Danger of a Small God

While reading a very informative article on the Biologos site (here) I had an interesting thought. It seems to me that there is often a temptation, for both secularists and Christians, to say that God can only exist if the world is simple. No one would ever think of using this wording but it often seems to me that people imagine “if the cosmos is complex then God cannot be involved.” And as I see it both of these groups arrive at this conclusion because they read their Bibles! -Hold this thought we’re coming back to it.

I have some training as a historian, and one of the greatest lessons I have learned about reading and writing history is, history is selective. A historian takes the data considered most relevant to the subject and compiles it helping the reader interpret (giving meaning to) the events, people, & places of the past. No historian uses all of the data to tell the story of an event because doing so (assuming such an endeavor possible) would obscure the point which the historian wants to reveal. For this reason history is at times subjective, but good historians are simply cutting away the unnecessary parts to help people understand what is important. This is often a concept often forgotten by both Christians and secularists forget as they read the Scriptures and thus they simplify God.

OK, back to the real thought. The temptation in reading the Bible is to believe it makes the claim to represent ALL of God and All of God’s interaction with the cosmos; instead of representing some of God and some of God’s interaction with the cosmos. Both sides seem to fall into the temptation of shrinking God to the size of the Bible. Some Christians shrink God down and then limit science to the world of the Bible, while secularists shrink God then use any scientific discovery outside the Bible as proof God doesn’t exist. But who exactly is God- God (by definition) is an infinitely complex and intelligent being (at least from our limited perspective) who created and sustains the world. And what is the Bible, a collection of books written to a level that the average person can have some reasonable understanding of who God is and how God works in creation. Do we see the problem? God can’t fit in the Bible.

When I say the title God I mean, a being of astonishing abilities and of a complexity of mind greater than I am capable of understanding. Am I to think this being is limited by a book (however well written and greater than myself) written by a person? The creation account of Genesis 1, then, is like the work of the historian- limited. God speaking life into existence does not contradict Origins of Life research, why because it is summarizing the entire story of life into one sentence so it is easy to process. The picture Genesis is creating is a summation (like someone summarizing all of U.S. history into an 1,000 word article). The themes which are highlighted in the text are often those which most undermine the beliefs of Israel’s polytheistic neighbors. The stories of Israel’s neighbors said the cosmos came through great battles and was made of the left over remains of the fallen deities. In these stories the cosmos was something outside of these gods, they could guide and manipulate it, but often they had to submit to it. Israel’s God though was in complete control so much so that when this God speaks creation rings to life, not built from other equally divine and divergent elements, but from the words spoken. This is the author recognizing a true lack of understanding about the finer points of creation but simply saying God speaks and creation submits. Does this means that God’s spoken word is all that is involved in creation, no. the speech is both literal and metaphorical (meaning it tells you what happened and more than what happened at the same time, I know brilliant). But even this use of language does not mean the Bible says all that can be said about creation. “God said… and it was so” we don’t always see the gaps there but in each of these sentences there is (or at least can be) huge amounts of information missing. All science is doing is completing that picture.

The problem becomes that we forget that God is immensely complex and the Bible is written for simple people and we try to equate them. But if we remember that God is infinitely complex and the Bible is a relatively simplified story of God we will turn the paradigm around. When we hear of “breakthrough’s” in Origins of Life or SETI research our thoughts will not be about how this “contradicts” or “disproves” the Bible. Rather our thought will be how does this new discovery fit into the narrative begun in the Bible. When I read about scientists trying to understand the origins and complexities of the universe, I do not understand their work to be disproving the Bible; I see them as complementing the Bible. Their work shines light onto the realities of God through discovering the process of creation. This is like learning about the artist through the brushstrokes. The Bible is merely a photograph of a section of a masterpiece, it is good and accurate but the reality is far bigger and grander. The Bible is the best photograph and it provides the basis for understanding the masterpiece but it is not itself the masterpiece.

Can we as Christians at least begin to enjoy the rich complexities of creation and allow these to point us back to a creator far above us? Can we recognize that scientific discoveries must be filtered through one’s worldview and they do not inherently prove or disprove anything about God? Can we allow the Bible to be what it is? The complexities of creation reveal for me a God who is, do they often make me feel insignificant, yes; but as I come to understand how big creation actually is, I come to see how infinitely greater God is. Yes, a nice simple God built entirely within the confines of the Bible is more appealing in some ways and eliminates some difficult questions. But, that is only because that God is one I can capture in my mind and comprehend, a God who I can control. Part of accepting scientific discoveries for me is an exercise in humility as I see God’s vastness and my insignificance. God is the artist and I am simply the tiniest spec of color in the masterpiece.

Beyond the Biologos website I recommend John Polkinghorne Questions of Truth and Francis Collins The Language of God.

p.s. I do not say this as an endorsement of any particular scientific model, I am too much a layman on these issues to commit to theories. I am though fairly confident in my understanding of the Bible and the Bible’s teachings do not eliminate scientific theories on origins simply the way some are interpreted within some worldviews.

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