This weekend I had the privilege of hearing Aleksey Prokopenko speak on the biblical teaching on God’s providence. The key question that this doctrine addresses is “What is God’s relationship to the universe?”. Prokopenko made a key observation at the outset of the conference: very often tend to grossly oversimplify the issue of God and his purposes. To me, this was a critical point of insight. It is, I think, one of the foundational reasons why so many people, both religious and irreligious, find conversations about a personal God’s relationship to the universe so frustrating, unrealistic, contradictory and even foolish.
Secular people find it utterly laughable to seriously talk about there being an actual personal God who stands behind the existence of the universe. With a mere mention of the idea the challenges and accusations come rolling in. You don’t actually believe that do you? What kind of God would let such evils abound as we see in the world around? Don’t you know that we have hundreds of scientific discoveries that explain how the universe works? If he’s really there, where is the proof?
With religious people the questions are a bit more complex. Sure they believe in God. But how is it that he is sovereign over all things and still keeps me responsible? If God is not the author of evil then there must be things that he does not or cannot control right?
The fundamental problem in with both situations is that many people, when talking about the notion of a personal God, are really speaking of something closer to a mythical Zeus-like figure, rather than anything like the true idea of a transcendent and sovereign Creator. We always tend toward thinking about God as a bearded superhuman force floating around in space. The secular person finds this idea idiotic and quite easy to blow full of holes (as they should), while the religious person often ends up living in a theological framework of constant tangles. The problem in both situation is that we are dealing with gods that are the product of our own creation rather than those that make us the product of theirs.
Lets get back to square one: pause and look out your window. What do you see?
We look at the magnificent universe in which we live and the vast majority of us agree that it is not merely a cold, dead and soulless machine. We see complexity that infinitely supersedes our powers of comprehension. We see beauty, wonder and love; a new and spectacular work of art in every smile, snowflake and setting sun. We see purpose, or at least a deep sense of it. The question then arises, “Where did all this come from?”. The Big Bang doesn’t answer this question. It simply proposes an explanation for the mechanical outworking of one of its chapters.
What we are truly after here is what lies outside the boundaries. The only kind of God that can exist is the God who is not merely written into the story of the universe but one that is himself its Author. God’s existence, by definition, must be completely independent and superior to all creation, otherwise we are back to square one.
It is only when we see the necessity of God’s absolute supremacy that we can start to avoid the tangled messes of gods that fit into our little boxes. The only God that can exist is the one that you cannot even begin to comprehend. If we are ever to know him, we must assume the position of dust before all that he is. If we are ever to get any real answers, we must first embrace the fact that we will always walk away with a thousand more questions. This is the only place creation can ever have before its Creator.
“Thus says the Lord:
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be’,
declares the Lord.
‘But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.'” (Isaiah 66:1-2)