Was the creation story literal or poetic? It’s the first things people ask when I tell them I’ve been studying with an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi.
I typically avoided answering the question because I couldn't honestly remember his answer. We didn’t make a thing of it. The answer is, we don’t know.
In these conversations I often began discussing my interest in Rabbi Yehoshua’s capacity to have faith in spite of the unknown. That he wouldn’t speak on behalf of Judaism as if he could clarify each bit of theology into a perfectly shaped nugget. I often find in the Christian evangelical faith we are desperate to define our theology and claim all others as heretical as if blurred lines never exist.
When we are taught to understand any theory of faith as black and white fact, and to never ask questions of it, we assume that it’s as clear cut as it was presented to us, that there is no debate. Then we see the holes, the confusing pieces, the unknown and suddenly the whole thing comes into question, baby & bath water.
I asked Rabbi Yehoshua the next week what he thought about the literal vs. poetic creation argument and we discussed the phenomenon of the battle itself. In relation to the concept of literal creation, he said something like, it doesn’t bother me either way.
I learned more about people then I did about faith from this discussion - we don’t like the unanswerable. In these conversations with friends I would explain my learning’s about the rigidity of each side clinging to its theology and the listener would often exclaim in total agreement that, “yes, the other side is so rigid and can’t even realize that they are the ones who are heretics”. I understand people have a lot of buy-in on these concepts when their views are built on a literal or poetic Bible, but I just think we could gain a little from the humility that comes with the fact that we actually don't know.
Creation wasn’t the point. Whether it’s literal or poetic doesn’t destroy a very big view of God. Grace for the unknown and the unanswerable, that’s the point. That’s what I learned.