Sunday: Genesis 1:1
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Two realms are created here--the distant ether in which the celestial masses revolve and an intimate terrain that we can touch, feel, and see.
As I think about my own life, these two categories hold a lot of meaning. Most days of the week, I'm concerned with the close and the small, relationships and responsibilities, familiar faces and rooms that I know by heart. Yet, all that is dear to me sits tucked inside of a vast expanse. My life is also subject to a colossal cosmic machine in which the forces of nature, human politics, and spiritual powers dwarf all the strength I possess.
I rarely spend time outside these days, staring into dark and distant skies that remind me how small I am. But sometimes when I am feeling weight I cannot carry, I’ll get on the NASA website and look at photos of star nebulae and think about what it means that God made both the close and the far. Here are light-years full of burning and glorious details, and yet, God told us that not even a sparrow falls without his notice.
Which is harder to believe? The God of the nebulae or the God who cares about the broken wing of this tired year's hope?
The book of Genesis regularly juxtaposes binaries to set the stage for the story it tells. Light and dark. Good and evil. Large and small. And this very first sentence begins with a fast zoom in--the Mysterious Everything is divided and subdivided until we arrive in a single garden.
We are carried through the cosmos to a little landing place we can understand, among two people very much like us.
Atheists sometimes suggest that fear of death and the unknown propelled the human race to invent religion. They say that the human soul couldn’t bear to look up into the night sky and feel so vulnerable, so it created "a god" or "gods" to pacify itchy nerves. But there’s another way to look at this impulse as well. A newborn baby will cry in hunger for milk because milk exists.
This is the ontological argument, of course, a concept which originated in the 11th century with Anselm, then was revised and resurrected through Descartes's theory of innate ideas. Because Descartes was attempting to appeal to an audience saturated in formal logic, his work mimics the syllogism (major premise, minor premise, conclusion). He argues that while some people are naturally axiomatic and will perceive God intuitively, others are more clouded and must engage in labor to see the stuff of God--yet once this work of seeing clearly is done, God will be “self-evident” (per se notam). Descartes contradicted Augustine in this, an early leader of the church who had suggested that all who wish to deny God's existence may find a way to do so.
Over the years, I've rolled both possibilities around quite a bit. While I see why Descartes (the mathematician) was attempting to quantify proof of God's existence, I think the testimony of the Created Order works best when it's held in a child's palms. Some things can't be reduced to an equation.
So hello, you bundle of bones and flesh. Here are the heavens and the earth, the far and the near. What do you see as you watch them revolve?
More importantly, what do you want to see? What does this impulse reveal?