Creation Story One: 1:1-2:4a
The question before us is something like: why are the Creation Accounts of Genesis written as mythological stories rather than simple records of events or propositional statements?1
A way of reframing it would be to ask: how does story enhance rather than simply cloud the meaning of the accounts? A great question. In fact, a number of questions. Whilst there are no definitive answers, there are compelling intuitive ones. To that end, it might be helpful at first to explore the contrasting purpose of propositions and stories.
Thinking of propositions in this context, the Decalogue and Nicene Creed spring to mind. Their function is to summarise, state precisely and clearly, set parameters, act as guides, define rules etc. There’s a place for this. We all need clarity. A representative Creation Creed might begin:
God created the one and only universe out of nothing
God created it out of love, without need or compulsion or conflict
God created it good, ordered and with purpose
And so on. In other words, single, simple, clear statements. But also statements that are fixed, objective, immovable.
What of story? Specifically, why Creation Stories? A simple answer might be: because that’s what the writers chose to do. Which is more like a bat to the boundary than an answer. If, (as I fervently believe), the Bible is the inspired Word of God, then technically, God had a hand in choosing story over creed. Reading the mind of God is above my pay grade but I know a thing or two about stories.
Crucially, stories may contain propositions but that’s not really their purpose. A story is, in fact, a mirror of life itself. Propositions don’t express all life is. That’s not their purpose. They are there to cast a singular clarifying light upon often murky stretches of the path. In other words, illuminating the what of existence that we might better consider the why. Stories are, rather, bound to the totality of existence. If you will, seeing how to reach the why.
Every story is a journey, just like life. We come into this world and our story begins. We struggle, chapter by chapter, to discover our place in it. Hopefully, we overcome the obstacles in our way, find some enduring sense of purpose and fulfilment, and then, when our tale is at its end, the dust jacket is gently closed over us, (amid rumours of a spectacular sequel).
Genesis is the beginning of story as well as the entire journey of the universe. It can’t be a set of propositions in the same way life cannot be. The telling of the story finds completion in the last book of the Bible, (Revelation) which is the promise of things not fully come to pass. It’s always a dynamic, a pilgrimage, an adventure, a quest of discovery rather than a fixed point.
So, propositions are a subset of story; or, (practising my own craft), the Kendal Mint Cake we carry for our mountain ascents. But there’s something else. Here is God’s question to Job:
Where were you when I laid the
foundation of the earth…
when the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy? [38:4,7]
As noted before, the reader of Genesis knows from the outset that only God can be true witness to the events of Creation. He’s the storyteller; the One who tells it as a story. He inspires rather than dictates, but the result is still His Word. This is way beyond the idea of prescientific writers simply making use of popular modes of communication. We learn from God Himself that story is the supreme way to portray a mystery. Something a set of stand-alone propositions are not equipped to achieve.
Thus, the enduring majesty of the stories consists not only in the beauty of language but in their correspondence with mystery. They are the means by which we’re privileged to see aspects of reality normally beyond seeing.
Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward
And see the light that fractures through unquiet water.2
Digging even deeper, effectively it means story is the frame for everything. God sets the whole of creation’s intelligibility within a story-frame. And, within it, we are marked out by His exceptional grace as the storytelling creature. Unique upon earth. True stories echo the divine voice; that wind borne call of the Shepherd ever in search of His lost sheep.
Arguably, story also underpins all aesthetics since it subsists in image and sound. In a way, story itself is deeper even than words on a page since it also gathers in the gaps in between; or more than words in the mouth, since it also resides in the living silences.
Finally, building on the previous post, there’s a sense in which story is our only effective means for approaching reality. Fundamentally, we don’t know what reality is. What we label reality is something like observed repetition articulated into an aggregated tradition. Over the millennia, we’ve built a complex mesh of interconnecting narratives derived from experience and wisdom, trial and error, experimentation, risk and reward etc. In this sense, true stories are our best technology, our best psychotherapy, our best hope for survival. They present patterns of behaviour or, (to steal a title), maps of meaning for our consideration, contemplation and enrichment. At their absolute best, stories represent pure distillations of beauty and truth: something hyperreal and therefore ultimately transcendent.
Every story is a fractal of the greater enveloping narrative, and always at its centre - creating cohesion, offering correction, radiating light, revealing fresh vistas - is the Bible. Not a book but the ever unfolding story of stories. Not words on a page but a permanently engaging Meet The Author.
With thanks to William Collen for the spark
Photo shouts: Klim Sergen, Unsplash