The topic of CChristinan Cosmology continues to fascinate me because in presenting the demands of the gospel, a I hope to tomorrow, THW Baia on qhixxh we presen these demands to everyone is hat Christianity is 'cosmological'. Thua:
The creation of the Universe is not just a one-off action after which God went off, as it were, to bide God's time and see how it turned out out (deism, I rhink), but an ongoing act. We exist right now, from moment to passing moment, because God wills that we exist (theism, no?).
But this notion has interesting theological implications, for it means that God wills to exist things which we would rather did not. When I am falling off my bike into a roadside patch of stinging nettles (as I once did) Christ, by his will, upheld the existence of myself, the force of gravity that pulled me to the ground and the chemical interaction of the secretions of the nettles with my skin which caused me a reasonable amount of pain.
This ‘interlacing’ of God and the material world is also implied by the Christian doctrine of the incarnation — that God took on human form. As the Thirty-nine Articles in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer put it,
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person (Article II: II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man)
In other words, God’s nature peculiarly and specifically occupied a space determined by the location of a particular body — the body of the man Jesus.
Now extend that principle to the entire Universe. There is nowhere where God is not ‘present’. As the Psalmist put it,
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. (Psalm 139:7–8, NIV84)
Nevertheless, Christians are not pantheists. We do not believe that everything is divine. The permeation of the world by God is because each part of the world derives its ongoing existence from God himself.
Morality Matters to Matter
But why would God ‘uphold’ such a world, where undesirable states and circumstances occur so often? (This is the old ‘Why would a good God create a world of suffering?’ in another guise.)
It would be foolish to think we could answer such questions completely. Nevertheless, the points about the Universe we have considered already may give us some hints.
1. The Universe has a personal origin, being created by a personal deity for himself.
2. At the heart of God’s purposes in creation is the relationship between himself and human beings whom he has created in his image. The world exists ‘for them’ as well as for God.
3. The relationship between God and human beings, however, is flawed and distorted by their inclination to disobey him. Out of this flows sin and evil.
4. The Universe nevertheless continues in its existence moment by moment because it is ‘upheld’ by the personal creator, and yet the creatures who matter most in his creation are separated from him and mired in sin.
We venture to suggest, therefore, that this distorted relationship between God and his creatures impacts his ‘upholding’ of the Universe. What he ‘upholds’ is a Universe inhabited by and, as regards this planet specifically, presided over by creatures who reject him. There is a broken relationship between God and his ‘imaging-creatures’ at the heart of creation. We should not be surprised at the suggestion that this impacts the creation God upholds, so long as that situation persists. As the Apostle Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans:
19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Romans 8:19–21, NIV84)
The picture the Bible gives is that the created world is the way it is because of human sinfulness — in other words, that morality matters to matter. We have a clear indication of this early on when God is recorded speaking to Adam after the latter has disobeyed him:
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” (Genesis 3:17, NIV84)
It might seem odd that it is the ground which is cursed rather than Adam because of what the latter has done. Yet if we can posit a relationship between human moral actions and the fabric of creation uphold by the God against whom humanity rebels, this perhaps makes more sense. In any case, the curse on the ground rebounds against Adam and becomes a form of judgement on him as it makes his life more difficult.
Thus we suggest that the physical nature and behaviour of the Universe is affected by human behaviour because human behaviour affects our relationship with the God who upholds that physical universe.
All Will be Redeemed
A Christian cosmology, however, also contains the fundamental principle that all is not lost. Certainly there are profound problems, but they are not without resolution. On the contrary, God has always intended that the problem of sin would be resolved. And as we have seen above in the words of St Paul, this will have cosmological implications: ‘the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay’.
The key to this act of rescue is, in Christian theology, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus Paul again writes,
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19–20, NIV84)
We may wonder why the death of this particular individual should have such massive implications, but the claim of this passage, and of Christian theology in general, is that the being of God interpenetrated the physicality of this person: ‘all his fullness [dwelt] in him’. Thus what happened to this person happened, in a sense, to the creator and upholder of the universe. Moreover, it brought about reconciliation between God and his image-bearing creatures. Given that the outcome of that broken relationship is an hostility between the fabric of the world and the human race and that the ultimate expression of this hostility is God, we should not be surprised that the effecting of reconciliation involves death in particular — both the act of dying, which is the ultimate physical judgement, and the overcoming of death.
The Universe is a ‘Story’
What all this also means is that the Universe has a ‘narrative’ — a story. There is a beginning, there is an end, and we are therefore in the middle. The Christian Universe is therefore going somewhere, whereas the atheist materialist Universe is not, or rather it is, but the place it is going is to a state of ‘heat death’, where nothing will ever happen again, forever. Either that, or it will somehow ‘restart’ into an endlessly repeating cycle.
Some materialists see nothing to worry about in either scenario. Yet as the South African philosopher, David Benatar, observes in his book Better Never to Have Been, if suffering is the inevitable accompaniment of life (and it is) and if life (as he believes) has no other outcome than death and non-existence, then why not skip the ‘middle bit’. It is ‘better never to have been’ than to come into existence without being asked and to experience suffering, despite the occasional ‘offset’ of pleasure. In his view, the sum of ‘suffering+pleasure’ can never outweigh the assured result of not coming into existence, which is a guarantee of no suffering ever.
A Christian cosmology, however, rejects this conclusion since it asserts that there is, in fact, something still to come. Specifically, in God’s purposes there will come a time when the entire fabric of creation is renewed and restored — what the Bible calls ‘a new heaven and a new earth’.
You reading this may have many reasons to be greatly interested in the narrative of your life, and indeed of the wider world. You may have ambitions, goals and intentions for yourself and those human beings who mean most to you. But our assessment of these concerns must differ fundamentally, given our basic cosmology.
According to a Christian cosmology, you are not wrong to think of yourself and others as fundamentally important — and not just to you but in the great scheme of things, not least because there is such a thing as a ‘great scheme, for the world you and they inhabit is a created thing, whose purposes lie in the mind of a Creator.
A materialist cosmology, however, must throw a bucket of cold water over your consideration of yourself and those you might love, for both you and they are the outcome of forces which are presumed to have no interest in such beings as yourself and which are fundamentally unmoved by the fate of you and yours. Insofar as there is any ‘meaning’ to your personal narrative, it is one that you impose, not one that is in any way related to a wider ‘plotline’. You are an accident of accidents, here for no reason and destined to be forgotten in a universe where there will one day be forever no one to remember.
But the Christian says ‘No’ — for the outcome is not the endless non-being of death. And to this point we must now turn.
The Universe will End
Again, Christian theology agress with much modern science that the Universe will have an end. Where they differ, of course, is on the nature and causes of that end.
For the materialist scientist, it is a result of that mysterious thing called ‘entropy’ — the tendency of energy to spread itself evenly throughout a system. It is the principal of entropy that causes your cup of tea to cool to room temperature and it is doing the same to the whole Universe, though the final temperature will be well below 20o Celsius. Indeed, it will be something like what is called ‘Absolute Zero’: -273o, at which temperature nothing can happen. The final fate of the materialist universe is a truly depressing eternity of cold and dark.
By contrast the Christian view is that the end of the Universe as we know it is by no means the ‘end’ in absolute terms. But it’s complicated and we’ll have to return to that subject later.
For the atheist, the beginning may just be one beginning amongst many. Furthermore, it is of no significance for what happens next, or for what sentient beings like ourselves might think about what happens in the ‘middle bit’.
Of course, lots of things have happened since the ‘Big Bang’, and lots of other things will probably continue to happen. But according to this view, there is no ‘story’. To quote the title of the book by Jacob Bronowski, for example, there is no ‘ascent of man’.
Of course, the human race has come into existence in that time and has developed in its capacities to understand and control the world. But these developments are not, for the atheist, part of a developing plotline. It is pure chance that the human race happens to exist and to possess the capabilities it does. And human history will probably have no effect on the ‘End’ to which the Universe is inevitably heading — nor is that ‘End’ going to give meaning to the human story. Like the Universe itself, we came into existence and we will one day disappear, but it makes no difference to anything, except our own individual experiences on the way.
By contrast, Christianity emphatically does think in terms of a ‘story’. The universe exists for a reason. It is changing and developing for a reason. And when it comes to an end, this will also be for a reason — because that part of the ‘story’ is finished. The overall story may not be clear to us now, but it is there, and the reason is because of the Universe’s own basic cause.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: