Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Vienna, on July 8 published an op-ed piece in The New York Times announcing that the theory of evolution is not true. Although Pope John Paul II had said that evolution and the church’s commitment to divine purpose were not incompatible, Cardinal Schönborn, dismissed John Paul’s comments on the subject in 1996 as "rather vague and unimportant."
If people would only understand that the Bible’s descriptions of God’s purpose come to us in metaphorical language, they would not have get involved in these conflicts between science and the church. Nor would they become enamored of such theories as "intelligent design". My newest book — From Literal to Literary, The Essential Reference Book for Biblical Metaphors (to be published by Rising Star Press this coming October) — has this to say on the subject.
create, verb; creator and creation, nouns The Greek root behind the creation words is ktizo, which means to fabricate or manufacture. The Hebrew root, bara, is rich with other connotations, some of which seem the opposite of create. For example, bara is sometimes translated cut trees or clear the ground or cut down people.
Joshua said to them, "If you are a numerous people, go up to the forest, and clear ground there for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.". . . Then Joshua said to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, "You are indeed a numerous people, and have great power; you shall not have one lot only, but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders." [Joshua 17:15, 17-18]
The assembly shall stone them and with their swords they shall cut them down; they shall kill their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses. [Ezekiel 23:47]
The first use of the word bara as a creation metaphor appears at the beginning of the Hebrew Bible. The poem in the first chapter of Genesis reflects the human experience of feeling sustained in the midst of turmoil. It is as if the chaos of existence has been made suitable for human habitation. This theme is picked up later by Isaiah.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. [Genesis 1:1-3]
For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the Lord, and there is no other. [Isaiah 45:18]
The creation metaphor also reflects the experience of awe and wonder that arises in the contemplation of the intricacy and magnitude of nature. Although Albert Einstein did not profess religious beliefs, in reflecting on his work in astrophysics, he sometimes referred to "the old one". In much the same fashion, people over the ages have found it helpful to personify nature.
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host! Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed. [Psalm 148:4-6]
Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. [Isaiah 40:26]
Another use of the creation metaphor reflects the experience of new possibilities, fresh beginnings.
I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. [Isaiah 65:17-18]
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! [II Corinthians 5:17]
Taking the creation metaphor literally, that is, as a scientific description of reality, has brought the church into disrepute in many quarters of the industrialized world. In writing to a friend, Charles Darwin stated the problem of accepting literally the claim that a divine creator designed the universe and all that is in it.
"I own I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd. wish to, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice."
Anyone willing to put aside the notion that the creation terms have something to do with natural history, however, can find meaning in their use as religious or spiritual metaphors — on at least three levels: what it means to find stability in the midst of chaos, as an expression of awe and wonder in the experience of the natural world, and the willingness to look for new possibilities.
When using the creation metaphor, however, a person might keep in mind one meaning of bara, to cut down, a reminder that in any manufacturing or fabrication process the original form of something must be destroyed. Creation always has a dark side.