Monday, October 14, 2013

The literal baptism of the earth

Growing up my favorite stories in the Bible were always the ones that had the most to do with animals. The more prominent role animals played in the story, the more I liked it. favorites included Daniel and the lion's den, Jonah and the whale, the plague of frogs in Egypt, Adam naming all things living in the Garden of Eden (duh!), and of course Noah's ark. The story of the ark is still hard to beat. I love the idea of saving and caring for all the animals in the entire world and being up close with so many exotic species in all their well-behaved glory. I would have given anything to be on that boat with essentially every kind of Earth’s land animals as my pets. 

My enthusiasm for the animals, however, did not deter me from posing the question of just how exactly Noah would have found them all (think of all the animals living near the poles or in Australia or the Americas), sexed them, brought them back to his ark (I liked to imagine a Divine hand guiding them all in a mysterious migration pointed in Noah’s direction), somehow fit them all in (maybe he knew Merlin’s song from Disney’s The Sword in the Stone), kept them fed (I remembered seeing a picture in my Zoo Books of how much food an elephant eats in a year and it was basically a small hill), kept their pens clean (cows on farms for example always seemed to be up to their knees in manure), and kept them from killing each other (because animals do that quite naturally). Then I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world they managed to get back to their respective habitats (imagine the box turtles hiking from the Middle East to the Eastern United States, for example). 

Even as a little kid I knew the story was fishy, to say the least, but I held on to it as best I could. Years later as a missionary I found myself reading the Student Manual to the Old Testament about how the earth had to be literallybaptized by immersion to eventually attain its celestial glory, and how maybe - just maybe! - the continents moved to their current locations during the year of total submersion. It was clear, just as it had been from my earliest memories of the story, that the contents of Genesis 6-9 were to be understood as literal, historical events.

It was all too staggeringly hopeful. The story of Noah's ark full of pairs of some ten million species and the supposed flood that covered every mountain top on planet earth pointed me to one single conclusion: THIS IS FICTION, NOT HISTORY. 

And yet I doubted my doubts and believed on.

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