Drawing From Creation – August 23-25

BlakeCreationThe Bible begins with creation.  We are most familiar with the majestic narratives of Genesis 1 and 2.  Creation is presented in a variety of viewpoints within the Hebrew Scriptures. It is further developed in the New Testament through the teachings of Jesus and in the book of Revelation.

In this weekend retreat we will explore the Bible’s rich witness. We will begin with Genesis 1 and 2.  Then individuals will select from other passages such as: Psalm 8, Psalm 104, Job 28, Proverbs 8, Isaiah 40, Matthew 6 and Revelation 21 and 22.  Participants will learn a new way to study scripture and will draw insights to our place in the world.

One way to deepen our understanding of Creation is to make a journal recording our personal responses in art and writing to our study of the texts.  Nancy Macgregor, a Madison artist and instructor, will help each participant distil their thoughts and experiences into simple pictures and words.  This way all will have a continuing memory, visual and written, of what has been learned.  This is possible for all, artists and non-artists alike.


Origins – a little Preaching on Hebrews 11:1-3


Hebrews 11:1-3

September 9, 2012

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be”.  Carl Sagan, Comos, p.4

“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made o9ut of what was visible.”  Hebrews 11:3

The Greatest commandment is to “Love the lord your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

One of the challenges we face is to give a reasonable answer to why we believe in God.  We do more looking and we do less thinking than in previous years, because it is much easier to watch the TV than to read a book.  It is much easier to put a bumper sticker on your car, or repeat one with your words, than it is to conduct an intelligent conversation.

So I want to have a sort of conversation today about the Origin of all things.  What does the Bible tell us about origins?  Do we have any kind of reason to believe in God other than to take a leap of faith?  Is there truly a conflict between science and faith?

I.  Conflict?

It is a common idea that science and faith are in conflict.  We usually get this from people making an argument against faith from a scientific standpoint or against science from a faith standpoint.  Issues and people are brought out as evidence:  The Trial of Galileo, the Scopes Trial, School Book selection in Texas on the one hand, and Atheism, the new morality and relativism on the other.

I want to say two things about this.

1.  Science is not only compatible with faith; it is really something that God calls us to be part of.

2.  Science should be seen as part of the answer of how the world works. By its nature is cannot be the total explanation of everything.


Cultural Mandate:  We have a mandate to do science in the Bible.  Did you know that?  Now the bible does not say this with 21st Century language.  Yet it does in a variety of ways call us, the image bearers of God to know this world that is our home and that is the creation of God.

Some theologians call this the “cultural mandate”.  They mean that God has left to us to discover the world, to order our lives and to find a way to bring peace and well-being to the earth.  We have done amazing things as human being, and we have obviously fallen short of peace and well-being.

Genesis 1:28 – “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

In order for people to take their role as God’s image bearers in the world, we must learn how the world works.  In order to rule over it we have to understand it.  So we need science for that.

Many have noted that Faith in God gives us a reason to believe that our thinking is real.  It gives us reason to discover a world that is reasonable, because it was designed by God in a mindful way.  Science is seen by believers as learning what God has done.

Genesis 2:15 – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and to take care of it.”

Eden was created by God and Adam was called to care for it.  So Adam had to learn about trees and plants, water and soil, seeds and roots.  Sometimes Theologians wonder how much greater this first Man was than us.  He did not have an I Phone or a chainsaw.  Yet he was not fallen into sin.  Fred Strand used to note that we only use 10% of our brain power – what if Adam had a greater capacity?

We can trace this line through scripture.  We find those who found cities, those who make musical instruments, those who create tools, those who read and write.  Solomon encourages us to look at the Ants and the Birds around us.  God gave Job a science lesson later in the book, as he described the amazing variety of creatures on the earth.  Ecclesiastes discussed the water cycle.  Jesus talked about seeds.

2.  “Science Says”.

Now while we are on this topic we need to notice a reality about science.  Science does not speak with a single voice.  There are at any one time thousands of men and women studying parts of this world.  On many topics there are active debates.  For example is there one or are there multiple universes?  On any one subject, there may be a consensus, but there is not unanimity

Science is a process not a completed work.  The scientific method, we were taught in school has to do with observing, theorizing, testing, and adjusting our thinking.  It is best if studies are repeated and tested.

Science is always on the move.  Everybody believed in one kind of model of the solar system, until Copernicus and Galileo came around.  The philosopher’s all said that the Heavens were perfect, so all things travelled perfect circles.  However, Galileo thought to look through a telescope and he found that the Heavens were imperfect. Planets move in ellipses, and that there are sometimes collisions in space.  In the early 20th Century we thought that Atoms really did look like that symbol you see of a nucleus with little planetary electrons.  Then came Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, and we found that at the atomic level, things are as confusing as a New York City intersection at rush hour.

Debate is necessary in Science because it is a process not a conclusion.


            Trust: What is faith? It is defined in our Text:

“Faith is the evidence of what is hoped for and the certainty of what is not seen.”

You will hear skeptics and believers say, “there is no evidence; just take a leap of faith.”  That is not what the Bible says.  It says that we have reason to believe.  The creation as a whole is seen to declare the glory of God and to show us his character.

Faith is not a blind leap.  It believes the word of the Creator.

If you go to Sears and buy a new power drill, it will come with a manual.  Now do you take as a leap in the dark that you should follow the instructions? Or do you simply trust that Sears   know how to operate this tool that they designed and sell?

Faith is trust in God.  It is knowing, and it is believing. It is trusting that God exists and that he communicates clearly.

We do not negate science by Faith.  Faith is additional information.  Faith is a word from the creator about our origin and purpose.  Science tells us how things work.  Some scientists speculate philosophically about origins and meanings, but that is not part of science.  But Faith is now we learn the answer to the big questions: why are we here?  What does it mean?  Where are we going?


Here is a thought to challenge you.  We know that God is unchanging.  His word is eternal.  So should we say that because we have the bible that we, believers, know everything?

No.  I am sorry to say, that is not true.  It is not true for two reasons:

First, because the bible dies not tell us all we know.  There are no instructions in how to prune grape vines, or how to tune up an engine.  These are things you might need to do.  You will have to learn about those from experience or from teachers.  The things that are taught in the Bible we hold as true.  Not everything you need is there.

Second, we are imperfect.  The bible tells us that human beings are deeply flawed and imperfect.  We are rebellious and selfish.  We are foolish and prone to get things wrong.

When the church went thought the Reformation with men like Martin Luther and John Calvin, they restored the Gospel to the church and cut out a lot of tradition that had built up.  The reformation was like painting a house.  First you have to scrape off all the old bad paint.  Then you get to put on a fresh coat.  Those of us who own a house know that there is no end to maintenance.

The Reformers had a saying.  They said that we need to be constantly reforming.

We have not achieved perfect understanding.  So our faith, our theology, our wisdom and our ways of doing things need to be examined by the light of the Word of God.  So like Science, faith is not something firmly established in the past.  Faith is a living relationship with God and a growing understanding of his Word.   Faith also develops and receives correction.

One of the problems Christians have is that they can become too attached to their explanation of the Bible, or their theory of the bible.  When Galileo looked into a telescope, he did not overturn the bible.  He overturned the theological system of the church of his time.  That system was made up of the Bible and Aristotle combined.  The part that was the problem was the part about Aristotle.

Sometimes we add things to our understanding of the Bible from our experience, or because we heard it somewhere.  We need to be willing to be corrected.  If it turns out the Bible teaches something else, we need to be willing to change our understanding to conform to the Word of God

II.  Spheres.  There is another difference that we need to think about. This is very important. If we do not understand this we will be vexed and confused by trying to understand the Bible and Science at the same time.

Science and the Bible do not cover the same information in the same way.  Science is about matter and energy over time.  The Bible is the story of God’s work in the world.   Let me explain.

Science:  Science deals in the material world.  The current theory is that everything is made up of matter and energy.  Scientists also believe that both matter and energy are made up of the same thing – packets of waves or strings.  Science observes in the 4 dimensions.  Space has three dimensions – height, width and length.  The fourth dimension is time.  Science currently holds that time does not exist all by itself, but it is part of the created world.

I started with a quote from Carl Sagan. This is a famous one that you will hear sooner or later:    “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be”.

Carl Sagan was an atheist.  He said there was neither God nor any need for a God.  He said that everything that exists is in the material world.  There is nothing else.

Is that a scientific statement?  No it is not.  It is a philosophical statement.  He said, as a matter of his belief system, that matter and energy and time are everything.  There can be nothing else.  Did he have proof?  No.  He could not have proof, because we have no way of knowing from physical study of the world (science) if there is anything that is not physical.  Sagan was speaking outside of science, not from science.

Faith:  What does the bible say about this?  Our verses from Hebrews 11 speak to this idea.   What is seen is not made out of what is visible.

We hold that God created everything.  The Bible begins with the Creation of Heaven and Earth.  Throughout the Bible, God is known as the Creator and the sustainer.  He started everything, and he remains actively involved with every part.

Both Genesis 1 and Hebrews 11 say that God created with his word.  This is to say, that God came from outside of the three dimensions, and he came from outside of time itself.  He caused all things to exist because he commanded them to exist.

We have the cosmological argument.  This says, basically, that things that exist are caused by something before them in time.  For example: A chick was born from an egg.  The egg was laid by a hen.  The hen came from another egg, etc.  So somewhere at the beginning there was a first chicken or a first egg.  But how could there be an egg without a chicken to lay it?  How could there be a chicken if it did not come from an egg?

The Cosmological argument says that there had to be a first cause.  It is illogical to say that the material world caused itself.  Besides the material world is decaying over time – so it can have existed forever.  Science agrees with this idea, there was a beginning to our universe.

We have a choice.  The universe is eternal – somehow it caused itself to exist.  Or the universe is temporal, and it was created by something else.  We say it was created by god.  The material work could not create itself, because it is not eternal.

God is eternal, spiritual and not part of the dimensions of time and space.  So it is reasonable to say that God caused things to be.   A few verses later we read this:  Hebrews 11:6:  “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

It’s Personal – Revelation 1

Jesus says “I am the first and the last’ in Revelation 1:17.  This could be drawn out in a number of ways.  However, the scriptures start in Genesis with the creation, to which John’s gospel comments, “he was with God in the beginning.  through him all things were made.”  So there is the Beginning. Revelation ends with a description and a promise of the New Heaven and a  New Earth.  (Genesis speaks of the creation of heaven and earth.)  There is the end.

From a materialistic standpoint, the universe is a great moving consequence of an explosion – it is something that works out according to the laws of physics.  Personality can be explained as a perception built up from complex electro-chemical processes.  In this view, everything is impersonal.

From the Bible’s stand point, we see that before and after these material forces is Someone – before the big explosion that brought about the world, there was love among the Father, Son and Spirit.  In the End, there will be no need for sun and stars because the light of these persons will be all that is needed.

Whatever these statements mean when they are translated from poetry to history, they do mean that the universe is deeply personal.  The world of God is personal.  The church is personally attended to by the “one like a son of man” (chapter 1).  This creator speaks, thunders, writes letters, gives promises, shares visions and promises a banquet.  These are all personal.

At the center of all things, according to the scriptures, God, in three persons, who lives, creates, intervenes, saves and attends in love.

That’s pretty neat.

The Other Book – Romans 1:20

tossing the Confession over the wall

About the Knowledge of God – Moreover, we know God by two means, first, by the creation, preservation, and government of this whole world. For it is before our eyes as a most beautiful Book in which all creatures, from the least to the greatest, are as certain letters and marks through which the invisible things of God can be examined and understood, certainly His eternal power and His divinity as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. This knowledge is sufficient for convicting any given people and rendering them inexcusable. But He also bears His very self to us, much more clearly and openly, in His holy and divine Word; indeed, as much as is expedient in this life for His glory and for the salvation of His own people.  (Belgic Confession, Article 2)

Once yearly I name a Theologian of the Year on Halloween/Reformation Sunday.  This year it was Guido De Bres, primary author of the Belgic Confession.  The above quotation is from Article 2 of that confession, which first came to light when, presumably, De Bres tossed it over the fence of the castle of Doornik on November 2, 1562 (45 years and 2 days after Luther posted his 95 Theses.)  De Bres was trained as a painter of stained glass, came to be a preacher in the underground reformed church in the Netherlands, at the time under the government of Spain.  As remarkable as the line about the world and it’s creatures being like marks in a book, it is more remarkable to know that De Bres had to preach in secret, under constant threat of arrest, and finally died  by the hand of the Inquisition.

So as Bobby McFerrin might have said, “Do Theology; Be Happy!”


Wisdom at a Funeral

At a recent funeral, conducted with people who are not actively part of the church community, I decided to start with a passage from Ecclesiastes and speak of the ability to enjoy simple gifts.  This is the passage:

Eccles. 2:24-26
    There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, [25] for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? [26] For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

   Interestingly this lead to a pleasant conversation at the graveside by a friend of the family regarding work, possessions and taking time for rest and for God.

The gifts God gives are spiritual in nature (wisdom, knowledge and joy) and the material things of life are a “Heaping up” of stuff that we can not keep.  It reminds me of the comment I once heard by a Mennonite believer who was a truck driver by trade,

“I’ve never seen a trailer on a hearse.”