If you read the Gospel narratives and get to the end of these books, you come across some very interesting passages. It is after the resurrection and right before Jesus ascends that we read this:
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”(John 20:21-23 NIV)
And according to St. Luke:
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.(Luke 24:45 NIV)
What strikes me, in both passages, is how this final transformative step took place after a long-drawn-out process of teaching and showing by example. Why go through this protracted effort if ultimately their minds needed to be opened by the Holy Spirit?
Furthermore, why even go through the centuries, from the time of Abraham on, leading these stubborn Israelite people, if the real plan is to send Jesus and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit? If all of this eighth day of creation could have been accomplished with God merely saying the word, why not skip steps A to Z or cut to the chase?
In the Beginning…
There are many who believe that anything other than a ‘literal’ interpretation of the word days in the first chapters of Genesis takes away from God’s power. In their mind it must be twenty-four-hour, the earth spinning a full rotation on its axis, days and nothing else.
Of course, knowing the little I do about language, and how words like “gay” can evolve from happy to men who prefer men, it makes very little sense to die on the hill of one particular translation from archaic language. It does not seem necessary to turn this into an either/or and especially considering that none of us were there to witness the events described. There is a sort of poetic metre to the opening chapter of Genesis, it could certainly suggest we could see this as a summary rather than something exhaustive.
All that the long way around to saying that this opening act of Scripture culminates at this moment:
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.(Genesis 2:7 NIV)
The interesting part is that this is the second account of the creation of man, whereas this is the first version of this significant event:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.(Genesis 1:26-27 NIV)
In the above account we have both male and female, or mankind, being created simultaneously on the “sixth day” and yet in the very next chapter we have Adam naming all of the animals, not finding a suitable match for himself amongst all of the creation, and this *before* Eve being formed. At best that was one heck of a long day, at worse the first two chapters of the Bible directly contradict each other.
Of course, then we get into what a “day” really is without a sun, as celestial bodies weren’t created until the fourth day according to the Genesis account. Time is not some immutable thing, it passes faster and slower depending on the reference frame, the Palmist tells us that a thousand years is as a day from God’s perspective. So I’m not sure what is gained by insisting on the one interpretation that most conflicts with the scientific evidence.
A Biblical Preference for Process
It does not take a deep dive into theology to realize the importance of ritual. Whether Namaan’s seven dips in the river Jordan before being healed, the march seven times around the walls of Jericho before they fell, or Jesus spitting in mud and rubbing it into a blind man’s eyes before the miraculous, there’s a distinct pattern of the creation doing and the God coming through to complete the work.
Maybe the repeating record of Scripture is trying to tell us something?
First, the elongated process does not eliminate or even diminish God. Sure, many of us want immediate results, we want everything to materialize, fully formed, rather than have to wait days, weeks, or years. And many do conclude after a prayer is not immediately answered or according to their own timeline, that this does rule out the possibility of God. But the clear Biblical pattern is that everything is always in the fullness of time:
So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.(Galatians 4:3-5 NIV)
St. Paul likens the spiritual transformation, made possible through Christ, to the two sons of Abraham—one of them the result of rushing the process and the other of truly Divine origin. The law is a foundation and yet not the fullness or complete fulfillment. Even now, even for the believer, we know we are not a completed work until that day we hear “well done, good and faithful servant!”
Cutting to the chase, the “formed a man from the dust” of Genesis doesn’t tell us much about the process behind that formation. But the “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” of Genesis does parallel with “he breathed on them” in the Gospel of John. The disciples, like Adam, had some kind of form prior to this transformation and enhanced spiritual life. The time they had spent with Jesus prior to their mind being opened was not purposeless.
God could have created without a process. Still, the overwhelming pattern appears to be that God catalyzes things that are already underway or set in motion. It would therefore not be all that surprising if forming out of dust alludes to an evolutionary process, which was finalized in Adam and this special spiritual life breathed into him.
What Makes Us More Than Animals?
Truly, in terms of biology, we aren’t different from animals, we have instincts that drive us, and can lose our humanity too. Indeed, we can be degraded to an animalistic existence through our actions and lose that element of being created in the image of God:
But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.(2 Peter 2:12 NIV)
So the Bible tells us about evolution (and de-evolution) from the perishable fleshly form or physical body to those are quickened in spirit and being transformed:
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.(1 Corinthians 15:42-50 NIV)
It is this spiritual component—this ‘breath’ of God both in Genesis and the end of the Gospels—that sets us apart from the animal. We’re essentially on the same journey as Pinocchio, who wanted to be a real boy, in this pursuit of the Divine transformation. We have evolved, even if not in the Darwinian sense, from that first cell in our mother’s womb to the learning of our childhood, and this is a creative process guided by the Holy Spirit from start to finish.