A Faith for the Times

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Psalm 19:1-4

Objection: Modern people cannot accept Christianity because science contradicts it. Only naive or uneducated people can believe in God in this day and age.

One of the most powerful objections to Christianity for educated people in our time is the criticism that the Christian belief in God is an outmoded superstition. People in earlier ages may have believed in God, but they did not really understand the universe. Their world was a dark and mysterious place filled with things they could only explain as the work of gods and spirits, but since the dawn of the modern age the steady advances of science and reason have drawn aside the veil that covered nature, so that now we know how the world really works. We no longer need the hypothesis of a God who created the world and the human race. In fact, modern people can no more believe in God than they can believe that the earth is flat, or that the sun, moon, and stars are lights on a dome that revolves around our world. For those who live at the end of the twentieth century, believing in God is irrational and unscientific.

That is how much contemporary thinking goes, especially in our universities and among society’s elite. People who do believe in God often feel as though they have to keep it a secret. Religious faith is something that may be indulged in private, but it is no longer acceptable as a part of public life.

Must we be ashamed of our faith in God? Do we have to apologize for believing that there is a Creator? Or if we do take a stand for faith, are we forced to reject science and higher education and retreat into ignorance? The answer to all these questions is a resounding No. The truth is that science – good science – is not opposed to the Bible. Nor are faith and reason incompatible. In fact, I would say that the more one knows about the universe and the more clearly one thinks about the big questions, the more sense it makes to believe in God.

An Accidental Universe?

One of Words of Hope’s broadcast partners recently received a letter from a young person in China who said this:

I have three classmates; one is studying medicine and has many doubts and cannot believe in a God that is invisible. Another one is interested in any and all religions, adopting the attitude that you have to believe in something but you can’t believe totally. The third one feels it is impossible for God to exist. He’s an atheist. Would you please tell me how to make them know the true God?

There are millions of people like these three young Chinese students in our world. How is it possible for them – or for you – to know the true God?

The Bible’s nineteenth psalm suggests one answer. It opens by asserting that the universe itself points to its Creator. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” says the psalmist. “The skies proclaim the work of his hands” (v. 1). In the psalmist’s world, most people worshiped the sun, moon, and stars, thinking that these heavenly bodies were powerful deities who ruled the world. They also believed strongly in astrology, the idea that the stars controlled human destiny by their movements. The Bible, however, states that the heavenly bodies are not alive, but are themselves part of creation. The only power the heavens possess is the powerful witness of their beauty, order, and splendor to the existence of an all-powerful Creator.

If the ancients approached the universe with a mixture of fear and worship, moderns are tempted to explain it away as an accident. The modern unbeliever thinks that the whole cosmos is the result only of physical causes. The modern world view is both naturalistic (nothing exists outside the physical world of nature), and materialistic (only matter is real and only material causes that can be seen and measured are allowed to explain what happens in the universe). But there is nothing especially rational or scientific about this world view. Naturalism and materialism are systems of faith, which are believed on that basis and not because science has proved them to be true.

What the Heavens Are Telling

The Bible suggests that if we look at it objectively the universe will send us a different message. It will speak to us of the God who is there, who created all things, a God of infinite power and intelligence and glory.

When you consider the universe, two things about it especially stand out. One is its greatness. Just looking up into the starry sky on a clear night is enough for the sheer vastness of the heavens to dazzle us as much as it did the psalmist. But the more we learn about it, the more incredible the universe becomes. Science has neither solved its mysteries nor reduced it to understanding. If anything, our greatly increased knowledge has only heightened the wonder of the cosmos. Astronomers measure the distances of space in light years, the distance that light travels in a year at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. Our solar system is part of a galaxy, the Milky Way, that is 100,000 light years in diameter.

In recent years American scientists have built and placed into orbit around the earth the Hubble space telescope, which enables us to see farther and more clearly than ever before. It can see across one million other galaxies almost to the edge of the universe itself. Incredible! And the best minds in the world say that it appears that the whole universe began at a single, definite point in time and space. How did that happen? What single cause could be enough to produce this unimaginably great universe? Where did it all come from?

Did everything come from nothing, without any cause whatsoever? Or did an almighty God create it all? “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens,” says the Bible.

Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

(Isaiah 40:26)

I do not care if you are as smart as Einstein, this explanation still makes more sense today than any other. In fact, it makes more sense if you are Einstein because he, along with many other of history’s greatest minds, believed in a Creator.

The other thing that stands out about the universe, according to the Bible, is its design. “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” To an unbiased observer, it certainly appears as if there is a sense of order and planning to the universe, that it is in fact the handiwork of a master Designer. Even agnostic scientists admit that life is a very unlikely event. The conditions that allow life to exist are so precisely balanced, so exactly right, that the slightest change in any one of a hundred variables would have made life impossible. It certainly appears as though the world has been very carefully prepared so that we could live in it.

Think about our own nature. Humans, with our incredibly complex bodies, with minds that enable us to think and reason, to explore our world, to learn truth, to appreciate beauty, to do good or evil (and to know the difference between the two) – just where did we come from? The simplest building block of life is a protein molecule, and yet a single protein molecule contains over 2,000 different atoms, all of which must be arranged in precisely the right order. How did this come into being? To say that it is the result of a chance process is like saying that someone could randomly strike the keys of a typewriter and after a billion or two years end up with the works of Shakespeare.

The Bible teaches that when we look at the world around us and see what appear to be evidences of design, it is because there was a Designer. When I was a schoolboy, our class once visited a large automobile factory. At one end of the plant we saw the raw materials being brought in: steel and glass and plastic and rubber. At the other end, after a long trip down the assembly line, brand new gleaming automobiles were rolling off. You could say a lot of things about that factory assembly line. You could say it was complex, expensive, impressive. The one thing you could not say is that it was accidental. It was not a random process that was turning those raw materials into finished cars.

Complex things do not get built unless someone designs them carefully. So how is it that some can imagine that human beings, infinitely more complex than any machine, could have come about without any plan at all? Which is more reasonable: to believe the whole universe, including ourselves, is the result of a mindless, purposeless process, or to see it the way the psalmist did, as the handiwork of God?

Wordless Speech

If both the greatness and the design of the cosmos point to the existence of the Creator, they do so in a way that is universal. These are signs that can be seen and understood by everyone. Creation reveals God generally to all people because it communicates without using words. As the psalmist says, “There is no speech, nor are there words… yet their voice goes out through all the earth” (vv. 3-4). Everyone can understand what the universe is trying to teach us about God. Anyone can gaze into the infinite depths of space and read what is written about God there in the heavens. So the truth about him is visible to all, thus making each person responsible for whether he or she accepts or rejects God.

No one can claim that he did not have enough information to make up his mind. No one will be able to say she lacked enough evidence to decide for or against God. The Bible says that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that [all] are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

What this means for you is that you have to think through these basic questions for yourself. Do I really believe that everything in the world came from nothing? Does it seem likely that life was just spontaneously generated by dead chemicals and minerals, even though nothing like that ever happens in the observable world? Do I really imagine that I myself – my body and mind and soul – have been produced by chance and that my life therefore is essentially meaningless? Is it reasonable to conclude that even though the odds against an accidental universe are infinite, nevertheless that is what it is? Or will I accept the wordless witness of creation to the reality, the power, and the glory of God?

But now I must tell you that just believing in a Creator is not enough. Being convinced that there is a God will not really matter to you unless you come to know him. You may see his infinite power and wisdom written in the heavens, but you can only find out about his heart from the book that he has written. James Packer has observed that the central message of the Bible is that the Creator is the Redeemer. God became that when he entered his own creation as a creature, Jesus Christ, and died and rose again to save us. The universe is a vast place and it can make us feel pretty insignificant. But behind it all is a God who is greater still, and because I know Jesus Christ, I know that the God who calls the stars by name knows my name too, and cares about me. That gives me hope. It can do the same for you.