What is our place? Dec 5th – Week 1
The topic of “Discovering God in Creation” has a lot of basic presumptions within it.
That there is a God. That this God creates. That this God can be discovered. That our experience of the world is as created beings, creatures, that observe and interact with this creation , and through that interaction encounter God.
It’s not necessarily a Christian notion either. Most streams of faith assume that there is a creating God that made us and the world around us. Jews, Christians, Muslims and others work from a common playbook as far as creation is concerned. Each works with a set of stories about creation that we, as Christians, find within what we call the Old Testament. Within these “Abrahamic” religions there is also a lot of different perspectives and alternatives of what creation is. Some consider the physical created world to be incomplete, broken, or even evil. Some consider that to truly understand nature is sufficient for knowing God and attaining created perfection. Some assign a hierarchy of value to created things. Some see that all created things have an equivalent value.
What we will consider over the next 2 weeks is how God encounters us as a creator who engages with creation.
In the beginning
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The opening section of the book of Genesis contains 2 stories about how God called the world into being. You can even read Genesis chapter 9, God’s agreement with Noah and his descendants, as a story of creation.
Genesis primarily has a theological purpose. It describes the relationship between a creating God and God’s created beings and the relationship between these created beings and the rest of creation. It describes the similarities and differences between God and humans and other living creatures and the rest of the created order. It also describes how that relationship was broken and what the consequences of that were.
The first creation story describes how God puts creation together and in what order.
The second story talks about the place of human beings within that order.
By using that word “order” I’m saying that there is a set of relationships that differentiate between humans and other creatures, plants etc.
Let’s pause here and discuss this “order in creation”
Do you think that there is an order about things in creation?
What is our place in Creation?
I want you to watch a video from the American Museum of Natural History that looks at what we knew of the Universe in about 2009.
Show Video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17jymDn0W6U
Please note that much of this information is based on observations from a project using the Hipparcos satellite that mapped around 120000 stellar distances from 1989 – 1993. As of April this year the Gaia Satellite is giving us mappings of 1.7 Billion stellar distances
Awe, wonder, insignificance.
Let’s pause and discuss our place in the universe. A good question to start with is
What words can you use to describe how you feel about your place in the universe?
How do people of faith deal with this?
The author of Psalm 8 is concerned about the “place” of human beings within creation.
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
This question of our place in creation is a profound one. What purpose do we have in the cosmos? A scientist, Paul Davies, in the 90’s said…
“the existence of mind in some organism on some planet in the universe is surely a fact of fundamental significance. Through conscious beings the universe has generated self-awareness. This can be no trivial detail, no minor by product of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to be here.”
Paul Davies, The mind of God
This is an important thought. And, in the 90’s represented a real shift in how science spoke into philosophy and religion, areas which its usually stays well away from.
There are 2 different positions here though. One says that the universe brought consciousness into being and consciousness brought forth the idea of God. So God is part of the universe. The second says that God is “other” than creation. The distinction is important. So how do we connect together these 2 conceptions of our place within the universe?
Hymn – Immortal invisible God only wise – Walter Chalmers Smith
A man of “catholic sympathies” Free church of Scotland
Read it. Sing it.
Close in Prayer.
Next week I would like you all to bring a plant from your garden or something similar. Nothing too large.
A good set of videos about the book of Genesis, from a Christian point of view, can be watched at…
A good book to read, from the point of view of a physicist, is “The mind of God, The Scientific Basis for a Rational World” by Paul Davies (1992 Simon and Schuster)
The known Universe – American Museum of Natural History
With an explanation in a Ted Talk
The Milky Way