We turn our attention this week to the beginning: Creation.
But before we begin discussing how and why God created the world, in our day and age we first need to answer the question if we should believe that God exists at all? There are dozens of ways to try and answer that question, but let’s turn to six classic philosophical arguments for God’s existence.
- Cosmology: Creation, Motion, Cause and Effect–everything has a source. Nothing is set in motion on its own (cause and effect). What is the “first cause”? Everything we know came from somewhere, but there must be something that is “uncreated”. Philosophers call this an “unmoved mover”. (See philosophers Aristotle or St. Thomas Aquinas)
- Morality: We were given a sense that there is a perfect ideal that must exist somewhere. A sense of right and wrong must come from a source beyond us. “If there is no God, then everything is permissible”. (Russian Novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, or philosopher Immanuel Kant)
- Practical: Play a game. Flip a coin. Heads means you win everything. Tails means you lose nothing. Heads=God exists and you believe. Tails=You believe but God does not exist. Nothing is lost if you believe God exists and he doesn’t, but everything can be gained if you believe God exists and he does! (This is called, “Pascal’s Wager”, named after French Mathematician Blaise Pascal).
- From Multiple Authorities: Most people in human history, in every age, in every culture, in every place have believed in some kind of “higher power”. True atheism is very rare. Either the human race suffers some kind of mass psychosis, or something of God’s existence is revealed to most people.
- Design (or “Teleology”): Because the makeup of the universe is incredibly complex, it seems unlikely that the universe came together by chance or randomness. Rather, the complexity points to a mind that designed the universe. “You can’t put pieces of a watch into a box, close the lid, shake it up, and expect a Rolex to fall out.” (Physicist Isaac Newton, Philosopher Plato)
- Emotion and Desire: Human desires correspond to real objects like food, friendship, health, sex, shelter, etc. Human beings have a near universal desire for heaven, and likewise, God. If all other desires are related to real objects, why would heaven be the exception? Human beings believe in beauty, and what is beautiful points us to a creator who makes beauty with purpose. (Novelist C.S. Lewis, theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar).
Contemporary philosopher Peter Kreeft has compiled an even larger list of major philosophical arguments for God’s existence, see here.
Beyond philosophical arguments for God’s existence, even more important for Christians are the spiritual signs that God does indeed exist. Many people will say they experience or encounter God’s Spirit through worship, prayer, or devotion. Sometimes we examine the course of our lives and come away with a profound sense of God’s activity in it. This is a mystical case for God’s existence. “Mystical” doesn’t mean “less-real”, its just something we’re not able to analyze in the same way as a logical argument.
Then finally of most importance to us is the Biblical case for God’s existence: how has Jesus Christ been raised from the dead? As a matter of real history, real people made the claim that Jesus of Nazareth was killed yet three days later was dead no more. If this is true, how can it be? This is the most important case for God’s existence to a Christian: that Jesus lives again because the power of God triumphs even over death.
Over the last few hundred years many people have thought that science and Christian faith contradict each other; that scientific discovery discredits the claims of the Bible. In reality many of the greatest scientific minds have also believed in God (Isaac Newton, Heisenberg, Galileo, Francis Collins, et al). But here we need to say that you cannot put God under the microscope to examine God. You won’t find God somewhere out in the universe with a telescope. There is not a piece of scientific evidence that beyond a shadow of a doubt can really prove or disprove that God exists. Yet at the same time, the universe is full of clues that there is more than what we see. This is what faith is (Hebrews 11:1, John 20:29).
With this in mind, we turn to the first chapter of the book of Genesis.
The creation story was given to God’s people to show us why God made the world, what God intended for the world, and who human beings were meant to be in the world. It is one of two different accounts of creation in Genesis (we’ll talk about the story of Eden in two weeks). Genesis 1:1-27 is meant to be an orderly, simple to memorize creed about the purpose and nature of the universe. The original readers of the Bible weren’t listening for a complete scientific explanation of the exact process by which life had come to earth, but this story is about who God is and our relationship to him. In fact the Hebrew word for “Day” (y’om) can literally mean “sunrise to sunset” or it can mean just an undefined period of time. We have the same expression in the English language (e.g. “back in my day” or “In this day and age” are references to periods of time more abstractly than a 24hr rotation of the earth).
Of course, an omnipotent God has all the capability to create a world in just 6 literal, 24 hour days. God could create the world in anyway God could see fit, but that’s not really the point of what the Biblical authors wanted to communicate. The important thing to remember about the creation story is that it tells us about the kind of God who made this kind of world, and that the world is God’s. All of it. We are not the creator. We are creatures.
In other ancient cultures, there were different stories of how and why the world was made. The ancient Babylonians believed that humanity was created by the gods to be slaves to the gods. The Assyrians believed that the world was created as an accidental by-product of a war between gods. Humanity sprung forth from the blood of a murdered god.
But in Genesis we are told that there is one creator of the universe who made the world with purpose, order, and intention. God made the world from nothing. The world had a beginning. There was darkness, emptiness, then God spoke a word and set the universe into motion. Notice the complimentary pairings of the things God creates: light/dark, day/night, sea/sky, plants/animals, and male/female. He creates each of them and says they are “good”. And the apex of his creation is humanity– who “bears the image of God.” In other ancient cultures, the only people who could bear God’s image was a king, but Genesis teaches that all people are made in the image of God, to be like God. Genesis teaches us that God has made the world good, and that human beings were made very good. We’ll talk more about being made in the image of God next week.
The movie Noah that came out a few years ago got mixed reviews and made some significant changes to the Biblical account of Noah and the great flood, but this stop-animation scene from the movie is a creative retelling of the Genesis creation story.
Journaling Questions this Week:
- What do you think it means to be created in God’s image?
- In what ways are humans “like God”?
- Is God male?