What do the descriptions above mean? What do you visualize happening? What do the verbs in each statement mean? How do you understand "God created," "God made," "God set," "God planted," etc.? Is God directing, is He doing it Himself, is He working through natural agents, is He allowing chance to work, is He zapping things as a magician would? I would suggest that how you answer this question has a lot to do with what you understand about God and about His interactions with man. It is not just the processes of creation, but how God answers prayer in our day. What the promises of God mean and how they are fulfilled--both now and how they have been fulfilled in the past. When it comes to creation, everything from evolution to quantum mechanics is involved in this question, and we need to understand what the Bible really says about this and how it relates to us individually and collectively.

The verbs referred to above are a vital starting place for this discussion. Each word conveyed a special message to the ancient Hebrew and if we are to take the Bible literally we need to understand that meaning. The words in question are:

What is interesting is that only the word bara in the original language refers to a miraculous "zapping" by God--in other words a process that is peculiar to God and beyond the grasp of man. This word is never used in reference to something a human can do, and is the one word that uniquely indicates God's process by an absolute miracle. The other words are all used elsewhere in Scriptures in reference to things that humans can do. If we are to take the Bible literally, we will look carefully at what the original language intended to convey and not modernize it to fit our preconceived ideas. All of the other words used in the Genesis account are hands-on actions and not mystical ones beyond our capacity to understand.

This point is carried throughout the Old Testament. When God describes the process by which the heavens are laid out the Hebrew word used is natai meaning to stretch out (see Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15; Isaiah 40:12; and Ezekiel 16:27). The word implies direct action on God's part, not a miraculous flash in which all of these things are produced. In the book of Job when God speaks to Job about what has been done in the formation of the earth and the cosmos, God again speaks of the process.

In Job 38:22-23 God speaks of the value of snow and ice as tools that provide for man. In Job 38:31-34 a description of the times and the cycles are given that again speaks of hands-on action by God. All of these hands-on processes are in contrast to the beliefs of the people of the day in which they lived. Explanations of creation in the religious systems of man have always involved magic and spiritual actions that culminate in animistic beliefs. The Bible is radically different in the process it gives for the formation of all we see. In the Bible the Creator functions with process, design, intelligence, and purpose. We are told we can know there is a God through the things He has made (Romans 1:19-22) and that the cosmos radiates His handiwork (Psalm 19:1).

Understanding this application of this mechanism of God helps us understand Genesis and the geologic record of the earth. It is a simple thing to say that God planted a garden, but what does it take to have a garden? You cannot plant a garden on bare rock. The verb nata (to plant) implies that everything necessary to have a garden is involved: soil, water, fertilizer, and all that cultivates and enriches what we refer to as a garden. Where does soil come from? Every elementary student of rocks knows that granite is the parent rock for most of what we see on the surface of the earth. Granite is made up of four minerals--orthoclase, hornblende, biotite, and quartz. When granite weathers the first mineral to be leached out of the granite is orthoclase, a pink mineral that is deposited elsewhere as clay. Biotite, a mica, is leached out next followed by hornblende--both of them being black in color. When all these have been leached out of the granite, what is left is quartz in the form of sand. I always enjoyed taking my students to the Notre Dame cemetery where we could look at headstones dating back to the early 1800s and see how the headstones have weathered. All of the beautiful beaches and sand dunes in our area around the Great Lakes are made of sand that came from granite.

As the clay, biotite, and hornblende are washed away, they are deposited in layers downstream. Organic material is added to this mix and we have soil--ready to grow a garden. In the canyonlands area of Utah and Arizona we have some 12,000 feet of sand deposited as sandstone in the Navaho and Coconino formations. These huge sand dunes had the other minerals washed out to make soils that support all forms of plant life on the earth. That is the mechanism that God has used to make soil and we can clearly see it in the rock record.

Could God "zap" soil into existence? God can do anything He wishes! However, the mechanisms we see in the Bible and in the deposits seen all over the world indicate that He did it by a mechanism that we can understand, duplicate, and use to meet the needs that we have for food and living space. Those who wish to put all God does on a level of a magician do a terrible disservice to God and to the integrity of His word and His creation.

A similar problem occurs in the creation process and quantum mechanics. How did God create matter? Our first reaction may be to say that He just said, "Let it be" and it was. In the past 100 years we have come to understand more and more about the process God used. Einstein gave us the famous equation E=mc2 which tells us that all matter is made up of energy. Matter is a concentrated form of energy, and it is this truth that produces nuclear energy. The creation process involved taking energy and turning it into mass. We now understand that electrons and protons are made up of quarks and we are beginning to comprehend how particles that do not conform to our old Newtonian concepts of physics can produce these things. The Bible does not burden us with these details for obvious reasons. Even to this day we do not understand much of what God did to produce the space, time, energy, and matter that our cosmos is made up of. Understanding that this is a mechanism that God has created and used does not in any way bring discredit on the Bible or on God as the Creator, and it does dispel the notion that somehow this kind of research supports atheism.

The mechanism God uses to answer prayer is another area where we rob ourselves of understanding by not realizing that natural processes are a way God acts. When Jesus did miracles there was never a question that the miracles were just that--acts that were impossible by natural process. You do not turn 120 gallons of water to wine instantly, raise someone from the dead after three days, or provide an instantaneous cure for leprosy by any natural process. When the Bible explains these miracles it always uses the Greek word semeion for miracle which means "sign." The miracle was a sign and was used by God for a specific purpose--to verify that the miracle worker did indeed speak for God. In today's world that purpose does not exist, so when God answers a prayer there will be some other reason and usually some other mechanism that will be used. God is active and alive in our lives, but the mechanisms He uses are not the flashy showy signs that validate who speaks for God. They are mechanisms that allow God's ultimate purposes to be fulfilled. This is not to say miracles do not happen, but they have a different purpose, and God is all about purpose. Ephesians 3:9-11 says it more directly than any other biblical passage:

... and to make clear what is God's way of working out that hidden purpose which from the first had been concealed in the mind of the Creator of all things. The purpose is that all angelic powers should now see the complex wisdom of God's plan being worked out through the Church in accordance with that purpose which runs through all the ages and which He has now accomplished in Jesus, the Christ, our Master (see also Ephesians 6:12).

This is a clear reference to the fact that miracles have a purpose and that the purpose involves the struggle between good and evil. God's plan and His reason for creating man involve this purpose. Job 1 and 2 give us a glimpse of this struggle and man's role in it. What happens to Job are natural disasters brought about by Satan. God puts limits on what Satan is allowed to do, and again these limits are natural limits--that Satan could not touch Job's body in the beginning, and could not kill him in the later afflictions. God gives us a similar promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13: "No temptation has come your way that is too hard for flesh and blood to bear: but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that which you are able to endure, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it."

Many religious people have turned their concept of God and how He acts in our lives into a video game, with impractical and unreal expectations about what will happen in our lives and why. God calls us to succeed in dealing with life and acting to be lights in a dark world by what we do and how we live. God has and does function logically and practically in our lives, and we look forward to the day when all of the physical things will be done with and we will have a new body in a new existence that will be free of everything this physical world brings upon us. God will make this change in His own time, and we cannot force His hand by turning our faith into a fantasy that is irrelevant in the world in which we live. 

--John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, MayJun08.