Compelling Life

Why is there life? It turns out there are a number of questions worthy of consideration.

How did the earth become suitable for life? Despite the longing for “life out there,” many scientists tell us the odds are against life happening anywhere, even here! Many things need to come together with precision for life to be possible. They happen to do so for us. The earth just happens to have the right qualities such as the right atmosphere, right orbit, right tilt (thanks moon!), right weather patterns, right core temperature, right distance from and right orbit around the right kind of sun which is in the right place in our galaxy. We are only scratching the surface of things that need to come together for life to be possible. The earth appears to be a finely calibrated machine for the flourishing of life. When we see such kinds of precision we don’t normally ask “how did that happen?”, we ask “who did that?”.

How did life come about in the first place? Why is the universe not made up solely of non-living matter? In the past we were taught that life began with very simple organisms in a “primordial soup. ” However, life is incredibly complex even in its simplest expressions. The simplest of life forms require complex machinery and teamwork. As a  student I used to take my pens apart and write with just the ink tube and the attached ball-point. The pen could be reduced to very few parts and still work. Living things, however, cannot be reduced like that. They are more like a mechanical watch where messing with one cog renders the watch useless. Only living things are way more complex. When we see complex machinery we don’t ask “how did that happen?”, we ask “who did that?”.

Also, life happens thanks to an incredible amount of information such as we find in DNA. How did all that information get there? Back to my student days, anytime I would see a Commodore 64 computer on display in a store, I would write a short program that would write the same words, over and over again, on the screen. I knew just enough of the computer language called “Basic” to be able to do that. I am sure no employee on finding the computer would have asked, “how did that happen?”. Rather, they would ask the obvious question, “who wrote that?”.

How did there come to be such diversity and inter-dependance among amazing living things?  Why is the world not just covered in something like moss? Why such wonderful, often beautiful and awe-inspiring creatures? How did eco-systems come about which require the very diversity found within them? Living things are found in environments where not only can they flourish, but importantly, they can help other living things in the environment flourish also.

We are very often told that animals “adapted” to their environments. However, did they adapt, or were they, plus their environments, adapted to each other? When we see race cars whizzing around race tracks do we wonder how the cars adapted and became so fast? When we see trucks hauling heavy loads down a highway, do we ask how they adapted, becaming so big? We can speak of the evolution of the vehicle, but we know that intelligence is behind that evolution. Adaptation of things to environments is a matter of creation. When we see things uniquely placed according to what they are and can do we do not ask “how did that happen?”, we ask “who did that?”.

The real question.

John Entwistle, bass player for “The Who,” released a solo project including a song called “I Wonder” in which he marveled at the way things were put together. The song includes these lines in the chorus:

Thank you Mother Nature
For the way you got things planned
Don’t ever change a thing, I’m happy as I am.

In thinking about nature he was on the right track. There is a “who?” behind the “what?” and the “how?” questions.

The precise alignment of parameters required for life to flourish on earth points to intelligence and capability. The complexity found within even the simplest of living things points to intelligence and capability. The use of language in the building blocks of life points to intelligence and capability. The care shown through the placement of living things in finely balanced eco-systems points to intelligence and capability. The question is not “how,” but “who?”. Who has this kind of intelligence and capability?

Christianity provides a compelling answer to this question; “who?”.

Consider what we discover in the first two chapters of Genesis:

  1. On the suitability of the earth for life, God put all the necessary conditions and circumstance into place for life. Obvious things are mentioned like light, dark, the sun, the moon, water and land (see Genesis 1:1-19). We are not told about things like gravity, oxygen, and the like. We should not expect a science report from a book that is introducing us to God!
  2. On life getting life started in the first place, God, a living being, created life and living things. In being created by God living things are complex right from the start. In fact living things are created with “seed in it” (eg. Genesis 1:11), the ability to reproduce is baked right in. Besides, how could non-living, non-thinking things give rise to living, thinking things?
  3. On diverse living creatures being found in well balanced eco-systems, God created life according to their kinds (see Genesis 1:20-25). Also, food is provided (see Genesis 1:29-31). The required systems are put in place for life to flourish.

As we consider life and living things, there is one more question.

Why do human beings seem to be so different from the rest of the animals in remarkable ways? There is a difference in intelligence, creativity, language skills, morality, and religion. There is an ability to reflect and a desire for significance that is not found in other animals.

When a child in an orphanage is taken into a family where they are then fed, clothed, coached, taught, and experience loving and caring relationship for many, many years, we do not ask “how did that happen?”. When we see one child marked out from all the others in such remarkable ways, we ask, “who desired a special relationship with that child?”.

Back to Genesis chapters one and two. God created humanity in His image, and for a special relationship. Biblical scholars point to two accounts of creation, the first being found in chapter one and the second being found in chapter two.  In the first account humanity is created last, but “in his image” (see Genesis 1:26). In case we think that we were an afterthought, the second account has humanity created first (see Genesis 2:4-9). Both accounts point to how we were created by God for a special relationship.

The life, teaching, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus are also a confirmation that God has created us for special relationship. God did something special for humanity about 2000 years ago in Jesus. Why? Because humanity has had a special place in God’s heart from the beginning. Humans are different from all other living things becuause we were created for a special relationship.

What the Bible tells us about God, our creator and redeemer, fits very well with the questions raised about life through philosophy and science. When we consider these questions of life and living things, it turns out there is a more compelling question than “how?”. It is “Who?”. The answer is God as revealed in the Bible, as revealed in Jesus. The answer is God, Who wants a special relationship with you.

(This is all very introductory and merely a scratching of the surface of things. There are many fine resources available. Good starting points are “The Case for the Creator” by Lee Strobel, and “God’s Crime Scene” by J. Warner Wallace. For those who are local, they are available at Searchlight. This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.)

Creation. Where the Christmas Story Begins . . .

If someone asked you to tell them the story of Christmas, where would you start? With the angels announcing to Mary and Joseph that a baby is on the way? Or perhaps with the prophets of the Old Testament announcing that the Messiah would someday be on His way? That is still not going far enough back for the Christmas story goes right back to Creation. How so?

Imagine you are attending a synagogue service sometime before Jesus is born. The rabbi has read from the scroll of Genesis chapters 1 and 2. You wonder what it must have been like for Adam and Eve in the Garden before the Fall. You ask yourself “What did Adam and Eve enjoy during that time that we are missing out on now?”

Perhaps some of you will think of being naked and unashamed! Perhaps not. Some of you may think of the wonderful non-violence of that time and place. Even in the animal kingdom there was a sense of peace and non-violence:

30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. Genesis 1:30 (NRSV)

How things have changed, with violence marking both the animal kingdom, and so called civilization.

However, the biggest change of all, and the thing you should miss the most, is the full-blown presence of God. God is spoken of as walking in the garden as any person might, and only after the “apple debacle” do Adam and Eve feel that His presence is a scary thing.

8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Genesis 3:8 (NRSV)

We get a sense that before the eating of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve could spend time with God as easily as we might spend time with a family member or good friend.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would miss the presence of God without someone pointing to the Temple. The Temple was a symbol of God’s love; “I want to dwell with you.” But it was also a symbol of separation; “Because I am holy and you are not, I must dwell separated from you, in a holy place.” The Temple was a constant reminder that we are not in the Garden of Eden anymore. Adam and Eve enjoyed the full presence of God without the need for a Temple.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would also miss the presence of God without the need for a priesthood. The priesthood was again a symbol of God’s love; “I want a relationship with you.” But it was also a reminder of separation; “I am holy, and you are not, therefore we cannot have a relationship. You need people who are holy, separated out from you, to stand between you and me.” Adam and Eve could speak freely with God with no need for priests.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would also miss the presence of God without all the rigmarole of religion. The ritual purity code again is another reminder of separation from God. By setting up the religious code, God was revealing proper morality, yes, but was also in effect saying; “There are a lot of things you need to change about yourself before you can even approach me.” Adam and Eve did not need to get all religious when in the Garden.

So does Christmas change anything? There are signs that Christmas is part of everything changing! If you were God and you chose to be incarnate, where would you choose to be born? Perhaps in the Temple to remind the people of the separation that exists between yourself and humanity? God chose a different emphasis. Could you get any less temple-like than being laid in a manger? This is an “unclean” place.

Likewise, if you were God, who would you invite to be the first to come and see your infant Son? Perhaps it should be the priests, the people most focused on holiness? Nope, the Lord sends an invitation to shepherds, whose ritual holiness would be impossible to keep given their work with animals. And they come straightaway. No need to stop for purity focused observances. They come to Jesus without getting all religious about it.

The point is clear. God’s focus at Christmas is to be with us, right here in our mess, even though we are not worthy of Him. In place of our worth, is His grace. Where the temple, the priesthood, and even religion stood as symbols of separation, Christmas stands as a symbol of Presence.

Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” Matthew 1:23

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

I don’t recall where I first heard this, but Christmas is God with us, while Easter is God for us, and Pentecost is God within us. We can point to “the end,” to Christ’s return as our being with God as Adam and Eve were with God in the beginning.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; Revelation 21:1-3

Just as there was no temple in the Garden of Eden, that symbol of our separation from God is not found in the future:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Revelation 21:22

Christmas, with its emphasis on “God with us,” points back to Creation when God was with Adam and Eve, to the present time as we enjoy God’s presence through the Holy Spirit, and forward to the great re-Creation when God will be with His people in the profound way He had in mind from the beginning.

What is your greatest delight at Christmas? Perhaps family? Or turkeys? (Hopefully you know the difference!) Perhaps time off work? Time away? Gifts? Or eggnog? God’s great delight and desire, which Christmas points to, is the realization of His original purpose in Creation; a loving relationship with people. While you may be into the eggnog, He is into you. He has prepared a wonderful Christmas gift, His presence, now, and for all eternity. Have you received that gift yet?

(All scripture references are from the NRSV)