Thinking Christian

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Creation: The Glory!

Posted on Jan 19, 2012 by Tom Gilson

From the series, Ten Turning Points That Make All the Difference

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” says Psalm 19:1, “and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” I’m not sure my son at 20 years of age has ever really seen the night sky at its best, in good conditions and far from city lights. His younger sister probably has, from a mountain conference center in Pennsylvania. One of my best experiences with the night sky was in 1977, while working at the Interlochen Music Camp in northwest lower Michigan. My friend Steve and I spent many nights watching meteors and learning constellations together.

Once our family was given a night’s stay at a cabin in the Colorado mountains, 10,000 feet above sea level and far from any lights. More than anything else there I was looking forward to seeing the stars. I was so disappointed: it rained all night long.

I had had other mountain experiences: my wife and I lived in the California mountains at about 6,800 feet of elevation (Big Bear City) for 2 ½ years some time ago. The sky there was fantastic. The hills and trees and lakes were glorious. That night in Colorado was amazing even without the night sky to behold. Even a single pine tree is a thing of beauty. If you ever make it to Big Bear Valley, by the way, you must smell the Jeffrey Pines there. That’s right, smell them: it’s delicious! In the spring when the sap is running, the whole valley smells of vanilla. Other times of the year you have to get your nose right up to the bark like tree-hugger. It smells like vanilla ice cream, or (some people say) like a cream soda.

God’s Best Work: The Only Work He Does

SombreroGalaxy.jpg When God created all this, he was showing off.

Well, not quite. In human terms it might make sense to view it that way, as if God had put forward his best for all to enjoy. But that’s not how it was for God: he was just being himself. God’s best reflects who he is at all times an in all ways. It’s his nature to create gloriously, and he has no second best (Deut. 16:8.27, 32:4, Psalm 145:7-17, Psalm 150:1-2, Daniel 4:37, 9:14). (Creation is no longer perfect, but that’s something for us to discuss when we reach the third Turning Point in this series.)

Wasted Space? The Skeptic’s Question
We don’t know whether anyone is enjoying the view from some other planet. For all we know, we might be the only observers. Whether we are or not, the vastness of it all has led some skeptics to ask, why would God waste so much space on so few living creatures? Is this really a mark of intelligent design? It might surprise you to hear that I like that question, but I do: I enjoy answering it.

One of the better-articulated versions of that question goes like this:

Doesn’t the way that 99.99999999% of the universe is absolutely inhospitable to any kind of life show you that it wasn’t made for anybody? It is easy to imagine how a universe could have been more intelligently designed, with less wasted space and energy and more hospitality for life.

Let me first of all provide two answers that I consider thoroughly adequate even though miserably flawed. You’ll understand what I mean by that in a moment.

Science and Accounting
First, the “scientific” viewpoint of all this emptiness, when taken in full perspective, makes no strong statement against design. Quite the contrary, actually. I could mention the universe’s fine-tuning for life, for one thing. For another, we know now that a large universe is necessary for life, at least according to physics as we understand it. Guillermo Gonzalez enunciated the principle of the galactic habitable zone, whose implications include the principle that a certain amount of empty space, but not too much, is essential for life to thrive. (That’s admittedly an oversimplification which I make for the sake of space here on the blog, but not, I take it, a distortion.) So it is premature at best to suppose that large amounts of space “inhospitable to any kind of life” really mean that “it wasn’t made for anybody.”

Second, that idea is not just premature; it’s also incredibly short-sighted with respect to who Christians understand God to be. Is God concerned about the waste of energy and space? Why would he be? Is there some bean-counter following him around to make sure he has cash and inventory left at the end of the quarter? He created it all “with his outstretched arm” (Jer. 32:17)—not “arms,” but “arm.” Pardon my taking the figure of speech too literally, but language of this sort, sprinkled throughout the Scriptures, reminds me of the saying, “he did it with one arm tied behind his back.” Creating the universe did not tax God’s resources. Inefficiency is a vice only where resources are limited; God is unlimited.

So there is a scientific response to this skeptical challenge, and another answer we might call the accounting response. I think they’re both valid, but to be honest, I don’t think much of either of them. The problem is that they take the skeptic’s question far too seriously. They’re reasonably good answers to an unreasonably bad question.

SpiralGalaxy.jpg

Glory and Love
What’s wrong with the question? The skeptic says most of the cosmos is “wasted space.” Really? What a sad, dry, cold and mechanical way of thinking about the universe! Space isn’t empty, not anywhere. It’s filled full and running over with beauty. Everywhere the eye looks there is glory! So what if no one can live there? We can observe it. We can delight in it. We can wonder over it, in profound awe. We can study it and learn from it. We can consider our place in its vastness.

Of course as we consider our place we might ask, so what if we can do that? We’re as nothing by comparison to it all. A few billion souls on one planet circling one star among quadrillions—is our appreciation of the cosmos enough to justify its existence?

Maybe. We know that God, the God of love, loves to give lavishly. He has made beauty for us to delight in on every scale, from the microscopic to the cosmological. What prevents him from giving us the galaxies to enjoy?

Or maybe not. What does it matter? God could have created it just for his own pleasure and glory. The universe would glorify and give God joy if he were the only witness—and that would be more than enough reason for its existence. Most humans in history have never imagined the vastness and beauty that we’re privileged to see with today’s telescopes, but God has known it from the beginning. The angels have seen it, too: they were the “morning stars” who sang of the physical creation’s birth in Job 38:7.

God decides sovereignly, he creates freely, and he does all according to his overwhelming glory. Even if it were for God and God alone, it would not be wasted space. That he shares it with us is a sign of how much he loves us, the people he has created in his image—which will be the next topic in this series.

16 Responses to “ Creation: The Glory! ”

  1. Bill S. says:

    And let’s not rule out the possibility that there is other life in the universe. Maybe some of this life is intelligent. Maybe there are millions of other worlds out there into which Jesus incarnated and died and resurrected. Maybe in some of these worlds God established very different sets of commandments, so that it is wrong on some planets not to sleep with your neighbor’s wife. Maybe there is a world in which it is alright to kill your children. The universe is vast and God’s ways are mysterious. It’s worth pondering as you stare up into the heavens.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    God’s ways are not, however, inconsistent.

  3. Bill S. says:

    There’s no inconsistency in prohibiting adultery on earth but commanding it to be performed on other planets. On another planet Jesus may have had to die for those sinners who refused to sleep with their neighbor’s wives.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    Bill S., over on Evangel this evening your comments have been intentionally inflammatory and rife with distortions. Please read the discussion policy above the combox here, and consider yourself on notice. I usually don’t jump to delivering warnings this quickly, but your comments over there give me ample reason.

  5. BillT says:

    The OP reminds me of the counter to the objection of life in an unimaginably vast universe being isolated on such a small and singular planet such as earth. The idea that the universe is so vast and thus there must be other habitable worlds is, as I have seen explained, not valid. In fact, the universe is just as large as it needs to be in order for it to be the engine that could create planets and stars and solar systems and galaxies. Without the vastness of the universe, the cosmology that is necessary to create even one habitable world would be impossible. Without the vastness of the universe stars couldn’t be created or exist or could the processes that created the galaxies or the solar systems within them and the planets that surround them. This whole system is just as it needs to be to create the conditions we so well enjoy. Now what could be responsible for that?

  6. Victoria says:

    Re BillS (#1)
    Huh?!???
    With what relevant Biblical concepts do you justify that kind of position?

    Perhaps you should read Psalm 119 before you put out such un-Biblical nonsense.

    God’s commandments, precepts and laws are a reflection of His character – He is the very definition of moral absolutes. Adultery, for example, is a betrayal of an exclusive relationship (which is why the Bible compares idolatry to it – read Ezekiel); God would never do that – He is always faithful.

    In any case, you are building an argument with unverified speculation, and it’s a foolish distraction from Tom’s intentions for the original post.

  7. SteveK says:

    With a vivid imagination, anything about God is possible.

  8. Bill S. says:

    Provocative perhaps, but not inflammatory–at least not intentionally. Rife with distortion? You cannot point to a single distortion. I stand by every sentence I wrote (though I see that several commentators are clearly misreading me).

    As for the topic here, why rule out the possibility of life elsewhere? C.S. Lewis welcomed the possibility. And there is clearly no inconsistency with God requiring adultery on other planets. I imagine some ancient Hebrew aghast at the thought that God might allow future generations to eat shellfish: “God’s commandments flow directly from God’s eternally unchanged character! They are for all time and all places!”

  9. Lost Blogger says:

    Of all the things in creation, space is where I feel God gets an astonishing ammount of glory. I heard the other day a way to grasp the size of our galaxy. Take the earth and put it in a coffee cup, thats the size of our planet compared to the milky way (the actual size of the earth). We live in a coffee cup, in a galaxy so big we cannot comprehend AND we are one galaxy among millions, or billions!

    I saw a video Louie Giglio did on this topic a couple years ago I think. – Lost Blogger

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    Bill S.: Goodbye.

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    Hey, Lost Blogger–thanks for your comments! There’s no need to link to your blog twice, though. It’s there behind your signature already.

  12. JAD says:

    In his 1985 Gifford Lecture, which are lectures on natural theology, Carl Sagan had some interesting things to say about science, the universe and religious experience.

    According to Sagan,

    ‘The word ‘religion’ come from the Latin for ‘binding together,’ to connect that which has been sundered apart… And in this sense of seeking the deepest interrelations among things that appear to be sundered to be sundered, the objectives of science and religion, I believe, are identical or very nearly so…

    By far the best way I know to engage, the religious sensibility, the sense of awe, is to look up on a clear night. I believe that it is very difficult to know who we are until we understand where and when we are. I think everyone in every culture has felt a sense of awe and wonder looking at the sky. This is reflected throughout the world in both science and religion. Thomas Carlyle said that wonder is the basis of worship. And Albert Einstein said, ‘I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive in scientific research.'”

    Sagan then shows, and comments upon, several pictures of astronomical objects that invoke in him a sense of awe and wonder. As an amateur astronomer many of them are very familiar to me. Indeed, I personally share Sagan’s experience of awe and wonder.

    However, Sagan then ends his lecture in an odd way. After showing us what an awesome and wonderful world we live in he writes:

    “as Ann Druyan has pointed out an immortal Creator is a cruel god, because He, never having to face the fear of death, creates innumerable creatures who do. Why should he do that? If He’s omniscient, He could be kinder and create immortals, secure from the danger of death. He sets about creating a universe in which many parts of it and perhaps the universe as a whole, dies… There is a clear imperative in Western religion that humans must remain small and mortal creatures. Why?”

    To me this seems to be totally contradictory. As long as the God of traditional religion doesn’t exist the universe is a place of awe and wonder. But then He show up and suddenly those wonderful thoughts and feelings disappear. The cup suddenly goes from more than half full to more than half empty. My question also is why? Why would it, and does it, make any difference?

  13. G. Rodrigues says:

    @JAD:

    And to add to your questions, I am really bamboozled when atheists talk about a “feeling of gratitude” when surveying their own existence in the background of our vast cosmos. Gratitude? Grateful to whom? Grateful to what?

  14. BillT says:

    “as Ann Druyan has pointed out an immortal Creator is a cruel god, because He, never having to face the fear of death, creates innumerable creatures who do. Why should he do that? If He’s omniscient, He could be kinder and create immortals, secure from the danger of death. He sets about creating a universe in which many parts of it and perhaps the universe as a whole, dies… There is a clear imperative in Western religion that humans must remain small and mortal creatures. Why?”

    Poor Ann. She has it all backwards. First, he did face death and not just an ordinary death but a death so significant, so painful, so weighty that it stood as propitiation for the sins of the world. He was kinder (and more) and did create immortals secure from the danger of death as we actually are all immortal. He did not create a universe that dies but one in which we will live with Him through all eternity. And the true imperative in Western religion is that humans are God’s greatest and most cherished creation and that he will glorify them and live together with them in paradise. Other than that though, Ann is spot on.

  15. Victoria says:

    Just to jump ahead in Tom’s sequence a bit…
    Think of the words to “How Great Thou Art” (see here http://www.greatchristianhymns.com/how-great-thou-art.html).
    Stanza 1 and 2 reflect the wonder of creation…stanzas 3 and 4 reflect the wonder of redemption.

    When contemplating creation and our place in it and in relation to the sovereign Lord of creation, we should include Psalm 8 and Psalm 139 as well – this Almighty God cares especially for us and calls us into an intimate relationship with Him, did all the heavy lifting in Christ Jesus to make that possible (Romans 5:1-21). This relationship is so intimate for Christians that we can call Him ‘Abba’ (literally Daddy). Who wouldn’t want that?
    Atheists just don’t get it

  16. Tom Gilson says:

    Irrelevant comment removed by siteowner, per discussion policy

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