.
3 Poem #1129, from “The Riddles of Emily Dickinson.” Obbligati (Atheneum, 1986)