Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Making Something out of Nothing: The Good Creation

I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.
Albert Einstein

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
Genesis 1:31

I continue with a few more general reflections on science and theology. This entry centers on nature as God's creation. I excerpted it from my book, Creation and Last Things.

God designed creation, and it takes our breaths away. The glow of a full moon, the splendor of a smile, the elegant beauty of nature’s laws can astound us in their witness to God’s master artistry in creation. They are signs that we are always in the presence of the divine. The most natural response is to praise the Creator. The doctrine of creation is about the goodness of the God of life—the God who brings things that did not exist into existence with one simple word. It is about the God who continues to create a “new thing” throughout cosmic and human history. It even points to the God who will fulfill creation at the end of time. 

        Poetry and music express—with a greater accuracy than philosophical or scientific language—the wonder and glory of creation. The hymn of ancient Israel says it so well:
The heavens are telling the glory of God;     
And the firmament proclaims his handiwork
Day to day pours forth speak
And night to night declares knowledge. (Psalm 19:1-2)
       William Shakespeare, living at least two millennia later than the psalmists. Nevertheless, during the great flowering of modern science in the seventeenth century, Shakespeare found similar insight from the Book of Nature:
And this our life,
Exempt from public hands,
Finds tongues in trees,
Books in the running brook,
Sermons in stones,
And good in everything.
        Finally, Gerard Manley Hopkins, the late nineteenth century Jesuit, produced poetry far ahead of his Victorian age. In “God’s Grandeur,” he expressed the surprise and power of God’s glory in creation in even in spite of the havoc wrought upon the world by our action:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
      It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;      It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oilCrushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;      And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;      And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soilIs bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. And for all this, nature is never spent;
      There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;And though the last lights off the black West went      Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—Because the Holy Ghost over the bent      World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
        I write now as a Christian convinced by these truths. But this has not always been the case. I grew up in the beautiful, self-sufficient Silicon Valley that was secular in the truest sense of the word: God simply did not play a part in our life. When we factored in the various components of our existence, there was no God, no church. The wider culture of Menlo Park, California mirrored this casual secularity. I can certainly believe what I hear Newsweek once reported: only four percent of the culture of the San Francisco Peninsula can be found in church on any given Sunday. Nature in this world is certainly an object of great beauty, but is not filled with God’s presence.
        In college, one of the forces that drove me first to consider the world’s religions, and ultimately the Christian faith, was the lack of meaning inherent in a God-less world. It took some hard-fought reflection, but I learned this: joy and fulfillment come from knowing the One who made us and what our purpose is on earth. A Stradivarius works perfectly as a violin, but does not help when the floors need sweeping. Not to know the design yields frustration and futility. Living with purpose brings fulfillment. God’s design for us provides the right “usage” for human life.
        Mark Twain once quipped, “There are two types of people—those who divide people into two types and everyone else.” With Twain in mind, I am still willing to say that there are two basic approaches to our existence: life either bursts with meaning or is meaningless.
        And yet, on certain days which of us does not resonate with certain scientists who, having cut themselves off from the Designer, find an ultimately purposeless creation? Harvard astronomer Margaret Geller believes that it is pointless to mention purpose: “why should [the universe] have a point? What point? It’s just a physical system, what point is there?”
       Certainly, not all scientists express similar nihilism. I remember a graduate seminar with on the ethics of the Human Genome Initiative with David Cole, biochemist (at the time) at U.C. Berkeley. He showed pictures of polymers and exclaimed with utter excitement: "Aren't these beautiful! Look at the wonder of God's creation!" I'd never thought of polymers that way (or much). Like David Cole, many scientists, in discovering God's design, find ample reason to praise the Designer. 
        God has brought this world into existence. Both the act of doing so and the product are creation. Like a writer, God invented and created the world, and in doing so, stepped back to the let the characters “speak for themselves.” The created order remains different from God. On the other hand, the work bears the imprint of its Artist. Speaking the world into existence has been used as an image for creation since the Hebrew Scriptures. As Psalm 33:9 declares, “He spoke and it came to be.” Words require no pre-existing material and point to the sovereignty of the Writer of the drama. Thankfully, we know the ending, and it is all good. From an undergraduate education in French literature, I recall that a comedy is defined, not by its use of humor (although there may be some), but by its ending. A comedy ends with resolution, with good ultimately in triumph over evil. And so in God’s comedy, good wins out. In the meantime, the real joy will be discovering our part in this cosmic comedy.

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