by Susan L. Trollinger
One of the things I have learned over the years as a rhetorical critic—it’s really a simple insight—is that what does not appear in, say, a speech, an image, or an advertisement, is at least as important (if not more so) than what does. A great example of this is an advertisement for Pedigree dog food that came out a few years ago. It’s a two-page ad. On the left page, you see a man, likely in his thirties, sitting on a rock overlooking the ocean. As a viewer, you easily imagine given the grey sky and his wind breaker that he lives in Seattle or some other northwestern coastline locale. He is looking down at the rock. One arm is propping him up as he leans back. And the other is relaxed over his lap. You can see his right hand just resting there near the rock.
On the opposing page, you see the same man. He is seated in the same location in exactly the same position. But there’s a difference. Now, next to him on that rock is a lovely mutt. In the first image, the man appears alone, sad, maybe even depressed. In the second image, he is with his buddy. They are just chilling on a gorgeous rock enjoying a spectacular view. The point of the ad is to exhort you to adopt a mutt. My point is simply that what is missing in the first image is just as important as what is present in the second.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the fact that the rhetoric of young Earth creationists focuses on the six days of creation and has precious little to say about the seventh. I’ve been thinking especially about what that means for Christians—that is, for people who make the audacious claim to follow Jesus.
Before I get to that, I want to be clear. I think the six days of creation are beautiful. They are, among so many other things, a powerful testament to the word and what language can do. To quote from Genesis 1: 1-5:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”: and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (NRSV)
They remind us that words have the power to bring into being whole worlds. And they remind us that we need to take care about the worlds that our words bring into being. They can be absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous—as the Creation was. And they can be bone chillingly ugly—as was the Jim Crow South and the Holocaust.
As I have studied the rhetoric of young Earth creationism, I have attended to the way it talks about the God that it worships. It is a God who, whether as Father or Son (it tends to leave out the Holy Spirit—another important absence), is something of superhero. He (and, importantly, God is always gendered as masculine in the rhetoric of young Earth creationism) might as well be a superhero in a Marvel blockbuster movie. He creates order out of chaos. He separates the waters above from the waters below. He produces Eve out of a bone.1
But what this rhetoric leaves out is the seventh day. The day of grace. The day of rest. The day of gladness. The day in which God is so delighted with creation that God just stops and marvels at what God has produced.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation (NRSV, Gen. 2:1-3)
How extraordinary. According to the first account of the creation in Genesis, God worked so hard to create a gorgeous order out of chaos—earth and sky, sun and moon, plants, sea creatures, animals, and human beings. And then, when God was done, God rested. God stopped. God enjoyed. God loved the love that God had made incarnate.
The rhetoric of young Earth creationists skips over this day. Of course, they mention it here and there. But they don’t take it to heart. They don’t work it into their theology. Theirs is a rhetoric of scarcity and judgment. Yes, the creation was beautiful but what we have to focus on is the fall and how God was obliged (if God is to be God) to banish, shun, and eventually slaughter in the global flood.
What if we took the seventh day to heart? The day in which God just loved what God had created. In a very simple minded way, I can imagine God kicking back in some celestial recliner and thinking—I totally nailed this.
What if instead of imagining a God who is hell bent on punishing sinners (which, of course, includes us all) young Earth creationists imagined a God who actually took joy in God’s creation. What if they took the seventh day as seriously as the other six? What if, in other words, they took as seriously God’s love for God’s creation (with all of its beauty and all of its flaws)? What a different rhetoric that would be!
I don’t know exactly what that would sound like since I haven’t heard it. But I can well imagine that it would be a rhetoric in which we would embrace the God of love, mercy, and excessive grace. A God who admonishes God’s followers to love their neighbor, to turn the other cheek, to give up their cloak. I think, in other words, we would live quite literally into the ridiculous, gracious, and merciful words of Jesus. The true Adam.
1I should point out that while the first two examples come from the first account of the creation in Genesis (Gen. 1:1-2:3, the last one comes from the second account of creation that begins at Genesis 2:4. These two accounts are, as many a biblical scholar knows, incommensurate with each other, a fact that young Earth creation literalists elide.