In the beginning, boy meets girl. And the love story begins. Contrast this instance of a first-time encounter:
[Scene: Social gathering of teenagers; music, drink and dance] Him: (Thinks: Phwoar! she's a fit bit of alright.) Eh! Fancy a snog? Her: (Thinks: He'll do.) Your place or mine?
with this instance:
[Scene: Social gathering of teenagers; music, drink and dance] Romeo: If I profane with my unworthiest hand This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss. Juliet: Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, Which mannerly devotion shows in this; For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss. Romeo: Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too? Juliet: Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer. Romeo: O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do; They pray — grant thou, lest faith turn to despair. Juliet: Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake. Romeo: Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
Two instances of love at first sight. "But how", you may well ask, "does that relate to our biblical exposition of the Genesis creation and flood narratives?" Whatever our opinions, doubtless we can all at least picture the first, the Phwoar! encounter. We recognise it as happening, at least sometimes, in real life. It is literal. Its "plain reading" is all too familiar. It is "real".
But the Romeo and Juliet "at first sight" instance? Can we or our friends think of just a single case where that (or something even remotely like it) has ever happened? It is figurative. It is fictitious. Its allegorical nature seems totally disconnected from our experience. It is completely "unreal". Or is it?
Both scripts start from a similar place: that of teenage attraction. Both are "real", yet both are opposite to each other. One is literal, plain... and coarse. The other is poetically divorced from 'real life', allegorical... and reaches the dizzy heights of the fulness of the underlying love that will flower, have its ups and downs, its heights and its depths.
How do you picture the different levels of reality in those scripts?
In the beginning, God creates. And his love story begins.
On the massive scales of time and space, he can do the 14,000,000,000 year-old Big Bang and its cosmic microwave background echo present today; he can do the multiple generations of born and dying stars that synthesised the star-dust elements of our own youthful (4,500,000,000 year-old) earth. On the miniscule subatomic scale, he can do two-places-at-once superposition and quantum chromodynamics. On the artistic scale, he can do the Veil Nebula, the sunflower's spiral, the hummingbird's iridescent hover and Niagara's grandeur. On the biological scale, he can do our very own human brain, the most complex, mysterious structure in the known universe.
Do we truly accept that God is capable of this created order in its bright array? And of creating us, who can reasonably begin to comprehend some of it? Then for his painting of the beginning of his love story with it and with us, what type of engagement language could he use with us?
For the beginning of his covenantal love story, Shakespeare, the towering prosodist and poet, chooses the highest poetic form of his time, the fourteen-line sonnet. And it touches us to our inmost being.
Is God less than Shakespeare? He whose "morning stars sang together for joy"? He who "wove [me] together in the depths of the earth"? Would God limit himself to the grossly over-simplistic quack-scientism imposed by (so-called) "Answers in Genesis" in his wish to paint for us the splendour and panorama of the beginning of his love story? Rather, wouldn't he, the poet behind all poetry, entering into his covenantal love relationship with humankind, display it in the reality of the highest appreciation for us, his created belovèd, touching us to our inmost being?
When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God's breath hovering over the waters, God said, "Let there be light." And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night. And it was evening and it was morning, first day. And God said, "Let there be a vault in the midst of the waters, and let it divide water from water." And God made the vault and it divided the water beneath the vault from the water above the vault, and so it was. And God called the vault Heavens, and it was evening and it was morning, second day. ...
Would the author of Romeo and Juliet wish us to "improve" his art-form sonnet by reducing his script to sham-reality-TV phwoar-literalism?
Why, then, does the creationist dictate that the author of the 'morning stars that sang together' requires us to "improve" the script by reducing it to "Answers in Genesis" phwoar-literalism?
Let us consign both bar-room lust and bar-room creationism in their squalid commonality into the shared dung-heap where both belong. Let us instead set our minds on things higher: the poetic reality of Romeo and Juliet, the beauty of real science and the unknowable knownness of the God who is behind, within and beyond the greatest love story of them all.
And finally... if you want to sing about it in worship, try the song: In chaos and nothingness, you of unnameable Name.