On a working definition of life

John Lennox says the Genesis creation story is foundational to everything we value.



John Lennox says the Genesis creation story is foundational to everything we value.


There’s a great link between the Genesis story and everything else that’s built upon it. Because the Genesis story is of course often written off, and it deserves to be taken a lot more seriously because it gives us a kind of working definition of life. 

Starting with the physical – we’re all so much stuff, but we’re animate stuff; we’ve got biological life, but there’s more to us than that. We … the trees were made to be good to look upon, we have an aesthetic sense. And as you look at that story you discover that what you’re dealing with is you’re eliminating certain philosophies one by one. 

What I mean by that is this. Aesthetics is an essential part of life. Some people regard it as all of life, though it isn’t – there’s more to life than aesthetics, there is work, there’s exploration, there are rivers went out of that garden and you’re told if you follow them you get to a land where the gold is good and so on. And I think that is a beautiful literary way of talking about human curiosity – which is my field really, being interested in the environment, following the rivers, doing research, following where they lead. And you gradually build up a picture of life, then you’re introduced to a relationship with someone who’s the same yet other – you’re introduced to marriage and the family. 

But at the highest level there is the relationship with God. And interestingly, that is morally defined. In other words, as the account goes, God says, you could eat of every tree but not that one. And here are the basic parameters for what moral behaviour means: everything is possible, but one thing forbidden. If nothing’s forbidden, then there’s no morality. But if you’re determined, pre-determined, there’s no morality either.

So in a beautifully compact description, you’ve got the ingredients of what it means to be a moral being – that is, you are in a relationship with God that depends on trust, and trusting him and his word. And from that you get the whole biblical story. We know of course that humans disobeyed and brought all the mess into the world, but as the story goes on you gradually get to understand more of the character of God – that he’s generous, that he gives. Now we’re meant to reflect that. And so you get the foundations for all those things that we count valuable.