My Faith—A Philosopher’s Look At Christianity, 33

The Cosmos

“By interpreting human destiny on the model of the rhythmic renewal of nature, primal man asserted his faith in the supremacy of life over death; he affirmed that the cosmos was trustworthy and was adequate to preserve, support and renew life. All of the bitter experiences which could be summarized by the symbolism if darkness—suffering, illness, death, and tragedy—could thus be faced with the confidence that, in the economy of the cosmos, light arose out of darkness and life out of death, just as spring emerged yearly from the deadly barrenness of winter. The testimony of the seasons was certain—death did not have final dominion; it was an episode in the story of life and not its conclusions.” (Apology For Wonder.)

All the elements (not the periodic table elements) are here for man to experience God and even not knowing his name understand that they and He are connected and accept him. They do understand the cosmos, the unity, the connectedness of all things, including themselves and when they stop and listen find God, not as we would having the Bible, but still find God.

Cain, when he left the home of his mother and father, Adam and Eve, left having known God but who now wasn’t part of his life. Whether he found others or created others through his wife, they would not know God as he had, yet whether these are “others” or Cain’s family they were still God’s creation and all of creation around them and above them was God’s. Admittedly it will be harder to “find” the personal God that saves them but he is there to be found. Keen in the quote above paints a beautiful picture of the cosmos of life. In the rhythmic renewal of nature God is seen. While there is death there is always new life and everything continues on. The sun sets, the sun rises, then the sun sets again and rises again, and I know that for at least 320 years when my family has some knowledge of some of our relatives allowing me in 2019 to see the same sun rise and fall and rise again.

I can trace my personal family (on my father’s side) back 320 years, some of whom began in Scotland, then moved to Ireland, then moved to what would become the United States of America. For them every day was the rising and setting of the sun. In this we all find a trust that tomorrow it will happen all over. A happy accident? Did my ancestors foolishly ascribe this to God because they didn’t know the science that we today know, a science that cries there is no God? Did Plato when he saw the same things foolishly ascribe the seen to the Unseen, a more Real than the material reality? Nietzsche who asked the question, “What if there is no God?” understood everything that fell on our shoulders.

We moderns have had our wonder stolen from us. We reduced ourselves to our physical brain that is nothing more than chemicals and firing synapses and the unseen, what we refer to as mind, is our myth. I think, therefore I am. NO. I don’t think, it’s just the firing of synapses giving us the illusion of thinking. But Descartes says that even if I think is just an illusion I’m still thinking and means I must exist. We are so obsessed with making everything a material world we ignore our contradictions. Life wasn’t easy for the ancients, it was far harder than ours, but they understood what we don’t want to understand. They saw what we don’t want to see. Let’s revisit what Paul wrote to the Romans in Chapter 1: 18-20:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel

It’s time to look into Man Is Not Alone to further understand wonder, awe, and the ineffable. The very first sentence in chapter 1, “The Sense of the Ineffable” is: “There are three aspects of nature which command man’s attention: power, loveliness, grandeur. Power he exploits, loveliness he enjoys, grandeur fills him with awe.” Straight away he takes us to a definition of the ineffable: “What characterizes man is not only his ability to develop words and symbols, but also his being compelled to draw a distinction between the utterable and the unutterable, to be stunned by that which is but cannot be put into words.”

Two words to think on: “compelled” and “stunned.” When they sang the fourth verse of “Just As I Am” I felt compelled to charge to the altar and confess Christ as my Savior. Jeffery Dahmer felt compelled to rape, murder, and dismember 17 men and boys from 1978 to 1991. The prisoner in Plato’s Analogy of the Cave felt compelled to go back in. Merriam-Webster defines “compel” this way: “to drive or urge forcefully or irresistibly; to cause to do or occur by overwhelming pressure.”

Let’s define stunned: “affected with sudden and great wonder or surprise.” The first time I visited the Mesa Verde in Colorado and saw the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi Indians I was stunned. It wasn’t their beauty that was overwhelming, it was that they were there. When as a youngster we drove to Yosemite National Park, turned right just inside the entrance and went into the Mariposa Grove and walked through the grove of massive redwoods that 70 years later are still there to enjoy, I was stunned. Then onto the Valley we went stopping at Bridalveil Falls, the wind whipping the falling water into a mist you can feel hiking the short distance from parking lot to the bottom of the falls. As we continue on we make a right turn and travel up to Glacier Point, elevation of 7,214 feet, 3,200 feet above Half Dome Village on the Valley floor. Looking over the edge, where when I was a youngster every night they burned logs pushing them over the edge and they created a fire fall that was spectacular, it was stunning. Back on the road continuing to the Valley floor reaching the flowing water in the Merced River spotting across the river El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, then Half Dome it was just a magical place. Before it became so popular and crowded every trip we made we would always see several bears on the Valley Floor. Everything was stunning about Yosemite and sometimes words get in the way when describing those feelings you have looking at the unbelievable.

Both being compelled and stunned are internal emotions brought out of us by, as Keen would put it, “wonder-events.” Both can be positive experiences and negative experiences but let’s clear our minds of the negative uses of compel and stunned and concentrate on wonder-events that bring out of us a compelling and being stunned. Experiencing those events at first we don’t have words, in fact words would ruin the moment. They aren’t necessary. Words are expressions of reason and reason will at some point come into play, but compelled and stunned are first emotions that excite every fiber of our body.

Adam and Eve began with God. They didn’t just wake up one day and there was nature and animals around them and every experience was a wonder experience. Adam and Eve woke up and they were standing before God in a world he had created for them. Here’s the scene:

  • In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

  • From that “formless and empty” he created everything we know, see, and experience.

Keil and Delitzsch write in the Commentary on the Old Testament beginning with Genesis, “The historical events described contain a rich treasury of speculative thoughts and poetical glory; but they themselves are free from the influence of human invention and human philosophizing.” They are historical events, meaning that they are not some creative imagination of some writer, this really happened. Beginning with verse 2 we find a sequential, a linear order of creation and that broken into six days explaining everything was created, as we learn in John 1, by the logos, the “Spirit of God hovering over the waters.”

I’ve already made the argument that God did not sit at his desk and write a systematic fact for fact history of creation but we treat it as such so we must therefore prove every act of creation and the very order of creation as a science treatise rather than as a reminder to those confused Hebrews so recently escaped from slavery on their way to becoming a nation telling them that God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not Ra or any other mythological gods, created all things. In this case science isn’t what’s important but that God is and all things come by his hand.

So the universe, all that we see in the night sky that seemingly has no limits, but it does have a beginning, God created. Why? There is a purpose for creation, humanity, male and female. I asked Google how old the universe was and it told me science believes it is 13.8 billion years old. Time is our measurement, we created it to understand the distance between events. The time Homo sapiens arrived is speculated to be around 200,000 years ago. We have fossils, pieces of Homo sapiens popping up in areas we today identify as Africa, Israel, Asia, Australia, even Europe. We know very little of them until around 3,000 BC when they begin to form what we call civilizations.

Some Christians are shocked by this geologic timescale because didn’t God create in six twenty-four hour days? Let’s step outside this supposed contradiction and continue with Genesis 1. Genesis 1:1 references a universe (heavens) but beginning with verse 2 it’s all about the earth, that planet we live on. So why did God create the earth and all that is in it? Genesis 1:26 gives a clue: “so that they [mankind] may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Now while it is believed the universe is 13.8 billion years ago, the earth is only 4.5 billion years old. The total surface area of Earth is about 197 million square miles (510 million square km). About 71 percent is covered by water and 29 percent by land, or 57,130,000 square miles in land. God is laying out an image for those Hebrews who find themselves metaphorically caught between heaven and hell, or the Promised Land before them and slavery in Egypt behind them, and having first painted the picture in Chapter 1 now adds some flavor to it in Chapter 2:5-6: “Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.” I can hear them now: What? No rain? How did everything grow and live? While humans were not yet to work the land, nonetheless the earth was watered so things could grow, not from rain but from streams that rose out of the earth and a mist that would give life to what was growing on that 57 million square miles. Now on one little speck of that 57 million square miles of land God formed a Garden and put man in it. It was a microcosm of all the earth and God put man there to work it, to work out who he and she were. I’m kind of reminded of when Paul spoke before the Greek philosophers in Athens: “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” 

One of the things compelling about the family it that the family is a microcosm of relationship and translatable to the city or the state or the nation. So the Garden of Eden is Adam and Eve’s, and in them all humanity’s proving ground, so to speak. As I’ve written, he is there when they wake up and he tells them what to do, not in minutia but in outline.

But what if God wasn’t right in front of you like he was with Adam and Eve? If he is out of sight is he also out of mind? And of course, we have to ask, What did Adam and Eve see of God who we think of as non-material, they being material? Right here we have the basis of Plato’s Forms, the Unseen behind the seen. On a speck of earth is a Garden. What’s on the rest of the earth? Good question. Anyway, I’m going down a trail here and at the end I’m going to jump off.

Adam and Eve had no children while in the Garden. Outside the Garden they had Cain and Abel. Cain killed his brother Abel and God sent him away from his family and God’s presence. Adam and Eve had another son, Seth. We are not given a genealogy of this family, in fact we are only given three names but told that in the 930 years Adam (and presumably Eve) lived they had an unending amount of children. Were there girls born at the same time as Cain and Abel and so when it is said Cain took a wife he took with him one of his sisters? Possibly. But beginning with Seth we read these words: “At that time people began to call on [proclaim] the name of the Lord.” It is from this point on that we keep to the genealogical line of Adam and Eve through Seth. Historically through this family line they continue to proclaim Yahweh, the God they learned through Adam and Eve.