March 23, 2010

Reflecting on the Bible – Part 4 – Genesis 1 and God’s Faithfulness

Genesis 1 and God’s Faithfulness

A recurring theme in Scripture is the faithfulness of the God of Israel, usually contrasted with the unfaithfulness of the people and their idols. He is faithful to keep the promises he has made, faithful to act in conformity to his own character, in goodness, justice, mercy, and love, etc.

  • He existed before creation and will outlast everything, so God’s children can rest firm in him. Moses prayed to God, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psa 90:2). He has always been the protector and sustainer of his people, and when faced with their mortality as a result of sin and judgment, when the community is afflicted because of their transgression, the psalmist knows that the only recourse is to the eternal God, who alone can satisfy with his steadfast love and replace affliction and death with gladness and life (Psa. 90:3, 7, 13-15). Elsewhere, the oppressed one who cries out in the face of enemies and distress (Psa 102:2-11), puts hope in a faithful Creator who was here before these things and will outlast them all:
    Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
    They will perish, but you will remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
    You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
    but you are the same, and your years have no end.
    The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
    their offspring shall be established before you.

    (Psalm 102:25-28)
  • As opposed to earthly rulers, the creator of heaven and earth can be fully trusted and will not disappoint. “Don’t put your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psa 146:3). Why not? Because he will die, returning to the dust from which he came, and all of the plans he had and promises he made will perish with him (Psa 146:4). Instead, we ought to put our trust in the LORD, “who keeps faith forever” (Psa 146:5-9). History is littered with the failed plans and unfulfilled dreams of those who have put their trust in humans and humanity to achieve peace, prosperity, and happiness. Instead, we ought to look to the one who made this universe and who rules over it, trusting that he know how it ought to function and that when we’re obeying him we are on the path to true peace, prosperity, and happiness – not in the way the world understands it, but as it truly is. There is a self-evident problem with the world and with humanity, and the solution will not be found in men, but in God.
  • The regularity of nature gives us a glimpse into God’s faithfulness to his promises
    In the face of judgment for their sins and exile from the land, the question must come up, “Has the LORD abandoned his people? Has he cast them off forever?” The people have broken covenant and Jeremiah bears witness to it, but God promises that the days are when he will make a new covenant with his people, writing his law on their hearts and forgiving their sin (Jer 31:31-34). What is the certainty of this? The same LORD who is responsible for the fixed order of the sun, moon, and stars, the one who brings about the tides of the ocean – this LORD declares that this promise is as sure as the regularity of these things (Jer 31:35-36). In other words, if you can be certain that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, you can be certain that he will keep his promise to make a new covenant, for it the same God who does both. Similarly, what about God’s promise to David (2 Sam 7:16) of an everlasting kingdom? Israel finds themselves in exile, with no king. Did God go back on his promise to David? He declares that he will indeed fulfill his promises to David (Jer 33:14-16), and the certainty of it is the same as that of the new covenant (Jer 33:20-21, 25-26).
  • God’s covenant to maintain the order of the created world is the rational foundation for scientific inquiry. This regularity of nature is something that we often take for granted, as if it’s inherent in existence itself. However, the Bible testifies that this regularity is a fulfillment of God’s promise, first made to Noah in Genesis 8:22. In our naturalistic culture, we often view these regularities as if they are perfectly rational – as if that’s the way it must be. We no longer view the laws of nature simply as descriptions of observed and dependable regularity, but have proceeded to draw the irrational connection that things must, of necessity, be this way and continue this way. In his classic book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton puts this beautifully when he discusses how fairy tales approach reality more sanely than modern rationalism:

    “It might be stated this way. There are certain sequences or developments (cases of one thing following another), which are, in the true sense of the word, reasonable. They are, in the true sense of the word, necessary. Such are mathematical and merely logical sequences. We in fairyland (who are the most reasonable of all creatures) admit that reason and that necessity. For instance, if the Ugly Sisters are older than Cinderella, it is (in an iron and awful sense) necessary that Cinderella is younger than the Ugly Sisters. There is no getting out of it. Haeckel may talk as much fatalism about that fact as he pleases: it really must be. If Jack is the son of a miller, a miller is the father of Jack. Cold reason decrees it from her awful throne: and we in fairyland submit. If the three brothers all ride horses, there are six animals and eighteen legs involved: that is true rationalism, and fairyland is full of it. But as I put my head over the hedge of the elves and began to take notice of the natural world, I observed an extraordinary thing. I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened -- dawn and death and so on -- as if they were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as necessary as the fact that two and one trees make three. But it is not. There is an enormous difference by the test of fairyland; which is the test of the imagination. You cannot imagine two and one not making three. But you can easily imagine trees not growing fruit; you can imagine them growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by the tail. … We have always in our fairy tales kept this sharp distinction between the science of mental relations, in which there really are laws, and the science of physical facts, in which there are no laws, but only weird repetitions. We believe in bodily miracles, but not in mental impossibilities. We believe that a Bean-stalk climbed up to Heaven; but that does not at all confuse our convictions on the philosophical question of how many beans make five.

    Here is the peculiar perfection of tone and truth in the nursery tales. The man of science says, "Cut the stalk, and the apple will fall"; but he says it calmly, as if the one idea really led up to the other. The witch in the fairy tale says, "Blow the horn, and the ogre's castle will fall"; but she does not say it as if it were something in which the effect obviously arose out of the cause. Doubtless she has given the advice to many champions, and has seen many castles fall, but she does not lose either her wonder or her reason. She does not muddle her head until it imagines a necessary mental connection between a horn and a falling tower. But the scientific men do muddle their heads, until they imagine a necessary mental connection between an apple leaving the tree and an apple reaching the ground. They do really talk as if they had found not only a set of marvellous facts, but a truth connecting those facts. They do talk as if the connection of two strange things physically connected them philosophically. They feel that because one incomprehensible thing constantly follows another incomprehensible thing the two together somehow make up a comprehensible thing. Two black riddles make a white answer.

    In fairyland we avoid the word "law"; but in the land of science they are singularly fond of it. Thus they will call some interesting conjecture about how forgotten folks pronounced the alphabet, Grimm's Law. But Grimm's Law is far less intellectual than Grimm's Fairy Tales. The tales are, at any rate, certainly tales; while the law is not a law. A law implies that we know the nature of the generalisation and enactment; not merely that we have noticed some of the effects. If there is a law that pick-pockets shall go to prison, it implies that there is an imaginable mental connection between the idea of prison and the idea of picking pockets. And we know what the idea is. We can say why we take liberty from a man who takes liberties. But we cannot say why an egg can turn into a chicken any more than we can say why a bear could turn into a fairy prince. As ideas, the egg and the chicken are further off from each other than the bear and the prince; for no egg in itself suggests a chicken, whereas some princes do suggest bears. Granted, then, that certain transformations do happen, it is essential that we should regard them in the philosophic manner of fairy tales, not in the unphilosophic manner of science and the "Laws of Nature." When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o'clock. We must answer that it is magic. It is not a "law," for we do not understand its general formula. It is not a necessity, for though we can count on it happening practically, we have no right to say that it must always happen. It is no argument for unalterable law (as Huxley fancied) that we count on the ordinary course of things. We do not count on it; we bet on it. We risk the remote possibility of a miracle as we do that of a poisoned pancake or a world-destroying comet. We leave it out of account, not because it is a miracle, and therefore an impossibility, but because it is a miracle, and therefore an exception. All the terms used in the science books,  "law,"  "necessity,"  "order,"  "tendency," and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, "charm," "spell," "enchantment." They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched. The sun shines because it is bewitched.”(29-30)


    This is not to deny the value of scientific inquiry, discovery of the regularities of nature, and the explanation of observed causes and effects. On the contrary, only the worldview which understands the Creator God as the guarantor of this regularity and which sees the universe as a linear progression has a true rational basis for its science.
  • Jesus Christ is the sustainer of the created order. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:1-3). Elsewhere, we understand that he is “before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). The one who was deserted by all, even his closest of friends, is the same one who gives to all sunshine and rain, seasons and celebration. The one who was slain on the cross by humans, is the same one who gives to all humans breath and life and everything. He remained faithful, even to death, and through this faithfulness has brought life to those who believe. “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:9-13)

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