Philip Vander Elst
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
. . . says Psalm 8. Psalm 89 declares in verses 11, 12, and 14:
The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. You created the north and the south; Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name. . . . Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness goes before you.
Compare these songs of praise to God the Creator with these words of Philip Pullman, the atheist author of the best-selling His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy:
. . . if there is a God and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against.
Bertrand Russell, the 20th century's most famous atheist philosopher, speaking in a similar vein, declared in 1927:
The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men.
How can one explain these totally contrasting attitudes towards God? Why are so many Western intellectuals and opinion-formers not only unbelievers, but hostile unbelievers, who think that Christianity involves the degrading worship of power because the idea of God implies some kind of Cosmic Dictator or Hitler? Why, also, are Christians in this country so often lukewarm and apathetic about their faith, behaving as if relating to God was like dealing with a difficult relative or the Inland Revenue?
I have become increasingly convinced over the years that the main reason for these negative attitudes towards God is that so many people simply do not understand who He really is and what they owe to Him. There is also the paradox that many who claim not to believe in God are angry with Him because of the problem of evil. They blame Him for the suffering they see in the world and encounter in their own lives. Unpacking the truth that God is the Creator and our Creator, with all that this implies, is, I believe, the key to overcoming these negative attitudes. It is also the key to understanding what life is really about.
How, then, do we know that God is real and is our Creator? How do we know that He is loving and good? Answer: because the evidence for His existence and goodness is under our noses if only we have eyes to see!
Look, to start with, at the incredible complexity of our own human bodies. Think about our eyes and ears and hands, perfectly designed to enable us to see and hear, hold objects and use tools. Think about our digestive systems that allow us to fuel our bodies with food and get rid of waste. Think about our bodies' complex immune systems that protect us against disease and help us to recover from illnesses. Think, above all, about the "miracle" of human reproduction - how babies are conceived and then developed in their mothers' wombs. It is estimated that our human DNA - that incredible biological software system driving and directing the whole process of human reproduction and development - contains more organised information within every human cell than the Encyclopaedia Britannica! Is all this evidence of purposive design simply an illusion? Not according to Dean Kenyon, America's leading scientist in the field of chemical evolution. Abandoning his former belief that unguided natural forces could explain the origin of life, Kenyon now argues:
This new realm of molecular genetics [is] where we see the most compelling evidence of design on the Earth.
If we take our eyes off ourselves, and look at the animal kingdom, and the rest of Nature, what, again, do we see? The same evidence of intelligent design. We see it, for instance, in the migratory and nest-building instincts of birds. We see it in the extraordinarily effective navigational systems of bats and whales. We see it in the significant fact that our universe appears to be governed by a few simple laws of physics finely tuned to support life, and expressible in the language of mathematics. Do all these features of our world suggest that it has a purely accidental origin? I don't think so, and I speak as a former atheist. More to the point, many top scientists don't think so either, and they include Nobel Prize winners and former sceptics and unbelievers.
To quote one of Britain's most famous astronomers, the late Sir Fred Hoyle:
A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in Nature.
Another distinguished contemporary astronomer and former atheist, Allan Rex Sandage, dubbed the "Grand Old Man of Cosmology" by The New York Times, has publicly declared:
It was my science that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science. It was only through the supernatural that I could understand the mystery of existence.
Finally, let me quote to you the words of Dr. Arno Penzias, a Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist:
I invite you to examine the snapshot provided by half a century's worth of astrophysical data and see what the pieces of the universe actually look like. . . . In order to achieve consistency with our observations we must . . . assume not only creation of matter and energy out of nothing, but creation of space and time as well. The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses [including Genesis], the Psalms, and the Bible as a whole.
These quotes, and the facts underlying them, are surely an impressive testimony to the truthfulness of the opening words of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
The evidence that God exists and is our Creator, as Psalm 8 and many other parts of the Bible proclaims, is therefore overwhelming, but it is further reinforced by two other significant facts about human consciousness. The first of these is the very existence of the religious impulse in human beings. From the dawn of history, belief in a God or a collection of gods, and the instinct to pray and worship, has been common to all peoples and cultures. Why should this be the case if there is no Creator? Why should the unintended human products of a random and accidental universe, be under the illusion that there is some ultimate Power or Being behind all things? We experience hunger because our bodies are designed to run on food. We feel sexual desire because our bodies are designed for sexual reproduction. Is it not therefore likely that we have an instinct to worship God because He exists and created us to be dependent on Him?
The final piece of evidence pointing to the reality of God the Creator is the existence of our moral consciousness, our sense of right and wrong. The very fact that so many people disbelieve in God because of the problem of evil and suffering, reveals the existence within them of an internal moral standard by which they judge the world and find it wanting. But where does this moral standard, this sense of right and wrong, come from? If it is purely subjective, like our taste in clothes, it cannot be used as a credible argument against God's existence and goodness. If, on the other hand, it is an objective moral standard - an expression of ultimate truth - not something we have made up in our heads, this suggests that it has an eternal and non-human origin, and therefore points us to God as the divine source of our deepest and most precious values. In short, when we look at all the facts, weighing the existence of evil and suffering against the evidence of intelligent design and our knowledge of right and wrong, we are not confronted by the non-existence of God. Rather, we see a created order that is basically good but seemingly spoiled. Something appears to have gone badly wrong. Why?
It is precisely at this point that we can begin to see our need for the revealed truth of God's Word in the Bible, notably in the Book of Genesis. Since only God was present at the beginning of all things, being the Creator, only He can reveal to us the real truth about our origins. Only He can reveal to us how the universe, and all its living creatures, including human beings, really came into existence. Only He can reveal to us why things have gone wrong. Modern scientists, by contrast, are fallible human beings like the rest of us. They can only make informed guesses about this dim and distant past, since they were not present as observers and cannot conduct adequate experiments to test their rival theories about it.
What, then, does the Book of Genesis reveal in its first three critical chapters? It boldly tells us that God is not only the Creator of all things, but that His original Creation was good. It then reveals how evil, suffering, and death came into our world as a result of an act of disobedience to God by our ancestors, Adam and Eve, the first human couple. How are we to understand these famous opening chapters of the Bible, and their relevance not only to the doctrine of God the Creator, but also to our own lives today?
The first thing that needs to be said is that these chapters are not, repeat not, just an edifying fairy story. Whilst there are legitimate disagreements among Christian scholars about the correct interpretation of some of the details of these opening chapters of Genesis, they tell, I believe, a true story based on real events. I have three reasons for saying this.
First, in Matthew 19:4-5 and Mark 10:6-9 we have the testimony of Jesus, no less, to the historicity of both the creation of the universe and the creation of Adam and Eve. Adam is also named as the founder of the human race in the genealogy of Jesus listed in the last 14 verses of Luke, chapter 3. In Matthew 23 35, Luke 17:26, and Matthew 24:37-39, we also have the testimony of Jesus to the historical reality of both the murder of Abel (described in Genesis, chapter 4), and the story of Noah and the Great Flood, described in Genesis, chapters 6-9. Now if Jesus was only a first century Jewish carpenter from Nazareth, his testimony to the truthfulness of Genesis can be ignored. But we know better, don't we? We have the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels to the fact that Jesus performed many mighty miracles, was acknowledged to be sinless even by His enemies, and rose from the dead after His crucifixion. Consequently, as God the Son Incarnate, through Whom (before His Incarnation) all things were made, as we are told in the opening verses of John's Gospel, Jesus' testimony to the truthfulness of Genesis is authoritative. He should know since He was there at the beginning!
The second reason for believing the story told in Genesis about Creation and the origin of evil, is that it is supported by a great deal of circumstantial anthropological evidence. Nearly every culture and religious tradition in the world, including that of the ancient Chinese, has stories about one God, some original golden age, the alienation of humankind from God or the gods, and the destruction of an evil human race through a great Flood which only spares one righteous man and his family. If you want to see the evidence for this, and the scholarly studies supporting it, read the last chapter of The Long War Against God, a very thought-provoking and well documented book by the late Henry Morris, a fine creationist scientist and Bible scholar. I can also recommend other creationist scientific literature if you're interested.
The third piece of circumstantial evidence supporting the truthfulness of the Genesis story is the significant fact that human beings down the ages have always acknowledged a Moral Law which they seem unable to obey, a truth documented by C. S. Lewis in the appendix to his book, The Abolition of Man. Why is there this gap between our knowledge of right and wrong and our actual behaviour?
Only the story of the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden really explains this paradox, since it illuminates the whole issue of Who God is and what we owe Him. Let me explain.
If God is the Creator of the universe and of ourselves, what does this tell us about Him and our relationship to Him? It tells us that God is the source and fountainhead of all life, all love, all intelligence, all beauty, goodness, and truth. It tells us, to put it another way, that as Creator, God is life personified, love personified, beauty, goodness and truth personified. As such, God is the source of our being, the fuel on which we are supposed to run. By creating us in His own image, God has loved us into existence so that we can share His life and His love with Him and with each other, and do so, moreover, in a perfect and beautiful universe for all eternity. That was and is the Divine plan. That is what life is supposed to be about! And please note, at this point, the significance in this respect of the revelation that God our Creator is a unity of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since love always involves relationships between people, and God is Love - as the Bible tells us repeatedly - it makes perfect philosophical sense that the relationship of love has existed from all eternity within God between the different persons of the Trinity! And it is in order to be drawn into this Love, which has created all things, that we, and the whole universe, were made! That is why, on reflection, it should not surprise us that the first indication that our God is a unity of different persons crops up in Genesis 1:26: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness . . . etc.
What has all this got to do with the Fall of Man and the origin of evil? Everything! Because we have been created by God, we depend on Him like a plant depends on sunlight. Because we have been created in God's image, we have been given the gift of free will, since without it we cannot make that willing gift and surrender of ourselves to God, and to each other, that true love always involves. God has also given us free will so that we can create beauty, discover truth, and explore and understand all that He has made. But there is a catch. Our possession of free will gives us the ability to reject God and turn away from Him through disobedience to His will. And that is what happened in the Garden of Eden. By eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve separated themselves from God, and by doing so, gave evil an entrance into their hearts and into the world. Like plants refusing to grow towards the sunlight, the first human couple not only sinned by failing to trust the wisdom and love of their Creator. They cut themselves off from the source of all physical and spiritual life, and death - physical and spiritual came into God's originally perfect Creation.
How can fallen and sinful human beings be reconnected with their Creator? The answer to that question is provided in the whole of the rest of the Bible, which describes God's rescue plan. That is what the Gospel is about, and I don't need to explain it to a Christian audience. The question we need to consider is what are the implications of the theology of Creation for us today as Christians?
The first and most important is that we belong to God and we should live for Him. He ought to be the centre around which our lives, our work, our possessions, and our relationships revolve. Do you put Him first in everything?
The second and related implication is that the only appropriate response to God is obedience and worship. His infinite love, goodness, wisdom and beauty, should naturally inspire in us complete trust and adoration. Is it not significant, in this regard, that most of the world's greatest composers both recognised the existence of God and responded to His goodness and beauty in imperishable music? Handel did so, Bach did so, Haydn did so. So too did Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Dvorak and Stravinsky. "God is ever before my eyes," wrote Mozart:
I realise His omnipotence and I fear His anger; but I also recognise His love, His compassion, and His tenderness towards His creatures.
The third implication of the theology of Creation is that God can meet every need and perform miracles in our lives, and the lives of those around us, if we will only surrender to Him and let His will rule our lives. George Mueller proved this in the 19th century when he raised the equivalent, in our money, of 100 million for his orphanages, through prayer alone rather than fundraising.
The fourth implication of the theology of Creation is that since God is the source of all life, goodness, beauty and truth, He is present in all human activities that reflect and celebrate these values. His face can be seen and shown in the arts and the sciences, in Nature and in human relationships. Ask God to open your eyes and baptise your imagination, so that you can hear His voice in music, see His joy in the birth of a baby, glimpse His sense of humour when you see a cat chasing its tail, and see His beauty in the face of a lovely princess in a fairytale.
Finally, and most important of all, the theology of Creation should teach us to value individuals as ends in themselves, beings made in God's image (however marred by sin) with immortal souls and an infinite potential for good or evil. To quote C. S. Lewis:
You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
May these truths, by the grace of God, and the help of the Holy Spirit, renew our hearts, our relationships, and our lives. *