Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Earth was Formless

Continuing with my study of Genesis today I'm looking at the second verse in the bible. "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." Again, while I don't think that the creation passages are meant to give us a mechanical understanding of the universe, I can't help but find it interesting that our current view of the origins of the universe begins with a similar description: formless, empty, dark. I read a recent article that said "the very early universe was full of atomic hydrogen, a period called the "dark ages" because it was completely opaque, Schawinski said. Some mysterious event "re-ionized," or turned the hydrogen into charged particles called ions, such that light could travel freely." In other words, in the beginning it was dark. Even though we can't conceive of a "big bang" without light, that's actually what happened. There was no light. Check out step 5 of our current big bang theory.

The rest of the creation account is about God changing this state. We move from formless to form, from empty to full, from darkness to light. God brings form and order by separating things. He fills the empty sky with the sun, moon and stars and the earth with countless creatures. He gives the command to multiply and fill the earth. These are themes that will continue throughout scripture and they inform us of who God is. God is one who brings order to chaos, and one who values life and wants life abundantly. God's blessings, as His creation, overflows, nothing is to be left empty or void. 

It's also interesting that creation begins with God's spirit hovering over waters. There are countless creation stories from across the globe that talk about the beginning being from waters. The waters represent the chaos of the beginning that God brought order to. It may refer to the chaotic swirling universe or literal water or both at the same time. How else would you describe galaxies in simplistic terms, without going into mechanical detail? Swirling dark waters sounds about right to me.

Regardless of the mechanics, what's important is that God brings order to chaos. A look at the universe confirms the miracle that the universe exists at all, that antimatter lost out to matter, and even more so that life exists on earth. In a universe that is constantly losing energy and moving toward chaos, we find the earth a moment of extreme order and life. Later this imagery of water is used in the flood when God reverses creation and wipes the earth clean. It's used to represent death, for example Jonah goes down into the waters, down into Sheol. It is death, but also the path to purification (think Red Sea, baptism). 

A lot is setup in these few verses! God likes patterns and He is a master author. One of the reason I'm convinced Scripture is more than just the work of people is the depth and connectional nature of these themes. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In the Beginning

Since I stopped teaching bible classes I have sorely been missing my time in the Bible so in an effort to reconnect  I will be recording some of my thoughts as I read through the Bible. So I'm starting with the beginning of the Bible in Genesis which begins "In the beginning God" and I have to stop there because so much is embedded in those few words. There is divine revelation here about the nature of our universe and the nature of God. I usually tell people not to look at the bible for a scientific understanding of the world or of humans but rather for revelation about who we are, who God is, and our relationships with each other and God. In other words, you don't go to the bible to understand the circulatory system, but you do go to learn how the human heart works. Here we have one of those places where it seems like the bible is giving us a scientific perspective on the world, but I think it would be more accurate to say that the questions being answered here are not mechanical, but philosophical. "In the beginning" isn't meant to explain the quantum mechanics of how matter beat out antimatter, but rather to give us an understanding that the universe has a beginning and a unique personal creator. We see here that the universe has a beginning, it is not eternal. Again, while this jives with our current scientific understanding and it's tempting to say "See! The Bible is telling the truth about the big bang! We have a beginning",  the more important point is to recognize that the universe is created. The universe, despite all its majesty and wonder, is a temporary, contingent construction. It is not, as other philosophies maintain, eternal in and of itself. There was no pre-existing material that God molded or had to conquer to create order. There was no beast or competing god of disorder that God had to overcome to create. God created from nothing, ex nihilo.  Thus, God has complete knowledge, power, and control over all of creation. There is no irrational preexisting element that God has no control over. Creation, as the following verses will emphasize, is completely owned by God. Another great consequence of these few words is that we note that God is completely different, wholly other, than creation. While creation has a beginning, God does not. While the universe is contingent upon God for its creation, God is wholly independent and self sufficient. God voluntarily creates the universe and there is nothing in creation that God relies on or needs. God exists outside of time. Everything that has ever been created has a beginning, but God is not part of creation. This is a huge hurtle for materialist to get over. For the materialist all that exists is the created universe, so all knowledge has to come alone from the world around us (science). There is therefore no ability to conceive of a being that exists outside of creation, outside of time, and has attributes and characteristics that we only begin to glimpse because God condescends and shows God's nature to us. "In the beginning" shows us that God is no ordinary being. God is separate and distinct from creation. Along these lines its clear that there is a huge philosophical difference between looking at the world as the creation of a personal God or the result of impersonal forces. The first is foundational  for a Christian worldview and the second is foundational for naturalism and nihilism. In my view, you have to have the first if you want any sort of purpose that means anything and any solid foundation for morality.

This just scratches the surface but these are the kind of thoughts we should pursue when reading "In the beginning". What does the mean for the nature of reality? What does it mean for the nature of God? How does this inform who I am and what I'm doing here? Honestly these questions mean a great deal more to me than a guess at the age of the universe.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Spread of Christianity

A professor I had years ago had an interesting idea. His thought, and of course we're speculating here, was that there was a pattern to the movement of the gospel and the establishment of Christianity. Mark 13:10 says that "the gospel must first be preached to all the nations" before Christ returns. It's one of the reasons why bible believing and educated Christians knew that Harold Camping had made an incorrect prediction. The gospel, the good news, has to reach all nations (Matthew 28) before the age of the Church is complete, before the mission of the Church is accomplished. The professor I mentioned earlier thought that we were getting close, not only because of other signs, but because we are getting close to having reached all languages and people groups. He thought one could trace a clear path of the spread of Christianity across the globe. Now, granted there are offshoots and establishments here and there but I think I agree with his historical perspective.

Christianity began in Jerusalem, obviously, and spread throughout the Roman Empire, heading West. Paul's hope was to end up in Spain according to some of his last writings. After Europe Christianity continued west across the Atlantic to the Americas. While the diagram above doesn't show it, most recently Christianity is blowing up in Asia, especially China. My professor speculated that perhaps as Christianity moved through Asia and back to Israel again, the gospel has made its circuit around the globe. Watching the recent revolutions in the Arab world can't help but make me think that those states will soon be more in contact with Christians, missionaries and the Gospel than ever before. As the new generations in the Arab world come up wanting freedoms and democracies, a break from traditional Islamic states, so also comes more influence from the outside world and, I hope, more openness to Christianity. We live in exciting times.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What's Your Story?

I recently preached on Acts 27:21-25; 30-31. This is the story of Paul being taken to Rome as a prisoner when the ship he's travelling on runs into trouble. God sends an angel to Paul and assures him that he, nor his companions on the ship will die. Paul is convinced that they will surivive and the ship will be destroyed exactly as God says. Around verse 30, Paul tells the Roman soldiers that if they let the sailors abandon ship then everyone one will die. Which is it? God has ordained all will survive or the sailors have to preform or they will die? It's both. When we lean to hard into one side or the other and let our fallen reason take over we end up making mistakes that manifest in how we live our lives. This type of false reasoning shows up differently in the culture and in the church, but at the foundation  it is the same error. We tend to think that reason is the best human attribute of all, a result of the Enlightenment, but when we lean on our own understanding, especially when attempting to describe the divine, we will make errors. Thus the constant need to go to the divine, to Scripture, for revelation.