Installment 4 of 20, translated from the book Christ Is the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever: Writings on the Basics of Faith and Doctrine. (Ed. Ari-Pekka Palola, SRK, 2018)
The origins and existence of everything are fundamental questions to which humans have sought an answer through the ages. Religions and science have approached
these questions in various ways and from various viewpoints in attempts to find answers to these ultimate questions.
Some consider questions regarding the origins of the world and humans to be too deep, beyond human comprehension and therefore preposterous. Meanwhile others are deeply interested in the origins of everything: has God created the world? What should one think about the big bang theory as an explanation to the birth of the universe? Can scientific knowledge be somehow reconciled with creationism and God’s actions in the world?
In this article, I will discuss the aforementioned questions as well as humans as a part of the universe: their creation, essence, relationship with fellow humans, nature and God. We are facing questions that are larger than we are. Therefore I shall begin with God’s revelation in the Bible and examine creation theology as well as a few scientific breakthroughs. Meanwhile I shall outline a description of how I myself believe.
The Bible’s Creation Narratives and the Challenge of the Scientific Worldview
No one has observed or documented the birth of the world. We only have God’s revelation of it. Religious and scientific explanations of it have been written much later. The Bible creation narratives have been dated such that the older narrative (Gen. 2:4–25) was written about 800 BC and the narrative that comes first in the Bible (Gen. 1:1–31; 2:1–3) approximately 400 years before the current era.
The fact that the narratives have been dated to later time periods does not diminish their biblical value. From a perspective of faith, we understand that the Bible creation narratives record something that is timelessly true. At the center of the creation narratives is God, the Creator and Mover of all—and not so much how the creation process itself has occurred.
Through science our understanding of the birth of the world and the events of creation are constantly changing and becoming more exact. Faith and science both study deep questions, each from their own perspective. They do not have to conflict with one another. Through the creation narratives in the Bible a viewpoint opens to faith of how God is the origin and Creator of everything. Scientific knowledge in turn tells us something about what kinds of processes may have taken place during and within creation.
History teaches us that it is not a sustainable solution to cling to one’s own era’s scientific theories. When new knowledge emerges, the incorrect theories are inevitably discarded. This was the case in the 1500s, for example, when mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus and astronomer Galileo Galilei published a heliocentric model of our solar system. The Catholic church rejected the model and launched a counterattack against new knowledge. It was felt that the findings of scientists were in direct conflict with the teachings of the church. They failed to notice that in fact the new findings did not undermine the biblical truths in any way—only people’s own ideas and interpretations that were based on the old geocentric world model.
People’s worldview and religious beliefs have been tried later as well. One of the most significant scientific breakthroughs to shake the worldview was Isaac Newton’s study of gravity and trajectories of celestial bodies at the end of the 17th century. Based on that, the universe could be thought of as a mechanical entity that seemed to work with clocklike precision without any greater guiding force. In that world it was hard to find a place for God.
Albert Einstein proved, however, at the beginning of the 20th century that the laws of mechanics do not apply in cosmology. According to Einstein, time is not an absolute concept, but rather it is dependent on the place and speed of the observer. The strictly mechanical world was shattered by science’s own methods. In addition, Edwin Hubble proved in the 1930s that the universe is continuously expanding. Based on new findings, it was concluded that the expansion has had a certain starting point. That is how the theory of the big bang explosion was born. God’s creation fits this worldview better.
The Triune God—Creator of the World
To Christians, the Bible’s creation narratives have through the ages been unrelinquishable narratives that explain the existence of all. Despite the advance of scientific knowledge, the creation narratives have retained their place in the hearts of believers. They are not read as science reports or detailed accounts, but rather as sacred revelations of the beginning of time, which reveal the majesty of God as the Creator and Prime Mover of all that exists.
The language of the Bible’s creation narratives is not the language of science. It is narrative language that seeks to express that which a believing person feels in his or her heart. To believers, the Bible is God’s revelation. It has been formed by the influence of the Holy Spirit—and it opens to faith through the influence of the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, the Bible text remains dead, but opened by the Spirit it comes to life and reveals that which we cannot reach otherwise: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Heb. 11:3).
According to the biblical revelation, God is the Creator and Prime Mover of all that exists. He has created everything from nothing with His word. The visible has been born of the invisible. God is above and beyond human comprehension and beyond our grasp of time and place. Before the moment of creation there was nothing except God in His greatness.
The Bible’s first creation narrative (Gen. 1) describes the birth of the world as an immense series of events, which are divided into six days of creation. First God creates the basic requirements for life: light, water, earth and sky. Then He creates vegetation, of which each plant bears seeds after its kind, and then animals and finally humans.
The Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Gen. 1:1–3).
Each of us can ponder how exactly we should try to connect the details of the creation narrative to modern knowledge. That, however, would likely be futile. The narrative recorded in the Bible reflects the understanding of the world—such as the thought that the sky above was a solid dome—that people had at the time the Bible came to be. At the same time, it nevertheless tells us the message, familiar to us through faith, of God, the Creator of all. This religious message is the main point of the creation narrative.
The theologians that adhere to the Bible’s revelation agree unanimously that in the Creation the entire Trinity of God was present: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The prologue to the Gospel of John explains, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1–3). When he speaks of the Word, John the evangelist meant Christ, in whom God became human in the human world. In Him and through Him people have the possibility to gain unity with the Creator of the universe.
In the epistle to the Colossians, the pre-existence of Christ and simultaneously God’s salvation plan are enlightened as follows: “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:15–17).
Human Beings—the Image of God
Humans are part of God’s creation. The creation narrative describes how God first created the basic requirements for life and finally, on the sixth day of creation, He created humankind into a world that was ready for inhabitation; He gave humans the task of cultivating and protecting all that was created, and of multiplying and replenishing the earth (Gen. 1:26–28).
The creation of humankind shifts our gaze from cosmological questions to humans and to the examination of human origins and their mission. The Bible tells how God created everything that exists through the power of His Word and ultimately formed humankind from the dust of the earth. Therefore the first human was given the name Adam, which resembles the Hebrew word adama, “the dust of the earth.”
The Bible’s narrative emphasizes God’s majesty and creative power. To God, everything is possible. People, however, are interested in pondering matters from the point of view of their own understanding. As such, people have attempted to create logical explanations for the development of life on earth and for the existence of humans. The Bible does not tell the manner in which God did His creation work during the days and periods of creation. No one has sources of information based on which these matters could be irrefutably explained. The Bible’s revelation is limited to the original cause of everything, with God’s will and strength as its basis.
Humans Hear God Speaking
According to the Bible, God created humans in His image and after His likeness (Gen. 1:26). The significance of this is best revealed in the second creation narrative, which tells how God formed humans from the dust of the earth and breathed the breath of life into their nostrils. In this way humans became living souls (Gen. 2:7).
Our Church’s [Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland] Christian Doctrine states, “God has created man to live in His fellowship. Thus man's heart finds peace only in God” (CD 1948, 1). As an inheritance of creation, even a person who has not heard of the biblical God senses the existence of God in his or her heart and may seek unity with God (Rom. 2:14–15). There are religions everywhere in the world. Millions of people pray and speak to their gods, conduct worship services and practice devotion.
On a mission trip to Athens, apostle Paul saw numerous altars dedicated to different gods. One altar was dedicated to “the unknown god” (Deo incognito). Referring to this altar, the apostle preached to the Athenians: “For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:23–27).
According to Christian Doctrine, humans are the only beings in the world who can hear God’s voice, turn to Him, love Him and serve Him. The most important matter in life is “to know God and our Savior Jesus Christ and become a child of God” (CD 1948). The same understanding is expressed throughout the Bible. The psalmist expressed his faith: “Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people” (Ps. 100:3).
On a cosmic scale, humans are negligibly small. The length of human life compared to eternity is like the width of a palm or like nothing. Nevertheless, God takes care of people. The psalmist expressed this thought in poetic form: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Ps. 8:3,4).
Humans Live in Fellowship with Their Neighbors
Fellowship with other humans is another important relationship in which God has placed humans. The closest and most complex relationship is between a man and a woman, who become one in marriage (Gen. 2:24). Jesus described it thus: “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so, then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:6–9).
God created humans as sexual beings and gave them the task to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (Gen. 1:27–28). He established a union—marriage—between a man and a woman as the correct place to practice sexuality. Children are born as fruits of the spouses’ mutual love and submission to one another. In married life the spouses can become partakers of God’s creative force. Children are not their parents’ property, but rather the result of God’s creation work, a gift from the Lord. Therefore children have the right to be born and live a life in which they are loved and protected (Gen. 4:1, Gen. 21:1–3, Gen. 33:5, Ps. 127:35, Ps. 139:13–16).
Pertaining to the biblical understanding outlined above, both family planning and abortion are transgressions against God’s will. People have no right to deprive anyone of the God-given gift of life. The psalmist wrote beautifully: “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works” (Ps. 139:13,14).
Jesus emphasized the special status of children. He said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16). In giving birth to and accepting children, there is in essence an eternal dimension.
Each person forms many human relationships during his or her life. In all encounters and relationships it is good to remember Jesus’ instruction: Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matt. 7:12). We are expected to notice our neighbor’s situation and to see and understand his or her needs.
The Great Commandment simultaneously expresses humans’ role and their duty in relationship to God and fellow humans: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:37–39). It is good to note that the instruction actually contains three objects of love: God, one’s neighbor and oneself. Because it is impossible for humans in and of themselves to love God, the true relationship with God is faith, which we receive through His grace. From faith stems the true love for God as well as for one’s neighbor and oneself.
People’s Duty is to Cultivate and Protect
Since humans were created in God’s image, they have, to a certain degree, power over and responsibility for the world. The psalmist beautifully describes the special status God gave humans: “For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.” (Ps. 8:5,6.)
God gave humans a responsible task. He placed humans to work and take care of all creation (Gen. 2:15). However, as a result of the Fall into sin, humans have not been successful in cultivating and protecting the world in the way God intended. In many cases thoughtlessness and greed have caused them to damage that which has originally been good and whole.
In the Christian tradition, humans’ role in relation to creation is mainly seen from a viewpoint of stewardship. Humans are like stewards, into the responsibility of whom the master has entrusted his property. The stewards must take as good care of the property as possible. Modern humans have become especially conscious of this duty. They have realized that human actions have become too taxing on the world, even exploiting it in many cases. People have taken notice of climate change and asked how far humankind has the right to go. These discussions and questions are justified. Each generation must find the lifestyles in which the tasks of cultivating and protecting are well balanced. The job of cultivating and protecting the world falls under the auspices of a mighty Employer.
Lars Levi Laestadius lived in close connection with nature. He studied nature specifically as God’s creation. God also spoke to him through His creation. Laestadius adhered to the biblical view that humans have the duty of both cultivator and protector. According to him, even in research one must maintain harmony with nature, so that the “devil of greed” cannot do its destructive work. For Laestadius, nature, God and salvation of the soul formed a seamless entity. This is something we could learn from. Many modern people care about nature and their lifestyle, but a longing for personal faith and salvation has been forgotten.
Jesus instructed people who were burdened with worry that they needn’t worry about what to eat, drink or how to clothe themselves. He reminded them that the heavenly Father sure knows that we need all of this. He exhorted: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:31–33).
The Fall into Sin and Human’s Responsibility
When humans were created in God’s image, they were also given responsibility for their actions. Humans, however, were not able to bear the responsibility since they were deceived by the enemy, and they fell into sin. All humankind bears in itself the legacy of the Fall into sin: humans are entirely corrupt and unacceptable before God. They cannot reconcile themselves with God by relying on the attempts of their own reason or heart, but rather they need a helper.
The first pages of the Bible contain a narrative of the Fall into sin. For us, the narrative is God’s holy revelation. It provides a starting point for the major events in salvation history. As is the case with the creation narrative, the narrative of the Fall should not be evaluated from a historical viewpoint, but rather the main point is its message.
The narrative of the Fall into sin is timeless. It shows how sin progresses even today. After being deceived by the enemy of souls, humans became uncertain about what God’s will is. We should note that the enemy of souls tempted them with positive things. The Fall occurred when humans turned to hear and believe the temptations of the enemy of souls rather than God’s words. As a result, they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and by this deed went against God’s will.
The consequences of the Fall were dramatic. What was done could not be undone. The bliss of paradise was shattered. God expelled the humans from paradise. The entrance to paradise and access to the tree of life were blocked. Because of sin, humans were separated from God and became subject to suffering and death (Gen. 3:22–24).
As a result of the Fall into sin, humans had to carry inherited sin, a permanent burden of corruption: people in and of themselves are unable to be acceptable to God. A person’s reason and will are corrupted by sin. They do not serve the purpose God set for them in the beginning. People are left to the devices of their own understanding and are therefore unable to serve and love God in a way that is acceptable to Him. People do not love their neighbors as themselves, but rather revert to self-interest and violence. The cultivation and protection of the world suffer from human greed and at worst can even turn against themselves and cause destruction. Sexuality can be practiced in ways contrary to God’s word, which has led to many forms of sin.
The effects of inherited sin are felt in the lives of all people. Paul stated that there is no one who is righteous. Christians themselves are not any better than others, for all are under the power of sin (Rom. 3:9–12). Even though believers have the desire to battle against sin through the power of the spirit, they experience defeats. The only hope for anything better comes through Christ, for the righteousness of God is given through faith in Jesus Christ unto all who believe (Rom. 3:22).
A believing person is simultaneously righteous and sinful (simul iustus et peccator). Being righteous means being acceptable to God, pure and perfect, whereas being sinful means being unacceptable to God, defiled and corrupt. Purity and perfection are provided by Christ, who defeated the power of sin by His death on the cross and His resurrection. Christ’s merit exists through faith in the heart of a person who receives Him. Christ Himself also comes into the person’s heart and sanctifies the unholy to make it acceptable to God.
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