A Kick in the Seat of the Pants

Michael Metzger

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)

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10 thoughts on “A Kick in the Seat of the Pants”

  1. Mike,

    An excellent warning to recognize our limits and not get too hung up on what is essentially unknowable this side of heaven.

    So was “Wisdom” an actual woman or the personification of certain attributes of Christ? A wise man once told me that “what gets you into trouble [is] what you knew for sure that just wasn’t so.” I think I’ll consider Proverbs 8 to be ambiguous on this point.

  2. Well said. I think it’s part of our (God-given) nature to want to understand and explain everything. It takes real maturity to humbly stand before the universe and admit we don’t know. Few of us, Christian or scientist (or both) are able to do that.

  3. Hey Greg:

    I think you’re right. Wisdom is not an actual woman just like jesus was not an actual door.

  4. Bob Terwilliger

    Mike,

    While I love the reminder to not “divide” on the topic of creation, I do think it is important to know what you can about the theories. I have had fun/interesting debates with non-believers when I spoke to some of the science and theories behind creation. I have brought a friend of mine that is a non-believer to point to where he is now stumped and has questioned his original beliefs. While he is still not a believer, at least he is thinking.

    Love the weekly “Tilt”.

  5. I’m open to either interpretation, believeing God was in control either way. Have you ever read Velikovsky’s World’s in Collision? He makes very good reading regarding some of these issues, such as the “waters over the earth” being an ice canopy that was shattered and created the flood, the possible catastrophy that might have occurred when Satan fell to earth, the long day of Joshua and other ways God used “natural” events to effect His purposes.

  6. Hmmm. Now when God Himself recorded on a tablet of stone what He did in the beginning, He equated the days of our week with the period of Creation, even the seventh.

    Exo 20:9-11 “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, (10) but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. (11) “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”

    The ancients knew exactly what He meant and I’m sure did not take longer than 24 hours for their Sabbath. However, it would be nice to take longer.

    Now in terms of the meaning of “day”, or any word for that matter, it is only understood within context. Many words do not bear the same meaning in every context. Thus to say that it may not mean something one context because it can’t in another is without foundation. Day in Genesis 1:5 very clearly means the light portion of a whole day cycle as well as the whole cycle itself. But in 2:4 it clearly means “when”.

    Also, wisdom literature is not the same as historic narrative and is not to be understood as such.

  7. Well written and a good reminder!! But (I love the word “but”) there are people out there who are looking closely at the bible and/or at the creation and are promoting their various ideas. What do we do as teachers, pastors and parents? Tell our kids to just ignore them? There is a certain responsibility we hold to investigate and test the various theories (test against the material evidence and the biblical evidence). The debate is actually a wonderful “lab” to help our students learn to debate with love, respect, and “fair play.”

  8. Thanks for your caution about humans trying to write between the lines of Genesis, removing the ambiguity that was put there by its author. I was taught that the question that should be uppermost in our minds when we read anything is “Why did the author write this? What did he want me to think or do?” As you say, the purpose of the Author fo Genesis 1 and 2 is to remind us that God is the author of the material reality we experience as mortal life. He controls it, and owns it, and we are only temporary tenants in his house. This is the foundation for all of the land stewardship laws that are recounted in detail later in the pentateuch. We are instructed by God to remember our debt to God for the world that sustains us with warmth, air, light, water, and food. The Earth is such a miniscule part of the solar system, let alone our galaxy, that its uniqueness as a home of not only life but also intelligence is not appreciated enough. It is “most precious”.

    Aside from that message, the other aspects of the narrative of creation are of diminished importance. Other than knowing that God created it all, what is the precise value to our salvation of knowing the precise way in which God did that? Is there going to be a quiz held by St. Peter before we can get into the pearly gates of heaven? The salvific aspect of Genesis 1 is knowing that God controls the world. Whether we can remember the order in which plants and animals were created is pretty irrelevant. Even less important is how long any segment of the process required.

    So it saddens me to see people insist on the 24 hour day interpretation of Genesis 1. They are in fact, by this approach, declaring their faith in the English version of Genesis 1, rather than the original Hebrew or Aramaic, whose use of the term translated in the King James Version as “day” is as a much more flexible time period.

  9. Unfortunately, Young Earth Creationism (TM) has replaced Christ on the Throne for many Christians. Usually tag-teamed with The End Is Nigh. Result: No Past and No Future.

    A lot of Christians prefer a 6000-year, Earth-and-unspecified-Heavens “Punyverse” to the physical evidence of a 13.7-gigayear, minimally-gigaparsec-across Universe. It’s like they’re afraid Carl Sagan was right all along in Cosmos, and that the only way for God to be sovereign (or even to Be) is as a big fish in a small cosmos.

    Never mind that of the three Abrahamic monotheisms, Christianity is best able to handle such a Grand Universe (with its implication of an even Grander God). With the doctrine of the Incarnation, no matter how big the Cosmos and God get, God remains at a one-to-one human scale through Christ.

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