When I think about the opening of Genesis I am reminded of a physicist. Someone asked him what he was looking at when he “looked” into the nucleus of an atom. He said “Words are useless. And even if I could find some, nobody would believe me.
Nobody would believe me. The Hebrew uses the word “yom”–which in 2019 means “day”–to describe the time segments. I think “six days” is a good translation, but I couldn’t begin to tell you what THAT means. I don’t think the Lord cares what it means–as long as we understand that the trinity is there from the beginning. Remember: Jesus shaped the world. He is the “Word,” the structuring principle according to John. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas thought the Hebrew “yom” did not refer to 24 hour segments, but I don’t think that disagreement on that point matters much. I suppose you could say I’m a “mystery” guy. The beginnings–like the nucleus–are shrouded in mystery. Asking scientific truth of an age which knew no science and didn’t not concern itself with history at all–when, how long–is questionable reading. Pope Benedict says the same thing in his writings on Genesis. This shouldn’t be a ditch to die in. Our Lord died on the cross. That is the center point of all time. That’s what’s most important. I let the word “day” mean “day,” 24 hours, if you will, but I don’t flatter myself by thinking “understand” that. I can tell you what the man-made dictionary says about a man-made word. Beyond that is shrouded in mystery.
Note also that scripture teaches us by scripture: see Ps. 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 where we’re told God’s time is not our time.
As to the earth’s age, I don’t think anybody knows that. Scientists have reputations and jobs on the line so they are going to sound like know-it-alls. Often they go way beyond their expertise. I do know that the labors of scientists provided resources for our children to be born, that helped me get over bronchitis recently, that provide me daily insulin for my diabetes. When a geologist tells me his skill and resources inform him the earth is millions of years old, I do pay attention, but I don’t think he knows for certain.
Suppose I have three items to read: one is a sonnet by Shakespeare, the other is the newspaper, the third is the opening verses of Genesis. I don’t ask the sonnet to give me historical facts. Often the sonnet is expressing a state of mind. The sonnet writer doesn’t want me to ask questions about the beloved’s height, weight and date of birth. Those are the wrong questions. I expect the newspaper to give me those, the historical facts. It usually makes errors, but that was the intent, at least. That’s the newspaper’s purpose. The man or men who penned the opening of Genesis were not trying to report the news. They couldn’t go to the spot where the action was and film it. Under the guidance of the holy spirit they were prayerfully recording what the spirit told them to record. Our reading approach in 2013, some 4000 years after Genesis was written is woefully diminished. Our approach to knowledge compels us to ask puny newspaper questions: did this event happen exactly the way I think everything happens? Well, no, it did not. Our puny minds can’t begin to comprehend what happened. I am amazed that God even entrusts us with this mystery and I know it grieves Him to see us wrangling about it.