N.T. Wright on God’s creation and Adam and Eve

Here’s a thoughtful post from Scot McKnight discussing a recent interview with N.T. Wright in which he’s asked the question: “Why would a God whose loving character is revealed in Jesus create us through a process of suffering and death, which evolution evidently is?”

Wright responds first by saying that suffering and death don’t seem to be a problem in the animal kingdom. Death is a natural process like the changing of the seasons. (I would add that without self-consciousness, animals are unable to worry about death the way we humans do. And isn’t that a large part of what makes human suffering so painful?) Moreover, suffering and death leading up to Adam and Eve are only a problem if we divorce evolution from God’s loving involvement in creation. We moderns or postmoderns have adopted an Epicurean worldview that says that this life is all there is; God is nowhere to be found; so we’d better enjoy life while we can.

According to such a worldview, death can only be an unwelcome intruder which destroys life’s meaning.

Over against that it seems to me, the Christian has to hang onto a biblical vision which is of a God who is both other than the world and strangely involved in the world. And the strange involvement of God in the world is precisely a loving involvement, which means that it isn’t simply a matter of God making a machine. It’s a matter of God’s generosity, of God letting be: Let there be light, let there be whales, let there be trees, humans, whatever. And when God let’s there be, there is a sense of God saying “Get on with it guys. I want you to be autonomous in that sense, not that you’re outside my world, not that you’re outside my love, but that I want you to be real creatures and not just puppets.” And so, all the sorts of questions we have rise out of that rather complicated but very important view of creation. The thing to hold on to is the generous love of God, that’s where it all comes down to.

This seems exactly right to me. We want to say, “All this suffering and death is meaningless and wasteful.” But it’s not meaningless or wasteful if it’s being directed by God toward God’s good ends. Besides, if it had happened any other way, we wouldn’t be who we are. And don’t we like who we are? And all life, no matter how long or short, is good, and God loves his creatures. We humans weren’t around to enjoy dinosaurs, but God was.

Finally, I like the way Wright affirms the historicity of the first couple, Adam and Eve. He gives, I believe, an historically plausible explanation for them: that it doesn’t matter whether they were the first humans, or that there were other humans around. What mattered is that God called these two to a special task, just as he later called Noah or Abraham and Sarah.

What happens with Genesis 3; and I do think there is a historical correlate. OK, Genesis one, two, and three is wonderful picture language, but I do think there was a primal pair in a world of emerging hominids, that’s the way I read that. … But it seems to me that just as God called Abraham and Sarah out of a welter of wandering nations and said I’ve got a special purpose for you, the way that I see it is that God called one pair of hominids and said “OK, this place is a bit chaotic, you and I together, we’re going to have a project. We’re going to plant this garden and we’re going to go out from here and this is how it’s going to be.” So when Cain goes off he founds a city. Excuse me, who else is in the city? … And ancient Jewish readers knew this perfectly well, they knew that this was not the first ever humans or anything like them.

6 thoughts on “N.T. Wright on God’s creation and Adam and Eve”

  1. Brent, sorry to comment so late on this (and others), but I have actually been swamped with work lately! I like one thing Wright says: “I want you to be real creatures and not just puppets.” In fact, God created us to be “little creators”; indeed, even many animals are “creators” to some degree. This is a big weakness of Calvinism, in my view–just do what God “programmed” you to do. No, go with the gifts I have given you and do things with them. He knows, and guides history accordingly, but we really are deciding things on our own.

    With regard to evolution, you know, of course, that I disagree. Death came by one man, Paul says. I recognize that does not necessarily mean animal death, but it strikes me that “the wages of sin is death”; that death is part of the “curse” that came in with sin. “From dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return,” God tells Adam as part of the punishment from the “first sin.” Also, Eve was named as Eve because she was “the mother of all living.” As far as Cain creating a city, I realize that this sounds problematic at first glance, but consider that Adam and Eve continued to have other sons and daughters (who knows how many), and those also continued to do the same, and we are not told how long it was after Cain and Abel were born before differences in sacrifices occurred (or, for that matter, that this was the first sacrificial offering they may have made). To my recollection at the moment, I also don’t think it says how many years after Cain was cursed that he built the city. Anyway, I don’t find the “built a city” to be some foolproof argument against Adam and Eve being truly the first people made (which seems the most reasonable interpretation of the text itself, as well as the New Testament treatment–Jesus himself said, “But from the beginning it was not so,” and then references the Garden episode).

    So, I believe it is literally the case that God spoke each “phase” into existence by merely saying, “Let there be,” and “there was,” exactly as the text would seem to say if we had not become “infected” with secular evolution (which is where evolution developed, and which is highly problematic because it hypothesizes no “interventions,” much as Christian evolutionists may suggest otherwise).

    1. I’ve been listening to a thoughtful, if painfully slow, walk through different views of biblical creation from William Lane Craig. It’s, like, 15 parts. I’m on #12. He does make the case that in the context of Genesis 1-3, there is warrant for interpreting it figuratively to some extent—and that doing so isn’t simply a way of accommodating it to modern science.

  2. you lost me at “God selected two from among the emerging hominids…” We risk much by accommodating Scripture to science, as the latter can only analyze data as it is exposed by erosion (for earth-bound phenomena) or passage of time for extraterrestrial events. Anybody who says definitively that thus and so is true based on a few hundred years’ interpretation of data is overreaching. Also anyone who claims that Scripture teaches modern science is sadly mistaken: it is what God wants us to know about Himself.

    1. bobbob, I generally agree with your observations except with reference to what might be implied by one being mistaken about Scripture teaching modern science. I certainly agree that the purpose of scripture is not to teach science. However, the question is, when it says something happened, did it happen? I say the answer is yes. So, if some scientist says otherwise, I say either the scientist is wrong, or perhaps I am misinterpreting what the Scripture is saying happened. Consequently, I try to intepret Scripture in terms of Scripture and understand things according to plain language. That done, I believe Genesis 1-3 to be speaking of literal days, a literal Adam and Eve as the progenitors of the entire human race, and sin entering the world in the Garden. Therefore, I tend to take any “scientific” claims to the contrary with, at best, a grain of salt. And most especially do I do so when I see that the scientist does not believe in a God who intervenes in history.

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