GeoScriptures — Genesis 3:17-18 — Thorns, thistles, cats, dogs, and hyperliteralism

And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.”
Genesis 3:17-18 (ESV)

Suppose I were to tell you, “Sometimes it rains cats and dogs in St. Louis.” How would you interpret my statement? If you didn’t know English idioms very well, you might be quite confused by what I said, or come to the conclusion that I was—intentionally or unintentionally—speaking nonsense. Because you know it does not really ever rain cats and dogs, you probably would not take me as actually believing that cats and dogs fall from the sky.

Now suppose that the biblical account of Noah’s flood (Genesis 6-9) contained a verse that said, “And Noah looked out of the window of the ark and saw that it was raining cats and dogs.” How would we interpret this statement? The most natural way to interpret it would be to assume there was some sort of idiom or metaphor in use, and to interpret it as “it was raining very hard.” Unfortunately, we would not be able to look up “raining cats and dogs”  in the 1400 BC edition of Hebrew Idioms for Dummies, so we might have to do some educated guesswork.

On the other hand, if we had little stomach for idioms or other literary devices as we read the Old Testament, we might come to the conclusion that the deluge was so cataclysmic that, in this instance, cats and dogs must have been sucked up from the watery surface by strong updrafts, and then hurled down upon the deep, as witnessed by Noah. This would be a reading that goes far beyond seeking the literal, or intended, meaning of the passage. This would be an example of what some call hyperliteralism; a reading of the text that allows for no figures of speech whatsoever.

Now Genesis does not contain the phrase “raining cats and dogs,” but it does contain examples of non-literal writing. Take for example the phrase “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” in Genesis 3:18. This is part of the curse God pronounced on the ground after Adam and Eve sinned. After humanity’s fall into sin, God pronounced a curse on the serpent, Satan; and spoke words of discipline and judgement (and promise) to Adam and Eve. Rather than experiencing the blessings of Eden, Eve would experience, among other things, pain in childbirth, and Adam would experience “thorns and thistles.”

What is the meaning of the phrase “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you?” One common interpretation of this passage is that it teaches that there were no thorns or thistles on the Earth until God made this pronouncement. In Eden, so the interpretation goes, there could not possibly have been things like thorns and thistles; not only do they cause pain and draw blood when they prick our skin, they are specifically mentioned as part of the curse on the ground here in Genesis 3. In other words, thorns and thistles did not exist until they became part of God’s curse on the ground.

Following this line of reasoning further, we have to consider the fact that the fossil record contains plants that have thorns and thistles. If one holds to the “literal” interpretation, then it is clear that these plant fossils could only have formed after Adam sinned. Therefore, the fossil record—and by correlation this would mean just about any rock of Phanerozoic (Cambrian and more recent) age—had to have formed after Adam. This is one of the supposed Biblical foundations for young-Earth creationist “flood geology.”

But is this the best way to understand God’s “thorns and thistles” curse? A better interpretation is that there is a figurative aspect to “thorns and thistles.” If so, the young-Earth interpretation is an example of hyperliteralism, an over-reading of the text caused by focusing on the literal words on the page rather than the main thrust of the section. A broader view of the text is that God was removing his blessing on mankind’s work. The intention at creation was that Adam and his descendants would be fruitful; not just in reproduction, but in their stewardship and dominion over the rest of creation. There would be shalom between man and his Creator, within each person, between man and wife, between individuals, and between humans and nature. This was all frustrated by Adam’s rebellion, and we have been living with the consequences ever since. Thorns and thistles may have existed before, but with the advent of sin they could now have dominion over humanity rather than humanity having dominion over them. All of our work is now frustrated to one degree or another by figurative thorns and thistles, whether it be the weeds in our garden, the broken relationships with coworkers and clients, mistakes we make in our work, or bugs in the latest software on our computers.

Genesis 3:18 is not about thorns and thistles any more than Genesis 3:14-15 is about how snakes lost their legs. Genesis 3:18 is about how our work in general is frustrated because of sin, and Genesis 3:14-15 is about the humiliation of Satan, grovelling in the dust just as defeated enemies of some Mesopotamian ruler would be forced to do. It is much better, in terms of the literary imagery of the passage, to take thorns and thistles as having a broader meaning in terms of our work and relationships rather than narrowing the meaning down to the appearance of weeds in Adam’s garden.

The undoing of the curse on our work is found in the work of Christ, who bore a crown of thorns as he suffered on our behalf. We live in confident hope that all of creation will one day come under the healing rule of Christ, and that our broken bodies will be resurrected whole. In the new (or renewed) Earth there will be gardens, and I won’t be at all surprised if we find roses growing there.

Grace and Peace

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Notes:

The Phrase Finder has an article about the origin of “raining cats and dogs.”

The ESV Study Bible comments:

Gen. 3:17–19 God’s punishment of the man involves his relationship with the very ground from which he was formed (see note on 2:5–7). Because he has eaten that which was prohibited to him, he will have to struggle to eat in the future. Given the abundance of food that God provided in the garden, this judgment reflects God’s disfavor. Adam will no longer enjoy the garden’s abundance but will have to work the ground from which he was taken (3:23; see note on 2:8–9). The punishment is not work itself (cf. 2:15), but rather the hardship and frustration (i.e., “pain,” itstsabon; cf. 3:16) that will accompany the man’s labor. To say that the ground is cursed (Hb. ’arar, v. 17) and will bring forth thorns and thistles (v. 18) indicates that the abundant productivity that was seen in Eden will no longer be the case. Underlying this judgment is a disruption of the harmonious relationship that originally existed between humans and nature.

Derek Kidner, in his commentary on Genesis (p. 72 of 1967 printing), writes,

Thorns… and thistles are eloquent signs of nature untamed and encroaching; in the Old Testament they mark the scenes of man’s self-defeat and God’s judgment, e.g. in the sluggard’s field (Pr. 24:31) and the ruined city (Is. 34:13). They need not be envisaged here as newly created, but as henceforth a perennial threat (as the unconquered Canaanites would be to Israel, Nu. 33:55); for man in his own disorder would never now ‘subdue’ the earth.

GeoScriptures — Genesis 7:19 — “All the earth” doesn’t always mean “all the earth”

And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. — Genesis 7:19 (ESV)

Many Christians point to the universal nature of some verses in the account of Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9 to prove that the flood must have been global in extent. For instance, Genesis 6:13 states,

And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

We also read,

The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.

How do old-Earth Christians who hold to a local (rather than global) flood interpret these passages? The answer is by using standard tools of hermeneutics (interpretation), including examining what the text does and does not say, and by comparing Scripture to Scripture. I would like to focus right now on the “let Scripture interpret Scripture” aspect of hermeneutics.

There are a number of passages in the Old Testament (and even in the New Testament) where “all the earth” does not mean “all the earth.” Here are the main ones:

  • Genesis 41:57Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth. — In this case, does “all the earth” mean “all the earth,” or does it mean a widespread area in the Eastern Mediterranean? Most Bible scholars take this as a figure of speech, not as a literal statement. People came from far away, such as from Canaan, but not necessarily from Spain. I was having a conversation with someone about this passage a few months ago, and I asked him if he believed that people from every nation, from the Eskimos to the Zulus, showed up to buy grain from Joseph. He answered that he believed it was a literal “all the earth,” but that mankind had not yet dispersed very far following the Tower of Babel.
  • Deuteronomy 2:25 — This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you.’ — Did the Incas and Chinese hear reports about the Exodus, or again, is “the peoples who are under the whole heaven” to be taken in some sense figuratively?
  • 1 Kings 18:10 — There is no nation or kingdom where my lord [King Ahab] has not sent to seek you. — Did Ahab send emissaries to Japan and Zimbabwe to look for Elijah? If I were a hyper-literalist, I would have to say that he did.
  • 2 Chronicles 9:23 — And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. — Do I have to affirm that leaders of the Australian Aborigines showed up in Jerusalem to listen to Solomon?
  • Jeremiah 27:7 — All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson. — God said that “all the nations” shall serve Nebuchadnezzar. Does this mean that there is some gap in our historical knowledge; a period of time when Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire stretched from Los Angeles to London to Tokyo, and from Murmansk to the Cape of Good Hope? Or was God using a figure of speech?
  • Dan 4:22It is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth. — As in Jer 27:7, does the Bible teach that Nebuchadnezzar’s empire covered the entire planet? (see also Daniel 5:19).
  • Zephaniah 1:2 — “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. (also see v. 18) — Is this teaching the destruction of the entire Earth, or a more limited judgement on unfaithful Israel and the surrounding nations?
  • Similar “universal” passages can be found in the New Testament — Luke 2:1 (all the world to be registered), John 12:19 (the Pharisees were concerned that the whole world was going to Jesus), Acts 2:5 (Jews were present at Pentecost from every nation under heaven), Colossians 1:23 (the gospel has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven).

In each case a more natural reading of the text is something other than “all the Earth.” Only if we bring a rigid, overly-literalistic hermeneutic to the passages do we end up with things like Ahab’s servants trekking through the Himalayas looking for Elijah.

In many ways, Hebrew functions like other languages. It is not a Vulcan-like tongue where everything is mechanical and logical, lacking in word pictures or hyperbole.  In English, if we say “everyone is doing it,” we don’t literally mean “everyone,” unless we are talking about something like breathing. So if I say, “everyone in America likes McDonalds,” most people would not take that to mean “everyone in America likes McDonalds.” The same is true in the foreign language I know best, Romanian. The phrase “toată lumea” literally means “all the world,” which translates into English as “everyone.” If I were to say toată lumea likes going to the beach, I would literally be saying that the whole world likes going to the beach, but I would really mean that many or most people like going to the beach, or most people I know like going to the beach.

I hope that I have demonstrated that “all the Earth” usually does not mean “all the Earth” in the Old Testament. The question then becomes: can we apply this knowledge (letting Scripture interpret Scripture) to the account of Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9? Are the universal phrases in the passage to be taken in a “literalistic” sense, or is there room for reading these as figures of speech?  I believe I can show that much of the universal imagery of Genesis 6-9 is indeed hyperbolic, and that the passage can be read naturally as a very large, but still limited flood that appeared universal from Noah’s perspective in the middle of it all. I will save that discussion for another time.

Grace and Peace.

GeoScriptures — Genesis 2:16-17 — The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the fruit of sin

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” — Genesis 2:16-17 (NIV 1984)

According to Genesis, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a garden. He commanded that they tend the Earth, and that they be fruitful and multiply. They walked in fellowship with God as they worked; it was a paradise, but not an idle paradise. He provided the tree of life that they might live forever, but forbade them from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

In Genesis 3, as we  know, Adam and Eve thought they knew better than God and they ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Was this a good thing or a bad thing? The correct answer, of course, is that this was a bad thing. That doesn’t stop some from twisting the story; consider the following from paleontologist L. Beverly Halstead:

Here [in Genesis] we have man being given an instruction by the supreme Authority, and he was expected to accept this quite uncritically—he was not expected to question it, he was certainly not expected to defy it, he was expected to obey it. Let us consider what this means. Here is a situation where you are placed in an environment where you have everything, all you must not do is think.

Samuel Butler in the last century wrote “The Kingdom of Heaven is the being like a good dog.”

A good dog does what he is told, gets a pat on the head, and that is all. This is a prospect that no real human being should ever stand for. But we are very fortunate in this story—we have the hero of this entire episode, the serpent, and he gave very good advice (Gen 3:5-7)

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And the eyes of them both were opened.

That, to my mind, is the most inspiring passage in this entire volume.

That was the original sin, the defiance of the Lord God was original sin, and this sin is the one which every scientist worthy of the name is dedicated to uphold.

(quote from Halstead, L. Beverly, “Evolution—The Fossils Say Yes!”, in Montagu, Ashley (ed.), 1984, Science and Creationism, pp. 241-242. )

Halstead simply distorted the passage for his own purposes. God did not forbid them from eating fruit from a “tree of knowledge,” as if knowledge were bad, but from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

“Knowledge” can mean knowing about something, such as knowing about European history or invertebrate paleontology. I think that is what Halstead had in mind; that somehow God wanted Adam and Eve to live in some sort of ignorant bliss. The passage, however, implies that God wanted Adam and Eve to have a kind of scientific knowledge about their world; how could they have dominion over the garden as God’s representatives on Earth if they were clueless about caring for the Earth?

There is another kind of knowledge that is experiential rather than just the intellectual knowledge inherent in science. We see this in Genesis 4:1 — “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.” Adam did not just know about Eve as an intellectual exercise, but had a deep, intimate, emotional knowledge of her expressed in sexual intercourse.

This is the kind of knowledge that Adam and Eve would gain through eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They did not just gain an intellectual understanding  about the world, or a textbook knowledge about ethics, but they knew good and evil, and this was a horrible thing to gain intimate knowledge of.

Think of what they “gained” through their submission to Satan, or as Halstead put it, the “hero of this entire episode, the serpent.” Here is what we have as the fruit of disobedience:

  • A broken relationship with God.
  • Broken relationships with one another.
  • A broken relationship with the creation.
  • Frustration in work.
  • Pain in childbirth.
  • Shame.
  • Physical death.
  • Decaying bodies.
  • Disease.
  • Murder.
  • Poverty.
  • Oppression.
  • War.
  • Famine.
  • Hatred.
  • Abuse.
  • Rape.
  • Exploitation.

All because of one piece of fruit. Was it worth it?

Grace and Peace

GeoScriptures — Hebrews 11:1 — Christian faith is not blind faith

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. — Hebrews 11:1 (NIV 1984)

A couple weeks ago, I was on a flight that landed in dense fog in Salt Lake City. I had a window seat, and the first thing I could see on the ground as the plane approached the airport was the asphalt a few seconds before the wheels touched the runway. The visibility along the surface was sufficient to keep the runway open—commercial pilots cannot land completely by instruments; they must be able to see a certain distance ahead on the runway—but the clouds were considerably more dense a short distance above the ground as the plane approached the airport.

The pilot was flying by faith. He or she had confidence in the various instruments that guided the plane through the dense clouds. This is the most common way we use the word “faith” in our day to day conversations. When we say we have faith in something or someone, we almost always mean something like “trust” or “confidence,” and almost never mean “blind faith,” which would be faith with absolutely no evidence to back it up.

Faith is only as good as the object in which one puts their faith. Commercial passenger airplanes are extraordinarily reliable. If they had a success rate of 99% almost no one would fly on them (and having flown a few hundred times I would likely have died in a plane crash quite a while ago). According to planecrashinfo.com, your chances of dying in a plane crash on a flight of the thirty safest airlines is about 1 in 29 million! To board an airplane is an act of faith, but it certainly is not an act of blind faith.

Christian faith is this “confidence” sort of faith. Theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer put it this way in his book He is There and He is not Silent (Appendix B):

One must analyze the word faith and see that it can mean two completely opposite things.

Suppose we are climbing in the Alps and are very high on the bare rock, and suddenly the fog shuts down. The guide turns to us and says that the ice is forming and that there is no hope; before morning we will freeze to death here on the shoulder of the mountain. Simply to keep warm the guide keeps us moving in the dense fog further out on the shoulder until none of us have any idea where we are. After an hour or so, someone says to the guide, “Suppose I dropped and hit a ledge ten feet down in the fog. What would happen then?” The guide would say that you might make it until the morning and thus live. So, with absolutely no knowledge or any reason to support his action, one of the group hangs and drops into the fog. This would be one kind of faith, a leap of faith.

Suppose, however, after we have worked out on the shoulder in the midst of the fog and the growing ice on the rock, we had stopped and we heard a voice which said, “You cannot see me, but I know exactly where you are from your voices. I am on another ridge. I have lived in these mountains, man and boy, for over sixty years and I know every foot of them. I assure you that ten feet below you there is a ledge. If you hang and drop, you can make it through the night and I will get you in the morning.”

I would not hang and drop at once, but would ask questions to try to ascertain if the man knew what he was talking about and if he was not my enemy… I would ask him what to me would be the adequate and sufficient questions, and when I became convinced by his answers, then I would hang and drop.

This is faith, but obviously it has no relationship to the other use of the word. As a matter of fact, if one of these is called faith, the other should not be designated by the same word. The historic Christian faith is not a leap of faith in the post-Kierkegaardian sense because He is not silent, and I am invited to ask the adequate and sufficient questions, not only in regard to details, but also in regard to the existence of the universe and its complexity and in regard to the existence of man.

Christian faith is an informed step into the fog. It is not based on a rational or logical line of thought, but it is rational. It is firmly grounded in the creation and history; it can give better answers for why there is a universe and why it is the way it is, and what the meaning of history is, and why we humans are the way we are, than the alternatives such as atheism or pantheism, or even other non-Christian theistic religions such as Islam.

One must be careful to note that Christian faith is not something we stir up within ourselves. I cannot claim that I came to God because, genius that I am, I figured it all out. Michael Patton describes Biblical faith as “Warranted faith brought about by the Holy Spirit.”

The faith that God calls on us to have is neither blind nor irrational. And while we believe our faith is the most rational choice that we can make given the evidence, rational alone is not enough. The Bible says that without outside intervention, we are antagonistic to spiritual truths. If we rely on naked intellect or personal effort alone, even as Christians, we will never truly be able to rest in God. The most important component to our faith has yet to be revealed. What is this element? It is the power of the Holy Spirit. The third member of the Trinity must ignite our faith. Yes, he uses rationale , inquiry, evidences, personal effort, and our minds to do so. But these things alone can only get us so far. In order to have true faith, the power of the Holy Spirit must move within us, releasing us from the bondage of our will.

Also note that it was not the strength of my faith that enabled the airplane I was on to get me from Billings, Montana, to Salt Lake City. I could have had a very weak faith in airplanes, and it still would have done the job. It was the reliability of the airplane and its crew and maintenance personnel that enabled me to make it to Utah alive. Likewise, my faith in God and his Word is not perfect. But mustard seed sized faith in God is sufficient to help me through the fog of life, and to cling to the Creator of the universe who is willing and able to bring me safely to the final landing.

Grace and Peace

GeoScriptures – Psalm 77:16-18 – Deadly beauty and the glory of God

The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.

The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.

Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.

Psalm 77:16-18 (NIV 1984)

I flew over the Wasatch Mountains of Utah this morning, and the sight was spectacular. The sun was just about to rise, and the mountains had a considerable amount of fresh snow on their pristine slopes. The ruggedness of the mountains was heightened by the smooth, undulating texture of the fog-filled valleys. The crest of the range was knife-sharp, with steep snow drifts looming over chutes that had been carved through the forested slopes by numerous avalanches in a multitude of previous winters.

As I praised God for the beauty of his creation—I love mountains and I love snow—I realized that the countryside passing quickly beneath me was a dangerous place. At any time, an avalanche could be triggered—perhaps by wind, by settling of snow caused by temperatures changes, or by a cross-country skier traversing the slopes beneath the cornices.

It is not a contradiction to say that creation can be a dangerous place, and to say that it is good. In the Scriptures, God is not just glorified by gentle creations, such as puppies and daffodils. Certainly these things are good, but they are not used in imagery describing the majesty and power of the Almighty. Instead, as in Psalm 77, God’s glory is displayed in things that are frightening, such as thunder, lightning, wind, and earthquakes. I would add to the Biblical list marvels such as volcanoes, hurricanes, black holes, and supernovas.

Some assume that God’s original creation, being described as “very good,” did not contain thunderstorms, earthquakes, or gamma ray bursts. I see absolutely no Biblical reason for believing this, and plenty of Biblical passages which use the dangerous parts of creation to point us to the even more awesome powers of the Creator. God is like how Aslan is described in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Grace and Peace

GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:1 — “In the beginning God” vs Carl Sagan

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.Genesis 1:1 (ESV)

“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” — Carl Sagan, from Cosmos.

Which of these two quotes is a scientific statement, and which is a religious statement?

The initial reaction most people—including Christians— have had when I have asked this question is that the quote from Genesis is a religious statement, and the quote from Sagan is a scientific statement. In reality, both statements are religious or philosophical in nature, but only the Genesis quote is fully compatible with the universe as we know it.

I won’t dispute that the quote from the Bible is a religious statement. If religion is about God and his relationship to the universe and humanity, then Genesis 1:1 is clearly a religious statement.

Carl Sagan’s famous Cosmos statement is also a philosophical—and I would say religious—statement. Sagan had not observed that “the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” nor had he nor any other scientist done an experiment which proved that God doesn’t exist or isn’t necessary. In other words, Sagan had not used anything like “the scientific method” to arrive at his conclusion, and his Cosmos quote is a philosophical statement, not a scientific one.

Atheists such as Sagan would say that science has explained everything from nuclear fusion to sexual reproduction without any need for inserting God into the process and so their faith that there is no God is justified (faith is the right word, even if they would scramble to say it in a different way). But in doing this they are confusing categories. It is one thing to say that stellar evolution or meiosis can be explained without inserting a “God did it” step. Christians do not insert a “God did it” step into these processes either. However, it is an entirely different matter to explain why there is a cosmos at all. This question is outside of science, and is one that theists have a better explanation for than do atheists.

Many dismiss the Christian belief that God created the entire cosmos—matter, energy, space, time, and laws—as coming from a primitive myth. By “cosmos” I mean “everything that is or ever was or ever will be,” which would include the multiverse (if there is such a thing) beyond our observed universe, but would not include God. Only one of the following statements, however, is actually compatible with the cosmos as we know it:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

“In the beginning, nothing created everything.”

In the universe we live in, things do not pop into existence completely out of nothing. I am not talking about random quantum fluctuations creating subatomic particles here and there, because these particles are not truly popping up out of nothing. By nothing, I mean nothing — no space, time, matter, energy, nor laws. Because of this, it is incompatible with what we know about the cosmos—that is, it is incompatible with science—to believe that the cosmos came from absolutely nothing, or that it somehow created itself.

On the other hand, it is compatible with the universe as we know it (i.e. science) to advocate that it was caused to exist by something completely outside of it. There is absolutely no scientific reason, therefore, for a scientist to not accept that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Grace and Peace

GeoScriptures — John 1:1,14 — God in a dot

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. — John 1:1,14 (NIV 1984)

Perhaps one of the most extraordinary claims of the Christian faith is not that God created the universe (many philosophers believe there must be something outside of the universe that created the universe), or that God can work miracles such as the parting of the Red Sea, but that Jesus Christ (the Word of John chapter one) was God in the flesh. In verse one, it states that “the Word was God,” and in verse fourteen John writes that “The Word became flesh.”

This means that the God who created the entire universe (with all of its laws, energy, and matter), who knows both the position and momentum of each subatomic particle in the universe, and without whom the universe would cease to exist in less than a nanosecond—this God of “all there is or was or ever will be,” became a human being. Not only did God become fully human (while retaining full deity), he became a zygote, a fertilized ovum, about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

Much of this is mysterious to us. How can someone be fully God and fully human? How can God, as the second person of the Trinity, be compressed into a single human cell? We don’t fully know, but we can be filled with wonder.

This tells us several important things about the God of the universe:

  1. God is not the God of the deists; a God who winds up the clock of the universe and then lets it run its course without intervention. God is not only involved in the day-to-day running of the universe, he actually has stepped into his creation to become a creature.
  2. God cares deeply about human beings. God does not look at the heart-wrenching suffering and injustices in this world with indifference, as some accuse him of doing. Instead, God entered into this mess in the person of Jesus Christ. He was born into poverty, saw and experienced great sorrow and suffering, was sentenced to death in a series of unjust trials, and was severely beaten before being nailed naked to a roughly-hewn piece of wood. This is not a God who ignores our pain, but who takes the sin of the world upon himself.
  3. Zygotes matter to God. Embryos matter. The Word became flesh at the point of conception. This tells us that a fertilized egg—a zygote—is fully human, which implies that to kill a zygote (i.e. abortion) is the moral equivalent of murdering any other human.

Grace and Peace