Saturday, February 25, 2017

Knowing the Answers Before Asking the Questions

  • In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.     -- Genesis 1: 1-2
Notice something here. It is at this point, after the creation of the heavens and the Earth that God begins the creation of life on the Earth. Day and night is a phenomenon of planetary rotation. You need a planet first before there can be day or night. Earth, it seems from the text, was already here when God lit up the solar system At this time the Earth was formless and empty, but it was here. 
We know that other texts of Scripture suggest that heaven, angels and the universe existed before the first day of creation. It makes sense that the creation story begins with the sun being fired up and the planets rotated. Planetary rotation and a sizable moon were essential for the maintenance of future life upon this particular planet.

The Creation story tells us that God created the atmosphere on the second day and divided the waters below from the waters above
. Not sure what the waters above were, but perhaps there was some sort of protective cloud cover over the Earth in preparation for the creation of the sea and plant life on the third day. On the fourth day the sun, moon and stars appear in the heavens. Whatever waters were above the earth were apparently pulled back or significantly reduced on the fourth day. Whether the stars and planets were revealed when the "waters above" were pulled back or actually created all at once is a little ambiguous to me. God might already have done the planets on the first day or even prior to the first day without conflicting with the meaning of this text given how it reads. The creation of the sun and moon on the fourth day kind of conflicts anyway with the logical progression of events from the first day where both light and the day/night cycle were created to the fourth day. Without a sun, there's no day and night cycle and more importantly, no heat. A water-veiled sky solves that problem by blocking vision of the sky from the Earth and holding in heat during the third day while God covers Earth with plant life. If the skies were revealed as the waters above were pulled back on the fourth day, then it fits the rest of the narrative without entirely violating the text. It's a possibility at any rate. 

At the beginning of day five, all else that was needed was for God to create life from the materials he had placed upon the Earth. He'd already raised continents, filled the seas, and planted the earth. On day five and six he scattered animal life across the planet. What God has revealed to us through Scripture is a relatively scant chronology of the process. What we have learned through science informs us of a tiny fraction more about our world that suggest the sequence is plausible.  The apostle Paul says, "Now we see through a glass darkly. That applies not only to our religion, but also to our science. As limited as our science is, we don't always get things right. Scientists' guesses are often mistaken because their initial assumptions are so often flawed. Phlogiston, the ether and spontaneous generation were all cutting edge theories once.

The point is that the Creation story is plausible and can be seen as such based on what we know and are learning from science. Unless we try to press more onto the text as it is in Genesis 1 than it tells us, science can reveal much about our Creator. He is seen in His creation. We need to be careful, though, when we try to extrapolate a lot of hard and fast details from the Scriptures than are actually there in the text. Those who demand that their ideas must be so or else God is not real, set themselves and others up to be in opposition to even their fellow Christians. God will not be changed to suit your idea of Him. It's supposed to be the other way around anyway. Getting to know God is supposed to change you - for the better. If that's not happening, you should probably work on that whole relationship thing with God.

God left out a lot of details about the big issues in the universe, painting us only a broad picture. We know that He is the one responsible for creating all there is in the universe. He does not tell us whether angels used swords or bazookas during the war in heaven, only that there was such a conflict. He gives us exciting little hints about what heaven is like, but Scripture includes no day-in-eternal-life detailed narrative.  We have enough to understand who our Father is and what waits ahead for us, but as one church founder put it, "God always leaves us hooks upon which to hang our doubts." Why? Because Earth is a laboratory where Children of God are made and shaped for eternity. God wants us to do right BECAUSE it is right, and not in order to win some reward. Those are the only kinds of folk who will want to live forever anyway. The rest will not know God nor will He know them.

Sometimes, science gives us tantalizing hints that reveal the work of the Almighty in his creation. We have recently learned, for instance that, rather than the expansion of the universe slowing down as expected in the original Big Bang Theory, the expansion is, in fact, speeding up. And the really exciting thing they discovered is that the speed of expansion is not so slow that it will allow the planets and starts to fall back in upon themselves and not so fast that it tears the delicately balanced star systems apart. Instead it is expanding at a speed which, like Baby Bear's porridge, is "just right".  Kind of like somebody is carefully pushing the stars and planets and galaxies apart at a rate that takes into account the design specifications of the Universe. That universe is so custom-tailored for life as we know it here on Earth that noted physicist, Freeman Dyson once remarked that it "looks like the universe knew we were coming." Christians need not wonder who is responsible for that.

Einstein, offers another glimpse into something that Scripture calls the "beginning" and "end" of time. According to the theory of relativity, the march of time is very much tied to the speed at which an object is moving in space relative to other objects. For different objects in the cosmos, time moves at a different rate. Time, says Albert, moves differently for any two objects moving at different speeds relative to each other. Thus, those of us who are taken off the Earth at the Second Coming, say, would see Earth time ending for us and we will experience time differently from there on. Were we gone 10 years traveling at hyperlight speeds to reach Heaven proper, we could very well return a thousand years later (Earth time) to rebuild and repopulate a New Earth after a only a relatively short sojourn in Heaven.  Time with relation to Earth effectively would end for us as soon as we left, because we would be disconnected from the planet's time stream. 

Science is providing all sorts of hints about our very interesting planet and the universe through which it travels. Some of the theories that scientists and religionists put out there are more the product of wishful thinking than of cool-headed logic, but that's to be expected, especially if a scientist approaches his research with the preconceived notion that God cannot possibly exist. Preconceptions can also be tricky among Christians, especially when we approach our study of Scripture with preconceptions that may not be correct. Some very respected theologians get much about God's character wrong because they go into their study convinced that an ever-burning Hell is real, the soul is immortal and that Sunday worship is authorized by Christ. It's to be expected, if a theologian presupposes that God is an angry deity who gets off on torturing naughty human beings, that he or she might stumble over many parts of Scripture.

I think our only safe assumptions as Christians are (1) that God is love and (2) that He loves us like a parent loves a child and wants the best for us. From there we are speculating about who God is, based on the evidence that comes to hand. We are not a terribly objective bunch of creatures, but then without some talent for subjectivity, we could never learn to ride a bike or throw a ball. We walk a delicate balance between logic and emotion, both of which faculties can be trained, but neither of which can be relied upon in isolation from one another.

The great danger and the one that I think Satan is using to divide and conquer the church, is the tendency we have to engage in attacking others who do not share our exact interpretations of the Bible. And when I say "church" I mean both the Adventist denomination and the Church universal which includes all Christians who sincerely seek to know Christ and to follow him to the best of their ability. As Adventists we have always been students of Scripture. As such we all do not agree on everything all the time. We've had multiple Bible conferences where SDA theologians have investigated the issue of women's ordination, but as evidenced by the recent row over women's ordination, we still do not all agree and the disagreement threatens to fracture the church in some parts of the world and among some groups of Adventists.  What I speculated about Creation above is an example. This is what makes sense to me, but some people would have me excommunicated, exorcised and cast into outer darkness for even suggesting such things. Because they hold fast to a more mystical view of Creation that takes no "false" science into account, anything less than God waving his magic wand and things popping into existence is heresy. I'm not even talking time frame here, just simply how Creation might have worked out given what we know about planetary science, biology and even grammar and word meaning within the text.

All I'm saying here is that we stand upon the shores of a mighty universe with mysteries abounding that we will not solve in a hundred million years. It's impossibly arrogant to think that our best guesses are exactly accurate. I think one day we will know how things happen in the universe, or at least we'll be able to find out when we want to. And I'm looking forward to finding out. Won't it be fun to have that kind of time to investigate the mysteries of creation? 

One additional blessing we'll have in eternity is that we won't have to worry about people who think they already know the answers before they ask the questions; demanding that you defer to their opinion.

© 2017 by Tom King

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