Gaze skyward on a clear night and let your mind roam a bit. Look upward from any spot on Earth and you’ll see millions of light years into the distance, and millions of years into the past. And everywhere you look, there are stars, grouped into solar systems and galaxies, numbering into the untold billions. And around each star revolves material, sometimes planets larger than our own. Yet scientists tell us that the closest possibly Earth-like planets would take us millions of years to reach, while the planets closer to home are simply uninhabitable. The atheist and the theist, considering this same canvas, reach two quite different conclusions. For the Christian there is awe – despite our knowledge that we are not the “geographic” center of the universe, it does appear that the universe was fine-tuned and created with us in mind. Though we are located on the periphery of an unremarkable galaxy, we seem ideally situated to gaze back into the creation event. To the atheist, by contrast, it seems like such a, well, waste: no rational being would go to the trouble of making so much just to populate a tiny planet. The vastness of the cosmos, for them, proves that either there is no God, or he is certainly not a God interested in the lives of people here.
Is there an adequate answer to this challenge? Can we still have confidence that despite occupying a location in the universe that is infinitesimally small and seemingly remote, we can rightly claim that all of this was made for us?
Examining what underlies the atheist’s challenge is an appropriate starting point. From a human perspective, their argument seems compelling. Imagine for a moment a plan to house two scientists at the extreme reaches of Antarctica. A proposal to build a small city and to pave the streets with gold would be exceedingly foolish. The conditions would make construction extremely difficult, the cost would be astronomical, the dangers overwhelming, and most importantly, there would be no need. Anything more than the bare essentials to keep the scientists alive would be wasteful; any plan to build more evidence of irrationality.
If God wanted to build a home for humanity, wouldn’t a single planet have been enough? Or a single solar system? Why would He do so much more? The answer, I submit, lies in a proper understanding of God’s attributes. Unlike human builders, God suffers no limitations. He is omnipotent. It is as easy for him to construct 100 billion stars as it is to construct one. While this creative activity may require effort- a working of the will – it does not require “work.” In fact, like the artist who paints a portrait as a gift to a loved one, the very act of creating may itself be an act of love. The artist is free to situate his subject in any surroundings he chooses, and if challenged as to why he didn’t simply paint the person’s face, he would no doubt be surprised at the foolishness of the question. After all, his creative energies were directed at something much bigger than simply the central feature of the work. Moreover, his expressive artistry depends on the complete picture, and how it interacts with the central feature; painting only the face would, practically speaking, eliminate the artistic aspect of the work.
Unlike men who labor for what they build, and who must conserve resources or energy, an omnipotent being has no more need to scrimp than would a computer programmer who can populate his simulation with a million characters as easily as he can with one. It is simply a matter of desire, not one of power or purpose.
So why would God go to such apparent extremes? The answer may lie in the fact that Earth lies in a very distinct location both within the universe and within the timeline. Moreover, Earth’s unique set of characteristics – the location and size of the moon, its period of revolution, the distance to the sun, etc. – allows for scientific study of the created order. It may simply be that God intends for us to reach out to Him through the use of our minds, to understand Him better by studying what He has created for us. Or perhaps, He simply wanted us to “enjoy the show,” the master artist outdoing Himself for our benefit.
When the U.S. military seeks to get someone’s attention, the phrase they use to describe the level of their efforts is “shock and awe.” An apt phrase, it seems, for understanding God’s approach as well. For when one contemplates the immensity of the power and intelligence necessary to create – from nothing – something so vast and so organized, we should feel shock and awe. We should turn toward Him, not in arrogance and pride, but humbly, with fear and trembling.
But knowing that He loves each of us personally, and has a plan for us – well, that may be the most amazing miracle of all.
Posted by Al Serrato