READ : Genesis 1:1
A lot of people today approach their religious faith the way an adventurous cook operates in the kitchen – with a strong desire to experiment and come up with a unique personal recipe. But Christians are not free to make up their own beliefs. We have a creed. We confess a faith that is held in common by all true Christians of all times and places. David Bast explores this common faith in a series of programs based on the Apostles’ Creed entitled “What We Believe.”
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. That’s the conclusion many secular people have drawn. The American astronomer 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 – that we are alone in the universe, dwarfed to the point of nothingness by our cosmic surroundings, our lives ultimately without meaning or enduring significance.
On the other hand, you could look at this spectacularly huge and beautiful universe in which we are placed, at the immense variety and grandeur of the world we inhabit 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 all 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 the 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 contrast. The biblical psalmist was just as impressed as the modern scientist with how pitifully small humans beings are in contrast with the seeming infinity of the starry heavens.
So when confronted with the very same evidence, one can draw two very different – in fact, opposite – conclusions. The atheist looks at the universe and says there is no God, and that human life has no 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, and 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.
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 and reason. I mean that each of them is based on faith – on faith in different things. It is faith, and faith alone, that can supply an answer to the question, “Where did all this come from? And where did I 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 also believe in a Creator – 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,” says the letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:3). Both of these views are based on faith because no one can possibly prove, with scientific certainty, where the universe came from. The answer to that question must lie outside the universe itself.
I mentioned the late Carl Sagan and his very popular television series, Cosmos. 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 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 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 some things about the world, 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 this, “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.
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.
So, you see, 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 him and to love him and to serve him. And if you believe that, then you must live as if God is the most important thing in the universe because if he is real, he is!
God the Creator
So as Christians we readily acknowledge that our world view is based on faith. But we also add that everyone’s world view is based on faith. We confess in our creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” We say with the biblical writer, “By faith we understand that the world was created by the Word of God.” “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). 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. So we start where the Bible does, with God. We believe in God the Creator. From scripture we draw some conclusions about God, and the universe, and ourselves on the basis of this faith.
First, we believe that God is independent. He’s not part of the creation, nor is the creation a part of him. He created matter, space, energy, even time – all from nothing. The universe is not divine. It is distinct and separate from God, and so are we. There is only one Creator; everything and everyone else is a creature. We believe, secondly, that God is free. He didn’t create the world because he needed to, but because he wanted to. It wasn’t because God lacked anything, or because he was lonely, or because he needed something to do so he made the universe. No, he created because he chose to do so out of the outflowing of his goodness and love. Finally, we believe that, as the Creator, God is worthy of the total worship of the entire creation. All things and all people ought to acknowledge him, the Lord and Maker of heaven and earth. Because he chose to make us for our sake and not for his own, we owe him everything. Nothing in the world is more important than acknowledging our Creator and giving him the worship and the obedience and the glory that are his due.
It’s up to You
So there they are: two very different world views, two sets of faith claims about who we are and where we came from. And you have to choose between them. In fact, you have to bet your life on one view or the other. There are many people who prefer to describe themselves as agnostics. They like to sit on the fence. They neither believe nor disbelieve in God, they say; they just don’t know. There’s not enough evidence.
But no one can really be agnostic on the question of whether God exists. Listen to this wonderful statement by a theologian of a couple generations ago, Albertus Pieters, “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.)
So it’s up to you. You have to choose. You can believe in nothing or you can believe in God the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth. Which will it be?