The Apostles Creed (3) Creator of heaven and earth.
James Ussher lived from 1581 – 1656. He became Anglican Archbishop of Ireland. He studied the Old Testament timeline working backwards and concluded that God created the world beginning at 6 00pm on the 22nd October 4004 BC.
The Biblical view of creation was of the heavens above, earth below and Sheol, a shady place below earth. Note the order though, heavens first, earth second. Earth and human life is created but there is a life of existence before it. Perhaps the heavens here means the visible universe but it may mean much more. One of the more interesting ideas about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is of his pre-existence before his incarnation among us. But that is compatible with the statement Creator of heaven and earth. Indeed, it confirms it. The 3 tier universe as it was called survived but was replaced in about 150AD by the idea that the earth was at the centre while the planets travelled round it. The Greeks thought of the earth as spherical with multiple heavens above. St Paul alludes to this in 2 Corinthians 12:2 ‘I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know-God knows’.
St Augustine lived from 354 – 430AD. He was a Bishop of the Church and a theologian. He wrote a book ‘On the literal interpretation of Genesis’. He was an evolutionist long long before Darwin. “The things [that God] had potentially created came forth in the course of time on different days according to their different kind and the rest of the earth was filled with its various kinds of creatures, which produced their appropriate forms in due time.”
In the European middle ages Nicolas Copernicus (1473 – 1543) an astronomer and polymath publicised the theory that the sun was the centre of the planetary system not the earth and that the planets moved around the sun. This was revolutionary thought at the time. Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630) a mathematician and astronomer held that belief that God had created the world according to an intelligible plan that is accessible through the natural light of reason. Galileo (1564 – 1642) advocated the theory that the earth revolved around the sun and was accused of heresy by the Roman Catholic Church. He was put under house arrest for the rest of this life. Later however, this view has been proved to be true. Christianity was the incubator of scientific thought. It provided the context and practical opportunity for study. The Church authorities however from time to time were slow to adapt to new discoveries and tended to behave defensively.
The Scottish geologist Charles Lyell lived from 1797 – 1875. From 1830 - 1833 he published his Principles of Geology. In this three volume book Lyell argued for the gradual change of the earth and its climate over very long periods of time using data from rock formations and fossils. In 1859 Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species. His proposition that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors became known as the theory of evolution. These two publications undermined popular belief in the authority and reliability of the Bible, especially the Book of Genesis. Since the middle of the 19th century there has been an ongoing debate about the relationship between faith and science. The credibility of the Genesis story has been doubted by many and Christians have been obliged to reinterpret the timeline in the first chapter of Genesis from 6 days to periods of time or indeed ages compatible with the views of Lyell, Darwin and others who have followed them.
Today scientists offer us information about the mind-boggling scale of creation. Earth, they say, is 4,603 billion years old. The universe is 13.8 billion years old dated from the Big Bang. The oldest galaxy is 32 billion light years away. 1 light year = 5.8 trillion miles. Our tiny minds cannot comprehend these scales of distance and time.
Christian Faith did not die out as people realised that the new knowledge was not such a threat to belief in a Creator. For a start, the sequence of creation described in Genesis 1 is in itself evolutionary, order from chaos, light and darkness, water and land, vegetation, creatures, birds and animals and human beings. The writer was not a scientist but he understood the progression and hierarchy of the elements of creation in a comparable way. But clearly, the most important aspect of Genesis was the simple affirmation that there was a Creator. That remains Genesis 1’s contribution to human knowledge about God. This knowledge was given by revelation and relationship rather than from scientific laboratory proof. Creator of heaven and earth.
As you well know today with people like Richard Dawkins, there is a significant rejection in our once Christian nation of even this basic tenet of Faith. The alternative is that it all happened by chance and has no ultimate purpose. Christians are a minority now and our Faith is treated with disrespect and hostility. There are a number of Christian intellectuals in the land however, who argue back against the atheists and agnostics. One of them is John Lennox. He is a British mathematician, a philosopher of science and former Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. Fellow scientists quiz him about his Christian faith. ‘Surely you don’t believe in God?’, they ask. He replies thus. ‘Do you believe in energy?’ ‘Yes’ ‘What is energy?’ No answer. ‘Do you believe in consciousness?’ ‘Yes’ ‘What is consciousness?’ No answer. ‘You believe in energy, it certainly exists. You believe in consciousness, it certainly exists. Our belief in God is no different, God certainly exists’, Creator of heaven and earth. John Lennox was told ‘Science is about testing things. You can’t test Christianity’. He replied ‘Yes you can. I have tested it and it works’. ‘I have seen too many lives transformed by Jesus Christ’, he added. Christian intellectuals also attempt to answer the question that we all think about from time to time. ‘Who made God’. One line of argument is that this is not a proper question. It is like asking ‘How much does a note of music weigh?’ or ‘What does pink taste like?’ God cannot have been created is the answer. It is not a full one however. I think we have to accept that our human limitations do not allow us to comprehend all that much. Even scientists tell us that they know and can explain only 4% of the observable universe at this point in time.
Scientific search, experiment and deduction cannot lead us to the knowledge of God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. But we can firmly state some very positive things.
The universe is personal. It is not a system without feeling, an explosion without purpose, an entity without recognition. The universe is personal, so says Genesis 1. So says Jesus. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’. So says St Paul. ‘Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.’
Creation is very good. That is what the writer of Genesis concluded. Life is certainly a great mystery and it is not plain sailing for anyone. But at best our human experience is beautiful and very good. People who suffer do not want to do so but some at least find that they have learned more in their suffering than they ever would have otherwise. Extraordinary humanity comes to the fore in times of testing and adversity. We remember that Jesus did not have it easy, To correct and reset the direction of the human community was a big ask, but Jesus accomplished this through suffering and triumph in resurrection. We are redeemed, creation and salvation together in our worship. It is very good.
Creation is going places. Scientists’ observations at present suggest that the expansion of the universe will continue forever. A popular theory is that the universe will cool as it expands, eventually becoming too cold to sustain life. For this reason, this future scenario is now known as the Big Chill or Big Freeze. Elon Musk the founder of Tesla, the electric car company and others are striving to find the means to live on other planets than earth. But our human personal individual life is guaranteed in God, Creator of heaven and earth. Hopping from one planet to the other is not the destiny of human life, according to Jesus Christ. ‘Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them’. That means you and me. I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. Heaven first and last. Earth here for a time. Your life and mine here for a time. ‘Changed from glory into glory 'til in heav'n we take our place, 'til we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.