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Christian Biblical Studies
Scripture references are to the New International Version, UK edition of 1984.
When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?
– Luke 18: 8 –
ELIEF IN A Creator is practically universal. In the first chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul asserts that humanity has a ‘natural’ faith, one prompted by an innate sense that the observed world is the handiwork of a Superior Being: ‘20 [S]ince the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.’
Unbelievers urge us to forget such nonsense, to contradict our senses and reject the instinctive conclusion that because Nature looks designed it required a Designer. And, yes, looking at this the other way round, we may allow that although the structure of the natural order appears to demand a beneficent Maker, it sometimes appears as if it were not designed. For each instance of benevolence, a contrary example can be adduced. Who would argue that earthquakes or tsunamis are evidence of a benign God? Or the existence of evil, the effects of which have for thousands of years deprived countless millions of life and happiness? Such questions unsettle thoughtful minds and help to swell the ranks of the unbelievers.
Man As God
In the late nineteenth century, the Natural Theology movement emerged, partly in reaction to the increasing influence of Darwin’s teaching of Evolution, Higher Criticism, and the encroachments of materialist philosophy. As defined by the Oxford Dictionary of English, natural theology is a ‘knowledge of God based on observed facts and experience apart from divine revelation.’ It claimed to be the ‘second’ revelation of God (the Bible being the first).
At the same time, atheism was given a leg-up, not only because of the proliferation of the Evolution doctrine, but also by the rapid developments in the sciences, many of which adopted an agnostic-atheistic stance. These developments, combined with rapid and thorough industrialisation, highlighted Man’s power over nature and encouraged the notion that he – unaided by divine intervention – could do anything he chose to do. Such a presumption gradually undermined the certainty of faith in God, for faith and hubris cannot co-exist. Twenty-first-century progress in the genetic sciences, the mapping of the human genome, and laboratory successes in the manipulation of genetic material, such as contrived conceptions, have further cemented man’s opinion of his own God-like powers. In many ways, Man has become the object of his own adoration.
But the unique attributes of human nature – such as consciousness, self-awareness and spiritual yearnings – beg for a better explanation. If the human brain-mind alone possesses these qualities, the biblical claim that man is a stand-apart creation by God is plausible. Indeed, the ‘self-evaluating’ mind poses a problem for the advocates of a purely mechanistic evolution.
Your Bias or Mine?
Theists and atheists alike agree that the universe is vastly complicated and (still) little understood. It presents many ‘mysteries’, such as the origin of Matter (Something from Nothing?) or the origin of Life (Intelligence from Mindless Processes?). Each side handles these mysteries in ways that are as much alike in practice as they are different in philosophy. A believer accepts God as the starting point; an unbeliever takes the Big Bang as the starting point, but dismisses the intelligence behind it, expecting that future scientific discoveries will provide answers to this cosmic puzzle. That a God exists is denied by atheism on the basis of probability. Unbelievers assert that the universe would have a different complexion if God did exist. Believers look at the same evidence and draw another conclusion.
To blind chance is attributed the innovation and fitness for purpose. Design in nature is, to the materialist, merely a practical, functional arrangement of discrete parts assembled by the interaction of blind forces. Under this view of things, religion is meaningless, belief in absolute morality a delusion. This view, if correct, would leave us with little more than secular humanism, dependent for our long-term survival on the accidental decency and common sense of humanity and a lucky tilt towards courteous and civil behaviour – a form of godliness without God.
The philosophy underlying space exploration is primarily agnostic as to religious belief, and is a broad attempt to corroborate the theory that the origins of life lie beyond planet earth. Life on earth, so the theory goes, was an accident, a by-product of the Big Bang, the output of physics and chemistry in action. We only perceive our place as unique in the universe, so the irreligious claim, because we are tricked by the ‘anthropic principle’: the argument that because we are here we were meant to be here; much like reasoning that because human settlements were sited along rivers the purpose of rivers is to have settlements sited near them.
The Genesis Days
The Genesis account in Chapter 1 is economical in its description of the development of life on our planet, which had already existed in a ‘formless’ state (v. 1), possibly for many millions of years. The various creative phases — styled ‘days’ — probably spanned aeons. The science of geology appears to be right in assigning a long age to our planet, and Christians need not claim more than the Bible record demands. Science, properly understood, will eventually corroborate and support the Biblical record, rightly understood. And while we need not reinterpret Biblical teachings every time a new set of scientific data is released, we must recognise that as God is the creator of the world it is His science that underlies physics. Interpretation of the data is another matter entirely, but will be adjusted over time as research techniques improve and new discoveries come to the fore.
The Science In Evolution
The theory of Evolution contains within it evidences of God’s creative power; we do not need to contend against micro-evolution – functional adaptations to the environment over relatively short periods of time. It is apparent that alterations in form and behaviour are necessary as the environment and the climate change. That God would have foreseen, and provided for, such contingencies is unsurprising. Nor is it surprising to encounter similarities in the anatomical structures of lower animals and humans. This is hinted at in Scripture when, as to the creation of man, it is stated that God breathed into him the ‘breath of life’, the same life-force common to all air-breathing animals. Compare Gen. 2: 7 with 7: 22.
Proponents of human evolution often cite ‘vestigial’, defective or inefficient structures in the human body – such as the human digestive system or the eye – to bolster their contention that human anatomy was not designed intelligently; that it was merely cobbled together in opportunistic fashion through a brainless process of adaptation. Noticeably, these antagonists rarely draw the opposite conclusion when confronted with examples which they readily admit are fine models of efficiency and design in nature, such as the complex physics of light.
From Perfection To Degradation
As reasonable as the mechanics of gradual adaptation and development of fauna and flora may be, the same is not true of the human species. Man was a direct, one-off creation, as shown in Genesis, though manufactured from existing earth elements. A rejection of the Genesis account as regards to Man’s creation is a repudiation of the Bible itself, since its veracity rests on the account of the fall of Man into sin, a necessary precursor to the ransom-sacrifice of Christ (Rom. 5: 18; 1 Cor. 15: 22). In other words, No Adam, No Jesus.
At his creation, Adam was the image of God and made for undying existence (Gen. 1: 27; 2: 17). After his fall into sin the prototype was lost, and degradation set in. In some way not explained to us, the process of decay and dying was introduced into the gene pool. For several centuries after the expulsion from Eden the average life span was enormous, reflecting residual vitality. After the Flood, it fell steadily, settling in, on average, to the approximate length of life we experience today (Psa. 90: 10). Yet despite all the millennia of death and dying, the human family is still not reconciled to the fact of death, a hint that deep down we long for something better.
The corruption of the DNA, combined with the harsh living conditions to which Adam and Eve and their offspring were exposed, has no doubt altered the human physique and constitution. Further, the curse may also have had a deleterious impact on earth’s biosphere, according to one reading of Gen. 3: 17-19: ‘Cursed is the ground because of you.’ Catastrophes and unbridled evil are not the ultimate expressions of God’s regard for humanity, and faith invites a more satisfactory explanation, which the Scriptures supply.
The Problem Of Faith
Unlike that of nature, the Biblical revelation is not easily comprehended by any who do not have faith. Were nature our sole revelation, faith would be spurious and we would founder. The structure and regulation of the universe and of our planet within that larger system tell us a lot about the Creator’s knowledge and power, but little about His disposition. If there is a personal, benign Creator, interested in our welfare it is, perhaps, reasonable to assume that He would tell us about Himself. It is unlikely that He would supply indisputable evidence with which to refute His existence.
It often seems that belief in God is inversely proportional to the number of evidences for His existence, and one wonders whether there could ever be a sufficient number of proofs in nature to win over a stubborn atheist. What, one may ask, would he or she regard as irrefutable evidence? As far as the written revelation, the Bible, is concerned, it is not designed to convince everyone. The Scriptures are presented in such a way as to obfuscate the truth for those who do not have the right heart’s attitude. Jesus spoke in parables to hide truth from the unworthy and uttered ‘hard sayings’ which caused many to turn from Him (Matt. 13: 10-15; John 6: 60-66). The desertion continues.
The Permission Of Evil
Faith is the filter which screens out the unworthy. This is not to say that those without faith are damned to some sort of tortured eternity, a pernicious and un-Godly doctrine. The teaching of Hell, as eternal torment, is one of the worst perversions of Biblical teaching, and has done incalculable damage to the authority and credibility of the Scriptures, provoking justified criticism from unbelievers. An understanding of the Biblical teaching on the Resurrection is essential to grasp the truth about the real meaning of Hell – the grave.
The ever-present problem of evil interposes itself between one’s native expectation of fair treatment, and the realities of life. To dismiss this fact is to overlook one of the reasons why many cannot conscientiously believe in God. They falter at this hurdle. Nonetheless, evil in all its forms (moral and calamitous) is only permitted by God to accomplish a high purpose, to the eventual benefit of all. This concept is almost impossible to grasp unless one has faith. Once we understand the why, we move closer to understanding the wisdom and justice and power and love of God.
An Adjustment Of Affairs: The Coming Kingdom On Earth
Christ’s mission in His First Advent was to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom (Luke 16: 16). This Kingdom was to be made up of two parts — one heavenly, one earthly. The heavenly promises were for those who, by faith, accepted the teachings of Christ and gave their hearts and minds to the doing of God’s will. The earthly Kingdom will be for the recovery and blessing of all humanity (agnostics and atheists included!)
The permission of evil has been a necessary phase to prepare the hearts and minds of mankind to receive the blessings God has in view. His intentions towards His creation are always good and righteous. Christ’s kingdom will embrace all points of the compass – a time of resurrection, restoration, the righting of wrongs, and the clearing up of the confusion on religious matters which prevails at present. The difficulty of faith will then give way to evidences as convincing as sight, and all will become clear.
* * *
Hills of the north, rejoice;
River and mountain spring,
Hark to the advent voice;
Valley and lowland, sing:
Though absent long, your Lord is nigh;
He judgement brings and victory.
Isles of the southern seas,
Deep in your coral caves
Pent be each warring breeze,
Lulled be your restless waves:
He comes to reign with boundless sway,
And makes your wastes his great highway.
Lands of the east, awake,
Soon shall your sons be free;
The sleep of ages break,
And rise to liberty.
On your far hills, long cold and grey,
Has dawned the everlasting day.
Shores of the utmost west,
Ye that have waited long,
Break forth to swelling song;
High raise the note, that Jesus died,
Yet lives and reigns, the Crucified.
– C. E. Oakley (1832-1865)
December 2014. All author rights asserted, but you are free to reproduce this article without express permission.
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