Introduction by Derrick Peterson
John Ruskin's heart was troubled. A true man of letters, he would turn around to write works on architecture before the ink on his latest ornithology essay would even be dry. Or perhaps that as-yet-undried ink would be a treatise on political economy, literature, education, or even botany. But here now at this latest topic of his interest, he stopped cold. Reading the current findings in geology, a chill ran down his back as his mind plunged into the seemingly endless depths of history. So silent for so long, the rocks were crying out--but Ruskin feared they were not declaring Jesus Christ as Lord, as the Gospel of St. Luke prophesied (17:40). Instead, they may even renounce him.
A realist by nature, Ruskin had recently written his famous first volume of Modern Painters (1843) in which he argued that the purpose of the artist was "truth to nature." And yet, when he turned to Genesis, how could Moses be said to fit Ruskin's ideal? The universe in the Bible as Ruskin read it could hardly be more than a few thousand years old. But the geologists were translating this strange new language of the stones, only to find they spoke a much more ancient tongue.
And so as Ruskin read his bible, he was haunted by hammers digging into the deep edges of time. "[My] faith, which was never strong, is being beaten into mere gold leaf, and flutters in weak rags from the letter of its old forms," he said. "If only the geologists would let me alone, I could do very well, but those dreadful hammers! I hear the clink of them at the end of every cadence of the Bible verse."
Ruskin, of course, has not been alone. But do geologists' hammers really pick away at scripture? Perhaps Ruskin's concerns were not that of Moses? In fact, if Moses had hammers in mind, it was undoubtedly only those that might have been used as slaves in Egypt. But, like Ruskin, our fears and concerns can often hang upon the text of the Bible, giving a different weight to the words than was ever intended.
That we bring to bear on the text our own baggage was the purpose of a recent presentation given to New Wine by Dr. Rebekah Josberger. To open her talk, she read the first chapter of Genesis. As she finished, she gave each of us an opportunity to draw what we envisioned after hearing the creation account. What was fascinating was how each of us produced a different image from one another--and how each image differed again from what the writer of the text would themselves draw, given the chance.
And so comes the crucial question: What does it mean to be faithful to the text? What does it mean to read the text literally? We all bring contemporary images and pictures to the text--this is both unavoidable and often necessary. But it can be distorting as well, as we assume too easily that the authors in far away times and contexts shared the same concerns we do.
We invite you to listen to the presentation, and reflect on what it means to read Genesis--and the Bible as a whole--faithfully.
Ruskin's hammers may not be so loud after all.