The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof;
the world, and they that dwell therein.
This Psalm begins with a basic, yet profound proposition: God made the earth and it belongs to Him. That notion is so deeply embedded in Christian thought and teaching that those of us who’ve been around awhile might tend to glaze over when we see or hear it once again. Oh, yeah. God made the world and it belongs to Him.
But, like so many other things that we tend to ignore or sleepwalk through, these ideas have great consequences and they merit our continual contemplation.
There are (at least) two problems raised by the proposition:
- If God made the world and it belongs to Him, why in the world is it in such a shape? Why do the innocents suffer? Why do tyrants rage? Why does wrong seem to prevail so often?
- When Christians start talking about God having “made” the world, the whole subject of the creation accounts in Genesis – you know: On the first day God said “Let there be light: and there was light.” Then on the fourth day, God created the sun and the moon and stars in the sky. The question, of course, is: How literally do you believers take this? Are you one of those who holds that all was done in six, twenty-four hour periods?
The first question has been around for so long that it has been given a name: “theodicy.”
Theodicy is defined by some as the defense of the omnipotence and goodness of God in the face of overwhelming evil in the world.
Suffice it to say that an in-depth discussion of this issue is far beyond the scope of this blog and far beyond the powers of its writer. I’m no theologian and the purpose of this blog is simply to read and react to the Psalms as they hit me on that day, with the hope that my sort of normal and unprofessional thoughts might be of some aid or interest to others.
Having said all of that, I will also say that I have spent some time thinking about the whole theodicy problem. I mean, it does kind of force its way on you. And I think there is a one-word answer: freedom. There is evil in the world because God has allowed his creatures freedom. And freedom, if it is real, means the freedom to rebel; to refuse God’s grace and plan.
The bible teaches that the first evil is rebellion in heaven. The first rebel was Satan, who has been banished to earth and who hold some limited sway here. Not really hard to see that. The Rolling Stones put this into the vernacular of the age:
I watched with glee while your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades for the gods they made
I shouted out, “Who killed the Kennedys?”
When after all, it was you and me
Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reach Bombay
We don’t tend to think of Jagger and Richards as theologians, but this song is really pretty consistent with Christian thought. That line about who killed the Kennedys – “after all, it was you and me” – really captures the idea of
of all of us.
Now, with regard to the whole business about creation occurring in seven, twenty-four hour periods, let me give you my own take on it. I think those accounts in Genesis – although they are the word of God, although they are authoritative as scripture and although they contain enough truth to fill every one of us up forever – I do not take them literally, as to time.
I spent a career as a prosecutor. One of the things that happens when you start putting a case together for trial is that you start believing your own theories. You should, of course. Nobody should bring a prosecution that they don’t believe in – that they don’t believe is true. But here is a corollary problem: when you start believing in your own theory, you might tend to ignore contrary evidence. The defense counsel presents you with other facts and these tend to undercut your case. Do you take them seriously or do you brush them away for one reason or another because you are so confident in your own case?
Let me tell you, it is very easy to do the latter. And we do it – I have done it – to our own peril. Many times the contrary evidence should not be believed. Sometimes it is cooked up; sometimes it is based on the testimony of unreliable witness. But not always.
Here is what happens when we ignore evidence that is inconsistent with our theory:
- You will get your butt kicked in the courtroom
- You will lose the most precious quality that any prosecutor can own: credibility with the court.
For my money, there is overwhelming evidence that the universe is very, very old. I have heard the number 14 billion years kicked around, but after you get past the first couple of billion years, it all starts to run together for me. There is also overwhelming evidence that life on earth as it now appears, took countless ages to appear.
Like I said, this is all way beyond the scope of this blog, but a serious consideration of the evidence that the sciences have come up with – and there is a rather impressive consensus on this matter among the various disciplines – is set forth compellingly in Frances Collins’ fine book The Language of God. That book is a serious and satisfying effort to harmonize the scriptures with the evidence that science has uncovered over the centuries, written by the man who headed the Genome project and who is, himself, a devout Christian.
There are those who will argue that once you consider any part of the bible as poetic expression, i.e., not literally, scientifically true, then it all goes by the wayside. Not so. Take the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, for example. The evidence for the Resurrection, even taken from a legal and philosophical point of view, is overwhelmingly strong. For that, read NT Wright or any of Lee Strobel’s books.
The evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the strongest evidence we have for any historical event in antiquity. If we would dismiss the Resurrection as being based on unreliable evidence, we’d have to do the same for everything we know prior to the advent of videotape. The evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is stronger – much stronger – than the evidence for the Battle of Thermopylae.