Thursday, December 16, 2010

Origin: Where Do We Come From?

Worldview-Who Are We

The gospel of John begins like this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

One day a little boy came to his father and asked, “You know, Dad, our teacher just showed us that the world is really round and that it is just out there hanging in space. But Dad, how can the earth just hang in space without support? What holds it up?”

And the father, thinking that his son would be satisfied with a simple answer, said, “Well, son, a camel holds the world up”. Always trusting his father, the boy walked away satisfied – at least, for a while.

The next day, he came back to his dad with the obvious question. “Dad, you know, you said yesterday the world rests on a camel. But what supports the camel?”

A bit troubled now, the father decided to give a quick answer to avoid more questions so he said confidently, “Son, an elephant holds the camel up”.

But the son got smarter now: “Hey dad. I’ve still got a problem. What holds up the elephant?”

His father was now desperate and so he searched for any animal he could think of and said in a loud voice: “A Turtle holds up the elephant!”

“Come on dad”. By now the son realized that the father is not getting to the bottom of things so he asked, “What holds up the turtle?”

So his father answered in a stroke of pure genius, “Son, it’s turtles all the way down”.

This story highlights the question of origin: “What is ultimately real? Where does everything ultimately come from?” Maybe you too have looked up to a starry sky and felt a sense of cosmic wonder: “How come we exist in this universe? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the final reality that holds up the universe?” Suppose that the father in the story just now answered his son’s question scientifically: “Son, the law of gravity holds the world in place”.

The next question would be: “Why is that so, Dad?”

The father may say: “Because the laws of nature work the same way under the same conditions. The universe is an orderly place and governed by natural laws”.

But his son again could ask, “Why, Dad? Why is that so?”

And you cannot go on forever. Sooner or later, the father must end the discussion in one of two ways. He could say, “That’s just the way it is. That is the foundation principle of the universe: It’s the law of nature all the way down”. The final reality is the orderly structure of the universe. That is the worldview called Naturalism: The universe is a closed system and there’s nothing else. No angels, no demons, no miracles. All that is ultimately real is this world. Where do we come from? We come from matter + energy + random chance + time. Who are we? We are just highly evolved biological machines. Why are we here? There’s no ultimate purpose or freedom of choice. We just exist to survive and pass on our genes. Where are we going? In the long run, everything in the universe will be dead. The end. “The cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be”.

Or the father can go one step further and say, “Well, son, that’s the way God made the world. Isn’t it wonderful that God is rational and orderly so the created world is also governed by rational and uniform laws of nature. It is God who sustains everything”. That is the worldview of Christian theism. Where do we come from? There is a personal and infinite Creator God who created the universe and all of us. So the air that we breathe, the planet we walk upon, our bodies, souls and minds belong to Him. All that we are depends on Him for existence. But God Himself is self-existent. He was, He is and He is to come. The Alpha and Omega. He is the source of all living and non-living things. He does not need anything else for His own existence. Because God is rational, the world he created is also orderly and can be explored rationally. As a result, the Christian worldview provided a key foundation for the scientific movement in Western civilization.

You see, either way your answer comes to the bottom of reality at which we cannot go on any further. We have come to the beginning that has no beginning. We have stopped at what is “really real”, which explains everything else. But you can’t explain it any further from that. So when someone asks “Who created God?” he or she doesn’t really understand that by definition God is self-existent. He is the ultimate reality which does not need to be created. He is the beginning that has no beginning. So the question itself is meaningless.

Suppose that in the beginning there was nothing. If there was absolutely nothing at the start, there won’t be anything now. Because out of nothing, nothing comes. No cause, no effect. But something does exist today and not only that, if we look around us, everything that we observe has a beginning and was caused to exist by something else. For example, I have a beginning and my existence was caused by my parents, and my parents came to exist because of my grandparents, and if you rewind all the way back, even the universe has a beginning. Scientists called it the big bang. But what caused the big bang? Who is the Big Banger?

There must be something or someone that has always existed from the very beginning. In ancient times, the Greeks called this eternal force that holds the universe together – the Logos. The Logos (translated as the word) gives life to human beings and order in the universe. So when the apostle John spoke of the “Word of God”, the people understood what he was talking about. He’s talking about the rational principle Logos that made all things to exist, brings order to chaos. The Logos has always existed, it is eternal, uncreated since the very beginning of time… The Logos is the beginning that has no beginning. That means: The Logos existed long before the heavens and the earth were even created. In fact the Logos was the one who created everything.

But then the apostle John went on to say something radical that they never thought of: “Guess what? This Logos is not something abstract or a philosophical system. It’s not even an impersonal force that you can manipulate.” The Logos is a person. He is someone who knows, who loves and makes choices and communicates with us. He is relational. The Logos took on a human body and dwell among us.

And that’s what Christmas is all about. The God who is from eternity stepped into time. He took on flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood. The invisible has become visible, the spiritual has become physical. The ideal has become reality. In other words, God has become human without losing His divine nature. It’s a profound mystery -Jesus is not just fully man, He is fully God.

To appreciate just how radical this is, we can compare it with what other religious worldviews tell us about God. On one hand, in Islam/Judaism, God is so high above the creation, so transcendent that incarnation is impossible. It’s scandalous to think that God could take on human nature. On the other hand, in the worldview called Pantheism found in religions like Hinduism/Buddhism, God is so close to the world, so immanent that reincarnation is normal. It happens to everyone. Everybody has a divine spark in us. The world and God are one and the same. So not all religions are the same…

Listen to these words from Tim Keller: “But Christianity is unique. It doesn't say incarnation is normal, but it doesn't say it's impossible. It says God is so immanent (near us) that it is possible, but he is so transcendent (high above us) that the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is an earth-shaking, history-changing, life-transforming, paradigm-shattering event. Christianity has a unique view on this that sets it apart from everything else”. The Word became flesh and dwell among us.

So who is Jesus? He’s a teacher but not just a good teacher. He’s a prophet but not just a human prophet. He’s so much more. He is the transcendent God who became incarnate. He’s not a far away God. He is God with us (Emmanuel). He is the personal yet infinite God who created the heavens and the earth. He is all-powerful, untamable, uncontainable yet He intimately knows and loves each and every one of us.

Now, does the Christian answer to the question of our origin make any difference to the way we live? Yes, indeed. It has enormous implications on how we understand who we are: What is a human being? What is our true identity?

Because if human beings are just a bunch of carbon-based materials; then we are just a random product of blind accident. There is no eternal purpose or meaning or value to the human life. We are only valuable because we can contribute to the society or because we are functional (able to think and do stuffs). But we have no intrinsic worth. If someone is incapable of contributing to society or loses his ability to function, then his life is not worth living. You can pull the plug or poison him to death. These are the questions involved in ethical issues like euthanasia or abortion – what does it mean to be human?

In the Christian worldview, however, human beings have infinite dignity and worth because they were made in the image of God, in His own likeness. We are fearfully and wonderfully made for relationship with God and with each other. So there is an infinite worth, value and dignity in you that does not depend on how many A’s you score in exam, what brand of T-shirt you wear, who you hang out with. You are infinitely precious because you are created in God’s likeness and bear his image. That is why for Christians, we should care for people even when they are weak, sick and incapable of contributing to society. When God created the earth and everything in it, He declared that they are good. Everything bears the fingerprints of the Maker. Of all people, Christians should be at the forefront of protecting endangered species, conserving the environment and enjoying the beauties of nature because they are God’s handiwork. The implication is that no part of creation is bad in itself. Music, food, work, dancing, sex and the physical body are part of God’s good creation. In fact, Adam and Eve were given the responsibility and privilege to work as God’s partners in eco-management - ruling, caring and stewarding the earth. Genesis 1:28 says: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” They were to care for the garden. and to complement each other as husband and wife. Without a gardener, Eden will quickly become like the Amazon jungle. Because the world belongs to God, we are just stewards of His world. The earth does not belong to us. Therefore we are called to care for creation and create culture and develop society as part of God’s creation mandate.

But that is not all. Although we are created in the image of God, we have also rebelled against the Creator when we have turned away and decided to run our lives apart from God and become self centered. Every part of our being – our bodies, minds and spirits – is tainted by sin and death. When we ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we have made ourselves the center of the universe – to define our own morality, to decide what is right and wrong without reference to God. We try to find happiness, self fulfilment and meaning in life in chasing after idols that do not satisfy. But there is no happiness apart from God. As a result of our rebellion and idols, there is sorrow, pain, suffering and broken relationship with God and with each other. Even the natural world has been affected by human sin, resulting in natural disasters, pollution, extinction of animal species, destruction of rainforests, death and diseases. And Sin has twisted what is created good to express our rebellion against God. For example, music is good but a lot of popular songs today can be used to glorify violence and immorality. Work is a calling from God, but as a result of sin, it becomes an addiction and a curse characterized by frustration and greed. Sexuality is God’s idea in the first place but it can be distorted to serve selfish pleasures at the expense of others. That’s the bad news.

But the good news is Christ has come to redeem every area of life from sin. On the cross, He reconciled the world to God by providing the atonement for sin. He has come not only to save our souls but also to save our bodies and the entire creation. Our weak and corruptible bodies will one day be resurrected and raised in a glorified and incorruptible physical body. There is no ‘sacred versus secular’ division. Every part of creation will be rescued and transformed in the new heaven and new earth. We will explore the question of our final destiny later. For now, let’s recap what the Christian worldview says about “who we are”. The naturalist says that we are nothing but carbon-based biological machine. That is too low a view of human nature because there is no transcendent purpose or value for human beings. We’re just highly developed animals.

The pantheist says that we are part of God and we just need to realize that we are divine. But that is too proud a view of human nature because we are claiming to be God when we are just His created beings. That’s idolatry – trying to rob God’s glory.

The Christian worldview says that we are not God and we are not just animals. We are created by a loving Creator in His image, reflecting His likeness. Therefore, we are endowed with great dignity, creativity and worth. At the same time, we are also fallen sinners who have rebelled against God so death and darkness have infected the deepest core of our being. So we are both noble and depraved, capable of both compassion and cruelty, of both wisdom and foolishness. We are like a living contradiction yet through Christ, we are redeemed and rescued by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.


Robert Hagedorn said...

Do a search: The First Scandal.

Tribute Books said...


Would you be interested in reviewing our children’s title, Care for Creation on your site?

Best wishes,
Nicole Langan
Tribute Books

The Hedonese said...

Will be most happy to, Nicole! How do I do that?

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