There is a prevalent misconception, or impression, regarding the creation in Christian teaching these days. The assumption is that God literally “spoke” everything into existence and that that is all that happened. I think the mental image that a lot of people have of this is God saying, “Let there be…” and things simply “pop” into existence. “Let there be tigers.” Pop—there are suddenly tigers appearing out of thin air.
The problem is not that this is how it could have happened. There is room for that to possibly be what happened in the account. The problem is when we insist that that is how it had to happen. That somehow that interpretation is the only orthodox possibility and that a correct understanding of this issue is determinate to our relationship with God.
There are two reasons to put the brakes on such an insistence.
First, we should consider what the Bible actually says, and what it doesn’t. Look at God’s activity step by step through the six days:
Verse 1: God creates everything in existence. No mention is made of how He did it.
Verse 3: God says, “Let there be light.” Light appears. Here God does simply command stuff into existence. So, this is A way God did things. This is where this exclusive understanding of how things happened likely arises. People read this far and then stop.
Verses 6 and 7: God commands an expanse to separate the waters below from the waters above. But, here God makes the expanse and does the separating. It isn’t clear how God does this, but He does something. The sky does not just appear.
Verse 9: God commands the waters on the planet to gather and the dry land to appear. They do so. But notice, the waters gather and uncover the land. There is a description of a process here. Land does not appear from nowhere.
Verses 11 and 12: God commands the land to produce vegetation. The land brings forth vegetation. God doesn’t do more than command, but the land produces plants. The account seems to describe a process, we don’t see plants zap into existence from nowhere.
Verse 14, 16, and 17: God commands there to be heavenly bodies, but He makes them and places them in space.
Verses 20 and 21: God commands there to be sea creatures and birds, but He explicitly creates them according to their kind.
Finally, verses 24 and 25, in the first part of day 6, He commands the land to produce animals. God then makes the animals.
So, the first reason to hesitate insisting that everything simply appeared is the Biblical account itself. We should resist the simplistic idea of things popping into existence. The Bible gives us a much more richly descriptive account of How God created. He creates, makes, separates, places and commands His creation to move and bring things into existence. We aren’t given enough detail to have a clear picture of how it all happened, but we have enough to see an elaborate creative process.
The second reason we should shy away from insisting on such a narrow view is the creation itself. God’s creation is an orderly, structured thing, operating according to the natural laws and forces that God established to govern reality. The scientific revolution was brought about by believers who understood that God had created an ordered reality. They rejected superstitious, capricious views of reality where reality could not be known.
That does not mean that all scientific opinions, theories, and ideas produced to explain reality are correct or unmistaken. Some aspects of the universe and time lie outside of our ability to observe and test. We can only apply scientific method to certain aspects of reality. Origins are one of the very problematic areas. As with theology and philosophy, a lot of science relies on faith. Maybe someday we will learn more information regarding the origins of the universe from the Creator Himself, however, I tend to think we have been given all the accounting that we need to ever know.
That said, outside of an acknowledgement that God made it all, we need to take care in being too dogmatic about the hows. We certainly do not need to make the hows a test of orthodoxy or, even worse, a precondition for a relationship with God.