Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How could there be day and night before the sun was made?

People ask the question of Genesis 1, how was there LIGHT before the sun, and how was there evening and morning before that? 

Presumably, the same way there will be in the renewed creation:
"They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever." Revelation 22:5

Jesus is The Light of the World, the one who shines out from his Father, the one who said "Let there be light". Having established light in the dark, he then makes the sun and moon, appointed to rule on his behalf, reflecting His light - overwhelmingly in the day, and reflecting that in the night so that the light always shines and the darkness never quite wins (just as the church reflects Christ in the world today)... so too humanity is appointed to have dominion on behalf of Christ, imaging his benevolent rule. Shadows of the life of God.

Why create this way? Because this is what he would do in the pitch darkness of the human heart. As in salvation, so in creation - because this is who the Triune God is. This is how the universe had to be because of who God is. And ok I don't quite know how the physics of all this works, but Scripture is internally coherent enough, it's just very different to how people think when they presuppose that the Triune God doesn't exist.

7 comments:

  1. The simple explanation is that the people who wrote the text just didn't know that the sun was the source of light.

    Sripture, in this instance, is not at all coherent. But then why do you want it to be?

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  2. "The simple explanation is that the people who wrote the text just didn't know that the sun was the source of light."

    That would be a simple explanation, but it is not true. Hebrew culture did not grow up in a vacuum, and it was well known in other ancient near eastern cultures (Egypt and Babylon are the ones I know most about) that the sun produced light. Hence the worship of the sun-disk in Egypt as Aten, and in Babylon as Shamash, and the frequent connection that is made between the physical light produced by the sun and the moral/legal light cast by the associated deity. The Biblical authors are aware of this tradition - it is widely thought that the author of Gen 1 does not name the sun (it is just the great light) precisely to avoid implications of deity. Add to this the fact that ancient Hebrews were just as capable as you and I of empirical reasoning ('it gets light when the sun comes up and gets dark when it goes down'), and I don't think there can be any doubt that the same author knew very well that physical light came from the sun, and deliberately constructs his narrative to make a theological point.

    Whether we should ask 'why create that way?' or 'why write up the creation that way?' seems a more pertinent question, but doesn't impinge on Dave's point.

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  3. Thanks for the response Daniel. I read Dave's post as implying that there literally was light from some source before the sun was created.

    If, as you say, the author just had theological reasons for telling his story that way, despite knowing that it wasn't factually correct, then I would agree that there is no issue, and no need to demand coherence from scripture.

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  4. One might ask, does this correspond to reality, but you can't really argue that Scripture isn't internally coherent on this. Jesus is consistently the dominant light, and the sun, moon, stars are lesser lights to him - such that in the re-created heavens and earth he will be the light not any of the lesser lights.

    Like I say in the post, how you figure the physics is another question. And each of us has our "creation stories" that explain origins based on our assumptions. And if you exclude the existence of The Triune God who created the world then you definitely need an alternative to Genesis 1 in all sorts of ways.

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  5. Didn't you just add the word "internally" to your original post? Perhaps you might have, honestly, mentioned that when you did it?

    Anyway, even with your new spin on the question, who cares if scripture is internally coherent on this issue of light existing before the sun was created? Wouldn't it be preferable if it was coherent with reality?

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  6. I did add the word internally not to say it's not externally coherent too, but to challenge your notion that it doesn't even make sense internally - which it really does, the Bible is a perfectly consistent piece of literature.

    I also happen to think it offers at least as compelling an explanation of origins as any of the other popular creation stories being believed in society today - though as I said, quite how you'd work out the physics of that I'm less sure, but there are some big holes and major assumptions being made in popular science too.

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