God as Sustainer.

July 18, 2016.

“Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’”
(Acts 17:27b-28)

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote, and I really have missed it. It is indeed hard to keep a daily blog, but it might be even harder (for me at least) to consistently write on a more lax schedule. I could use the excuses of a busy life and new marriage as to why I haven’t had time, but my mind immediately goes to the story Jesus told about people who brought excuses for not attending the banquet of the Lord (Luke 14:15-24, emp. on verse 20). I have not made time for this, and that is something I would like to change.

Though I’ve been gone for a while from writing, I have been actively studying, learning and developing different ideas for what to write/talk about. I want to discuss something today that is an idea that I developed after reading The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton. I recommend this book if you are interested in the interpretation of Genesis one, and especially if you are a scientist struggling with a traditional (though late) view of the text. I won’t go into too much of the details because the topic I’m writing on is somewhat tangential to the material of the book, but I think it makes a lot of sense.

In the book, the author makes the point that we in the west tend to separate the natural from the supernatural. Our mindset has been heavily influenced by Greek philosophers and the rational thinkers of the enlightenment. Whereas I obviously will not deny that I think these influences are good in many respect, one negative that comes from this is we slowly push God out of the picture. If we relegate everything we don’t understand to the realm of the supernatural, and everything we can mechanistically define to the realm of the natural, as we progress in our understanding of the universe, God’s hand in it gets smaller and smaller. What this does is set up practical deism, whether we admit to it or not.

In the ancient world, however, there was no distinction between the supernatural and the natural world. There was no part of the process of life that God did not have a hand in. THe author of this book makes a very interesting point that there were were no “miracles” in the sense that we think of them today, but rather just “signs of a deity’s activity.” Actually, the term “miracle” is used relatively few times in scripture when compared to terms like “signs” and “works” of God. How did God part the Red Sea? He caused a strong east wind to blow all night to divide the waters (Ex. 14:21). How did God punish Israel? He sent other nations to come and take them captive (Hab. 1:5-11). There was no “natural” word in the sense that it operated apart from deity.

The passage we opened with has recently become one of my favorites, and it illustrates this point so well. In context, Paul is in Athens on his second missionary journey and is addressing Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, as well as men of the city of Athens. Athens was known for idol worship, so much so that they had erected an altar to the “unknown God,” presumably so they wouldn’t leave any god out. As he addresses this crown, he uses the alar to the unknown god as his pivot point to teach them about the God of Israel and Jesus Christ, by whom and through whom all things were made (John 1:3, cf. Col. 1:16). Interestingly, Paul quotes thier own poets here (indicating that he studied other religions and philosophies), and teaches them the true God in whom “we live and move and have our being.”

I believe we might be riding a dangerous line when we don’t embrace this theology. When we relegate all natural processes to nature and anything we don’t understand to God (God of the gaps), we fall into a spot that one day, when pressed, there may indeed be no room left for God. If, however, we embrace a God in whom “we live and move and have our being,” then we see natural processes as the evidence of his work.

The author illustrates this point with Psalm 139:13:

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”

This is actually a verse that many Christians are very familar with, and many, if not the vast majority of Christians uphold to be true. However, we know how a baby is formed in the womb. There is a whole discipline of science dedicated to this “natural” process (embryology). Does this take away from the verse? Or rather, does the verse in Psalms make modern science null and void?

The answer to those questions is an obvious no. But notice how the psalm brings in the intimate relationship that God has with this world and the natural processes therein. It’s easy for us to recognize here that though childbirth is a natural process, God’s hand is intimately involved. So this brings about a question: Why don’t we view all natural processes in this manner?

I was thinking about this and how it may relate to the physics of the universe, and something hit me. What if the natural laws that we have discovered and put mathematical equations to is God? What if the driving force of this universe is God? What if mathematics itself is God?

What if we truly view God as Creator and Sustainer?

Now, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am not making a plea that God is one with nature, or that all God is is the natural laws we have discovered around us. It is clear that God is a being that works separate from these laws. I am not equating God with Mother Nature. However, does being apart from the laws in some sense make it impossible that God is also the sustenance behind the natural laws that we have defined by mathematical equation or biological mechanism? Could God not be the Sustainer of Gravity? Could He not be the forces that drive thermodynamics? Could he not be behind the mechanisms that drive the gestation of a human embryo?

I guess in this line of thought, God would not be the actual mechanisms (which certainly aren’t perfect), but rather the sustaining force behind them. After all, when you break things down to their most fundamental elements, how do we even fathom existence? What are the most fundamental elements, and how do you even define them (see this post for more on this)? What sustains the universe in which we live?

I posit that that the Sustainer is God. God is the reason that this universe exists and functions. He is the driving force behind the “natural” laws. God is the purpose behind all existence.

Regardless of whether or not I’m exactly right in this point (and I am fully open to being somewhat off in my thinking here), we do need to adopt a worldview that is more God centered. The bible teaches what the ancients knew: God is intimately involved with this world. The planes of the “natural” and “supernatural” are not divided (note here that I am not referencing the spiritual world itself, that’s a whole other topic for another day; rather I’m saying that God- the supernatural- should not be separated from the natural).

What we are dealing with here is teleology, or explaining things by their purpose rather than their cause. In this view, what we learn from science is the work of God. The bible is not written to be a scientific textbook, yet too many of us treat it as such (to our own detriment). Too many hold that the texts in the bible must stringently adhere to what modern science says about the world, and they subsequently try to read our modern knowlege into the premodern text. This brings many problems, not the least of which that our “modern knowledge” will be archaic in 100 years. What then? Will future people have to change our ideas again to make whatever the cutting edge science says in their day? What we know about the world today is almost certainly wrong, just as wrong as “modern science” was in the 1700s. Sure, we have bits of truths. But our theories will be replaced, our models changed. We do not know the absolute truth about this universe. And it was never God’s purpose in inspiring the biblical writers to teach us the absolute truth about “natural” laws.

The bible exists to teach us about God. It is to teach us about our purpose. God used people in a certain time and culture to communicate to them and to us about who He is. And in this communication, we find that God does not only exist outside of the creation, but rather he is intimately involved in it.  He is not only Creator, but He is also Sustainer. He is not a god far away, but rather He is close to each one of us.

“In Him we live and move and have our being.”

Suggested Reading: Job 38-39, Psalm 139, Acts 17.

Do you have a relationship with the Sustainer?

-Walter

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