In the Beginning, God

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Genesis 1:1
Hebrews 11:3

What was there before there was anything? How you answer that question determines your basic world view.

When you look at the unimaginable vastness of the universe, you can come to one of two conclusions. You can conclude that humans are nonentities, and that all of human life and history is just a meaningless flutter of activity on an inconsequential speck hurtling through the infinity of space.

This is the conclusion many moderns have drawn. The great American poet Robert Frost expressed it this way:

Space ails us moderns: we are sick with space.

Its contemplation makes us out as small

As a brief epidemic of microbes

That in a good glass may be seen to crawl

The patina of this the least of globes.

In other words, humans are to the world as bacteria are to a microscope slide; so tiny and insignificant as to amount to nothing.

The noted American astronomer, writer and apostle of atheism Carl Sagan followed up his enormously popular television series Cosmos with a book called Pale Blue Dot. The title was based on a picture from the book’s cover, a photograph taken by the spacecraft Voyager 1 from the edge of our solar system. It showed the sun and its orbiting planets spread out in space with the earth in the middle, a tiny blue-colored speck in the midst of countless stars. “Take a good look at this photograph,” urged Sagan, “and then see if you can still believe that the earth and its inhabitants were personally created by a God who made them to be special.” This is alleged to be the most modern and “scientific” point of view about the universe – that we are alone in the world, dwarfed to the point of nothingness by our cosmic surroundings, our lives ultimately without meaning or enduring significance. Modern materialistic thinkers plainly believe that the vast size and age of the universe contradict and discredit the Bible, and render the biblical story of creation unbelievable.

On the other hand, you could look at this spectacularly huge and beautiful universe in which we are placed and come to a very different conclusion. You could conclude that the God who made it all must be very great indeed, and the human creatures for whom he made it must be very important to him. This is the conclusion the Bible draws:

The heavens are telling the glory of God; . . . When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers . . . what are human beings that you are mindful of them, . . . you made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.

Psalm 19:1; 8:3-6, NRSV

Notice, incidentally, that from a biblical perspective a sense of awe at the overwhelming size of the universe is nothing new. People didn’t start to wrestle with issues of the significance of our small lives in such a huge world just when the first photographs started coming back from outer space. The ancients were fully aware of this. The biblical psalmist was just as impressed as Carl Sagan with how pathetically small humans beings are in contrast with the seeming infinity of space.

So when confronted with the same evidence, one can draw two very different – in fact, opposite – conclusions. The atheist looks at the universe and says that there is no God, and that human life has no ultimate meaning or purpose. Human destiny is identical in kind, if not in scale, with the destiny of a germ. We appear for a brief time, move about in the world for a while, and then disappear forever. The believer, however, looks at the universe and is filled with awe at the greatness of God, with a desire to praise him for his marvelous works, and with a sense of wonder that the God great enough to create such a world out of nothing should at the same time be loving enough to care about each person and thing within it.

I BELIEVE

The difference between those two contrary conclusions is faith. I don’t mean that the Bible’s conclusion is based on faith while the modern atheist’s conclusion is based on scientific evidence or reason. I mean that each of them is based on faith -on different kinds of faith. It is faith, and faith alone, that supplies an answer to the question, “Where did all this come from?” The materialist looks around and by faith says that everything came from nothing. It just emerged by chance from who knows where, and developed or evolved through a blind, accidental, impersonal process.

But the Christian – and, of course, many others who believe in a Creator as well – looks around and by faith says that everything came from God. “By faith we understand that the world was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear” (Hebrews 11:3). Both these views are based on faith because no one can possibly prove conclusively, with scientific certainty, where the universe came from. The answer to that question must lie outside the universe itself.

COSMOS

Let’s look a little more closely at the “faith claims” of the modern atheist. I mentioned the late Carl Sagan, an astro-physicist from Cornell University, and his very popular books and television series. His program which described what current science thinks about the origin and nature of the universe was called Cosmos, from the Greek word for the universe. To this day Cosmos remains the most watched series in the history of American public television. It has been broadcast around the world to an international audience estimated at half a billion people. The best known part of the entire series is the opening line of its first program, where Professor Sagan solemnly intones for the camera, “The cosmos is all that is, or was, or ever will be.”

My reaction upon hearing that statement for the first time was an immediate question: How does he know? Professor Sagan may have believed that the physical universe is all that has ever existed or ever will exist, but he cannot possibly have known that to be scientifically true. He can’t have learned that through research, because science is the study and exploration of nature. It can’t go beyond or behind what is already in existence. Science can tell us about the present world and its life, but nothing about where it came from, or what was before it, or what comes after it, or what may exist outside of it. The fact is, a statement such as, “the cosmos is all that is, or was, or ever will be,” isn’t a scientific statement at all. It is a religious statement, a faith claim, an opinion based upon one individual’s personal belief system. It even sounds religious. It is misleading, perhaps even a little dishonest, to imply that this opinion about the cosmos is an objective fact on the same order as the fact that the sun is 93,000,000 miles away from the earth.

When scientists tell us specific things they have learned about the world, their statements carry authority (assuming that their research is accurate and their logic isn’t faulty.) But when they make metaphysical statements based on their own personal beliefs, claims about things that can’t be measured and are outside the realm of research and experimentation, they have no more authority than anyone else. You may believe that the cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Or you may believe what the Bible says – that God is the first and last, the Living One, who is, and who was and who is to come (Revelation 1:8,17-18.) Either way, your belief is ultimately a matter of faith, not science.

There is no escaping the necessity of faith. You have no choice but to live your life on the basis of one of those two alternatives. Either you must live as if there is no God, and this world is all there is, and this life is all you have. Or you must believe in the God who made us to know, love and serve him. And if you believe that, you must then live as if God is the most important thing in the universe!

GOD THE CREATOR

Christians readily acknowledge that our world view is based on faith. Everyone’s is. We say with the biblical writer, “By faith we understand that the world was created by the Word of God.” The Bible does not explain God, or try to convince us of God’s existence and reality; it simply starts with God. “In the beginning, God. . . .” God is the Absolute, the Almighty, the Infinite, the Eternal One. There is nothing else above God, or behind God, or before God, or after God. As one great Christian thinker said, “God is not a particular instance of any special class of things; he’s simply God.”

So we start where the Bible does, with God. We believe in God, and we believe in God’s creation. God is the reason that everything exists, including us. The Bible emphasizes that God created the world and everything in it as an expression of his own will. “The Lord Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand’” (Isaiah 14:24). “You alone are Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you” (Nehemiah 9:6). “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 4:11).

From these and other scriptural passages we can draw some conclusions about God, and the universe, and ourselves.

First, God is independent. He’s not a part of the creation, nor is the creation a part of him. Creation was out of nothing, ex nihilo, as the theologians say. God did not take pre-existing matter and shape the world from it. He created matter, space, energy, even time – all from nothing. God did not create the world “out of himself,” so to speak. The universe is not divine. It doesn’t share God’s nature. It is distinct from God, and so are we. There is only one Creator; everything else is a creature.

Second, God is free. He did not create the world because he needed to, but because he wanted to. The Bible tells us that creation was according to the plan and purpose of God, and by his will. It resulted from God’s unprompted decision. It wasn’t because God lacked anything, or because he was lonely, or because he needed something to do, or because he required an outside stimulus, that he made the universe. No. He did it because he chose to.

Finally, the Bible shows us that God is worthy, worthy of the total worship of the entire creation. Because he chose to make us for our sake and not for his own, we owe him everything, and nothing in the world is more important than acknowledging our Creator and giving him the worship and obedience and love that are his due.

IT’S UP TO YOU

So there they are: two different world views, two sets of faith claims, two understandings of who we are and where we came from. And you must choose between them. In fact, you have to bet your life on one faith or the other. Some people prefer to describe themselves as agnostics. They’d like to sit on the fence. They neither believe nor disbelieve in God, they say; they just don’t know. On some things that approach is possible, but not on this one. No one can really be agnostic on the question of whether God exists. “Everyone, every day has to act as if there is a God or as if there is not. If he offers no prayer and gives no thanks, if he goes about his business without taking God into account, then that person is living the life of an atheist, whether he intends to do it or not” (Albertus Pieters, The Facts and Mysteries of the Christian Faith, p. 20.)

It’s up to you. You have to choose. Atheist or believer: which is it for you?