Lesson 3: The Universe

Looking into the telescopeSome think the vastness and seemingly indifference of the universe challenges Christian teachings about God’s concern for humanity and our infinitesimally tiny earth. They accuse us of imposing the meaning we want on the totally materialistic world. In fact, they often claim God’s Word is the voice of those in power.

We’ve all heard tales of bishops refusing to look through telescopes, because they refused to give up the human-centered world that gave them authority. We wince when we hear scientific findings labeled heresy. Admittedly, these tales are greatly exaggerated. Admittedly they represent how all authority has always resisted change. And admittedly, most churches have corrected these positions; however, we still too often demonize scientific progress, just as Ahab demonized Moby Dick.

Let me focus on two issues that might be helpful in correcting this.

1.A couple weeks ago John brought up the need to address issues like climate change from more than one perspective. We used to talk about scientific, aesthetic, and moral perspectives and claim the religious one brought them all together. You could say each of the four is a different language realm that speaks respectively about The Truth, The Beautiful, and The Good with religion bringing them together in The Way.

Sadly, we don’t hear that much anymore, nor do we see it practiced a great deal. If people look for any kind of unifying principle, they turn to pragmatic technology or cost-effective economics. Or else, they try to describe reality using only one of the four perspectives, the best example being Fundamentalism that tries to do religion with the language of science to our constant embarrassment.

Most ancient theology was far more sophisticated than that. It realized religious language was an attempt to express what we cannot totally comprehend by using comparisons. It could picture God speaking creation into existence and then describe the man Jesus as the Word he spoke. It understood the goal was to proclaim God loved our world into being. It could picture God standing back and saying, “It was good” as a way to express that this is just what he had in mind. It was not only true, but also beautiful and good. All fit into the purpose for which he made it. Early church theologians talked so much like this, you have to believe they would have no trouble seeing scientific and evolutionary theories as just another way to express how God does it.

2. Derek brought up the other important issue. He observed it is hard to talk about caring for the universe, if you think God is going to destroy it in the near future. Again it is helpful to acknowledge the Bible uses different types of language to promise God is going to make things right in the future. The destructive threats come from an apocalyptic language that was used only a couple centuries before and after Jesus’ lifetime. It claimed to “lift the veil” that covered the world, so God’s people see what is really going on. It was primarily a political, not a scientific language, that reveals Satan was in control of oppressive empires like Egypt, Babylon, and Rome, and God was already overcoming his rule. This kind of speech talked about a new heaven and earth in terms of the destruction of the old ones.

To apply this political apocalyptic message to the natural world presented by science is downright stupid. It, also, totally ignores all the more prominent languages used often by the same writers. You only have to stop a minute or two to realize the Bible usually talks about God’s promises to save, heal, and redeem the universe. We all know the Little Gospel is “God so loved the world that he sent his Son to save it.” Christians claim this has already begun with Jesus healing the bodies of the sick, calming the storms, and feeding the hungry. The movement of salvation is God coming from heaven to earth even in the book of Revelation, where God descends to earth in the Holy City.

Almost all the biblical passages that speak about God’s promises for the future describe him “reconciling the world to himself.” (II Corinthians 5: 19) And most of them make clear that includes people quite different from any we know as well as places we have never visited. Today, we just understand God’s care covers a lot more than we formerly could have imagined.

One of my favorite expressions of God’s redemption of all is Romans 8 where Paul writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

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