Bigger Than We Think
Bigger Than We Think
It was a moment of crisis in my faith. As a young doctoral student in astrophysics, I had just read some work by Stephen Hawking that would eventually go into his classic A Brief History of Time. Up to this point in my Christian life, I had relied on a solid argument to use with my atheist friends. In response to, "The universe began with a Big Bang," I countered with, "But who started it all off—who lit the explosion?" And at the time, science seemed to support my answer: There was no way to combine quantum theory and relativity and therefore no way of describing the first moment of the universe.
Hawking, however, was speculating on how the universe might have lit its own Big Bang. If that was true, did I need a Creator anymore? I asked Sir Robert Boyd, a leading physicist and Christian, about whether Hawking might be wrong. Sir Robert simply replied, "The biblical Creator doesn't need to hide in little gaps in science."
The Christian doctrine of Creation has often been hijacked by controversies over how old the universe is. It has been hollowed out by the theory that God simply ignites the universe and then goes off for a cup of coffee, never touching his masterwork again. It is interesting that attacks on belief in a Creator, whether from Hawking, Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, or Lawrence M. Krauss's recent A Universe from Nothing, tend to target this diminished deity. But the Bible has a much bigger understanding of God as Creator. Not only does the doctrine of Creation feature in Scripture beyond just Genesis 1, God's creative activity permeates every moment of the history of the universe.
My Hawking-induced crisis of faith spurred me to move beyond a "God of the gaps"—a shrunken deity enlisted merely to fill any remaining pockets of mystery that science has yet to illuminate. Indeed, my experience has been that recapturing the doctrine of Creation in its scriptural fullness points us toward a much more exciting understanding of creation. It points us toward a God for whom science is a gift rather than a stumbling block. And perhaps most importantly, it points to a Creator God who is worthy of worship, enjoyment, and trust.
Let me identify a number of themes within the Bible that have been foundational in Christian history to understanding this Creator God.
A Dynamic and Practical Doctrine
First, the Christian doctrine of Creation is never an abstract, academic concept. Western thought loves a simple philosophical understanding of things. But Scripture employs a rich diversity of styles in discussing creation. Even within the Old Testament, the relevant texts (Gen. 1-3; Prov. 8:22-36; Pss. 8, 19, and 148; Gen. 9:8-17; Job 38-42; Isa. 40:9-31) run a broad stylistic gamut, drawing from both the wisdom and prophetic traditions. This diversity testifies to the doctrine's dynamic and practical nature. The Bible's discussions of Creation always have a larger purpose: to inspire worship, to encourage the weak, to call for holiness, and to offer reassurance in times of trouble. Too often, Christians have forgotten this, especially when they have reduced creation narratives to attempted proof texts for God's existence. Christians have disagreed, for instance, over the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis. I am saddened, though, that such controversy has obscured their power as hymns of praise, capable of engulfing us in wonder at such an amazing God.