There is a possibility, I have to grant it, that the roots of what we call "sin" go back a long, long way.
Not long ago, many Christians would be most offended at any so-called Christian taking the Genesis creation account non-literally. Nowadays, most don't approach the subject because of the problems (and let us be frank, offense) that any direct discussion on the topic can generate. That non-discussion doesn't mean there are millions of secret old-Earth Christians out there. Most simply "don't go there". It's a bit like the Trinity in many non-traditional churches, in which both the teaching and worship practice simply "don't go there".
I believe the current estimate for the age of humankind from an evolutionary perspective is 65 million years, intelligence only emerging in homo sapiens in the last quarter of a million years. As I may have shared before, I don't believe in a young Earth. My main problem with this position is not so much the age of the universe relative to the biblical "days" (or the order of those days). My main problem as a Christian is to explain how humans came to be made in God's image and be responsible for their sin, thus staying faithful to the symbolic nature of the Genesis account, but in a potentially very gradual fashion.
My options seem to be:
- Human intelligence and responsibility were given in an instant (a.k.a. God breathing into Adam's nostrils) in the last few thousand years after huge periods of biological and geological preparation. That would have been pretty cool, however, it is not my favourite based on the historical archaeological data. For example, there seems to be slow emergence of sophistication in design of the axe-head, and much older forms of spirituality are shown to have existed much earlier than literal biblical dating could possibly permit. We also have ancient fish-brain tumours, which question the sudden recent arrival of suffering, brokenness and injustice in the world.
- God caused increasing intelligence and morality to develop within this species. 250,000 years sounds ridiculously long, but in evolutionary terms, it's a blink. I remember how stunned I was to learn how long dinosaurs had been around without ever evolving intelligence as we have it now. If they had followed the same evolutionary curve as us, they would be populating the next solar system by now, and we'd be their pets.
I do just want to say that I wish I could be less symbolic about these things with respect to Genesis, which is an amazing (and I still take to be inspired) writing.
The title of this post is "responsibility", and that is where I want to head now. Since my retreat, it has been such a breath of fresh air to acknowledge and own some of my own twisted motivations, manipulations, power games, self-promotion, pride and destructive thoughts. Why would that be? Simply because beforehand, I knew that they were there, but it seemed so much more comfortable in the short term to try to ignore them, to disown them. Their ugliness was in sharp tension with the self-image I wanted and my parents instilled in me. There were problems connected to this situation.
As a Christian, I failed to realise that avoiding surrendering parts of me for which I would just feel repulsed by or never fully recognise my responsibility over, was a failed enterprise. Secondly, I had believed a lie: if I wasn't intentionally the cause of some evil within me or some inconvenience or even harm to someone else, then my responsibility is not incurred. This is such a wicked lie that can cause unspeakable inner tension. It has held me captive for many years to increasing degrees, and I thank God so much for setting me on a new path toward greater honesty.
Much, much more could be said about this, but what about the evolution of humans? What if some of the evil in us could be connected to necessary evolutionary processes - would that excuse us? NO WAY. That is precisely my point. Trying to reduce our responsibility to this tiny slice of intentional harm (how often do we intentionally harm?!) is to not step up to the plate, and become leaders. Leaders first of our own spheres of influence, which begins a few centimetres behind the eyes you and I are reading this. Too long I have felt God's Spirit had to do this magically and directly (in 2007 I had a major faith wobble on this exact issue at God's apparent inertia in my own character). So if God slowly (although in fact remarkably rapidly) created in us the capacity to reflect, it need not be a problem for us in terms of responsibility. I see taking responsibility as God's gracious gift to integrated living and deeper relationships. Taking responsibility: it is part of the "image".
'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' 13"But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'14"I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Jesus rejoices because this man just "imaged" the humble God.
Atheists and more fundamentalists might strike up a temporary friendship against me at this point, as I still might seem to have a problem concerning the cause of the evil in me. But what the words I said above need to sink in deeper (even within me). If there is unintentional and harmful pride or competitive attitudes or defensiveness that can be somehow traced genetically to necessary evolution for human beings to reach their current state, how can that be my responsibility? How is it not God's responsibility, if he set things up this way?
Obviously we are not going to sort the problem of evil in a single blog post! There are no simple answers of evil stemming from a good God's creation in unwitting creatures. The option that I am trying to develop, however, in today's post is to do away with this unwarranted assumption that the creature only bears responsibility for what it has intelligently dreamed up. The image bearing is the assumption of the responsibility in the way God is and does. So yes, the cat who bullies the neighbour's cat is unwittingly responsible. The owner of the bullying cat even more so for not intervening.
Christians believe that this chain of responsibility for the bullying cat can continue all the way up to God for the simple reason that he was not found wanting. He did intervene in sending his Son, Jesus Christ. We see God as fully taking his responsibility where we failed to do so, and permitting us to reach out to him to receive the extraordinary love and grace that inhabits his heart, and subjugate the earth with it. And subjectively, it feels so right when we glimpse it in ourselves, doesn't it?
Theologically, that might seem tricky. If God is free, then he was not "bound" to sending his Son for our (and the cat's) salvation. He would have been quite within his rights to let us continue on our self-destructive course, unless...
Unless he had bound himself with an oath. The Bible emphasises the seriousness with which God took the covenant that he had made with Abraham.
Further to that, the physical and timely events of the cross were somehow eternally etched in God's mind:
All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast -- all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. (Revelation 13:8, NIV)
It's time to wrap up this post, as it is already (but necessarily) a bit long. I began by noting that my old-Earth position creates the problem of responsibility (a.k.a. Acknowledging and owning "sin") and of being made in God's image. Having discussed the responsibility side a little, we can move on in the next post (with a little help from Michael Heiser) to focus more on the question of being made in God's image.
Genuinely sorry if this was a bit boring, waffly or unclear. I would love to be more concise I promise!